Top Vegan And Vegetarian Protein Sources
If there’s one thing for certain when you’re not eating meat, it’s that people will tell you that you need more protein. The idea that you’ll wither if you don’t eat animal proteins is not a new one, but now more than ever it’s completely untrue. Not only are there plenty of natural, whole food sources of protein for vegans and vegetarians, but there’s also an ever-increasing array of vegan protein powder brands to suit your needs.
You can chow down on some lentils or have a few tablespoons of peanut butter to boost your protein intake, but the main problem with vegan protein sources is volume. You need to eat a lot of beans, wheat, or soy to get adequate protein intake – especially if you’re athletic or regularly exercising. With this volume of food comes more calories and carbohydrates that you might not want, so in these cases, a good quality protein powder can be a huge advantage.
Let’s examine some of the best vegan protein powders and what makes them great to add to your diet, and why they might be better than others for your specific needs.
Derived from yellow split peas, this protein powder has around 20 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving. This is a beneficial ratio, and it’s relatively low in carbs as well. One particular benefit of pea protein powder is that its fibre and composition seem to increase satiety, reducing the overall amount of food that users ate in a day, leading to favourable blood sugar and weight loss.
Additionally, pea protein is highly absorbable for muscle synthesis, almost to the same degree as whey powder, which is considered the gold standard.
The downsides to pea protein are similar to other vegan protein sources; it’s not a complete protein and is lacking in the amino acid methionine. Because of this, it often comes combined with another protein source, but vegans and vegetarians are also well aware to vary their diet to get all necessary amino acids, so it’s not a huge problem. It’s can also be somewhat chalky, and blends better with a robust base, like fruit or vegetables, rather than mixing directly with water or nut milk.
Rice protein powder
Rice protein is full of BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) and is second only to whey in terms of absorbability and density of these aminos. It’s great for muscle building, and is easily one of the most digestible and hypoallergenic forms of protein available.
In particular, rice protein powder is extremely high in leucine, which is critical for muscle creation as well. Many vegan protein powder types are mixed with other plant-based sources for this reason, to ensure a complete protein source.
One downside to rice protein is that it’s low in lysine, again because it’s not a complete protein. It’s also particularly common to find rice contaminated with heavy metals like arsenic because fields are flooded and runoff is common. Get a powder that certifies testing for heavy metals, or even better, an organic rice protein powder.
Hemp protein comes from cannabis plants, and though it only contains 12 grams of protein per 100 calories, it’s incredibly nutrient-dense. An excellent source of fibre, iron, and magnesium, it’s also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp protein is highly sustainable, nutritious, and with its nutty flavour and easy mixing, it’s great for on-the-go supplementation. Like rice protein, it’s low in lysine, which is the only real downside.
Pumpkin seed protein
Roasted pumpkin seeds are a favourite by-product of Halloween decorating, but most people don’t realise how incredibly nutritious they are. One serving of pumpkin seeds contains magnesium, folate, fibre, zinc, iron, and healthy fats.
Pumpkin seed powders are also lower in carbs than other vegetarian proteins and boast a decent 18 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving. While it’s not the most protein-dense, it makes up for that with the tremendous nutritional boost.
The only downside to pumpkin seed protein other than it being somewhat more difficult to find is that it is naturally an incomplete protein, lacking both lysine and threonine.
One of the oldest plant protein powders, soy offers a wide range of benefits. At 23 grams of protein per 100 calories, soy is highly effective for supplementing protein in your diet. Additionally, it’s packed with BCAAs for muscle synthesis.
Unlike other plant powders, soy is considered a complete protein; it’s not lacking any essential amino acids. It’s nutritious, though not nearly as much as pumpkin seed or hemp proteins. There is evidence that consistent soy consumption is beneficial for your heart as well.
Some people avoid using soy because it’s been believed for years to raise oestrogen levels, but the one study that suggested that was performed on sheep, not people, and it’s never been replicated. The other reason people ignore soy is that much of what we consume is GMO (genetically modified), but if that matters to you, there are organic soy protein powders you can use.
Chia seed protein
Chia seeds are nutritionally potent and full of fibre, and at 20 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving, they’re highly efficient for rebuilding muscle. Chia seeds are full of omega-3s, chromium, iron, and boasting an impressive 8g of fibre per serving.
A common addition to smoothies and shakes, when the protein is isolated it becomes extremely bioavailable, sending needed protein directly to muscles. One of the biggest benefits of using chia seeds as protein is the fact that you don’t need to buy an isolate – you can get a coffee grinder and grind down servings of chia into powder yourself. It mixes well with anything and can be used as a thickener for puddings or smoothies.
Finding a perfect vegan protein
Each vegan and vegetarian protein source has benefits and this list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start to understand what you might want in a protein supplement.
Some powders like hemp and chia have a lot of beneficial nutrients, including critical omega-3 fats and fibre, but aren’t as bioavailable as soy or rice proteins. For those with food allergies, rice protein is the safest bet.
Regardless of what supplement you choose, make sure it’s as pure as possible, and ensure that you’re getting complete proteins through the rest of your diet. Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, you have a robust selection of options to pack the protein into your meal plan.