Monthly Archives: April 2017

Garden of Life Raw Meal and Protein Powder Review

garden of life plant protein powder review

There are two things I like about most Garden of Life protein powder products: 1.) they’re cheap, and 2.) they’re organic.

But …

When you analyze the ingredients and nutrition facts in their protein powders, you discover some things that raise a few red flags.

In this article, I’m going to share those with you, so you can decide for yourself whether Garden of Life’s raw protein powders are the right choice for you.

Here are the condensed and full versions of my review:

Garden of Life Protein Powder Review (Condensed Version)

garden of life protein reviews

Similar to my other plant protein powder reviews, I am reviewing Garden of Life protein powders based on health and nutrition … NOT taste. If you want to know what it tastes like, read the Amazon reviews.

This is what I look for in a healthy protein powder:

  • Organic, real food ingredients sourced from the U.S. and Canada whenever possible
  • Amount of protein per serving
  • Protein sources
  • Added sugars or other sweeteners used
  • None of these junk ingredients:
    • Soy
    • Corn
    • Dairy
    • Gluten
    • Fillers
    • Natural flavors
    • Gums

Garden of Life meets most of these criteria …

Let’s start with what I like about Garden of Life protein powders:

  • Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified
  • Organic, sprouted grains and seeds
  • Probiotics
  • At $.04/gram, their price point is very affordable
  • The Unflavored version contains no sugar, stevia, gums, or other additives

Here’s a high-level overview of what’s in each of their 6 main protein powders (I noted my red flags and will tell you more about each below the chart):

garden of life organic plant protein raw organic protein garden of life raw meal protein garden of life Raw Fit raw protein and greens SPORT Organic Plant-Based Protein

Garden of Life Organic Plant Protein

Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein

Garden of Life Raw Meal

Garden of Life Raw Fit

Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens

SPORT Organic Plant-Based Protein
Calories 90 110 120 170 130 85
Grams of Protein 15  22  20  28 20 15
Protein Source(s) Organic pea, organic chia, organic flax, organic cranberry seed Organic pea, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, chia, flax, garbanzo bean, lentil, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed Organic pea, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, chia, flax, garbanzo bean, lentil, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed Organic pea, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, chia, flax, garbanzo bean, lentil, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed  Organic rice, pea, chia, navy bean lentil, garbanzo Organic pea, navy bean, lentil, garbanzo bean, cranberry seed
Grams of Sugar  0  0 0-6 (depending on flavor … see below)  0 6 <1
Free of “Natural” Flavors No No No  No No No
Free of Gums & Thickeners No No No Yes  Yes Yes
Organic Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vegan Yes  Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cost Per Gram  $.04  $.04  $.04 $.04 $.04 $.05

Read on to find out why I highlighted the things above in red …

Garden of Life Protein Powder Reviews (Full Version)

Ok, so as we said, GOL looks pretty good at first glance. Organic ingredients, probiotics, quality protein sources.


There are a few red flags about GOL organic protein powders I want to tell you more about.

Let’s start with this one …

1. Most Garden of Life Protein Powders Have “Natural Flavors”

raw fit reviews

Here’s what David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has to say about natural flavors:

Natural and artificial flavors really aren’t that different. And those “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals! You’re right to be skeptical of the word “natural” – it’s often thrown around loosely.

Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says these flavors may induce food cravings in some people too.

I emailed Garden of Life and asked, “What ingredients, specifically, do your natural flavors contain?”

Here’s what they said:

In the Organic Plant Protein and RAW Organic Meal there will be ingredients that says it’s a flavor, like Organic Vanilla Flavor, which means that the ingredients is not strictly a vanilla bean that was added to the product but an extract form. This just means it’s more concentrated so less of the ingredient can be used without altering the nutrients that are in the product. In other flavors you’ll see a combination of both like the Chocolate Cacao flavor of the RAW Organic Meal. This one will have RAW Organic Cacao which is where chocolate comes from with Organic Chocolate Flavors just to enhance the cholate taste. If you were to just have the cacao then the product will most likely not taste like what most will expect from a chocolate flavored product.

Now, I’m not saying Garden of Life’s “flavors” contain other shady ingredients like most companies add, especially since they’re organic.

However, in general I avoid products with “flavors” because they may contain other additives and preservatives.

Let’s move on and talk about red flag #2.

2. Hidden Sugar in Garden of Life Raw Protein

I was surprised to see that two of Garden of Life’s unflavored protein powder products contain 6 grams of sugar. Check it out …

Garden of Life Raw Meal

raw organic meal nutrition facts

Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens

protein & greens nutrition ingredients

If you’re buying an unflavored protein powder, added sugar is probably the last ingredient you want in it. And “organic cane sugar” is no better than any other sugar source.

The chemical composition is exactly the same … your body will break the sugar down into glucose and fructose in the digestive tract and it will have the exact same negative effects on your metabolism.

3. Garden of Life Recall and Protein Powder Controversy

Garden of Life was in hot water a few years ago when 33 people got Salmonella poisoning from their Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Replacement powdered mixes.

4. Garden of Life Nestle Acquisition

In December 2017, GOL’s parent company Atrium was acquired by Nestle for $2.3 billion.

Read into that what you will.

Garden of Life Protein Powder Reviews Summed Up

The one Garden of Life product I really like and recommend is Organic Plant Protein (Unflavored). It’s a solid product with all organic, real food ingredients and contains probiotics. Here are the ingredients and nutrition facts:

organic plant protein unflavored ingredients nutrition facts

I’ve used Garden of Life’s Raw Fit protein in the past but I’ve since phased out all products with “flavors.”

Unfortunately, all Garden of Life protein powders other than Unflavored Organic Plant Protein (Raw Fit, Raw Organic Meal, Raw Protein and Greens, and SPORT Organic Plant-Based Protein) contain flavors, gums, and/or sugars.

Long story short, I like their Unflavored products with no sugar added and their commitment to organic, real food ingredients … but can’t give their flavored ones my stamp of approval.

Check Out Our Garden of Life Alternatives Here

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acid Chart

“Amino acids” is one of those buzz terms you probably hear quite often if you’re interested in health and wellness. After reading this article, you’ll understand:

  • What they are
  • Why you need them
  • The difference between essential, non-essential, and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)

I’ll also show you an amino acid chart for both Pure Food Protein flavors, since it’s a common question I get from customers.

Let’s jump right in …

What Are Amino Acids?

If proteins are the “building blocks of muscle,” amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

Your body uses amino acids to make proteins that help you break down food, grow/repair muscle and other body tissue, and perform many other functions.

There are around 500 amino acids scientists have discovered. Since only 20 appear in human genetic code, we refer to these as the “standard 20“. Here they are, in all their chemical compound glory:

standard 20 amino acids

Types of Amino Acids

There are three main types of amino acids:

1. Non-Essential Amino Acids

Your body makes 11 out of the 20 standard amino acids. This means it’s not “essential” to eat foods that contain them, since your body creates enough.

The 11 non-essential AAs include: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

2. Essential Amino Acids

Unlike non-essential AAs, your body can’t make essential amino acids, which means you must get them from the foods you eat. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

essential amino acid chart

3. Conditional amino acids

Arginine has a star next to it in the image above because it’s also considered a “semi-essential”, or conditional amino acid. Your body only needs these types of AA’s in certain situations (when you’re stressed or sick, for example).

Conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

So what happens when you don’t get enough essential amino acids in your diet?

First, a lack of essential amino acids from foods in your diet affects your body’s ability to use protein.

Protein deficiency impacts pretty much all of the body’s organs and systems.

Protein deficiency is one of the biggest public health problems in the world, accounting for about 30-40% of hospital admissions in developing countries.

However, most of you reading this don’t live in developing countries … so should protein deficiency really concern you?

Let’s find out the answer to one of the most common questions I get …

How do I determine how much protein I need?

The short answer: it depends.

The current recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 grams per pound) of body mass in generally healthy adults.

However, this protein intake recommendation is only to prevent protein deficiency and maintain nitrogen balance in the body (a negative nitrogen balance indicates that muscle is being broken down and used for energy).

It’s not necessarily optimal.

Studies show that athletes, active people, and older individuals may require even more protein (1.4 – 2.0 g/kg of body weight).

For healthy adults, low protein diets often lead to weight gain and increased fat mass.

Eating more protein can help increase levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps control body fat. It can also help strengthen bones as you age. And if you’re concerned about negative health effects of protein on kidney function, nearly all of these studies looked at animal sources of protein, not plant-based protein.

One of key indicators of the “quality” of a protein source is not whether or not it comes from a plant or animal … it’s the amount of BCAAs

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Why Do You Need Them?

Of the essential amino acids, three account for as much as 33% of muscle tissue – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are called Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs.

Here’s a breakdown of each:

Leucine is arguably the most important BCAA because there’s clinical evidence that shows it helps your body synthesize protein. Aim for 2-3 grams of leucine per day for optimal protein synthesis. (Side Note: 1 serving of both Pure Food Protein flavors have 2 grams of leucine … more on this below)

leucine bcaa plant protein

Isoleucine is another BCAA. It can help your body regulate blood sugar levels and ensure your muscle cells are metabolizing sugar (instead of fat cells).

Researchers have yet to determine an “optimal” isoleucine level.

Valine is the third branched chain amino acid. Based on current research, it’s the least important BCAA for body composition. It’s also the least-studied, so I’ll report back when more clinical data becomes available.

bcaas valine

Do You Need a BCAA Supplement?


Get your BCAAs from real food instead.

You may have seen BCAA supplement peddlers state that BCAAs may lead to anabolic effects before, during, and after exercise. However, there are zero double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that show BCAA supplementation is any more effective than getting your BCAAs from food.

If you eat the right amount of protein for your body type, composition, age, and health goals (see above), then there’s no reason to take a BCAA supplement.

Pure Food Amino Acid Chart: Essentials and BCAAs


Isoleucine 1.108
Leucine 2.117
Valine  1.362
Histidine 0.600
Lysine 1.281
Methionine 0.509
Phenylalanine 1.382
Threonine 0.937
Tryptophan 0.280
Arginine 1.741

Total BCAAs: 4.587 grams


Isoleucine 1.039
Leucine 1.981
Valine  1.279
Histidine 0.565
Lysine 1.197
Methionine 0.479
Phenylalanine 1.294
Threonine 0.880
Tryptophan 0.264
Arginine 1.636

Total BCAAs: 4.299 grams

Wrap Up

Getting the right amount of essential amino acids, and particularly BCAAs, does a body good.

However, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to choke down whey protein shakes and eat bloody steaks every day to get your BCAAs.

Protein that comes from meat is not “superior” to protein that comes from plantsResearch shows that both protein from plant sources and animal sources seem to work equally well in increasing muscle protein synthesis.

You don’t need a supplement either to get your BCAAs each day. Eat plenty of whole, plant-based foods and if you need a little extra protein (remember, athletes, active people, and older individuals do), consider a clean vegan protein powder like Pure Food, which has 4 grams of BCAAs.

See What Pure Food Can Do for You


Plant Head Protein Powder Reviews

Plant Head makes the bold claim of being “Nature’s Highest Quality Plant-Based Protein“:

plant head protein powder review

If you’ve read any of my other plant protein powder reviews, you know my reviews are as unbiased as possible. I evaluate protein powders based on the nutrition, ingredients, and overall value for the money of each product (based on cost per gram).

I don’t review products based on taste. If you want to know what their powders taste like, read the Plant Head Protein reviews on Amazon (which have a pretty average 3.8 rating).

So back to Plant Head’s nutrition facts and ingredients …

Plant Head is definitely not the “highest quality” plant-based protein powder.

Not even close.

Here are the long and short versions of my Plant Head Protein Powder review:

Plant Head Protein Review (Short Version)

As mentioned, there are 3 factors I consider when I review protein powders:

1. Ingredients:

  • Organic, real food ingredients you can pronounce
  • No inflammation-causing soy, dairy, or gluten
  • How about fillers, flavors, or gums?

2. Nutrition Facts:

  • How much carbs/protein/fats per serving?
  • How much fiber?
  • Any added sugar?

3. Cost:

  • What’s the cost per gram and overall value of the product given the other two pieces of information above? Note: cost per gram allows you to account for different serving sizes when comparing protein powders.

Here’s nutrition facts and ingredients for each of Plant Head’s protein powders:

Plant Head Vanilla Protein Plant Head Chocolate Flavor Protein Powder PlantHead Strawberry Plant Head Banana plant head protein
Plant Head Protein Powder – Vanilla Plant Head Protein Powder – Chocolate Plant Head Protein Powder – Strawberry Plant Head Protein Powder – Banana Plant Head Protein Powder – Unflavored
Calories 110 110 110 110 90
Grams of Protein 15 15 15 15 15
Protein Source(s) Pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, algalin protein, hemp protein, cranberry protein Pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, algalin protein, hemp protein, cranberry protein Pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, algalin protein, hemp protein, cranberry protein Pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, algalin protein, hemp protein, cranberry protein Pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, algalin protein, hemp protein, cranberry protein
Grams of Sugar 5 5 5 5 1
Free of “Natural” Flavors No No No No No
Free of Gums & Thickeners No No No No No
100% Organic No No No No No
Vegan Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cost Per Gram $.03  $.03 $.03 $.03 $.03
Nutrition/Ingredients (click each image to enlarge) plant head protein reviews plant head chocolate protein powder nutrition facts information planthead strawberry nutrition plant head banana ingredients plant head protein nutrition facts

Plant Head Protein Powder Review (Full Version)

There are four key issues with the ingredients in PlantHead’s protein powders:

1. None of Plant Head’s Protein Powder Ingredients Are Organic

This means their ingredients are contaminated with chemical pesticides and herbicides.

2. Plant Head Uses So-called “Natural” Flavors

“Natural” flavors are now the fourth most common ingredient in food. Problem is, food companies don’t have to tell you what’s in them. And researchers say those “natural” flavors–even the organic ones–often contain hundreds of chemical ingredients. Read my What Are Natural Flavors? if you want to learn more about this hidden junk ingredient.

3. Plant Head Protein Powders Are Loaded with Highly Processed “Gums”

Plant Head uses lots of cheap, processed fillers called gums in their protein powders. They dupe unknowing consumers into thinking these are healthy by calling them a “Healthy Gum Complex” on their ingredients panel.

Here’s the truth about each type of gum they use:

  • Cellulose gum is an anti-baking agent that’s actually ground wood pulp. It has zero nutritional benefit for your body.
  • Xanthan gum can be disruptive to your gut, and usually is produced with a GMO medium like corn.
  • Carrageenan: a common food additive that caused harmful GI effects and insulin resistance in animal studies. It’s probably not cancer-causing, as some food bloggers have sensationalized. But if you have a history of digestive problems, it’s probably best to avoid it.

4. Plant Head Sweetens Its Powders With 5 Grams of Cane Sugar Per Serving

Sugar is sugar … “cane sugar” isn’t any better for you than other types.

5 grams in every serving of Plant Head Protein Powder is way too much.

It pretty much cancels out any benefit you get from a protein powder when you see a bunch of added sugar (Shakeology Protein Powder is guilty of this too).

Plant Head Protein Reviews Summary

I rate Plant Head’s protein powders a 2/10. 

All Plant Head Protein Powders proteins are loaded with highly processed fillers. They’re not organic, which means they most likely have chemical pesticides. Their powders are cheap at $.03/gram … but are these junk ingredients worth it to you?

My biased advice: pay a few bucks more for real food, organic ingredients.

Compare Cost, Ingredients, and Nutrition for 30+ Plant Protein Powders With Our FREE Google Sheet

We respect your email privacy