What is Vegan Protein Powder?
Vegan protein powder is a type of protein powder that is exclusively derived from plant sources. While this is ideal for those who follow a vegan diet but still want to increase their protein intake, it is important to remember that most plant proteins lack one or more essential amino acids.
There are nine essential amino acids that the body requires, but cannot produce internally, so it must acquire them from food sources. A “complete” protein, such as red meat, milk, poultry or cheese, will have all nine of these essential amino acids. With the exception of soy and pea proteins, there are not readily available complete protein plant-based powders on the market. Careful research and combining various types of plant proteins in your diet can ensure that you get all the amino acids your body requires.
Best Vegan Protein Powder Supplements
There are dozens of plant sources for vegan protein powder supplements, but the best foods that can provide a concentrated powder include pea, soy, chia, hemp, and sunflower seeds, among others.
Grinding up dried yellow peas and isolating the protein results in pea protein powder. This plant-based protein option is rich in iron, sodium, and fiber, along with 15 grams of protein per 20 grams! Due to its lack of common allergens, pea protein is easy to add to any diet. It is known to increase muscle mass development, reduces cravings and overeating, and can even boost heart health by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Pea protein is quite low in methionine but does contain all nine essential amino acids.
Pea protein should not compose more than 35% of your protein intake, as the liver may not be able to process the protein fast enough. Side effects are limited, but the high level of sodium should be considered by those with cardiovascular issues.
Pumpkin Seed Protein
Derived from dried and ground pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed protein is a nutrient-dense plant-based protein, although it lacks lysine, and is therefore not a complete protein. Boasting high levels of iron and zinc, as well as antioxidants like vitamin E, this particular protein powder is known to protect heart health, aid in bone growth, and reduce your risk for certain cancers.
The taste of this protein powder may be chalky in smoothies or nutritional shakes, and a serving size is about 15 grams of this powder once a day. Side effects may include flatulence and diarrhea, but it is generally considered safe.
Made by grinding dried hemp seeds into a powder, hemp protein powder has been steadily increasing in popularity in recent years, particularly as the legalization and cultivation of hemp has increased in certain western nations. Rich in dietary fiber, as well as essential fatty acids, this is a complete protein and offers an earthy and nutty taste.
Less concentrated in protein than other powders, a 30-gram serving of this powder contains about 15 grams of protein. Adding this substance to smoothies, shakes, parfaits, desserts, and breakfast bowls is perfect for increasing your protein intake in a subtle way. Side effects may include gastrointestinal distress and bloating, and hemp allergies are not uncommon. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid the use of hemp protein.
One of the most popular plant-based proteins, soybeans represents a complete protein, and its dried isolate form is also rich in fiber, iron, copper, manganese, and phosphorous. The consistency and availability of soybean protein make it a favorite for meat and dairy alternatives.
However, soy protein is also linked with high levels of phytoestrogens and phytates, the latter of which can inhibit the absorption of other vitamins and minerals, as found in this study from the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. As it is a complete protein, a typical dosage could range from 30-40 grams of soy protein powder per day. Side effects may include constipation, bloating, and nausea, as well as tiredness or irritation. Prolonged and regular use of this protein may also have some negative effects, so remember, plant protein variety is key!
Brown Rice Protein
Easily digestible and rarely linked to allergic reactions, brown rice protein is an inexpensive and effective plant-based protein powder. This powder is usually highly concentrated, with a 25-gram serving providing about 20 grams of protein. Brown rice is not a complete protein, but it is additionally rich in iron, vitamin C, and fiber. With a mild, sweet, and subtle flavor, it is a popular choice for smoothies and homemade protein bars. Gastrointestinal issues are the only side effect that has been reported, and typically only when an excessive amount of this powder has been consumed.
Sunflower Seed Protein
Sunflower seed protein powder is isolated after the oil has been cold-pressed out of the seeds, leaving a dry, protein-rich cake behind. Although lower in protein density than other powders, a 30-gram scoop of this powder can provide around 15 grams of protein, along with good levels of fiber, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. Some people are allergic to sunflowers, and should, therefore, avoid this protein powder variety. The nutty flavor makes it versatile in desserts and shakes.
Sacha Inchi Protein
Sacha inchi seed protein powder is derived from a Peruvian plant of the same name, more specifically, the seeds from star-shaped pods are cold-pressed and de-fatted. The remaining oil is then dried and the protein is isolated. Offering about 18 grams of protein in a single serving, sacha inchi is not a complete protein, but it offers a good amount of dietary fiber and omega-3s. Ideal for baked goods, protein bars, and other sweet protein-dense foods, sacha inchi has very few side effects, but some headaches and nausea have been reported.
Once the oils are separated from the chia seeds, chia protein powder is left behind—a nutrient-dense plant-based protein! Containing good levels of chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, and manganese, as well as numerous B vitamins and antioxidants, chia protein powder is one of the most nutritionally diverse vegan protein powder options, as seen in this article published in Food Reviews International. Its mild flavor makes it popular for porridge, oatmeal, baked goods, and fruit smoothies. A single serving of chia protein powder will provide up to 40% of your daily protein needs. Due to the high fiber density in these seeds, side effects may include bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, and stomach cramps.
Plant Protein Blends
There is a wide variety of plant protein blends on the market, considering that many individual plant proteins do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Combinations of pea, flax, and quinoa, or blends of pea and hemp, will offer a more unique flavor and result in a “complete” protein option. By blending multiple types of plant protein, you can access a broader range of positive health effects but may also increase your risk of side effects. Follow all instructions on individual vegan protein powder blend products, and speak with your doctor or nutritionist before making major changes to your diet.