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Protein powder has become a popular and useful product for increasing your protein intake, particularly if you are looking to build muscle. Whey protein has been seen as the first choice for this in the fitness world, but not anymore! Whey comes with problems. Whey is a by-product of the dairy industry, which means it is associated with unethical practices. It also contains lactose, which many people are intolerant to. So, vegan protein powder is a great choice for everyone!
Is Whey Protein Vegan?
No, whey is not vegan. Whey is a by-product of the dairy industry, so it is an animal product and therefore associated with all the cruelty inherent with dairy. Luckily, there are many vegan protein powders that do exactly the same job as whey and are tasty, effective more ethical and nutritious.
What Is Vegan Protein Powder?
It’s simple, really. Vegan protein powder is any high protein powder product that doesn’t contain animal products. One factor to consider when choosing your vegan protein powder is its amino acid profile. There are nine essential amino acids that make up a ‘complete protein.’ Ideally we want to be consuming a full profile to get the most out of our protein intake. With that in mind, here’s a few great ones to consider.
Brown Rice Protein
Rice is not often seen as a high protein product, more a carbohydrate, but it is made up of both protein and carbohydrate molecules. Select enzymes are used to separate the protein from the carbohydrate and brown rice protein powder is born! This product is high in protein and contains beneficial amino acids. It’s also naturally gluten free, another bonus.
Hemp is a real contender for the best vegan protein powder out there. It is a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids. It is also very digestible, research shows up to 95% of the protein in hemp is digestible. So anyone who struggles with digestive issues should consider hemp. It is also high in fibre and high fibre diets have been shown to improve blood sugar levels, improve gut bacteria and lower risk of bowel cancers. What’s not to like!
We can already hear the cries of all those pea haters out there. But these little green balls are protein powerhouses. Pea protein is also widely consumable. It is vegan, dairy free, gluten free and does not contain any of the top eight allergens in food. So it truly is for everyone! And best of all, unlike whey protein powders, it does not contribute to any animal suffering and its impact on the planet is low.
Finally, it does have a complete amino acid profile, although it is low in methionine. Luckily for us brown rice is high in methionine, so why not try a blend of these two vegan protein powders.
Soy protein is probably the most common and popular vegan protein powder out there. This is largely due to its very neutral flavor and its mixability. It also has a complete amino acid profile, getting you everything you need. Soy can also lower your levels of bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in the body! Some men also believe that soy can reduce their testosterone levels, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
Is Vegan Protein Better Than Whey?
First up, there is no replacement for a healthy, whole food diet, particularly a plant-based one. Protein powders can be really useful for after workouts and in between meal times however, so when we need to reach for them, reach for a vegan one. Vegan proteins are healthy, digestible, tasty and most of all do not support an industry underpinned by suffering and environmental damage. So, in our book, vegan protein is better than whey.
Better To Digest
Digestion is unique to individuals, so we must listen to our bodies and find the products that work for us. However, vegan proteins, particularly pea, soy and hemp proteins are very digestible and will not cause any digestive issues for most people. Whey however, contains lactose, which is a cause of bloating and digestive issues for a large proportion of the global population. No vegan protein contains lactose, so it is suitable for everyone.
Soy, hemp and pea proteins are all complete proteins that contain all the amino acids needed for the body to effectively absorb and use protein. Levels of each amino acid are different in each protein, so to ensure we maximize our amino acid profile, it is important to mix up which plant-based proteins we rely on. For example, mixing pea protein and brown rice protein (or buying a premixed product) is a great way to get high levels of all the essential amino acids we need.
For this we are going to turn to the medical experts. Michael Greger MD, founder of Nutrition Facts, who has identified a range of potential associations with a high intake of plant protein. It is important to note that this is, of course, based on a diet rich in natural whole foods, as well as partially processed products like protein powders. Here we go:
- Lower risk of allergies
- Lower risk of bladder cancer
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower total cholesterol
- Phosphorus management for those suffering from chronic kidney disease
- Lower risk of Crohn’s disease
- Lower risk of endometrial cancer
- Lower heart disease and cancer mortality
- Lower risk of inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis
- Life extension
- Beneficial effects on psychological disorders linked to low serotonin levels
- Better preservation of muscle mass as one ages
- Beneficial effects for Parkinson’s disease patients
- Lower risk of premature puberty
- Slower progression of prostate cancer
For some time, taste was an area of concern for people making the switch to plant-based protein powders. Not anymore. Demand for vegan protein products has grown so much that the quality of these products has increased dramatically. The majority of flavoured vegan protein products are now indistinguishable from whey products. They also mix well and go well in smoothies, oatmeal and more!
Weight Gain And Muscle Growth
Vegan protein is effective at building muscle and promoting weight gain. To do this, we need to take in a full amino acid profile and vegan protein powders such as soy, pea and hemp all provide this complete profile. The experts recommend that, to maximize results, we use a combination of all three of these products, as they all have differing benefits and properties.
How To Choose The Best Vegan Protein Powder?
As previously mentioned, it is a good idea to mix your vegan proteins, to ensure we get a complete and strong amino acid intake. Amy Shapiro, founder of Real Nutrition suggests the following things to look out for:
- Look for certified organic and USDA approved products to avoid unwanted sweeteners and additives.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Look out for caffeine content, this can be an unwanted surprise for many!
- If possible, mix your protein powder with natural fruits or vegetables. Taking in natural vitamins and minerals alongside your protein can aid absorption of both proteins and other nutrients like iron.
Best Vegan Protein Powders
There are an abundance of lists out there that outline the best vegan protein powders. We won’t pretend we know best in this department, so here are the best lists we could find:
- Healthine’s List brings together the best vegan protein powders and categorizes them based on different requirements.
- Women’s Health’s list
- Prevention provides tips on what to look out for and what to avoid when buying Vegan protein.
How To Make Vegan Protein Smoothies?
Simply mix your chosen vegan protein powder into your blender with your smoothie ingredients! This is the fun part, as once you have chosen your protein powder, anything goes! Our personal favourite is blending
vanilla soy protein powder with banana, peanut butter, chia seeds, walnuts, oat milk and ice.
So, whey protein is most certainly not vegan, but that doesn’t matter when there is so many amazing vegan options for protein powders! We can easily achieve the same goals, get the right nutrients and amino acids, all while being more ethical and saving the planet! What’s not to love!
If you are considering switching more than just your protein powder and want help going vegan, try Million Dollar Vegan’s 31 day challenge!