What is protein powder?
If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may find you struggle to get enough protein every day. A vegan protein powder can be an excellent way to meet your protein requirements. However, these products can have a lot of added sugar and calories you don't need: read the labels and choose carefully.
Protein powder is a dietary supplement made of powdered forms of protein. Some are egg and milk-based," and others are plant-based proteins." natural fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and fiber are removed" during processing, and the protein is isolated and dried into a powder. Then vitamins, flavorings, sugar, thickeners, and other ingredients like herbs are added back in.
Protein is an essential macronutrient made from building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 types. Nine are essential, meaning you need to get them from food because your body can't make them. Animal proteins contain all nine, so they're complete proteins. In comparison, plant proteins are usually missing some amino acids or have only low amounts. To make up for this, vegan protein powder often contains a mix of plant proteins from:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Benefits of vegan protein powder
Eating protein-rich foods is the best way to get protein, but vegan protein powders can be a good source for some people. They can also add other health benefits to your diet.
Good source of protein for a restricted diet
To maintain good health, you need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. If you weigh 140 pounds, this is about 50 grams of protein daily. Athletes, people with some types of severe illness, and older people often need more.
Most people don't have trouble getting enough protein from meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can still get lots of protein from eating foods like lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. For example, 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein.
But vegan diets do take some planning. If you struggle to keep your diet balanced, a vegan protein powder can be a helpful and stress-free option. You can add a scoop to a smoothie or other drink.
Some proteins, like pea or hemp protein, have low levels or are missing some essential amino acids. Still, you can get these by combining plant proteins. You could choose a soy protein, which has acceptable levels of all nine essential amino acids, and your body absorbs them fairly quickly.
Source of vitamins and minerals
Sometimes it's hard to get enough of the right vitamins and minerals if you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet or are allergic to animal products like milk. But it's possible with some planning.
Ideally, you get your vitamins from your diet, but vegan protein powders are often fortified with vitamins and minerals. This can be another way to get vitamins you might usually get from eating animal products, like calcium and B12.
Help build muscle
If you're doing intense exercise training, you might need more protein to maintain your performance. It can also help lower muscle soreness and damage after exercise. While some studies suggest whey protein is better for building, some plant-based proteins also do a good job.
In one study, soy protein helped stimulate muscle building more than casein protein, though it wasn't as successful as whey. In another study, young men aged 18 to 35 took 50 grams of pea protein daily for three months while doing resistance training. They had similar muscle growth and increase as those who took whey protein.
Risks of vegan protein powder
Dietary supplements and protein powders are popular and might be useful sometimes, but there are side effects and potential risks.
Might be unnecessary
While protein powders seem like an easy fix, it's important to remember that they're meant to enhance your diet, not replace food. Most people don't need to take any protein powder. Vegans and vegetarians can often get enough protein with good meal planning. Plus, protein powders are often more expensive than food.
High amounts of added sugar
Companies often add sweeteners and sugar to enhance the powder flavor, especially if the taste will help you buy it more often. But some powders have a lot of sugar and add extra calories to your diet, which can increase your risk of weight gain and unhealthy blood sugar spikes. If you want to consume protein powders, it's important to read the label. Check the ingredients and the calories per serving.
Highly processed with lots of additives
Along with added sugar, protein powders also have thickeners, flavorings, high doses of vitamins and minerals, and sometimes herbs. Some organizations also have heavy metals and other toxins in protein powders.
While a fortified drink can be helpful, you might get more vitamins than you need, especially if you take other supplements or multivitamins. Some vitamins can build up in your body and cause health problems. Herbs can also interact with your medications and your body and cause unwanted side effects.
Not nutritionally balanced
Some people like to drink meal replacement shakes, which can be helpful if you can't chew or lose your appetite. But it's important to note that protein powders aren't mealed replacements. They aren't nutritionally balanced, so you shouldn't use them to replace a meal during weight loss or for other reasons.
Digestive side effects
You might have trouble consuming whey protein powders or shakes if you're allergic to milk. Some plant proteins are easily digestible, but they can also cause digestive symptoms like gas and bloating. If you have irritable bowel syndrome or another digestive condition, vegan protein powders might cause more symptoms.
Overall, it's best to get your protein from food. Low-calorie, sugar-free vegan protein powders can be a good way to get protein if you have a restricted diet. Choose one that has a combination of plant proteins and talk to your doctor about it.
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Cancer Research UK: "High calorie drinks."
Cleveland Clinic: "Everything You Should Know About Pea Protein."
Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publishing: "Supplemental nutrition drinks: help or hype?" "The hidden dangers of protein powders," "The scoop on protein powder," "With a little planning, vegan diets can be a healthful choice."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein," "Workout Supplements."
Monash University: "Protein powders and IBS."
National Health Service: "Do I need vitamin supplements?" "Herbal medicines."
Nutrients: "Plant Proteins: Assessing Their Nutritional Quality and Effects on Health and Physical Function."
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