Pea protein is a product that comes from yellow split peas. Dietary proteins are necessary for survival. You can get them from many different sources — including most plants and animals. Many people rely on animals for their main dietary protein source, but plant-based proteins are an increasingly popular part of Western diets.
Both pea and soy proteins come from plants. This means that they’re more similar to one another than they are to animal protein sources. But there are still significant differences between these two products.
What is pea protein?
Proteins are a crucial building block for life. They perform various functions throughout your body. All proteins — including the ones found in peas — are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids.
Pea proteins are extracted from whole peas and concentrated into various powders and supplements. These are sometimes used to help build muscle or lose weight. These protein extracts typically come in three primary forms:
- Pea protein isolates. These products are the purest form of pea protein. They pretty much only contain proteins and broken-down amino acids.
- Pea protein concentrates. These are less filtered products that contain pea protein along with other ingredients — like carbohydrates and fats.
- Textured pea protein. This is the least processed pea protein product on the market. But you likely won’t encounter it at grocery stores — it isn’t sold as an independent supplement. Instead, it’s used in commercial products as a meat substitute.
You extract pea protein by grinding the peas and filtering them through a very fine material. Water and minerals can get through the filter. But large objects like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates can’t pass through. The product formed after this initial filtration step is sold as a pea protein concentrate. Additional filtration processes eliminate the carbohydrates and fats to create pea protein isolates.
These pea protein products are used in various foods, including:
- Energy bars
- Meal replacement shakes
- Veggie burgers
They’re also a way to provide structure and texture to certain vegetarian foods.
What nutrients are in pea protein?
Each pea protein product contains different amounts of nutrients. The exact nutrients in your finished product depend on how the proteins were processed.
Whole peas contain a wide range of beneficial nutrients. But refining the peas into pure protein removes many micronutrients and minerals.
Many pea protein products won’t tell you exactly how much of these nutrients remain. Some nutrients that could be present in very small quantities include:
You also want to pay attention to the label for information on things like fat content. Some contain more fats than others. In particular, some brands contain more trans fats than others. Trans fats are an unhealthy kind of fat that you should avoid if you can.
Some pea protein products also contain quantities of fiber. This is a positive ingredient to look for in your protein product.
Pea proteins also contain all nine essential amino acids. You need to get these amino acids from your diet because your body can’t produce them. But pea protein is low in methionine. To compensate for this shortfall, you should eat additional protein sources high in methionine.
Each pea protein product is better for certain uses than others. You should always inspect the nutrition label to determine which products contain all the nutrients you need.
How does pea protein compare to soy protein?
In general, pea and soy proteins are very similar products. They’re both derived from plants and contain plant-based amino acids. This means they don’t always have the best balance of amino acids compared to meat. But They're still a good source of protein.
Pea proteins are particularly easy to digest, so they may be a better option than soy if you have problems digesting and absorbing proteins.
Like pea proteins, soy products can also come in concentrate and isolate forms. Soy protein concentrates contain about 70% protein, and isolates have about 90%. Soy products have very neutral flavors and may produce creamier textures than pea protein products.
There are some health issues that are associated with soy products that don’t apply to pea protein products. For example, soy supplements and isolates can contain chemicals similar to estrogen — a common female hormone in humans. Because of these chemicals, eating too many processed soy products can negatively affect your health. This isn’t a problem with pea protein products.
Who should use pea protein?
There are many great reasons to incorporate pea protein into your diet. These include:
- Building muscle. Using pea protein supplements along with a rigorous resistance training program can help you build and strengthen muscles. Pea protein isolates are best for this use because they contain the highest concentration of pure protein.
- Losing weight. You can take pea protein 30 minutes before a meal to help suppress your appetite. Some people also use them as meal substitutes. In this case, pea protein concentrates are a better product because they contain a more balanced array of nutrients than isolates.
- Watching your health. Plant proteins are a great way to get proteins into your diet without relying on red meat. Overeating red meat can increase your risk of developing certain health problems. Pea protein may even help lower your blood pressure — something red meat doesn’t do.
Like other plant-derived proteins, pea proteins are compatible with vegetarian and vegan diets. They’re also great for people with most food allergies. They’re safe for everyone with the most common food allergies. This includes people who are allergic to:
- Shellfish and fish
- Peanuts and tree nuts
How much pea protein should you eat?
The amount of protein you should eat daily depends on factors like age, sex, and daily physical activity. In general, adult females should get about 46 grams of protein each day, and adult males should get about 56 grams per day. This amount is higher if you’re a particularly active person.
Different sources of pea protein contain different amounts of protein. The average protein supplement contains anywhere from 10 grams to 30 grams of protein per scoop.
Pea protein should be one part of a complete, balanced diet. You should mix up your daily protein sources to get a good balance of essential amino acids. You can also mix in fruits and nuts to get more nutrients.
American Institute for Cancer Research: “Pea protein is everywhere, is it healthy?”
Cleveland Clinic: “Everything You Should Know About Pea Protein.”
Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology: “Clinical spectrum of food allergies: a comprehensive review.”
Foods: “Amino Acid Composition of an Organic Brown Rice Protein Concentrate and Isolate Compared to Soy and Whey Concentrates and Isolates.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Confused About Eating Soy?” “The hidden dangers of protein powders.”
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans.”
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: “Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein.”
Nutrition Journal: “Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter.”
Sports Medicine: “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review.”
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