Protein powder can be a good source of protein when you don’t have time to cook. If you are vegan or trying to incorporate more plant-based protein into your diet you may not know all the types of plant-based protein powders available.
Plant-based vegan protein powder comes from nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. They are gluten-free and mostly allergen-free since they do not contain eggs, wheat, or milk. Whey, which is a popular protein powder, is derived from milk so this protein powder is not plant-based.
Plant-based protein powder is a good option to supplement whole food sources of protein.
Many on the market have between 15g-25g of protein per serving.
Although I would not consistently rely on protein powder as your primary source of protein, it can provide quality protein if you need a fast meal. Add it to a smoothie, oatmeal, or mix it with non-dairy milk for a quick protein shake.
Here is a guide summarizing the primary sources of plant-based vegan protein powder.
Pea protein powder
Pea protein isolate is produced by drying and then grinding peas (typically yellow split peas) into a fine powder, removing most of the fiber and starch from the pea.
This plant-based protein is starting to be used more in dairy- and meat-substitute products.
Pea protein has a mild, neutral taste so you don’t need to add a lot of sweeteners or other ingredients to mask the taste.
The nutrition per serving of pea protein powder is as follows (this is the nutrition for 1 scoop (33g) of NOW brand pea protein isolate, unflavored):
Total Fat: 2g
Total Carbohydrates: 1g
One benefit of pea protein is that it’s a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that you need to obtain from diet since the human body cannot synthesize these.
Peas are a good source of iron so pea protein isolate is high in iron. One serving contains about 35% of your recommended daily intake of iron.
A potential downside is that pea protein powder is higher in sodium than other plant-based protein powders. This is the result of peas being soaked in a sodium solution to adjust their pH levels during the protein extraction process.
Also, pea protein powder is lacking in dietary fiber because the fiber is removed during the protein extraction process.
Hemp protein powder
Hemp protein powder is produced by pressing and then grinding hemp seeds which come from the Cannabis sativa plant.
In addition to making protein powder, hemp seeds can be eaten raw, ground into hemp meal, or made into hemp milk or cold-pressed hemp oil.
Hemp protein powder has a bit of an earthy flavor, so you may need to mix it with other ingredients, such as fruit in a smoothie, to make it more palatable.
It also has a coarser texture than some other plant-based protein powders because it is less refined. Therefore, you need to mix it using a blender if making a smoothie or protein shake.
The nutrition per serving of hemp protein powder is as follows (this is the nutrition for a ¼ cup (31g) of Bob’s Red Mill Hemp Protein Powder):
Total Fat: 3g
Total Carbohydrates: 1g
Hemp protein powder is a good source of essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid).
It’s less refined than some other plant-based proteins and is therefore a good source of fiber, with about 8g of fiber per serving.
Hemp protein powder is also a good source of minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and iron.
It contains all nine essential amino acids, therefore it is a complete protein. However, it contains about 14g of protein per serving, which is less than most other types of vegan protein powder.
Soy protein powder
Soy protein isolate is the most popular type of plant-based protein powder. It’s made when soybean flour is dehulled and defatted to extract the protein.
Soy is a commonly consumed source of vegan protein. You can eat it in less refined forms such as edamame, tempeh or tofu or in more processed forms such as soy milk, energy bars, and many meat alternative products.
If you have an allergy to soy, soy protein powder is not an option.
However, if you can consume soy, this protein powder has a somewhat nutty taste so you may want to add some fruit if incorporating unflavored soy protein powder into a smoothie.
The nutrition profile for soy protein powder is the following (this is the nutrition for a 1/3 cup (24g) serving of NOW Foods Soy Protein Isolate – Natural Unflavored);
Total Fat: 0.5g
Total Carbohydrates: <1g
Soy protein powder is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
It is a good source of some minerals, including iron, copper, phosphorous, and manganese, as well as the B-vitamin folate.
This protein powder has higher sodium than most other plant-based protein powders.
Some people avoid soy products over concerns about phytoestrogens. These are plant-derived xenoestrogens which are chemical compounds that mimic the effect of estrogen in the body.
Brown rice protein powder
Although rice is thought of as a carbohydrate heavy food, it also contains protein that can be extracted and made into a powder.
Brown rice protein powder has a very mild taste so it can easily be added to smoothies or baked goods.
The nutrition for brown rice protein powder is as follows (this is the nutrition for 2 heaping tablespoons (30g) of NutriBiotic Raw Rice Protein, Plain):
Total Fat: 0g
Total Carbohydrates: 4g
Rice protein does not contain all nine essential amino acids, therefore it is not a complete protein. For this reason, rice protein powder is often mixed with pea protein or protein powders derived from other grains or seeds to supply all nine essential amino acids.
Powdered peanut butter is a less known plant-based protein powder. It is made when roasted peanuts are pressed to remove most of the oil and then ground into a powder.
Use it to add peanut flavor and a boost of protein to baked goods, oatmeal, and smoothies. You can also use it to make a lower fat peanut sauce or mix it with water to create a lower fat peanut butter spread.
Here is the nutrition breakdown for 6 tablespoons (30g) of Jif Peanut Powder, which has no added salt or sugar:
Total Fat: 4g
Total Carbohydrates: 8g
Because most of the oil was removed from the peanut during processing, powdered peanut butter contains much less fat than regular peanut butter.
It’s a good source of fiber, with about 4g of fiber per 30g serving of peanut powder.
Mixed plant proteins
Some plant-based protein powders you buy will contain a mix of plant protein powder types. This is often done to ensure that the protein powder contains all nine essential amino acids.
Grains, beans, and seeds are good sources of plant-based protein, so you may see the following in the ingredients list after the main source of protein which is generally pea, hemp, brown rice, or soy.
Sprouted grains: sprouted amaranth, sprouted buckwheat, sprouted quinoa, sprouted millet
Sprouted seeds: sprouted chia seeds, sprouted flax seeds, sprouted sunflower seeds, sprouted pumpkin seeds
Sprouted beans: sprouted lentils, sprouted garbanzo beans, sprouted adzuki beans
There is a variety of plant-based and vegan protein powders to choose from. Each is slightly different in its taste and nutritional profile. Pick one type to try for some added protein in a breakfast smoothie or protein shake snack.