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:
- The Ingredients
- 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!
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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:
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:
- They’re not organic.
- They contain “flavors”.
- They use gums, fillers, and other highly processed ingredients.
- 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:[bctt tweet=”Non-organic ingredients means there could be chemical pesticides and herbicides in your protein shake.” username=”nutritionguy”]
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.[bctt tweet=”Vega’s use of non-organic ingredients is the #1 reason why I recommend avoiding their products.” username=”nutritionguy”]
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:
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:
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.
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.