Nutrition

What to Look for in a Plant-Based Protein Powder

3 min read

Curious what to look for in a plant-based protein powder? Dietitians give the inside scoop.
Curious what to look for in a plant-based protein powder? Dietitians give the inside scoop.

In an ideal world, we’d all hit our recommended daily intake of all the vitamins, minerals, and essential macronutrients like protein directly from our food. But let’s face it: Sometimes avoiding certain nutrient gaps isn’t always easy. And in addition to taking a multivitamin, that’s where a quality protein powder can come in handy.

The caveat? There’s a lot to keep in mind when searching for an ideal protein powder—especially for those of us who are looking for a plant-based option. Consider the types of non-dairy protein to choose from, for example: Instead of whey protein or other animal products, plant-based protein powders feature protein sources derived from different plants, including soy, hemp, pea, lentil, chia seed, pumpkin seed, brown rice… you know, just to name a few. Some plant protein powders will feature an isolated type of protein, while others are an all-in-one protein blend that includes different types.

If you’re scratching your head, we feel you—with so many options on the market, it can be tricky to nail down the specifics. That’s why we tapped two RDs to share their top five things to look for in a plant-based protein powder, plus some creative ways to sneak it into your diet.

1. Make sure it’s allergen-friendly.

Since many plant protein powders blend a variety of different proteins, Brittany Modell, MS, RD, CDN, of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness reminds us that it’s essential to check the ingredient list and ensure that it doesn’t include anything that might be an irritant.

2. Look at the grams of protein, and consider your daily needs.

Not all plant protein powders are created equal. Some proteins, for example, are complete proteins, and others are not and thus don’t all contain the same nutritional profiles “Some have higher sources of protein while others contain more moderate amounts,” Modell says. “For example, a pea protein will be higher in protein than just a brown rice protein. This might be especially important for athletes who require a bit of additional protein in their diet while training.”

If you’re not an athlete, a good rule of thumb to calculate your own protein RDA is .8g of protein per kg of bodyweight. (1)

3. Pay attention to fiber content, too.

In some cases, using a plant-based protein powder is an easy way to squeeze more fiber into your diet. Modell recommends powders made of superfoods such as hemp seeds, flaxseed, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds.

4. Opt for traceable, real food ingredients.

Like many packaged foods, protein powders can contain questionable fillers and other shady additives. That’s why Modell advises taking a skeptical look at the ingredient list. “Look for simple and recognizable ingredients that are made up of real food,” she says. A traceable supply chain is always a plus.

5. Avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Krista King, MS, RDN, LDN, of Composed Nutrition recommends avoiding protein powders with added sugars or artificial sweeteners, which can detract from the nutritional quality.

Creative ways to incorporate plant-based protein powder into your routine

The obvious choice might be a smoothie, and for good reason: It’s convenient and endlessly customizable from a flavor perspective. Add in your favorite fruits and veggies, from bananas and berries to spinach or kale. Elevate your blend with peanut butter, chai, cacao, mocha, turmeric, vanilla or cinnamon. (Hungry yet?)

But protein shakes are not the only way. Modell suggests also adding a protein powder into pancakes, oatmeal or baked goods for a boost of protein.*

References:

  1. Lonnie, M., Hooker, E., Brunstrom, J. M., Corfe, B. M., Green, M. A., Watson, A. W., Williams, E. A., Stevenson, E. J., Penson, S., & Johnstone, A. M. (2018). Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources.... Nutrients, 10(3), 360.

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