Protein is crucial to life. It’s present in every cell in our bodies, and it’s necessary for building and repairing those cells. That’s why it’s emphasized so heavily in the fitness world – proteins are literally the building blocks for muscle development.
Just as important as adequate protein consumption is what kind of protein you’re putting into your body. To help increase their protein intake, many people turn to protein powders trying to get that extra edge in muscle growth and preservation. But most of the supplements on the market today are whey protein based.
It’s not uncommon for people to shy away from the protein found in meat due to religious, moral, or health reasons, and those who are lactose intolerant tend to stay away from whey and casein as protein sources. One of the biggest drawbacks in a diet that doesn’t include protein-rich natural meats is making sure that you get enough protein every day. Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in how our bodies function. However, including more plant based sources of protein will also offer more health benefits including more fiber and micronutrients.
We’ll start with the recommendations, but if you want to find out more about the science behind plant-based protein powders feel free to skip reading past the best plant-based protein powders list.
Our Picks: The 4 best plant-based protein powders
Naturade Vegansmart All-in-one Nutritional Shake is truly that, an all-in-one shake.
This protein powder has everything, 20 grams of non-GMO protein per serving with only 160 calories!
In addition to all of the protein, you are getting a whopping 6 grams of fiber shake.
If you are looking for a plant protein with great value, then look no further than PlantFusion Protein. This protein is comprised of pea protein isolate, artichoke protein, and amaranth and quinoa powders.
The protein comes from peas, artichokes, and quinoa; the drink also contains a special blend of enzymes that allows easy digestion, even for sensitive stomachs, so it’s one of the more popular choices for on-the-go lifestyles. In addition, it’s free of most allergens, including dairy, soy, nuts, and gluten.
Are you looking for a great tasting plant protein that will fit into a lower calorie diet? Look no further than Garden of Life RAW Organic Protein Blend.
This is a blend of protein strictly from sprouts, which packs 17 grams of protein per serving, suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and those looking for dairy free products.
On top of that, each serving has only 80 calories! That means 85% of your calories are derived from protein sources making Garden of Life RAW protein one of the purest on this list.
If you are looking for a great bargain on plant based protein powder then Now Foods Pea Protein is perfect for you.
Now Foods is well known for making great products at an affordable price. Their pea protein has a whopping 24 grams of protein per serving!
This blend is pure pea protein with 2 grams of Leucine for maximum muscle growth.
Plant-based protein powders: honorable mentions
These didn’t quite make the list, but we love options so we wanted to at least mention them:
- Nutiva Organic Hemp Plant-Based Protein Powder. Packed with 15 grams of protein per serving, Nutiva offers a protein supplement straight from hemp seeds. The powder is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and comes in three flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and super berry). For the best flavor, it’s recommended that you mix the powder with almondmilk and a banana.
- Omega Nutrition Organic Pumpkin Seed Plant-Based Protein Powder. As discussed in the next section, plant-based protein powders generally aren’t known for their great taste. Protein powder derived from pumpkins, however, usually has a pleasant taste, and this choice is no different.
The advantages of plant-based protein powder?
A plant-based diet is generally more economical, especially if you always eat produce that is in season.
Even if you cannot always eat fresh produce, there are still processed options that are less perishable. Of your processed options, animal foods are usually processed more than your plant-based options. Considering that animals are living creatures just like you and me, it makes no sense for us to spend our money on an industry that causes them suffering, destroys the environment, and causes us health problems.
In addition to saving some money and eating fresher food, there are also several other benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Vegan nutritionist Lisa Danielson addresses a number of reasons why plant-based protein is preferable to animal protein in her article for Ideal Raw. Here’s what she found.
- It helps the earth. The ways in which we manufacture plants for protein sources are actually extremely helpful to the environment – it requires far fewer resources to grow crops for plant protein than it does to harvest animal protein. And of course, plants grown for protein also create far less waste than animals do.
- It’s a major metabolism booster. Protein in general takes longer to digest than carbs and fat do. Because plant-based protein contains excess amounts of fiber (which also takes extra time to digest), your body has to work even harder to digest the powder because of both the protein and the fiber. As your metabolism works faster, you’ll find it easier to start getting rid of any extra fat you’re trying to lose.
- It’s full of vitamins and minerals. This one might seem rather obvious, but it’s a fact that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and therefore generally don’t get an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals. Many of the nutrients found in plant-based protein are not found in animal protein; plant-based protein powder gives you exactly what you need in terms of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
- You don’t have to worry about growth hormones or antibiotics. Most meat is heavily tainted by antibiotics or growth hormones given to the animals. Even whey and casein protein powder often contain antibiotics, since they’re derived from milk. With plant-based protein powder, you don’t have to worry about any of that – and to avoid pesticides, make sure you’re looking for organic plant-based protein powder.
- It often contains necessary fats. We’re generally told to stay away from fatty foods, but the truth is, fats are often helpful and even necessary for some of the body’s processes. Certain fats are required to help absorb vitamins, and the saturated fats found in coconuts have been proven to help with weight loss. Plant-based protein powders often contain some of these fats – so don’t be afraid when you see them listed on the nutrition facts label. As long as you’re consuming healthy fats rather than processed fats, you’re on the right track.
- Lower Blood Pressure. Potassium helps lower blood pressure that leads to stress and anxiety. Most all whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and all fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of potassium and Vitamin B6 (which also helps lower blood pressure). As a result, you’ll likely eat many foods that are potassium-rich and will lower your blood pressure. Most animal foods contain very little potassium and actually raise blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Lower Cholesterol. Speaking of lower cholesterol, plants actually do not contain any cholesterol. Plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can actually lower rates of cholesterol and heart disease. A plant-based diet is one of the simplest ways to lower cholesterol.
- Better Blood Sugar. The number one way to fight high blood sugar is to eat more fiber. It slows down the absorption of sugars in the bloodstream and as a result can help improve how hungry you are all day long, not to mention balance your cortisol levels that cause stress. Many of the vegetables and legumes listed below are great natural sources of fiber.
- Weight Loss. The only way you are going to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn. Plants are generally much lower in calories than meat and as a result, you can feel full while eating less (a recipe for long-term success on any diet regiment). One vegan wellness expert says that within two weeks of a plant-based diet, most people lose five pounds without going hungry or feeling deprived. There are also plenty of low-calorie protein powders available for a supplement.
The Science Behind Plant-Based Protein Powders
Science seems to be constantly at war with itself, with field experts publishing competing and contradicting studies every few months. Opinions on what is healthy and what should be avoided are always changing, but there are several constants that don’t generally change, even with new scientific discoveries. One of them is the importance of a plant-based diet, and the health benefits of such a diet. Studies are still being conducted on how a diet rich in plant-based foods affects the human body, and they all yield similar results; in fact, five studies published this year have reinforced different ways in which a plant-based diet contributes to overall health by decreasing the risk of infection and illness.
A study conducted in the Netherlands revealed the effects of substituting plant-based protein for animal-based protein in a subject group of 6,000 people. The results showed, overwhelmingly, that those who substituted plant-based protein in their diet greatly decreased their risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Plaque development in the walls of the heart’s arteries is one of the most commonly used methods of determining a person’s risk of heart disease. A study was conducted in Brazil, examining a group of 4,500 men and women for plaque development. They, like the previous group, substituted plant-based protein for animal-based protein in their diets. Those in the group who consumed plant-based protein were 60 percent less likely to show evidence of plaque buildup in the coronary arteries than those who consumed more animal-based protein.
Another study examined the results of a vegetarian diet on South Asians living in the United States. Compared to those who ate meat, the study revealed a variety of health benefits to a plant-based diet, including lower blood pressure, waist circumference, abdominal fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.
Over a four-year period, a study tested the effects of vegetarian diets on a group of 125,000 people. One group consumed diets of healthy plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains), while a second group consumed diets of more processed plant-based foods (refined sugars, sweets, and fried foods). Not surprisingly, the group members eating healthy plant-based foods were significantly less likely to gain weight than the group members eating the processed foods.
Finally, a study of 30,000 U.S. adults showed that consuming high-quality plant-based foods decreased mortality rates by as much as 30 percent. Another group consuming animal-based foods showed no change in the mortality rate – which points to a plant-based diet as a significant factor when it comes to lifespan.
Clearly, the evidence points to a plant-based diet rich in whole foods as the key to a healthy lifestyle. Plant-based protein powder is a great way to supplement a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains – so let’s take a look at some of the top picks for healthy, no-preservatives-added choices.
The Challenges of Plant-Based Protein Powder and How to Overcome Them
Some of the most widely used protein powders are plant-based, because they’re the least likely to trigger allergic reactions. But, like any protein supplement, they don’t come without their downsides.
One of the biggest complaints about plant-based protein powders is their taste. Unless they contain artificial preservatives to enhance the taste, most of them are not at all appetizing — which is why they’re best served in a smoothie, or mixed with a drink other than water. Another popular option is to use the powder for cooking: adding it to baked goods is a great way to get a shot of protein without sacrificing taste.
Since plant-based protein powders of the best quality contain no preservatives or artificial ingredients, they’re extremely difficult to dissolve in liquid. Because of this, most plant-based powders are best mixed with liquid in a blender rather than in an on-the-go shaker. Both of these issues can be avoided, however, by going with pumpkin protein powder, which has a fairly pleasant taste and generally reacts well with liquid.
What are some of the best vegetarian-friendly sources of protein?
Below is a list of some of the most protein-rich vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, milk, and grains.
|Item||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Boiled Peas||1 cup||9|
|Sweet Potato||1 cup||5|
Nuts and seeds
|Item||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Nut Butters (peanut, almond, cashew)||2 Tbsp.||8|
|Sesame Seeds||1 oz.||6.5|
|Item||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Ancient Grain||1 cup||9|
|Soy Milk||1 cup||8|
|Almond Milk||1 cup||6|
|Item||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Refried Beans||1 cup||15.5|
|Garbanzo Beans||1 cup||13-15|
|Pinto, Kidney, Black Beans||1 cup||14.5|
|Item||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Sprouted Grain Bread||1 cup||10|
Even under the fairly small umbrella of plant-based protein powder, there are so many options – should I get the powder, or a ready-to-drink protein shake? Do I want to go with hemp protein, pea protein, pumpkin protein, or something else entirely? Research is the key: look at ingredient labels and make sure you’re choosing organic options that are best for you. And remember: it’s all about whole, healthy ingredients. Keep those in mind, and you can’t go wrong.