How to Choose a Plant-Based Protein Powder
Many of us strive to avoid animal-based products due to allergies, intolerances, ethical concerns, or simply a desire to live a vibrant, plant-based lifestyle. If so, you might enjoy adding a plant-based protein powder supplement to your routine.
We know... the question, "How do you get your protein?" is probably the #1 most annoying question that vegans and vegetarians face -- particularly given that most foods contain at least some amount of protein. However, the truth remains that many Americans (vegetarian, vegan, carnivore and omnivore) could stand to add a little more diversity to their regular food sources and may even need more protein at times.
Benefits of plant-based protein powder
You might be seeking out protein powder for benefits such as weight loss, muscle gain, stronger hair and nails. Or maybe you’ve just been told you need to consume more protein.
As an essential macronutrient, protein helps develop muscles and repair damaged muscular tissues. It also helps your body create needed enzymes and hormones. Getting enough protein can also help people feel satiated.
Yet you may also have heard, "There are a lot of 'bad' protein powders out there." It's true. So how do you choose? What do you look for? And what should you avoid?
What to seek in a plant-based protein powder
Plant-based protein powders are granulated proteins derived from plants such as soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, or hemp.
Of those choices, we believe the best options for people who want to avoid animal-derived ingredients like meat, egg and dairy are pea, sprouted and fermented brown rice, and hemp hearts. Kasvi blends all three, providing a complete amino acid profile in a single blend. Getting complete protein this way is important -- something often overlooked by collagen manufacturers.
We also recommend you seek out protein powders with sprouted grains and seeds. When grains and seeds are germinating, they have the same nutrients but in higher amounts. Sprouted grains may have less starch than non-sprouted or "mature" grains.
Benefits of sprouted grains and seeds include:
- a higher percentage of available nutrients, including protein, folate, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and zinc.
- an increased potential for absorption of vitamins and minerals due to the breakdown of a phytic acid known as phytate
- easier digestion due to the reduced starch content.
We also recommend you seek a holistic choice that also includes vitamins and minerals from whole fruits, vegetables, and spices, plus fungi and probiotics.
Look for products that have been evaluated as having good manufacturing practices by the FDA. It’s important to have trust in a brand’s label, that it stands behind the words "organic," "non-GMO," and "gluten-free."
What to avoid, part I: Animal-based protein powders
Animal based protein powders typically include the milk-based (casein or whey protein) or egg-based powders. What to look for:
- Milk-based protein powders are casein, aka "sodium caseinate" and whey protein, aka "whey protein concentrate" or "WPC." These can lead to discomfort and digestive distress such as bloating, flatulence, or other GI tract disturbances, possibly leading to malabsorption of essential minerals.
- Egg-based powders. These may have up to three times the cholesterol of whey protein. They’re also generally lower in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than whey or casein.
What to avoid, part II: Additives, artificial flavoring, gluten, soy, sugars, and more
Added sugars - Too much sugar decreases the sensitivity of insulin and encourages fat storage. Sugar goes by many names, so this is tricky to catch. Words ending in "ose," -- fructose, dextrose, and maltose plus honey, molasses, corn syrup, other syrups and juices are all sugars.
ALTERNATIVE NAMES FOR ADDED SUGAR
evaporated cane juice
fruit juice concentrates
high-fructose corn syrup
Added fiber - Added fiber on the label is not the same thing as plant-based leafy greens, vegetables and fruits.
Artificial flavoring - Dyes, pigments and chemicals have been shown to cause carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, or hypersensitivity.
Thickeners and gums - these come from corn or soy. May cause bloating, constipation and gas.
Hydrogenated vegetable oil - oils containing trans fats can raise cholesterol, potentially leading to clogged and damaged arteries.
Gluten - can cause inflammation, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, headaches, mood swings and skin conditions.
Soy - Unfortunately, soy proteins may come from genetically-modified sources with high amounts of pesticide. These chemical compounds may cause hormonal disturbances in certain individuals.
Skim milk powders and milk solids - avoid these for the same reason you'd avoid milk-based whey or casein powders (see above).
Excess calories - Avoid a protein powder that has excessive calories per the amount of protein or other nutrients provided. Extra calories may spike blood sugar and cause you to gain weight unnecessarily.
Read the label to avoid any other additives and fillers that you've never heard of or cannot pronounce.
What to avoid, part III: Potential contamination of the supplements
Another problem, apart from what is on the label, is what is NOT on the label. You must research and trust the sourcing of the product. Otherwise, you could be ingesting contaminants.
Toxic contaminants of concern:
- bisphenol-A (BPA),
- pesticides, and
- heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury,
These have been linked to cancer and health problems.
Protein Powder and your health goals
Are you seeking better body composition (muscle gain, weight loss), skin, hair, nails, or some other benefit? In choosing your plant-based protein powder, you’ll want to consider your overall health goals.
Even as you incorporate a bit of protein powder, you'll still want to seek out good sources of whole food protein -- such as legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as wild-caught fish (if you eat fish). Ensure you're still eating whole, fiber-rich fruits and veggies and that you're still getting a bit of healthy fats from sources like avocados, clarified butter (ghee), coconut oil, and olive oil.
Test it without sweetening at first, to see if you like it. If you think it needs a little extra, sweeten it yourself with a bit of fruit, honey, agave to taste. This will always be better for you than a heavily pre-sweetened option.
Hopefully, this helps clear up some of the mystery of what you might want to keep or exclude from your protein powder. We hope you find one just right for you.