Pea is for Protein: What You Need to Know About Pea Protein Powder
If you’ve taken a stroll down the supplement aisle at your favorite health food store recently, you’ve most likely come across a newcomer to the protein powder family: pea protein. So, what is it, what are the benefits and shortfalls, and how can something so small possibly pack a protein punch? We spoke to Brittney Bearden, sports nutritionist for Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine, and Emily Bullard, registered dietitian nutritionist at Texas Health Fitness Center HEB, to find out!
What is Pea Protein?
No matter if you’re a beginner or seasoned athlete, a glance at the protein powder section of the supplement aisle can be daunting. There are several forms of protein powder but the most common forms are whey, casein, brown rice and soy protein. Pea protein is quickly growing in popularity, though, due to the fact that it is rich in iron, vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free and hypoallergenic.
“Pea protein is a great alternative for someone who may be attempting to follow a vegan-type diet, and is concerned about adequate protein consumption,” says Bullard.
Pea protein is, as you may have guessed it, derived from yellow split peas that are dried then ground up into a fine flour. But it doesn’t stop there; the pea flour is then mixed with water and most of the starch and fiber content is removed before the paste is dried again and ground into a fine powder. If you’re wary of the taste, pea protein is mild in flavor, allowing whatever it is mixed with to stand out in taste.
What Are the Benefits?
The benefits go on and on for pea protein. Just one-fourth of a cup of pea protein serves up:
- 100 calories
- 23 grams of protein
- 7 grams carbohydrate
- .3 grams fat
- 6 grams fiber
- 400 IU vitamin D
- 5 IU vitamin E
- 5 micrograms vitamin K
- 200 IU vitamin A
“Peas are a great source of many nutrients including fiber, vitamin B6 and iron,” says Bearden. “Peas are in the legume family, so they are also a good source of protein. Peas contain about 10 grams of protein per cup, but can provide as much as 20-25 grams of protein per scoop when consumed in pea protein powder.”
Bearden adds that pea protein is also a “complete” protein, meaning it is a source of all nine essential amino acids that are vital for maintaining a healthy, well-functioning body, but that doesn’t mean you can only rely on this protein source to meet your body’s needs.
“Peas are high in the essential amino acid lysine, but low in the amino acid methionine. So some may consider it complete, while others do not,” she explains. “The bottom line is to consume adequate calories from a variety of protein sources throughout the day, and you’ll likely consume enough complementary proteins to meet your body’s protein needs.”
Pea protein has also been shown to aid in weight loss, which may seem confusing for some who associate protein powder with buff bodybuilders.
“Protein can promote weight loss because it increases satiety, making it easier to control your appetite due to feeling full longer,” Bearden says. “Protein also helps maintain calorie-burning muscle mass, which facilitates the weight you lose to come from fat mass.”
Another benefit of the plant-based protein is that it helps support a healthy heart. A 2009 Canadian study found that proteins in the average garden pea may protect against high blood pressure. The rats in the study were given pea protein over the course of two months and showed a 20 percent decrease in blood pressure. Plant-based proteins have also been shown to reduce inflammation, which over time can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.
Pea protein has also been found to regulate blood sugar. A study conducted by the University of Toronto, found that even though pea protein alone did not change the amount of food the participants consumed or their appetite, it did keep their blood glucose levels lower than they normally would be, and keeping your blood sugar levels as steady as possible can help stave off diabetes.
If you’re still hesitant to try pea protein, research shows that swapping it out in place of animal protein could help you live longer. In the early 2000s, scientists discovered that inhabitants of five “longevity hotspots” in the world were up to 10 times more likely to live to the age of 100 than people in other regions. They call these hotspots “Blue Zones”. Researchers found nine common denominators among these regions that contributed to the longevity of the inhabitants, one of which is shifting your meals to include more vegetables and less meat. Researchers found that the diet of those who lived to reach the centennial mark mostly consisted of beans, including peas, and they only ate meat about five times a month.
Bullard says she’s not surprised by the increase in popularity surrounding pea protein due to its potential benefits: “Plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream, due to the possibility of greater risks of heart disease and some types of cancers due to eating patterns high in animal proteins.”
What Are the Shortfalls?
All that being said, pea protein does have some potential shortfalls. Pea protein contains purines, which can affect people who suffer from gout, since purine breaks down into uric acid that forms crystals in the joints and can cause inflammation and pain.
Even though protein can help aid in weight loss, it’s important to note that consuming more protein than your body needs can have an adverse effect.
“Any time more calories are consumed than can be burned, weight gain will occur, no matter what type of food eaten,” Bullard adds.
In order to consume the appropriate amount of protein for your body’s needs, a good general rule of thumb is to multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to calculate the necessary amount of protein in grams.
Lastly, the more money you spend, the better-quality product you’re going to get. Lower-cost protein powders can have cheap additives and chemicals. Doing your research on quality pea protein powders can help you figure out which one will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
How Can I Use It?
The simplest way to add pea protein to your diet, and also the easiest way to get your recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables, is to add it to a smoothie, but it’s not your only option. It can be substituted in place of any other protein powder in a recipe, and even be included in baked goods to pack a protein punch.
Kroger recently started stocking the plant-based “Beyond Burger” which uses pea protein to create a burger that mimics the feel and taste of real beef. As more Americans become interested in the health benefits of pea protein, reports show that many companies are eager to supply the demand by adding the protein into their products, making it more accessible and convenient.
Looking for some inspiration? Bullard has provided the recipe below for a tasty treat that tastes more like a sinful dessert than a protein boost.
Power Protein Treat
- ½ cup Pea Plant Protein (for nutrition analysis, Garden of Life® Organic Plant Protein-Smooth Chocolate was used)
- 1 cup, Rolled Oats
- ½ cup, Sliced Almonds
- ¼ cup, Honey
- ¼ cup, Natural Peanut Butter
- ¼ cup, Chocolate Chips
- 1 tbsp. (14g), Canola Oil, if needed, to moisten
- 1.50 oz. (About 6 apricots), Dried Apricots—chopped fine
Mix all ingredients thoroughly first with a wooden spoon, and finishing off mixing with clean hands. Roll into bite-size balls, or if preferred, spread into greased pan and cut into squares. No cooking or refrigeration required. Be creative! You can substitute any dried fruit, nuts, and nut butters for the mix-ins.
Yield: 3 dozen balls or 1 dozen bars
What’s the Final Verdict?
Protein powders can add an extra protein punch that you may be lacking from your diet alone, and with pea protein powder’s multiple health benefits, it can an easy alternative to animal sources. But it’s important to keep in mind that pea protein should not be a total substitute for a healthy, varied diet.
“If you are looking for a dairy-free or soy-free alternative, pea protein could be a great addition to your diet,” says Bullard. “However, you will also need other protein sources, either plant or animal, to obtain adequate amino acids needed for a healthy diet.”