Plant-based protein powders have become a growing health food trend for a variety of reasons, such as diet fads and concerns regarding health, the environment, animal cruelty, sustainability, ethics and religion. At grocery and health food stores, you may see hundreds of plant-based protein powders to choose from.
Most protein powders available for sale are blends of the typical plant sources, which include pea, hemp, soy, algae, brown rice varieties, pumpkin, sunflower and chia seed-based products.
Protein powders are not meant to replace traditional sources of protein, but to be used as supplements. Athletes, older adults, and people with certain illnesses or dietary restrictions who need increased protein in their diet may benefit from using protein powders as part of their diet. For people who have food aversions, as in the case of medical treatment or pregnancy food intolerances, a smoothie with protein powder might be more tolerable.
When choosing a protein powder, look for brands without added sugars. Also look out for any added sugar, alcohol, fiber and inulin that can cause bloating and uncomfortable digestive symptoms. It is important to read the nutrition labels carefully to avoid overconsumption of ingredients that could interact with an existing medical condition, medications or supplements. There is a growing concern over the safety profile of some of these products. In a study of 134 top-selling animal and plant-based protein powders from over 52 brands conducted in 2018 by the Clean Label Project, it was found that organic products contained more than twice the amount of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium, than the nonorganic products tested.
For most people, though, the goal should be to meet protein needs first by consuming a variety of plant-based protein from whole foods. Resort to plant-based protein powders as supplements, and only when needed.