Protein is an essential macro-nutrient that helps build muscle, repair tissue, and make enzymes and hormones. When it comes to getting adequate amounts of protein, it can be difficult to ensure you eat enough lean meats and fruits and vegetables to get what your body needs, especially if you are vegan/vegetarian. And we ALL need protein! (Check out my article on protein to learn more about it and how much you should be getting!)
There are two main types of protein – animal and plant based. Animal based proteins are the best sources of proteins – such as meat and dairy. However, plant based proteins provide excellent sources of proteins as well and are a great option for those with a dairy sensitivity or follow a vegan lifestyle. For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on plant based protein (if you prefer whey, head on over to my related article here). I will overview plant protein, different types of plant proteins and then get into my top recommendation (i.e. the best plant based protein powder!) – which leads ultimately to a review of a recommended product. If you have any questions or want to share your opinions and experiences, please comment at the end of the article! I will respond promptly. 🙂 Enjoy the article!
PLANT PROTEINS – A good source of protein for dairy sensitivities and vegan lifestyles
Many people choose plant based protein as opposed to dairy-based powders (whey or casein) due to lactose intolerance or sensitivity to dairy proteins or lead a vegan lifestyle. Plant based proteins have unique benefits to them for many considering them vs. whey. Here are some of the known benefits!
1. Allergy safe! – Typically plant based proteins are gluten free, soy free, nut free, dairy free, GMO free and are vegetarian friendly.
2. Fiber rich! – Plant based proteins contain large amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber which is great for the both digestion and satiety! However, keep in mind too much fiber can cause gas and bloating.
3. Alkalizing Anomolies – Plant-based diets help to combat the acidity in our diets. Plants that have high amounts of chlorophyll (the greener, the better) provide the alkalinity that our bodies need. Our bodies’ natural pH levels can be balanced through plant-based protein powder, as well.
4. Vitamins and Minerals – Plant based diets and proteins naturally have more vitamins and minerals than animal based proteins.
5. Healthy saturated fats – Plant based proteins that include things like coconut oil have healthy fats in them! And we all need that macro-nutrient as well.
PLANT PROTEIN TYPES
There are many different types of plant protein powders on the market, such as:
*Peas and legumes – A good source of proteins that are higher in branched chain amino acids and lysine but lack methionine. Pea proteins often contain soluble fibers from the pea itself, causing it to swell and thicken up as water is added. *Soy, from the soybean, is from the legume family – it is a complete protein with a high concentration of BCAAs.
*Brown rice protein isolate – A source of protein that is higher in methionine, but lacks other amino acids including threonine, leucine, and histidine. Rice protein isolates tend not to dissolve well in water and have a rather grainy texture.
*Hemp protein – Contains complete amino acids without the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Hemp also contains plant-sourced omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid and the anti-inflammatory omega-6 called gamma-linolenic acid. However, it tends to have a vegetable-like smell and a bit of an aftertaste that is really difficult to hide.
*Pumpkin protein powder – Tastes good, mixes well in liquid, and is rich in minerals such as zinc, but like hemp proteins has its own unique flavor and aftertaste.
Note: Plant proteins from single sources, such as from pea or rice, are typically incomplete proteins. They are low in some of the 9 essential amino acids, which we need to fully utilize the protein. Therefore, it is necessary to combine plant proteins from different sources in order to make a complete protein. That is why I do not have one single top recommendation for a plant based protein but a blend of plant proteins instead!
SAFETY AND SIDE EFFECTS
Protein powders and drinks may cause gastrointestinal distress such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation in some people.
If you take more than the recommended serving size of protein, you may also experience an upset stomach, cramps or other digestive discomfort. Headaches, fatigue and a reduced appetite are also possible. Other more serious health problems possibly associated with consuming too much protein include dehydration, kidney disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and cancer (this is largely overblown and not supported by enough evidence).
Remember to always consult your physician or dietitian before starting any new supplement to ensure it is right for you.
Never use a supplement to substitute for other protein-rich foods as you may eventually develop nutrient deficiencies.
MY TOP PLANT PROTEIN POWDER
Based off of the criteria and information above, I have chosen a plant based protein blend that features a mixture of pea protein, saviseed protein, brown rice protein, and alflafa protein, which are typically fiber-rich and promote satiety and weight loss. This product is also soy free.
Product name: Vega Sports Performance Protein
My Overall Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Vegan certified | Quality Ingredients | Added probiotics and BCAAs
Cons: Some label inaccuracies (which may or may not matter to you depending – read further for an analysis via labdoor) | Pricey | Nasty taste according to some consumers | Bad rating on clean label project.org (at face value this is a con but please read further for a deeper look into this and why I still recommend it)
Price: Generally $2.17 per serving | $2.99 for a single serving packet | $49.99 for a 1 lb container (about 20 servings)
Quality Assurance: Vega Sports Performance Protein is accredited by and highly rated by the following companies and third party testers
Best Place to buy for bulk: Off of the MyVega website, they are currently offering 25% off + a free shaker on orders over $75! (Use code MARCH25). In addition, they have a bundle and save option to buy two and save 10% at check out.
Best Place to buy for cheap: Amazon.com – if you have amazon prime you can have fast and free two-day shipping. In addition, if you use subscribe and save, there is a potential of up to 15% savings. Another website to find great deals on products is Ebay!
Return Policy overview: 30-day money back guarantee on non-final sales or promotions, including if purchased from a different vendor! (i.e. amazon) You also get the Amazon 30-day money back guarantee or the Ebay money back guarantee from the individual host sites.
Manufactured In A Facility That Also Processes Peanuts, Dairy, Soy, Egg, And Tree Nuts. The product is labelled to United States standards and may differ from similar products sold elsewhere in its ingredients, labeling and allergen warnings.
VEGA SPORTS PERFORMANCE PROTEIN PRODUCT SPECS OVERVIEW
- 30 grams plant-based protein from pea, pumpkin seed, organic sunflower seed, and alfalfa protein
- 5 grams of BCAAs
- 2 billion CFU probiotics (bacillus coagulans)
- Tart cherry to support recovery
- Zero artificial flavors or sweeteners
- Gluten-free, vegan certified, and Informed Choice certified
- Non-GMO Project Certified
Ingredients: Pea protein, natural flavors, pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed protein, alfalfa protein, strawberry powder, tart cherry, beet root powder (for color), xanthum gum, organic apple powder, sea salt, citric acid, stevia leaf extract, probiotics (bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086), bromelain, turmeric extract, black pepper extract.
ABOUT MY VEGA
“Our co-founder, Brendan Brazier, knew that dialing in his nutrition was the competitive advantage he needed as a professional triathlete. Through trial, error, and experimentation, Brendan found that real, plant-based foods – like plant protein, greens, chia seeds, and so much more – helped him recover between training sessions better than any supplement he’d tried. The only problem? He couldn’t find an all-in-one product that delivered the nutrition he needed.
That’s why he developed it himself. By putting functional, real food ingredients first, Brendan began creating delicious plant-based products that met his needs as an athlete, and as a person – without ever compromising nutrition for convenience. Now, Vega has grown to include specialized sport nutrition, protein bars, shakes, and so much more.
We have a commitment to less. Reduced waste from our products, reduced emissions on the road, reduced footprint at home.
We also have a commitment to better: improved standards for soil health and ecological land management; fairness for farmers, workers, and animals; responsible farming practices that protect the land and the communities that support it. We set the bar high from the ground up. “ – Via the MyVega about us page
VIA LABDOOR – An Independent third party tester
*Total fat was measured at 4.2g/serving, 2000% over its 0.2g label claim. At 4.2g/serving, fat content fell below the 44-78g/day Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR)* for men and women over 19 years of age.
*Total cholesterol was measured at 6mg/serving, where no cholesterol was claimed on the Supplement Facts label. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends minimal consumption of cholesterol while maintaining a nutritionally adequate diet. Generally, risk increases at any level above zero.
*Total sodium was measured at 405mg/serving, 76.9% over its 229mg label claim. At 405mg, a single serving provides 27% of the IOM-established Adequate Intake (AI) of sodium for men and women up to 50 years of age. This product should be consumed in moderation, especially by those at risk for hypertension or other risk factors for heart disease.
*Total calcium was measured at 30mg/serving. No calcium content was claimed on the Supplement Facts label. A single serving of this product provides 3% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium for men and women 19-50 years of age. It is not a significant source of other vitamins or minerals.
*Total sugar was measured at 0.8g/serving, 71% below its 2.8g label claim. Consumption of added sugars should not exceed 5% of daily caloric intake, according to the World Health Organization’s 2014 draft guidelines. Assuming a 2000 calorie daily diet, this product contributes a minimal 3.2% of the maximum daily recommendation.
*Total protein was measured at 73.6g per 100g of product. A 34g serving will yield 25g protein, which nearly matches its 26g label claim. 64% of calories in this product come from protein content, which is slightly above average in this category (Mean = 67%, Standard Deviation = 20%).
*This product passed all heavy metals assays, with levels of compounds like arsenic, lead, and cadmium all below 1.0PPM (parts per million). All active ingredients also all met LabDoor’s standards for overall safety in the quantities present in this sample.
VIA CONSUMER LABS – An Independent Third Party Tester
ConsumerLab.com, LLC (“CL”) is the leading provider of independent test results and information to help consumers and healthcare professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products. Consumerlab reports are protected by copyright laws. I am not permitted to share any report, in part or full, to my readers. All I can tell you is that Vega Sport Performance Protein is ConsumerLab APPROVED. To understand the qualifications of this approval, you can review their quality assurance program. To read the full report, you will have to pay for a membership which is in all honesty fairly priced ($42 for 1 year or $69 for 2 years) – you can join here. It’s a great way to research product quality.
ADDRESSING THE CLEAN LABEL PROJECT RATING AND OTHER SAFETY CONCERNS VIA CONSUMERS
1. The Clean Label Project Stamp of Disapproval! On the clean label project website, the Vega sports performance protein came in at a disappointing 1 out of 5 for purity and product value (many are willing to pay for a quality product – so I will focus on the purity concern). The clean label project uses a third party independent lab just like labdoor.com and consumberlabs.com. According to their analysis of the Vega Sports Performance Protein brand, it rated above average compared to other competitors for not containing pesticides or solvents. It also rated average for ingredient quality. Where the brand fails according to the clean label project is the presence of some heavy metals and other scary ingredients they reference. The problem with their analysis is it doesn’t give you analysis details – percentages – types etc! The first section labelled arsenic/Mercury is given a 1 out of a 5 but it does not proceed to inform the consumer exactly how much and the type of occurring mercury for example. Same for the section labelled Cadmium/Lead. The last section, Mytoxins/Melamime/Antibiotics/BPA was a 2 out of a 5 – again with no details on the findings. This makes making an informed decision based on the results given hard. You just have to assume the product quality on a rating system which is based on it’s comparison to the competition that they have reviewed a lone.
So, what are we to decide as the consumer?
According to Labdoor.com’s analysis, Vega Sports Performance protein powder passed the heavy metals and purity test – “Bulk samples of this product passed the six mineral assays, indicating presence of under 1PPM (part per million) of arsenic, lead, cadmium, bismuth, antimony, and silver. This product passed all heavy metals assays, with levels of compounds like arsenic, lead, and cadmium all below 1.0PPM (parts per million). All active ingredients also all met LabDoor’s standards for overall safety in the quantities present in this sample.” – Labdoor report. And then according to Consumerlab.com – a leading provider in independent testing – this product was tested through their quality certification program and was approved – it did not exceed the contamination limit of lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium among other testing approvals.
Via MyVega addressing consumer concerns via the clean label project review – “Because plants absorb the minerals from the soil they’re grown in, you may find many different naturally occurring minerals in our products. Many soils through the US and world contain trace amounts of heavy metals, for a multitude of reasons. The proteins in our blends are minimally processed so that we can retain as much nutrition as possible. Since plants absorb minerals from the soil, including heavy metals such as lead, these minerals may be reflected in the final product. We’re confident that the Vega shake you’ve purchased is safe for you to enjoy as a part of your balanced diet. We have robust Quality Assurance programs in place that methodically test our products for safety and quality and ensure we are compliant with our own rigorous internal standards, as well as all government regulations, including Prop 65. You can learn more about our Quality Assurance Program, which includes testing for the following heavy metals: Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury here: Hopefully that provides you with more information, Bridgette Clare, RHN Vega Education & Engagement Team Lead”
In the end – actual nutritional analysis and approvals via labdoor and consumerlabs + the happy customers (until they saw clean label project’s review!) are enough for me to back this product and recommend it to my readers.
2. The war on “Natural flavors“ – if you’ve done any research on food label safety in general, I’m sure you have heard that companies are not required to list the source of “natural flavors” whether from animal or plant and that can throw up a red flag to health conscious individuals. Via MyVega – “No animals here! We are a vegan company certified by Vegan Action. This means we don’t use animals or animal by-products in any of our products. Nor do we test on animals. At Vega, our Natural Flavors are from the essence and extract of plants. These extracts come from a variety of plant-based sources such as spices, fruit or fruit juices, vegetable or vegetable juices, herbs and roots. We use no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavors in any of our products. So fear not! Only quality ingredients here. In health, Nicola Anderson RHN. ROHP, Education Specialist”
3. Xantham Gum – oh no! – If you have done research into additives, you may have heard a lot of horror stories revolving around “gums”. For the sake of this review, I will only remark on the gum used in this product. Xanthum Gum is a substance produced by bacterial fermentation or synthetically and used in foods as a gelling agent and thickener. It is a polysaccharide composed of glucose, mannose, and glucuronic acid. Xanthan gum is safe when up to 15 grams per day are taken. It can cause some side effects such as intestinal gas (flatulence) and bloating.
4. Stevia – good or bad? – Some swear by stevia as a great natural no calorie sweetener – others prefer and swear by real cane sugar. Some love the taste stevia gives and others refer to it as a “chemical” taste. It really is consumer preference. If you do not like the taste or make-up of stevia, My Vega does offer a product with no added sugars, called Vega Clean Protein.
5. Variations in taste and texture – As a food-based product there will be slight natural variation in the taste and texture from lot to lot.
6. “Only one product is Organic?” – “Our Organic Vega One is USDA certified organic. That said we use mainly organic ingredients in our other shake products and for any non-organic ingredients we ensure our suppliers are following organic farming practices. You can see a full list of ingredients on our website or on each product and the organic ingredients will always be denoted. Hope that helps to explain. In Health, Nicola Anderson RHN, ROHP, Education Specialist.”
7. “If you are gluten free and vegan certified – why is there a warning about your product being processed in a facility that also processes peanuts, dairy, soy, egg, and tree nuts?” – First off, let’s address how a product gets vegan certified to begin with. According to the website, “companies must submit and have approved by the Vegan Awareness Foundation that acceptable steps are taken to thoroughly clean and sanitize all surfaces, vessels, utensils, and machinery used between vegan and non-vegan production cycles to minimize cross-contamination if shared machinery is used.“
Some consumers think the manufacturing facility can’t be used at all by possible contaminants to be vegan certified but the fact is, as long as proper measures are taken to ensure no cross contamination, they can have the vegan certified label. For safety concerns, I am sure they placed this warning on their label for the extremely rare chance someone may get a cross contaminated product – as the risk is extremely low, but anything is possible – to cover legalities. Via MyVega – “Our formulation for Vega Sport has not changed- it’s still made without dairy or soy ingredients, and is gluten-free and vegan certified. That said, we’ve recently updated our labels to convey that our products are manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts, dairy, soy, egg and tree nuts. Safety is paramount to us at Vega®, therefore all our facilities are 3rd party audited and follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to ensure all allergen ingredients are stored away from non-allergen ingredients, and strict sanitation procedures are followed, to ensure risk for cross contamination is minimized. Since every allergy is unique and has a different severity level, we advise our consumers to make their own decision, depending on their individual health condition and dietary restrictions and by speaking with their health care practitioner. Customer feedback fuels everything we do, so we will definitely take what you’ve said into account and pass it on to our team. 🙂 In Health, Shannon Ow Consumer Educator”
The biggest problem I have found with plant based protein isolates is that they naturally do not taste very good, nor do they behave well in liquid. If taking your plant based protein powder with just water or milk alternative is not sufficient or doable for you, check out my article for some simple smoothie recipes to add your protein too! So you can have your protein and hopefully enjoy it too :).