Soy, rice, pea, hemp… plant-based protein powders have exploded in popularity. Found everywhere from health food stores to major grocery chains, more plant-based options exist than ever before. But with a wealth of options it can be confusing to decide which is the best for you. This article will explore the benefits and features of some common plant-based protein powders.
Soy Protein Powder
Of all the plant-based proteins, soy is the most common. It is widely used in plant-based food products to boost protein content.
Soy protein powder is made from processed soybeans. A chemical mixture removes the outer shell, or hull, and fat from the soybeans. The resulting product is further processed to remove carbohydrates and other flavor compounds. This leaves you with a high protein, almost tasteless isolate; about 90% protein with no carbs or fiber and minimal fat.
Soy is a complete protein. It contains all 9 essential amino acids, the building blocks our bodies use to create proteins. In some studies, the protein quality of soy has been very highly rated. This means that soy protein is easily digested, absorbed, and used in our bodies.
If you have food allergies or sensitivities, soy protein might not be for you. Soy is one of the top 8 food allergens identified by the United Nations.
Rice Protein Powder
Not just for stir fries and grain bowls anymore, brown rice protein may become part of your morning smoothie.
Brown rice protein is made by heating a mixture of rice flour and enzymes to separate pure protein from carbohydrates. The resulting product is about 90% protein with a small amount of fiber.
Rice is thought to be hypoallergenic and easily digested for most people. However, like all grains, rice is not considered to be a complete protein. It does not contain all of the essential amino acids, because it is lacking in lysine. This means that to have all the building blocks of protein, you would need to combine rice protein with another protein source.
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder is generally made with yellow split peas. Ground into flour, the peas are processed with water and a salty solution to extract the protein.
There is a reason you usually find pea protein as part of a blend. Pea protein is lacking in the essential amino acid methionine, meaning it is not a complete protein. In fact, pea and rice proteins together make a complete protein blend.
There is some evidence that pea protein blends smoother and less chalky than soy protein. This may be of interest to you if you have tried other plant-based proteins and disliked the texture. Also unlike soy, pea protein is hypoallergenic.
If you have a history of gout, pea protein is not for you. Pea protein is high in purines, which can cause gout flare ups.
Hemp Protein Powder
Hemp protein continues to gain popularity in the plant-based world. It is made using the highly nutritious and nutty-tasting seeds of the hemp plant.
The seeds are processed at a low temperature and without chemical solutions. The outer hull and most of the hemp oil is removed by milling and cold-pressing. About 10% total fat remains in the finished protein powder.
Adding hemp to your daily routine provides numerous benefits. You will get a source of fiber and heart healthy fats, unlike the plant-based protein powders discussed above. Hemp contains omega 3 fats, which promote healthy brain development. Hemp also contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Due to the fiber and fat content, hemp protein powder has less protein per serving than other plant-based protein powders.
Worried About Allergens or Digestibility?
Hemp protein may be the best plant-based protein powder for you. The protein found in hemp is highly digestible and hypoallergenic.
Hemp usually costs more, and is more difficult to find than other types of protein. This is because hemp foods were recently removed from the Controlled Substances Act in the USA, in December 2018.
Which Plant-Based Protein Powder Do I Choose?
In conclusion, your goals and dietary needs will likely determine which protein powder you choose. If you are lacking a protein source only, the protein isolates from soy, pea or brown rice would be your top choice.
If you are looking for a boost of fiber and healthy fats as well, hemp is the one for you. If you are looking for a “one stop shop” and a complete protein source, rice or pea protein may not be for you.
Still can’t decide? Check out the table below for more nutritional data and approximate cost for each type of plant-based protein powder.
|Per 20g serving||Soy*||Rice**||Pea*||Hemp*|
|Carbs (g)||0||2.4||1.5||6.5 (5.2g fiber)|
|Cost (per 100g)|
*Bob’s Red Mill brand
** North Coast Naturals brand – Bob’s Red Mill did not make rice protein powder
What experiences have you had with plant-based protein powders? Let us know in the comments below. Tasty recipes always welcome!
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