One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do you get enough protein on a plant-based diet??”.
I don’t need to tell you how important protein is to a healthy diet. It’s one of the first types of foods you were encouraged to eat to get “big and strong” as a kid. It’s true, protein is a vital macronutrient that helps us build tissue and feel satiated. The tissue in your body is constantly regenerating, without enough protein, your body lacks the building blocks it takes to make up those muscles and organs you rely on. But, there are some misconceptions about protein. It’s a myth that it’s difficult to get adequate protein on a plant-based diet. There are some amazing sources of proteins that come from plants! .
I’ve found protein powders to be a helpful tool for one transitioning into plant-based living, yet concerned about meeting their daily protein intake. An added bonus – plant based protein powder shakes also work well for people trying to heal their digestion, since they are easier to break down than heavy foods.
A good plant-based protein powder is a convenient and healthy way to supplement a real-food based lifestyle. Before you get too excited, know that not all protein powders are created equal. Protein powders can be awesome or they can be chock full of junk. When it comes to a quality plant-based protein powders, it’s especially important to really examine the label to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.
Why plant protein?
We live in a culture where a steak comes to mind when you say the word protein. That doesn’t mean that plants aren’t an equally beneficial source! In fact, I’d argue that plant based protein powders are far superior to animal based ones. One of the reasons animal proteins get the spotlight is because they offer a complete set of all essential amino acids. While this is great in theory, the benefits simply don’t outweigh the cost. For starters, animal products often come from factory farms and are full of antibiotics, hormones, and other toxins. If you struggle with dairy like most people do, whey protein isolate, a common dairy-based protein, can cause a lot of problems. Dairy disrupts thyroid function, raises insulin, and can even activate cancer pathways. Egg white protein, another common animal-based protein powder, often causes allergic reactions and food sensitivities leading to inflammation, skin problems, and compromised immunity. In general, I recommend my clients stay away from all animal based protein powders including whey, casein, and egg. It’s just not worth the risk when you can get plant based proteins that offer you the same essential amino acids without the toxins!
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though, because plant proteins are a little tricky to process, they often include a ton of pesky additives that take away from its nutritional value.
Below is a list of ingredients to keep an eye out for:
- Sugar or the term “natural sweeteners” on the ingredient label
- Stevia other than whole leaf stevia extract
- Artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors
- Thickeners: xanthan gum, guar gum, lecithin
- Possible GMO ingredients (corn, soy etc)
So, now that you know what to avoid, let’s get to the good stuff. Here are a few of my favorite sources of plant protein:
Pumpkin Seed Protein
While other plant proteins aren’t the tastiest, pumpkin seed protein actually has a really pleasant flavor. Super high in minerals like zinc and manganese, pumpkin seed protein is a great way to get some minerals along with your protein.
Hemp Protein Isolate
Hemp is a rockstar protein source that includes all 9 essential (meaning your body can’t produce them) amino acids plus an additional 11 nonessentials. A great source of fiber and omega fats, hemp benefits digestion, the immune system, and combats fatigue.
Brown Rice Protein Isolate
This powerhouse protein has been shown to be just as effective as whey when it comes to building muscle and figure. Additionally, brown rice protein benefits liver and heart function, helps regulate cholesterol and supports weight loss.
Pea protein is another plant based protein many are swapping their whey for. It also helps build muscle and can be a great post-workout protein to refill protein stores. It reduced inflammation making it a heart healthy protein. Pea protein also helps regulate blood sugar and may help protect kidney function.
With the exception of hemp, many of these plant proteins need to be taken in combination in order to get all essential amino acids. A good plant protein should contain no harmful ingredients, will contain a good blend of protein sources, will be nutrient dense, and will be palatable! A few of my favorite plant-based protein powders are:
I really try and drive home with readers and clients that everyone has their own unique physiology. Something that works for some may not work for others. Especially when it comes to protein! If your body is experiencing dysfunction, one of the first things you react to is proteins. You can end up being sensitive to something that is ordinarily healthy! Part of stepping up and owning your health is knowing deeply what does and doesn’t work for you. There are some ingredients that, while beneficial for some, cause problems in others. For those struggling with SIBO, prebiotics aka bacteria food are something to avoid. These include chicory root, inulin fiber, and psyllium. Always pay close attention to how you feel when taking any supplement or food. If you find you’re experiencing negative symptoms, always do what’s right for your body.