First off, let’s get this out of the way: the best plant based protein powder for you may be completely different than me.
Your age, activity level, health goals, pre-existing conditions, and hormones all play a part in determining the right powder for you.
Generally speaking though, there are two pieces of objective data we can use to evaluate “the best” protein powders:
1.) The ingredients, and 2.) The nutrition facts.
For this review, we analyzed the nutrition and ingredients for 20+ of the (supposedly) healthiest and best plant based / vegan protein powder brands.
If you currently use (or are looking to find) a healthy plant-based protein powder, here’s some bad news:
99 percent of plant based protein powders we analyzed (even the organic protein powder brands) have chemical additives, fillers, gums, and/or sugars.
If you want to find the best plant protein powders for your health, our reviews will reveal:
- Why most whey and vegan protein powder brands are not what they say they are (and 5 questions you should always ask to find the cleanest and healthiest ones)
- What several top health experts (including a world renowned cardiologist) look for in their protein powders
- How 20+ of plant protein powders compare in terms of ingredients, nutrition, and cost.
This review is massive at 2500+ words … so we broke it up into three sections. Scroll down or click/tap the the green and grey boxes below to navigate to each section.
Note: We do sell our own plant-based protein powders, which of course means we’re biased. That’s why these reviews are NOT based on subjective criteria like taste; rather, we will look at how our products compare to the competition when it comes to:
- Protein Sources
- Nutrition (calories, protein, and sugar per serving; sweeteners used)
- Ingredients (gums, flavors, fillers used; organic ingredients)
- Cost Per Gram of Protein
Why Most Plant Based Protein Powder Brands Are BAD for Your Health
Protein manufacturers spend lots of dough to convince you their products are “clean” and healthy. I’m talking millions of dollars on marketing and fancy packaging with bogus health claims. But fear not, because there’s an easy way to cut through their b.s. and find out if a protein shake is actually good for you. The first step:
Read and understand the nutrition facts and ingredients in your protein powder.
It’s the only objective piece of information you have to judge whether the ingredients are “clean” and “healthy” or not. Here are 5 things to look for on the nutrition panel/ingredients list:
1. How many grams of sugar do you see?
Sugar is sugar. It all turns to fat in your body. Doesn’t matter if it’s from honey, maple syrup, molasses, or coconuts (although I do enjoy raw honey in moderation).
2. Which artificial sweeteners do they use instead of real sugar?
A “clean” plant protein should definitely not contain chemical sugars like saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose anymore. But protein manufacturers are notorious for sneaking so-called “all-natural” sweeteners that may not be so good for you into their products. Here are a few to be wary of:
- Xylitol is a cheap, processed “sugar alcohol” that can cause serious gut imbalances.
- Monk fruit (luo han guo) is a popular sweetener many protein powder companies use. It’s commonly made using ethanol chemical resins and often contains GMO fillers.
- Stevia. The stevia most protein companies use is chemically-derived and loaded with fillers. Organic stevia leaf extract is the cleanest … you just need to find out how it was processed (no bleaching!) and whether or not it has excipients (ask the manufacturer!).
The best plant based protein blends use organic, real food ingredients and all-natural (or no) sweeteners … not GMO fillers and junk.
And again, 1 gram of total sugar should be your limit per serving.
3. What other highly-processed ingredients (flavors, gums, fillers, etc.) do they add?
Here are a few ingredients you’ll find in the majority of the so-called healthiest protein powders:
- Natural flavors. Up to 90 percent of “natural” flavors have chemical solvents and preservatives. If you see them on the ingredients list, make sure you ask the manufacturer how they’re made and what’s in them.
- Gums. Many so-called clean plant protein powders contain gums like carrageenan, guar, xanthan, locust bean, konjac, and acacia. Gums make vegetable protein products easier to mix and blend … but there are some reasons for concern with some of them. Many people report gut issues and certain gums have been shown in clinical studies to produce laxative effects, gas, and bloating. I recommend people with sensitive guts and GI issues avoid protein powders that have gums.
- Lecithins. The most common way to make lecithins involves using a petroleum-based neurotoxin called hexane. Avoid powders with this cheap soy- and sunflower-based filler … or at the very least make sure it’s organic if your powder has it.
Bottom line:Avoid vegan protein powder with flavors, gum, or lecithins if you have a sensitive gut. Click To Tweet
4. What types of protein do they use?
Whey has long been considered the gold standard for packing on muscle but it may come with a price. And it’s true: whey has a lot of clinical evidence that shows it’s a good source for those looking to improve body composition.
However, whey protein brands like to talk up their efficacy without mentioning the possible side effects. And there are lots of them for many folks.
If whey works for you, that’s great. Regardless of whether you choose a whey or plant protein, I recommend sticking with a protein powder with organic ingredients though.
If the ingredients in your protein powder are not organic, chances are it’s sprayed with pesticides, and most of these powdered vegetable ingredients come from countries outside the U.S., where regulations may not be as strict.
Whether you choose a plant-based or animal protein like whey, pay a little more for organic. It’s worth it for the sake of your health.
Bottom line:If your protein powder isn’t organic, you’re likely drinking chemical pesticides with that protein shake.