See All the Pros and Cons of Plant-Based Protein Powders
Going plant-based is the latest movement in the food industry. Today you can easily find plant-based options in everything from milk to faux meats and even to protein powders. But in a world where there’s no shortage of protein powder options to pick from, what are the pros and cons of opting for plant-based protein powders? As the popularity rapidly grows, arguments are growing both in favor of and against going plant-based full-time.
So why are plant-based diets gaining more recognition?
As it turns out, there are many benefits associated with opting for more plant-based diets. If you’re not already vegan or vegetarian, the good news is you don’t have to completely overhaul your entire diet to reap the rewards of a plant-based diet. For example, swapping plant-based protein for animal-based protein (e.g., meat) for one or two meals a day can make a difference. In other words, a flexitarian-style approach may be the way to go for many folks.
You see, some of the benefits associated with substituting plant-based proteins for animal protein include supporting:
- Healthy lipid (fat) levels, including LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B levels
- A healthy systemic inflammatory response
- Metabolic wellness, including maintaining healthy blood sugar levels
And over the long term, research suggests that this type of dietary swap (more plant-based protein, less animal protein) may help support:
- Heart health
- Metabolic wellness
- Digestive health
- Healthy aging
- Overall health
Different Types of Plant-Based Protein Powders
If you are new to plant-based protein powder, though, there is a lot to consider when debating whether or not you should make a switch. As it turns out, plant-based protein is a larger umbrella for several different sources of protein. Some of the most common plant-based protein powders come from sources such as soy, hemp, pea, and rice.
Soy, because it’s a complete protein with a modest digestion and absorption rate, is the most effective. Soy is also a good source of glutamine, an amino acid that exists naturally in the body and can help reduce muscle damage and expedite tissue regeneration when used in higher amounts during muscle growth. Yet, soy intake is controversial with probable links to hormone disturbances.
Hemp protein comes from the cannabis plant and is high in heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Plus, it’s an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, iron, and fiber.
Pea protein has a high absorption rate in the body, similar to whey protein. However, because it is an incomplete protein, it must be combined with another protein, such as rice, to get maximum efficiency.
Brown rice powder tends to be relatively inexpensive and readily available, with a high protein ratio. Brown rice protein is naturally lactose and gluten-free and rich in B vitamins and fiber. However, to make rice protein a complete protein, it needs to be combined with another protein source. Additionally, according to studies, brown rice protein performs equally well as whey for both muscle growth and post-workout recovery.
The Benefits of Plant-Based Protein Powder
Now that we are more familiar with some of the most common forms of protein found in many plant-based protein powders, here are some of the pros associated with plant-based protein:
1. Nutrient Density
Plant-based protein is something the majority of us could use more of in our diets because there’s much more to plants than protein. Fiber, for one, is a major reason to eat more plant-based foods. After all, research shows that higher fiber intakes—at least 25 – 29 grams per day—can help promote heart health, digestive health, metabolic wellness, weight management, and even longevity.
Even more, plants are chockful of phytonutrients, which can benefit the body in various ways, such as supporting the body’s natural antioxidant, detoxification, and longevity pathways. Along those lines, there are so many phytonutrient-rich plant-based superfoods, and a plant protein powder is an ideal vehicle to get more into your diet.
They’re generally considered more sustainable protein sources as the land requirements for animal protein production are a good deal higher than those used to produce plant-based proteins. Therefore, plant proteins over whey may be a good choice if the environment is a key concern. That said, pasture-raising animals in an optimal ecosystem is another way to improve sustainability.
3. Decreased Intolerance or Allergies
One of the few more common issues with whey protein can be gastric irritation and digestive problems, particularly for those with dairy or lactose intolerances. On the other hand, plant-based proteins are dairy-free, so for people with dairy allergies or intolerance, plant-based protein powders can be a great alternative. That said, do watch for other allergies and intolerances and read through the labels if you do have any. While we’re less likely to be allergic or intolerant to plant proteins, some people still experience issues.
Drawbacks of Plant-Based Protein Powders
One of the trickiest things about going plant-based is getting more plant-based protein in your diet. Unlike many animal foods, plants aren’t typically a great source of protein. In other words, they’re not as highly concentrated in protein, especially high-quality protein. Below are other cons commonly related to plant-based protein powders.
1. Consistency and Taste
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for vegan protein powders to leave a lot to be desired in terms of taste and texture, with some described as chalky, bitter, and/or gritty. Plant-based protein powder is also often problematic when it comes to mixing smoothly. Additionally, there are typically not as many flavors to choose from, making finding a plant-based protein powder that tastes great challenging.
2. Complete Protein
Generally speaking, plants offer more carbs than protein. That ultimately means plant-based proteins may not be very suitable for people on a low-carb diet. Similarly, plant-based protein sources often are incomplete sources of protein since they lack a full contingent of the essential amino acids, which are amino acids the body can’t make on its own and which we must get from our diets. This means to be a complete protein, you need to be consuming a combination of plant sources rather than single-source plant-based protein powder.
Finding a plant-based protein shake that’s also highly digestible can be difficult. Not only can plant-based protein be challenging for the digestive system, it can also be hard to absorb since plants store nutrients, such as protein, in ways the human body is not fully equipped to process. In other words, plant-based protein is not always highly digestible, and if the body can’t digest it, it can’t absorb it.
Despite both sides to the pros and cons, protein powder can make for a nutritious and effective addition to any diet and exercise plan. And depending on your goals, current health, and personal choice, you can decide whether or not going plant-based may be the smart choice for you. However, regardless of the protein source you choose, it is important to do your research and continue a healthy, balanced diet.
Clean, Complete Plant Protein Powder for EVERYONE