Tag Archives: protein

Protein Brownies (Healthy, Low Sugar, Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free)

If you’re looking for a healthy brownie treat you don’t have to feel guilty about, you’ve come to the right place.

Now, my criteria for “healthy” is admittedly a bit more stringent than most.

So this is definitely not a sugar bomb like your typical brownie. But check out these impressive nutrition #s:

  • 247 calories
  • 10 g protein
  • 6 g fiber
  • 4 g sugar

And not only it is low in sugar, it’s free of dairy, gluten, and soy … perfect for vegan, vegetarians, and anyone with food intolerances!

Here’s the recipe:

Homemade Healthy High Protein Brownie Recipe

What’s In It:

1 cup applesauce
1 cup oat flour
~1 cup chocolate protein powder (I used 8 scoops of Pure Food Cacao Protein)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or real vanilla bean powder if you can afford it)
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T coconut oil (divided into two 1 T servings)
optional: 1/4 crushed nuts like walnuts or pecans (I used 1/4 cup walnuts)
optional: dark chocolate chips (I chopped up 1/4 of an Alter Eco Blackout Bar for this recipe, which has 90% cacao content)**

How to Make It:

  1. To make your own applesauce, blend the 2 peeled and cored apples with 1.5 cups of water.
  2. Add the oat flour, protein, vanilla, salt, 1 T coconut oil (and nuts and dark chocolate if you go that route). Mix thoroughly.
  3. Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan with the remaining T of coconut oil. Spread the mixture evenly onto pan.
  4. Cook at 325 degrees F for 20-25 min.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours then cut into 9 bars.

Nutrition Facts (per brownie)*:

  • 247 calories
  • 9 g fat
  • 31 g carbs (6 g fiber, 4 g sugar**)
  • 10 g protein

**If you like yours a little sweeter, add a little honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or stevia to the recipe.

Homemade Paleo Protein Bar Recipe (Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free)

If you’re a clean eater, you know how hard it is to find a good healthy protein bar these days. Most contain some type of junk your body just doesn’t need: dairy, gluten, soy, sugar (in many cases, unfortunately, it’s all of the above).

My criteria for a “healthy” protein bar are quite simple. It should have:

1.) Only organic, real food ingredients, and

2.) No added sweeteners. Sugar should come from only real fruit sources like dried fruit … I don’t touch anything with over 10 grams.

If you want to make your own healthy protein bar, here’s one of my favorite recipes.

Homemade Healthy Protein Bar Recipe

What’s In It:

  • 1/4 cup organic quick cook rolled oats
  • 4 scoops raw cacao protein powder (make sure you choose a high quality vegan protein)
  • 1 cup organic nut butter (I used peanut but any nut butter will work)*
  • 1/4 cup organic pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic dates, chopped into small pieces.
  • 1.5 cups organic coconut cream (or 1.5 cups coconut milk powder and 3/4 cup warm water)**
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Dark chocolate shavings (optional)***

*I recommend organic nut butters with a maximum of two ingredients: nuts and salt. If yours has other oils or added sugar, look for another brand.

**Most coconut creams have some type of gum or filler added. I prefer to buy organic coconut milk powder on Amazon and mix it with water. Native Forest coconut cream.

**I recommend an organic dark chocolate bar with 70% cacao content or higher, 5 grams of sugar or less, and no soy (you’d be surprised how many of them have it … check the ingredients list).

How to Make It:*

  1. Whip the coconut cream until smooth.
  2. Stir in the almond flour and let sit for 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in almond/peanut butter, dates, salt, pumpkin seeds, and protein powder. Mix thoroughly by hand (or pulse in a food processor).
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into a pan or baking dish lined with parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate overnight then cut into 8 bars.

*I used a mixer for steps 1-3 but you can do it by hand too.

Nutrition Facts (per bar)*:

  • 299 calories
  • 19 g fat
  • 18 g carbs (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar**)
  • 15 g protein

*I cut it into 8 bars. At ~300 calories a bar, you can cut it into 16 if you prefer something closer to 150 calories (it’s still filling too!)

**If you want to cut down the sugar content, cut back even more on the dates. To sweeten it up, add more dates or a dab of raw honey.

The Best All Natural Protein Powder for Women

best protein powder for women[If you want the PDF version of this post for later reading, download it here].

I must admit I had some trepidation when writing this post. That’s because:

a) I’m a man who sells a protein powder, and

b) There is no single best protein powder for women.

Stay with me though …

Because there are certain objective criteria you can look at and questions you can ask to evaluate protein powders to find the best one for you (whether you’re a woman or a man).

In this post I’ll share those insights with you.

Plus, I’ll show you supposedly all-natural ingredients to avoid based on my 15+ years as a science writer/researcher in the health and wellness industry and founder of my own small nutrition company.

Let’s get going …

Compare 20+ of the best all natural protein powders by ingredients, nutrition, cost, and more.

Types of Protein Powder

We’ll begin by looking at several types of protein that are marketed to women.

Whey Protein

You may have heard that whey protein is the best type of protein powder for women.

It’s not. 

Here’s why …

Whey is derived from dairy (it was a waste product of cheese-making before supplement companies realized they could process it and sell it).

According to the National Institutes of Health, 65 percent of adults have a reduced ability to digest dairy (this is called lactose intolerance).

Lactose intolerance can cause any number of the following:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Imbalance of gut bacteria (which promotes dysbiosis of the gut)
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability

Aside from these inflammatory responses lactose intolerance leads to, whey is also hyper-insulinogenic. This means your body secretes a lot of insulin when you eat it. Hyperinsulinemia is associated with hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, and glucose intolerance (collectively known as metabolic syndrome).

Can whey protein help if you’re a woman looking to gain lean body mass (or “muscle mass”)? It appears so.

But the potential side effects outweigh the benefits, in my opinion.

Plant-based Proteins

Soy Protein

While there are studies that show soy might have some benefits for older women such as lowering cholesterol, easing menopausal symptoms, and reducing risk of breast cancer, other research casts doubt on these findings.

A report published by the DHHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes, concluded that there was “little evidence to support a beneficial role of soy and soy isoflavones in bone health, cancer, reproductive health, neurocognitive function, and other health parameters.”

Perhaps most alarmingly for women, soy may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Also, most non-organic soy protein is derived from GMO crops.

Rice Protein

brown rice protein woman weight lossWhey protein is commonly thought of as a superior protein source for women looking to improve body composition (lose fat, increase muscle) compared to plant-based protein powders.

However, when one group of researchers studied whey vs. rice protein head to head, they found that both whey and rice offered similar post-exercise body composition benefits … there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups.

Another study found that leucine, the key amino acid to activate muscle building, was absorbed faster from rice protein than leucine from whey protein. The study also found that amino acids in brown rice protein are highly bioavailable and are non-statistically different from whey protein in trained athletes, despite claims from whey proponents claiming superior digestibility and “bioavailability.”

However, certain brands of rice protein have tested high for heavy metals like arsenic, which has made rice protein the source of much debate as well.

If you’re going to use a rice protein powder, make sure you ask the manufacturer for the heavy metal counts.

Finally, rice protein may be more beneficial when combined with other plant sources

Pea Protein

best protein powder for women Pea protein is one of the best plant-based sources of protein if you’re looking to replace body fat with lean muscle. It may also help you:

Lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decrease your risk of heart disease and kidney disease.

Pea protein has an impressive amino acid profile that may be complementary with other plant-based sources like rice and hemp.

Hemp Protein

hemp protein fiber muscleHemp protein is generally made of about 50% protein and 50% fiber. Because of this, some critics knock it as a protein source.

But hemp is one of the only vegan protein sources that contains all nine essential amino acids.

And hemp protein provides the essential fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6 in a well balanced 3:1 ratio.

Consuming hemp is safe, healthy and legal (no, it won’t get you high). On top of that, hemp protein powder may help improve heart health, decrease osteoporosis risk, reduce sugar cravings and boost your immune system.

When combined with other plant proteins it offers a powerful plant-based complement.

Other Plant Proteins

There are plenty of other plant-based protein sources on the market (pumpkin seed, sacha inchi, flax, chia, barley, and algae, to name a few).

Not many of them have been studied in humans yet though.

This doesn’t make them bad options. Just stick with ones that are a) organic and b) processed using low heat methods (otherwise, vital nutrients can get destroyed).

What’s the Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss?

Any protein powder can help you lose weight as long as you create a calorie deficit.

Unfortunately, many of the protein products out there are marketed as weight loss supplements with “all-natural ingredients.” I’ll talk about the latter point in a minute, but the truth is, there’s no such thing as a “weight loss protein powder”.

There’s evidence that eating a high protein, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to lose weight. Supplement companies use this data to their advantage.

Check out this report from the National Institutes of Health for more info about common ingredients touted for their weight loss benefits (spoiler alert: most don’t have a strong body of evidence to support their supposed efficacy).

There are actually certain ingredients protein powder manufacturers put in their products that may do more harm than good for some women … even though they’re marketed as all natural and clean.

Here are a few, in particular, to think twice about …

Protein Powder Ingredients Women Should Avoid

Red Flag Ingredient #1: Sugar 

I’ve reviewed many protein powders that contain 10 grams or more of added sugar per serving.

That’s roughly half a day’s worth if you’re a woman and a third of a day’s worth if you’re a man.

Sugar is one of the biggest causes of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Doesn’t matter if it comes from all-natural honey or highly-processed high fructose corn syrup … they produce the same metabolic responses in your body.

And artificial sweeteners like sucralose and sugar alcohols like xylitol may be worse.

Red Flag Ingredient #2: Flavors

The FDA allows food companies to use the term “natural flavors” to describe any food additive that originated in nature. They’re now the 4th most common ingredient on food labels.

In a fascinating 2011 interview that aired on 60 Minutes, scientists from Givaudan, one of the largest companies in the $24 billion flavor market, admitted their number one goal when creating flavors was to make them addictive!

One of my biggest beefs with these “flavors” is protein powder manufacturers don’t have to tell you what’s in them.

David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), has this to say about so-called “natural” flavors:

The truth is that when you see the word “flavor” on a food label, you have almost no clue what chemicals may have been added to the food under the umbrella of this vague term. For people who have uncommon food allergies or are on restricted diets, this can be a serious concern. [Natural flavors] will often have some solvent and preservatives—and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.

Here’s my final red flag …

Red Flag Ingredient #3: Fillers, Gums, Emulsifiers

We talked about potential allergens and additives in flavors. But there some other common ingredients to be wary of when you see them on the ingredients list of protein powders. Food manufacturers love these fillers because they have unique properties that add desirable texture and/or shelf life to processed foods.

But they may come at a price: many have been shown to cause digestive distress and gut imbalances and/or raise your glycemic load, which can lead to a whole other set of issues.

  • Gums (xanthan, locust bean, arabic, carrageenan, guar, carob, etc.)
  • Lecithins (soy and sunflower)
  • Dextrins (maltodextrin and rice dextrin)

If you’re using a protein powder that doesn’t have organic ingredients, there’s a high likelihood all of those plant-based ingredients are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals.

If you’re in the dark about how these pesticides can impact your health, read what scientists have to say.

Summary: What’s the Best All Natural Protein Powder for Women?

Let’s not sugarcoat it: most women humans buy nutritional supplements like protein powders because they want to look better and/or feel better.

But what if looking and feeling better comes with a price?

Many protein powders have ingredients that cause inflammation, change your gut flora, raise your blood sugar, or worse.

Even most of the ones marketed as “all natural” have some type of highly-processed pseudo-food like gums, fillers, and other additives.

Most of them are deemed safe for consumption by the FDA … but “natural” has quickly become an ambiguous and over-marketed term in the protein powder business.

At the end of the day, all-natural comes down to the ingredients: are they real food as close to their natural state as possible or are they pseudo-foods that contains fillers, additives, and other junk?

In most cases it’s the latter, unfortunately.

The best protein powder for you depends largely on your health and fitness goals. Are you trying to lose body fat? Gain muscle mass? Eat cleaner, more natural foods?

In my opinion, the potential price you’ll pay down the road is not worth the risk when it comes to protein powders that contain these types of ingredients.

Click here to get my spreadsheet comparing 20+ protein powders/shakes by ingredients, nutrition, cost, and more.

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?

No.

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

Vanilla:

Isoleucine1.108
Leucine2.117
Valine 1.362
Histidine0.600
Lysine1.281
Methionine0.509
Phenylalanine1.382
Threonine0.937
Tryptophan0.280
Arginine1.741

Total BCAAs: 4.587 grams

Cacao:

Isoleucine1.039
Leucine1.981
Valine 1.279
Histidine0.565
Lysine1.197
Methionine0.479
Phenylalanine1.294
Threonine0.880
Tryptophan0.264
Arginine1.636

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 plants. Research 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

 

Vega Protein Powder Reviews: Nutrition & Ingredients Analysis

When I started looking at the Vega protein powder reviews scattered across the Internet, I noticed they were all missing one hugely important thing: a fair analysis of the stuff that Vega actually puts in their products.

First, a disclaimer: I sell a protein powder. So that naturally invites some bias into the equation. That’s why when I review whether a protein powder is nutritious or not, I look at two objective criteria:

  1. The Ingredients
  2. The Nutrition Facts

They reveal the answers to these important questions:

  • Are the ingredients all organic and made from real food?
  • Any allergens or inflammation-causing soy, dairy, or gluten?
  • Do they contains gums, fillers, and/or natural flavors?
  • How much protein per serving?
  • What are the protein sources?
  • How much sugar is added?
  • What other sweeteners (real or artificial) do they use?

With that said, let’s dig in!

Researching Plant Protein Powders?

CLICK HERE to get our FREE Google Sheet comparing 25+ brands by nutrition, ingredients, and cost.

Vega Protein Powder Reviews (Summary Version)

Vega is one of the biggest plant based protein powder brands on earth. WhiteWave–the gargantuan corporation that makes soy-based products Silk and So Delicious–acquired Vega for $550 million in 2015. (side note: Dannon, the huge yogurt maker, acquired WhiteWave in 2016 for $10 billion!)

Here’s what I found out by looking at Vega’s ingredients and nutrition facts information:​

Vega Protein Smoothie Review

Vega Protein and Greens Review

Vega Sport Protein Powder Review

Vega One Review

Vegan Clean Protein Reviews

vega protein reviewsvega protein and greens reviewvega sport protein powder reviewvega one reviewsvega clean protein review
Calories90110160170130
Grams of Protein 15 20 30 20 25
Protein Source(s)Pea protein, saviseed protein, hemp seed protein, brown rice proteinPea protein, brown rice protein, hemp seed protein, sacha inchi proteinPea protein, pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed proteinPea protein, hemp protein, sacha inchi proteinPea protein, hemp protein, pumpkin seed protein
Grams of Sugar 2 2 1 1 1
Free of “Natural” FlavorsNoNoNoNoNo
Free of Gums & ThickenersNoNoNoNoNo
Organic NoNoNoNoNo
Vegan YesYes NoYes No
Amazon Reviews 3.93.9 4.0 4.0 3.5
Cost Per Gram $.05 $.04 $.05 $.06 $.05
Nutrition Facts (click/tap to enlarge)vega protein smoothie nutrition labelvega protein & greens nutrition  vega sport nutrition vega all in one nutrition facts informationvega clean nutrition label
Ingredients (click/tap to enlarge)vega protein smoothie ingredientsprotein greens ingredientsvega sport ingredientsvega all-in-one shake ingredientsvega clean ingredients

I noted a few red flags here, as you may have noticed in the ingredient images above.

Here’s why …

Vega Review (Extended Version)

There are several things I wish Vega would improve with its line of protein powders:

  1. They’re not organic.
  2. They contain “flavors”.
  3. They use gums, fillers, and other highly processed ingredients.
  4. Some of their processing methods involve heat treating, which kills essential nutrients and means their products are not raw.

Let’s explore each of these…

Issue #1: Not Organic

Here’s the deal:

Non-organic ingredients means there could be chemical pesticides and herbicides in your protein shake. Click To Tweet

If there’s one reason to spend a few more dollars on an organic product, this is it.

Eating foods contaminated with pesticides increases the odds you will get cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases. See this video from Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org:

This is Vega’s explanation for why they don’t use more organic ingredients (you can find this on the FAQs page of their website):

As demand for organic ingredients grows, it’s getting easier every year to find reliable sources of organic ingredients, but the cost of certification remains prohibitive for smaller-scale farmers.

C’mon Vega, you guys were acquired for half a billion dollars! You’re telling me you can’t find reliable sources of organic ingredients?

I run a protein powder business that’s 1/5000 of the size of yours and I have had no problems.

They’re right–it does cost more to produce organic ingredients. A lot more.

But when you’re owned by Big Food, unfortunately you often need to put shareholder profits first.

In my humble opinion, and according to the latest and greatest research, paying more for products with organic ingredients is worth every penny for your long-term health and wellbeing.

Vega's use of non-organic ingredients is the #1 reason why I recommend avoiding their products. Click To Tweet

Problem #2: Natural Flavors

David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said:

“[Natural flavors] will often have some solvent and preservatives — and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.”

Andrews go on to point out that adding any type of “flavoring,” both natural and artificial, means you may be ingesting anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.

All of Vega protein powders–Vega One, Sport, Clean, Protein and Greens, and Protein Smoothie–contain natural flavors. Even their newest product, “Clean Protein,” has two types of natural flavors:

vega protein powder reviews
These heavily processed ingredients are not “clean!”

When I wrote the first version of this review in November, 2016, Vega All-in-One Nutritional Shake listed 4 types of natural flavors on its ingredients label:

is vega protein healthy

Now they only list “natural flavors” once.

At least they’re making progress. But the problem is, we still don’t know what’s in those flavors.

I contacted Vega and asked.

It’s a question many others must have asked, because their quick response–while friendly–sounded well-rehearsed:

Natural flavors include a variety of compounds obtained from the natural essence or extracts of plants to produce the characteristic flavor and aromatic sensation of the intended (and labeled) flavor. The essences and extracts can be from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, but always exclusively plant-based, and never artificial. These natural flavor blends are proprietary.

Here’s the bottom line, gang:

Unless you know exactly what those “variety of compounds” are, I recommend avoiding products that have them.

Learn more by downloading my FREE report about natural flavors here

Problem #3: Gums, Fillers, and Other Processed Ingredients

Beyond Vega’s “natural flavors,” there are a handful of other ingredients in most Vega protein powders I don’t like. These are called “gums,” which are thickening agents/fillers. Some of them can cause digestive distress for many people.

Problem #4: High Heat Processing Destroys Vital Nutrients

I also asked Vega about how they process the ingredients in their protein powders.

Here’s what they said:

There are certain ingredients that are heated. For example our SaviSeed protein is heated in order to make it easier on the body to digest. Our products are not considered raw.

While it’s true heating makes certain ingredients easier to digest, it also can destroy many vital nutrients in the plant. All protein powders (and all foods, for that matter) are “processed” to some extant. But clearly Vega more so than others.

Summary: Is Vega Protein Good for You?

While I admire what Vega has done for plant-based nutrition as a whole and I respect them for politely answering all my questions, I’d like to see them make a line of all organic products and stop using flavors, fillers, and gums.

As you can see from my reviews above, Vega Protein and Greens, Vega One, Smoothie, Vega Sport, and even Vega Clean protein powder products all have at least one of these ingredients.

Problem is, if they’re not organic, they may contain additives, preservatives, gums and fillers that may cause intestinal distress and bloating, and exacerbate existing GI conditions.

For those reasons, I recommend choosing another powder if healthy, clean ingredients is your top priority.

best plant-based protein powders

The Effect of Sleep on Muscle Growth, According to Science

How many hours would you say you sleep in an average night? If you answered 7-9, the National Sleep Foundation says you’re doing pretty well.

Around 40 percent of us get less than 7 hours though.

If building lean muscle mass is important to you, your lack of shut-eye may be a bigger problem than you think. Let’s dig a bit deeper into what the science says about the effect of sleep on muscle growth.

effect of sleep on muscle growth
This is exactly what I look like when I sleep.

Not getting enough sleep inhibits your ability to grow muscle

Research shows that being sleep-deprived can actually encourage loss of muscle mass and hinder muscle recovery after a tough workout. Sleep deprivation can have major effects on athletic performance too, especially for endurance athletes.

Lack of sleep affects your ability to grow and repair muscle regardless of your age.

One study showed that a week of sleep deprivation in otherwise healthy young men resulted in decreased testosterone levels and increased spikes of cortisol, a stress hormone. Furthermore, cortisol levels may stay elevated until the following evening when you don’t get enough sleep.

Another study found that from ages 30 to 40, the total amount of growth hormone secreted during a 24-hour span decreases by two-to-three times. So for all you thirty-somethings, you already have biology working against you … don’t compound it by thinking you can get by on 4-6 hours per night (a common range among my more ambitious friends).

Finally, there’s a connection between shorter periods of sleep and weight gain leading to obesity. So even if you’re healthy now, as you age, not getting enough sleep can catch up with you.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, check out this step-by-step guide to falling asleep. If you have trouble staying asleep (like me), here’s a helpful resource.

There’s a silver lining in all this though …

Getting ample sleep encourages muscle growth

While it’s clear that being under that 7-9 hour threshold may negatively impact your muscle gains, getting some extra rest is a proven way to encourage more muscle growth.

In one sleep extension study, a group of researchers instructed six basketball players to get as much extra sleep as possible following two weeks of “normal sleep”. The researchers found that these athletes exhibited faster sprint times and increased free-throw accuracy at the end of the sleep extension period (as well as decreased fatigue and improved mood).

The same group of researchers conducted another study in which swimmers increased their sleep time to 10 hours per night for 6–7 weeks. These athletes showed improvements in 15 m sprint time, reaction time, turn time, and overall mood.

But you don’t need to sleep for 10 hours a night to see improvements. Getting in that 7-9 hour range is what’s most important.

During those weeks where 7+ hours just isn’t going to happen because of other circumstances going on in your life, there are a couple things you can do, according to science:

  1. Take a nap. Athletes suffering from some degree of sleep loss may benefit from a brief nap, which can decrease your likelihood of muscle loss.
  2. Eat some protein (or drink a protein shake) before bed. Eating protein before bed may help your body recover from a workout faster.
Here’s the bottom line about the effect of sleep on muscle growth: if you focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night, you will build more lean muscle and decrease muscle deterioration after age 30.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep!

Best Plant Based Protein Powder Reviews / Comparison Chart

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, I 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, I have some bad news:

99 percent of plant based protein powders I 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, my 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 I broke it up into three sections. Scroll down or click/tap the the green and grey boxes below to navigate to each section.

 

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).

Bottom line: Avoid all protein powders with more than 1 gram of sugar. Click To Tweet

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:

best vegan protein powder
best vegan protein powder Avoid these so-called “natural” sweeteners.
  • 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!).

Bottom line:

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.
plant protein comparison chart
plant protein comparison chart This is why it’s so hard to find a healthy protein powder–you have to cut through a lot of b.s. to find the hidden junk.

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. Click To Tweet

5. How are their ingredients processed?

This is a tricky one because protein manufacturers rarely disclose this information.

Most whey protein is made using a high heat, acid-flushed process. Most companies that use vegetable proteins also use high temperature processing methods, and some even use hexane. These high-heat, chemical methods destroy vital nutrients in the plant.

A small handful of protein manufacturers will disclose how they make their proteins. Most won’t though. When in doubt, ask.

Bottom line:

Always ask the manufacturer how their proteins and other ingredients are processed. Click To Tweet

How to Find the Healthiest Protein Powders: What Health Experts Say

I asked several health and wellness gurus, “What’s your advice for finding the best plant based protein powder?” Here’s what they said:

Joel Kahn, M.D.

America’s Holistic Heart Doc, University Professor, Founder, The Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity

no whey

“I recommend clean plant-based protein powders to my patients and use them myself in a morning smoothie. When they ask me about whey my answer is “No Whey“!”

Michelle Crowder, N.D.

Licensed Naturopathic Physician

doctor recommended protein

“In general, I recommend that my patients look for real food ingredients in anything they purchase, and avoid ingredients like artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils. If cane sugar or another refined sweetener is listed, it should be organic and one of the last ingredients listed. Look for organic, hormone-free, non-GMO products. Casein and soy tend to be more allergenic than other proteins and should be avoided in general.”

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton

TV Host & Media Personality, Celebrity Vegan Chef, Holistic Nutritionist

Carolyn-Scott-Hamilton

“For me, it must be vegan but after that I look for powders that aren’t full of fillers, sugars and extra junk. I love pure, clean powders that are non-GMO and I know how to pronounce the ingredients ; )”

Alisa Fleming

Founder, GoDairyFree

Alisa-Fleming

“Since protein powder can be a daily food, I think it’s important to be sure you are comfortable with every single ingredient. I may not be as particular about a “once in a blue moon” treat, but if it is going to be in my daily diet rotation, I want to make sure it doesn’t have any questionable ingredients.”

Myra Mingo

Founder, The Happy Health Freak

Myra-Mingo

“I look for vegan protein powders with very few ingredients, no soy or gluten and sweetened naturally without chemicals.”

Samantha Shorkey

Vegan Coach and WNBF Bikini Pro

vegetarian bodybuilder protein

“At this point in my vegan bodybuilding career, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of the top vegan protein powders. I’ve literally tried ‘em ALL! The ones I tend to gravitate the most towards are of course, the ones that taste good, have a nice texture that isn’t too gummy, chalky or gritty and are high in protein but low in fats and carbs. I prefer to eat my calories rather than drink ‘em so texture and consistency is super important. I want my protein “pudding” to be creamy. I also try to avoid protein powders that are chalk full (no pun intended) of added sugars or fake sugars. Usually the natural sweetness of vanilla and cinnamon is enough for me (and better for staying lean.)”

Best Vegan / Vegetarian Protein Powder Reviews: Compare 20 Brands

Use our plant protein comparison chart to see some of the so-called best plant based protein powder and nutritional shake brands on the market. All of these guys make claims about being “clean, “healthy” and “natural”. When you start to peel back the curtain though, you’ll see there’s a lot of hidden junk in pretty much all of most popular brands

best plant based protein powder

Click/tap the numbers below to skip to each section or just scroll down to compare 20 vegan / vegetarian protein brands.

1

Protein Sources

pure food protein
Organic fermented pea protein Organic sprouted and fermented whole grain brown rice protein Organic hemp protein
PlantFusion ChocolatePea protein isolate, Artichoke protein, Organic sprouted amaranth, Organic sprouted quinoa
Vega OnePea protein, sunflower seed protein, pumpkin seed protein
Aloha ChocolateOrganic pea protein, Organic pumpkin seed protein, Organic hemp seed protein
Skoop ChocolateOrganic pea protein, Organic rice protein, Organic hemp protein
SunWarrior Warrior Blend ChocolateOrganic pea protein, organic hemp protein
Orgain Organic Protein Powder – ChocolateOrganic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed, organic hemp protein
Garden of Life Organic Chocolate ProteinOrganic sprouted brown rice protein
Sprout LivingPea protein isolate, Manitoba Harvest hemp protein powder, Rice protein concentrate
Lifetime Life’s BasicsPea protein concentrate, Organic brown rice protein concentrate
MRM Veggie Elite Chocolate MochaPea protein concentrate, Organic brown rice protein concentrate
Body Ecology Fermented Chocolate Protein ShakePea protein, Mushroom protein blend
HealthforceOrganic sprouted brown rice protein, Organic hemp protein
KachavaOrganic sprouted brown rice protein, Organic hemp protein
YuvePea protein isolate, Rice protein concentrate
PhilosophieOrganic hemp seed protein, Organic reishi mushroom
SannPea protein isolate, Rice protein isolate, Artichoke protein
22 Days NutritionOrganic pea protein, Organic flax, Organic sacha inchi
Growing Naturals Chocolate Power Rice ProteinOrganic brown rice
BokuOrganic brown rice, Organic cranberry
2

Calories, Protein, Sugar (g) Per Serving and Sweeteners Used

 
Calories
 
Protein
 
Sugar
 
best vegetarian powder
134
20
1
Organic stevia leaf powder
PlantFusion Chocolate
120
21
1
Monkfruit, Stevia
Vega One Chocolate
140
20
2
Stevia leaf extract
Aloha Chocolate
150
18
4
Organic coconut sugar Monk fruit extract
Skoop Chocolate
150
20
1
Organic stevia extract Organic coconut sugar
SunWarrior Warrior Blend Chocolate
100
17
0
Erythritol Organic rice dextrins Organic stevia extract
Orgain Organic Protein Powder – Chocolate
150
21
0
Organic stevia extract
Garden of Life Organic Chocolate Protein
90
17
1
Organic stevia leaf
Sprout Living
110
19
1
Organic red banana Organic baobab fruit Organic stevia leaf powder
Lifetime Life’s Basics
134
22
5
Fructose Xylitol Stevia
MRM Veggie Elite Chocolate Mocha
130
24
0
Stevia extract Monk fruit extract
Body Ecology Fermented Chocolate Protein Shake
110
15
1
Stevia extract
Healthforce
100
17
2
Organic whole stevia leaf
Kachava
220
24
8
Erythritol Oligosaccharides Stevia
Yuve
155
16
2
Stevia leaf extract
Philosophie
55
10
0
Organic mesquite
Sann
116
21
1
Fructose Stevia
22 Days Nutrition
100
16
2
Organic stevia leaf extract
Growing Naturals Chocolate Power Rice Protein
120
25
3
Organic brown rice syrup solids Organic stevia
Boku
120
18
4
Vermont maple syrup Organic lucuma fruit
3

Free of Natural Flavors & Gums/Thickeners

FREE OF NATURAL FLAVORS
FREE OF GUMS/ THICKENERS
PlantFusion ChocolateNo (natural chocolate flavor)No (silica, xanthan gum)
Vega One ChocolateNo (natural chocolate flavor)No (xanthan gum)
Aloha Chocolate
No (xanthan gum, organic sunflower lecithin)
Skoop ChocolateNo (organic flavor, natural flavor)No (organic acacia gum)
SunWarrior Warrior Blend ChocolateNo (organic chocolate flavor blend)No (organic guar gum)
Orgain Vegan Protein Powder – ChocolateNo (natural flavor, organic natural flavors)No (organic guar gum, organic acacia gum, xanthan gum)
Garden of Life Organic Chocolate ProteinNo (natural chocolate flavor, natural vanilla flavor)
Sprout Living
Lifetime Life’s BasicsNo (natural chocolate flavor)
MRM Veggie Elite Chocolate MochaNo (natural chocolate mocha flavor)No (konjac gum, guar gum, tara gum)
Body Ecology Fermented Chocolate Protein ShakeNo (natural cocoa flavors with other natural flavors)No (natural cocoa flavors with other natural flavors)
Healthforce
KachavaNo (natural chocolate flavors)No (alkalized cocoa, xanthan gum, guar gum)
YuveNo (natural flavors)No (corn starch powder, guar gum, xanthan gum)
Philosophie
SannNo (natural flavor)No (glycine, guar gum, lecithin)
22 Days NutritionNo (organic chocolate flavor)No (organic chocolate flavor)
Growing Naturals Chocolate Power Rice ProteinNo (organic flavor)No (organic guar gum, organic gum arabic, organic sunflower oil)
Boku
No (organic guar gum)
 
4

Organic Ingredients, Probiotics Added and Cost Per Gram

Organic Protein Sources
Probiotics Added
Cost Per Gram
protein powder review
Bacillus coagulans
0.06
Bacillus coagulans
0.06
PlantFusion ChocolateNoNo
0.04
Vega One ChocolateNoNo
0.05
Aloha ChocolateNoNo
0.08
Skoop Chocolate
Lactobacillus plantarum Lactobacillus bulgaricus
0.11
SunWarrior Warrior Blend Chocolate
No
0.06
Orgain Organic Protein (Chocolate)
No
0.02
Garden of Life Organic Chocolate ProteinNo
Bacillus subtilis Lactobacillus bulgaricus
0.04
Sprout Living
No
0.07
Lifetime Life’s BasicsNoNo
0.04
MRM Veggie Elite Chocolate MochaNoNo
0.03
Body Ecology Fermented Chocolate Protein ShakeNo
Lactobacillus, Saccharomy ces, Bifidobacterium longum
0.10
Healthforce
No
0.06
KachavaNo
Lactobacillus rhamnosus Lactobacillus acidophilus
0.08
YuveNoNo
0.08
Philosophie
No
0.11
SannNoNo
0.07
22 Days Nutrition
No
0.11
Growing Naturals Chocolate Power Rice Protein
No
0.06
BokuNoNo
0.09

Click Here to Download the Free PDF Version of This Chart!

*Note: I usually update this post at least once per month. However, if you see something that looks inaccurate or you’d like me to analyze and add another product, shoot me an email (Scott@purefoodcompany.com).

Final Thoughts: What Is The Best Plant Based Protein Powder?

“Best” is subjective and depends on your unique health goals and needs. If you value ingredients and nutrition over taste, my criteria for finding the healthiest protein powder for you are pretty simple:

1. Look for ingredients that are organic and come from whole food sources you can pronounce without any additives like fillers, gums, or flavors.

2. Find out the amount of protein per serving, the protein sources, sugar content, and cost per serving in grams. 

Is Pure Food Protein a Good Fit for You?

Here’s me being (probably too) honest: if you’re looking for the best tasting plant protein powder, Pure Food isn’t it. We don’t add artificial junk and chemical-ridden flavors to make our product taste better.

But if you’re done settling for “average” protein powders and the junk ingredients that wreak havoc on your body and want to try a product that will actually have a positive impact on your health (and the world), then try

The