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Ingredient Spotlight: Pea Protein

It’s no secret that protein is an essential component of a well-balanced diet. Most—if not all—of us are aware of the importance of consuming adequate amounts of protein every day. Still, we often fall short of our daily requirements. And while we’d ideally get our nutrients from whole foods, sometimes we just need a little extra help to meet our nutritional needs. This is where one of today’s most popular ingredients comes in: pea protein!

Background

Humans have been consuming peas for centuries. However, pea protein is a rather new supplement in the food industry. Due to consumer trends shifting to more plant-based, sustainable, environmentally friendly ingredients, we have seen a major increase in demand for plant proteins. In fact, in 2018 and 2019, the demand for plant proteins in the U.S. increased by 20%. So, unsurprisingly enough, you can now find plant-based proteins at nearly every grocery store. And what kind are you likely to find in the highest abundance? Pea protein!

But what exactly is pea protein? Well, it’s essentially processed yellow peas. In their natural state, peas are a high-quality protein food as they contain all nine essential amino acids, the compounds used as the building blocks for protein that we need to obtain from our diet. So, these nutrient-rich yellow peas are dried, ground, and processed into an isolate in which the fiber and starch are separated from the protein. This powdered substance is what we most notably refer to as pea protein.

Nutritional Information

Pea protein isolate contains around 15-20 grams of protein per serving. So, depending on your body’s unique needs, just one serving of pea protein can meet around a third of your daily protein requirements. On top of being high in protein, one serving contains around 80 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, and 1.5 grams of fat. It’s also a great source of iron, an essential mineral required for our bodies to grow and develop. 

Health Benefits

Muscle Growth and Repair

As I mentioned, pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s especially rich in branch-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. These amino acids (i.e., leucine, isoleucine, and valine) drive protein synthesis and promote muscle growth and repair. One study even found that, with appropriate training, supplementation with pea protein resulted in a significant increase in muscle thickness compared to placebo supplementation. So, pea protein may be used as an alternative to dairy-based proteins.

Heart Health

Hypertension is directly associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, and pea protein has antihypertensive properties. Pea protein has been shown to inhibit the blood-pressure-raising enzymes renin and ACE. Pea protein also has antioxidant capacities, further slowing the progression of cardiovascular disease. So the consumption of pea protein may help manage blood pressure and prevent further cardiac complications down the line.

Blood Sugar Control

Pea protein helps improve the body’s glycemic response. Research reveals that consuming pea protein reduces blood sugar levels after meals and stimulates insulin release in healthy adults. Regulated blood sugar is essential in keeping our mind, body, and spirit connected to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Vegan and Eco-Friendly

I’m passionate about promoting a (mostly) plant-based diet for health reasons. But along with being an excellent vegan source of nutrients, pea protein is also sustainable and low in its water and carbon footprint. Pea protein can help you stay on top of your health goals while aligning with pro-environmental values. 

Potential Drawbacks

Low in Methionine

While pea protein contains all the essential amino acids, it is particularly low in methionine. So, if you don’t consume sufficient pea protein, you may not experience efficient muscle synthesis. It’s best to use pea protein in combination with high-methionine foods, such as nuts or soy, to reap all the muscle-growing benefits.

Low in Fiber

Although pea protein comes from a whole food, it is still processed into its powdered form. Because of its manufacturing process, pea protein is low in dietary fiber. Fiber consumption is loaded with health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, improving gastrointestinal function and gut health, and increasing satiety. So, use pea protein as an addition rather than a substitution in a well-balanced diet.

High in Sodium

Like any other processed food, pea protein can be high in sodium, depending on the brand and specific product. It’s important to always check nutritional labels before assuming something is good for you! Just because you notice that a product contains pea protein, it does not make it healthy by default. Many of today’s most popular vegan meat products incorporate pea protein but are also highly processed and contain harmful additives, which is why I avoid many of them. 

Ways to Consume Pea Protein

Pea protein can be used in so many delicious ways! I love adding pea protein powder to smoothies, chia pudding, oatmeal, and pancake batter. However, if you’re more into savory foods, you can use an unflavored variety in soups and pasta sauces for an extra protein boost.

Final Thoughts

Pea protein on its own is a fantastic option for increasing protein intake while improving overall health. Its attractive nutritional profile and evidence-based health benefits make it a worthwhile addition to your diet. However, every pea protein powder is created differently, so look at the ingredients and labels before purchasing.

To help narrow your options, let me tell you about one that I love! NUFYX’s Heavenly Protein Powder is a pea-based protein powder with minimal ingredients that supports digestion and tastes delicious. My favorite flavor is Creamy Vanilla, but try them all to see which one best suits your palate. Use code ELISSA15 for a special discount at checkout!

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Balancing our diet can sometimes feel unmanageable. How can we make sure we eat the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat from the right sources? While introducing pea protein is a great place to start, we can’t stop there. Book a one-on-one session with me if you’re ready to learn more about nutrition and have a partner help walk you through your health journey. Having spent years optimizing my health, I am confident we can do the same for you!

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