Have you noticed the explosion of clean, tasty all-plant protein products available for you? As an industry becomes more embraced by consumers, innovation accelerates and entrepreneurial, boutique brands are launched.
Plant proteins are more than just having a moment – they are here to stay. If you like going your own whey – we won’t try to change your mind. But many people have a sensitivity to whey, whose peptides can be too large to digest properly and as such, will cause a bit of tummy upset. And many people just don’t want anything to do with animal-based products if they can help it.
In fact, a 2019 market intelligence report summarized the plant-protein phenomenon as follows: “The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins. Consumer notions of what constitutes a good protein source are expanding to include a wider variety of plant protein ingredients. Subsequently, interest in plant protein ingredients among food manufacturers and foodservice operators is intensifying, thereby fueling the growth of the overall plant-based protein market.”
In the realm of condition-specific value, plant protein powders are good sources of energy and workout fuel. You can now choose from soy, pea, chickpeas, lentils, nuts (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and macadamia), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), and grains (amaranth, chia, quinoa) as well as hemp and brown rice.
Key Plant Protein Summaries
Brown rice: No worries about carb load with typical brown rice protein powder – as much as 80% of the starch is removed, and the result is a protein dense powder. Brown rice protein is particularly rich in phenylalanine and tyrosine. Phenylalaline is essential as the body cannot produce it. Tyrosine is an amino that may relieve stress and depression as well as support cognitive function.
Hemp protein: Hemp is undeniably a superstar in the natural products universe, and it is also showing up as a protein powder in sports/fitness nutrition. Among the many other plant protein powders, hemp contains 20 amino acids including all nine essential aminos. And, if you eat a healthy diet but can’t stand fish, hemp protein is also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Soy protein: The king of plant proteins, soy was the eminent – and only – whey alternative for quite a while. Like hemp, soy protein contains all essential aminos, Soy protein also has phytoestrogens (genistein and diadzein), which support healthy estrogen levels in women. Soy protein also contains isoflavones, which have been shown in several studies to support cholesterol levels.
Pea protein: Pea protein is popular in the market as it provides all the key branched chain aminos (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine as well as arginine, which promotes healthy blood flow. Pea protein is also a good source of iron, making it a good choice for vegans.
Chickpea protein: According to one supplier, “Chickpea is non-allergenic, has negligible levels of phytoestrogens, is non-GMO and grows in semi-arid regions, so we can produce it locally and avoid any import costs. It’s a green crop, requires very little fertilization and makes an excellent rotation legume to maintain the quality of the soil. And chickpea awareness is on the rise; 20% of Americans are now familiar with the pulse.”
There is quite a bit of research into the benefits of the multifarious plant proteins you can buy, and future blogs will delve more deeply into them. Here are a few examples of studies – both animal and human – showing various fitness and cardiovascular impacts from consuming plant proteins.
The link between animal and plant protein consumption and all-cause or cause-specific mortality has been the focus of a study of 70, 696 adults who were followed for 18 years. After adjustments, it was found that plant protein intake was associated with lower total mortality but this wasn’t the case with animal protein intake. The researchers concluded that “higher plant protein intake was associated with lower total and CVD-related mortality. Although animal protein intake was not associated with mortality outcomes, replacement of red meat protein or processed meat protein with plant protein was associated with lower total, cancer-related, and CVD-related mortality.”
Another study sought to discern any differences in consuming plant-protein versus animal-based protein on health. The observational study examined the diets of 3,349 men and women aged 50 or over by calculating a successful aging (SAI) score. Results showed that those with a high plant protein diet had a higher SAI score than those that had a low plant protein intake. The researchers concluded that eating a diet rich in plant proteins benefits long-term health, and this should be encouraged for older individuals.
Cholesterol and weight control were examined in rodents on high-fat diets fed plant proteins. The subjects were given hydrolysates of white rice protein, brown rice protein and soy protein or casein (milk protein) for three weeks. Among all the proteins, the brown rice protein in this study performed the best, with lower body weight, liver weight, very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and liver cholesterol as well as higher fat and bile acid excretion. The researchers concluded, “The results suggest that BRPH includes unique peptides that reduce weight gain and hepatic [liver] cholesterol synthesis.”
Rice protein went head-to-head with whey in a human study to determine if it could provide equal body composition change benefits. In the study, 24 resistance-trained male athletes were randomly divided into two groups, taking either 48 grams of rice protein or whey protein isolate on training days; three days a week for eight weeks. Both whey and rice protein isolate supplementation after resistance exercise improved indices of body composition and exercise performance.
A proprietary pea protein (NUTRALYS®) was tested against whey protein and placebo on muscle development and strength in 161 men during a 12-week resistance training program. The results showed that supplementation with pea protein promoted a greater increase of muscle thickness as compared to placebo but there was no difference between the two protein groups. The researchers concluded that pea proteins may be used as an alternative to whey for muscle gains.
No matter the plant protein powders you choose to enjoy as part of your healthy and vibrant lifestyle, you may want to add a unique probiotic supplement that will be available soon: AminoAlta -- a combination of 5 billion CFU L. paracasei LP-DG® (CNCM I-1572) and 5 billion CFU L. paracasei LPC-S01 (DSM 26760) – which was shown in a new study to boost the absorption of the key amino acids in plant proteins, making them more efficient.