From whey to soy to rice, protein powders come in all different forms. Each has its own benefits, so choosing the perfect protein can be a little overwhelming.
If better health is your goal, it’s time to check out pea protein. Here are 12 reasons pea protein might be the healthiest thing you consume all day, plus why it's better than whey:
1. It’s a rich source of lysine
One of the reasons protein is so important to the diet is because it contains essential amino acids. The body can’t make 9 essential amino acids, so they must be obtained through foods. Lysine is one of these amino acids, and it’s essential for building connective tissue like skin, cartilage, and bones. It has also been shown to help absorb calcium, another must for strong bones.
Legumes are one of the richest sources of lysine, so if your diet is heavy in grain or grain-based protein and low on beans and legumes (especially if you're a vegan or vegetarian), then pea protein is the way to go. Adding pea protein to your diet will ensure you're getting the full range of essential amino acids.
2. Your allergies will thank you
Go to your local grocery or health food store and you’ll notice that the majority of protein powders contain whey or casein. Although most of the lactose has been removed from whey, trace amounts still remain. If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who are lactose-intolerant, these dairy-based proteins won’t cut it.
Pea protein doesn’t contain dairy, lactose, or soy, making it a viable option for people with some of the most common allergens. Keep in mind, some pea protein powders commonly contain allergenic-added ingredients, so look for ones like Growing Naturals Pea Proteins, which don’t contain artificial additives and use completely plant-based, soy- and dairy-free ingredients.
3. It’s naturally gluten free
If you follow a gluten-free diet, whether it’s due to an intolerance, sensitivity, or personal preference, you already know finding gluten-free foods can be difficult. All foods must now be below 20 ppm (parts per million), or .002% gluten, in order to meet FDA guidelines.
While most pea proteins are naturally gluten-free, we like to go the extra mile by testing each batch of product for gluten using the Gluten RIDASCREEN Competitive method R7021 and Gluten RIDASCREEN Gliadin method R7001. Most of the time, they test between 5-10ppm, trace amounts well below FDA guidelines.
4. It’s easier on the stomach
Although very healthy, whole legumes like beans and peas have a reputation for creating uncomfortable side effects like gas and bloating. This is mainly due to the high fiber and starch content.
Even though pea protein comes from a legume, the peas undergo processing to remove most of the fiber and starch content. This, combined with the fact that they don’t contain major allergens or lactose, make pea protein an option that’s easy on the stomach. It’s also highly digestible, with 100% lab-tested digestibility.
5. It’s rich in plant-based iron
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a major role in the body, helping transport oxygen through the blood. Iron deficiencies can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and brittle hair and nails, among other things.
Women are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency due to blood loss through menstruation. The RDA for women aged 19-50 is 18 mg, which is higher than it is for males. For vegetarians, the RDA is 1.8 times greater.
There are actually two different types of iron—heme (found in animals meat) and non-heme (found in plants). While non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body, it reduces the risk of excess iron building up in the body. Excess iron from animal sources has been linked to an increased risk of serious health concerns, making non-heme iron (like the kind found in pea protein) a healthier option. Added bonus: Growing Naturals pea protein is an excellent source of iron, containing 25-30% of the DV(daily value) per serving.
6. It’s a low glycemic food
The glycemic index is a number assigned to foods based on how quickly the body digests it and turns it to glucose. Low glycemic foods take the body longer to digest, which helps keep blood sugar levels even. They also help you feel full longer and are associated with a number of benefits, including helping maintain a healthy weight.
Pea protein is concentrated in protein, so it won’t raise blood sugar the way juice or other high-carb foods do. In fact, adding pea protein to a fruit smoothie will actually help to keep blood sugar spikes at bay, helping you sustain your energy for longer periods.
7. It low-carb friendly
If you’re watching your carb intake, pea protein is an excellent low-carb option that doesn’t sacrifice protein content—GN pea proteins have 0-3 carbs per serving and 15-16 grams of protein. Most of the carbs in pea protein have been removed, unlike whole legumes, which are high in complex carbs.
8. Your muscles will love the BCAAs
BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) are three essential amino acids that can’t be produced by the body. BCAAs make up more than 35% of muscle mass and stimulate protein synthesis, so they’re particularly important for building muscle.
When it comes to BCAA content, pea protein is comparable to whey protein; about 20% of the amino acids in pea protein are BCAA (compared to 25% in whey protein), enough needed to stimulate protein synthesis. According to this study on pea protein, participants who supplemented with pea protein increased bicep muscle thickness at the same rate as whey protein users.
9. It’s sky high in arginine (3x more than whey)
Another important amino acid, arginine (L-arginine) has plenty of heart-healthy benefits and is also a key player in muscle growth, assisting in protein synthesis and increasing blood flow to muscles.
If your goal is to build muscle, pea protein contains more than 3 times the amount of arginine per gram than whey protein.
10. It’s low-FODMAP friendly
FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Foods with FODMAPs contain certain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols, and avoiding them has shown to be an effective treatment for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
All GN pea proteins are low-FODMAP at a max of 2 servings and they have been third-party tested to ensure compliance. If you have gas, bloating, cramps, and other digestive issues that haven’t been diagnosed, low-FODMAP foods like pea protein may be able to help.
11. It contains mega magnesium
Magnesium is another mineral that plays a vital role in health and involved in more than 600 chemical reactions in the body, including muscle movement, DNA repair, and protein formation. Studies have also shown that it may benefit heart and brain health, insulin resistance, and blood pressure, among other things.
Pea protein makes it easy to get this important mineral, each serving containing about 40-45% of the recommended 400 mg of magnesium each day.
12. It’s naturally cholesterol and saturated fat free
It’s no secret that saturated fats are bad for the heart. Because they can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, the American Heart Association recommends limiting calories from saturated fat to less than 5-6% of calories per day.
Cholesterol and saturated fats are only found in animal products and proteins. If you’re watching your cholesterol, you might want to consider pea proteins; unlike dairy proteins, pea proteins are naturally cholesterol and saturated fat free.
Whether you want to watch your carb intake, fuel your muscles, or make a positive change to your health, pea protein is a delicious, nutritious way to start. And if you’re still not convinced–check out these other reasons why to try pea protein.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian