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Is Pea Protein As Good As Whey Protein?

If you’ve been wondering if pea protein is as good as whey protein? Then reading this will answer all your questions. Let’s see if pea protein is as good as whey or not?!

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boil-bright-bubble-bubbly

In recent years we’ve seen pea protein rise in popularity. One of the reasons for this was people shifting to veganism and trying alternatives, While the other was most aware of the benefits that pea protein offered.

If you’ve been wondering if pea protein is as good as whey protein? Then reading this will answer all your questions. Let’s see if pea protein is as good as whey or not?!

What is pea protein exactly?

The protein is extracted by grinding dried peas into a fine powder. The starch and fibers are removed, which leaves concentrated protein substance also known as pea protein isolate.

Pea pod 2
pea pod 2

One of the good things about pea protein is even though only protein is extracted there still remains some good amount of soluble fibers in the mix. This soluble fiber really helps with digestion and also provides energy to the gut bacteria.

Let’s see the macronutrients of pea protein and get an idea of how it compares to whey protein.

This is completely plant-based, unlike most protein supplements in the market like whey, casein, and egg-based protein powders. This makes it an ideal choice for vegetarians and vegans.

What are the benefits of using pea protein?

Lower in total calorie When compared to whey protein

When we compare plant-based proteins to animal-based proteins. We see that plant-based proteins tend to be lower in calorie per serving than animal-based protein. Consuming pea protein will have approximately 90 calories per serving, while a typical serving of whey protein will have anywhere from 100 to 150 calories per serving.

Pea protein becomes especially good for people who want to be in a calorie deficit but, still get enough proteins in their diet. Although this difference is not too big, It can add up over time.

Vegans and people with Lactose intolerance can consume it easily

Pea protein is produced from soluble pea protein from yellow split peas, followed by drying and rehydration of produced pea flour. Made completely from plants this is perfect for any vegan out there.

It is also made from soluble peas, which means it doesn’t contain any lactose. Lactose is a sugar that’s in milk. Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down this sugar so we can absorb it. But, people with lactose intolerance usually don’t have enough lactase.

This lactase is produced in our small intestine, Some people can digest lactose even with low levels of lactase in their bodies but some can’t which makes most whey protein supplements inaccessible for them. Pea protein doesn’t contain any lactose, which means anyone with lactose intolerance can consume it without worry.

If you are wondering if pea protein has any gluten in it? Then be rest assured that it doesn’t. So if you have gluten intolerance even you can consume pea protein.

More environmentally friendly

Consuming plant-based protein is a far more sustainable option when compared to an animal protein such as egg-based proteins. Most people don’t realize that the production of meat-based proteins requires far more land than compared to plant-based proteins.

A research article revealed how land requirements for animal-based protein production were up to 10 times greater than that of plant-based proteins. This can have a great environmental impact on resources other than lands, such as water and electricity consumption.

No abdominal pain or bloating

With whey protein we often see people complain about digestion issues such as abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue. On the other hand, plant-based proteins such as pea protein have been known for easier digestion. This mainly happens because of the absence of milk-derived ingredients, such as lactose and lectin.

Being very low in phytates and containing nothing artificial such as digestive enzymes, pea protein is the ideal choice for most people with digestive issues. Most pea proteins have a digestibility rating of 98%. Which makes pea protein a good option to fuel your workouts and help you recover faster, add the benefit of easier digestion and it makes a great offer even better.

Pea Vs Whey
Infogram

How complete is pea protein?

Usually, people select animal-based protein supplements over plant-based protein because of a simple concern which is, plant proteins might not be complete proteins. This is one of the main reasons why people avoid consuming pea protein.

To answer the question in a word, if pea protein is a complete protein or not?!

The answer would be a solid “YES!.” Pea protein is a complete protein. It has all 9 essential amino acids just the way whey protein has.

All about different amino acids

Now that was the short answer, but let’s begin by defining, what is a complete protein? A complete protein is something that has all 9 essential amino acids that our body needs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, they are absolutely necessary for human growth and cellular function.

Although we know of about 500 amino acids that are present in nature, we only need 21 of these amino acids to function properly. Our body is capable of making 12 of those 21 amino acids leaving only 9 amino acids which become essential for our survival.

These 9 amino acids are known as ‘essential amino acids’ and you need to make sure that you get all of these 9 essential amino acids on a daily basis from the foods that you eat. It’s not necessary for you to get every essential amino acid in the same meal.

Most of the vegetarians and vegans know about this well. For example, rice and beans both are not a complete protein on their own, but when you combine them, even in different meals you can get the daily required amount of essential amino acids. This covers the 9 essential amino acids.

Now, for the remaining 12 amino acids, 6 of them are regarded only as “conditionally essential,” while the other 6 are considered “non-essential” or “dispensable.”

So what are these conditionally essential amino acids?

Your body needs these conditionally essential amino acids only at certain times. These can typically mean during periods of rapid growth or when your body goes through a lot of physiological stress, such as when you’re exercising or ill.

Since our body can synthesize these amino acids they are not deemed as ‘essential’ in our foods. Although, we can still benefit to a certain extent by consuming additional amounts of these amino acids in our diet.

Let’s dive in deeper to see what kind of amino acid profile does pea protein have when compared to whey protein.

Pea Protein Data
Pea Protein Data

We see a few minute differences compared to whey protein but overall there isn’t a huge difference. Pea protein provides all 9 essential amino acids needed in enough quantity.

The only exception being methionine, of which 90% of the requirement is provided. The remaining 10% can be acquired by other vegan food sources like Brazil nuts which provide 750 mg of methionine every half cup, Oats which have 500 mg per cup, Hemp seeds which have 280 mg per 3 tablespoons Which you can acquire from other foods.

What are the downsides of using pea protein?

As we discussed above the only major issue with pea protein is that it is low in methionine. This isn’t as big of an issue as some might think until we eat a balanced diet that contains methionine. Foods like chicken, oats, and eggs contain enough methionine. This won’t be an issue until you eat a balanced diet

Another common criticism of pea protein is that it isn’t digested easily. The reason for this is the amount of “anti-nutrients” it contains. This isn’t a problem at all. We find anti-nutrient compounds that interfere with other nutrients, like protein, vitamins, and mineral. Plants usually tend to contain higher amounts of anti-nutrients than an animal.

We can find these substances in peas as well, but when peas go through the standard processes used to create pea protein isolate these anti-nutrients are more or less completely filtered out. So if you’ve been worrying about anti-nutrients in pea protein you don’t have to.

When it comes to the bioavailability of pea protein, Studies have shown that pea protein is highly bioavailable. With 98% digestibility, it is as good as whey protein isolates.[2]

Some people also worry about the allergic reactions that can be caused by pea protein and the chances of allergic reactions being higher while eating pea protein.[1] Although this is technically true, allergies caused by pea or pea protein is extremely rare. This is also one of the reasons why pea protein is recommended to people who might have allergic reactions to foods like soy or dairy.

Some people also worry that, if peas can make them feel bloated then pea protein will probably do the same. This is not the case, as most of the substances naturally present in peas that might cause bloating aren’t present in pea protein isolates. This makes pea protein isolate one of the most easily digestible proteins available on the market.

Pea pod 2
pea pod 2

How should I choose a good pea protein?

There would be a few things that you’d have to be careful about when deciding on a good pea protein supplement, Here are a few things that you should be careful about.

Many protein powders are full of additives that can harm you with long term use. Heavy metals toxins like cadmium, lead, and mercury is some of the things you should be careful about, even some popular brands include these in their protein supplements.

Some other additives and preservatives that you’d notice on the ingredients lists and are worth avoiding are:

Cellulose Gum

Xanthan gum

Carrageenan

Corn syrup solids

Disodium phosphate or dipotassium phosphate

Inulin

Lactase

Polydextrose

Tapioca

Soy lecithin

You should avoid any processed ingredients in your pea protein just like you’d avoid them in any other food that you consume.

You should also see if there are any added sugars in the supplements. Many brands like to add sugar or other harmful sweeteners in their supplements to make them taste better. You should always read the labels carefully to make sure your pea protein is low in sugar. If it’s anything above 5 grams then, it’s way too much and not necessary for taste.

Other than this there can be other artificial sweeteners that you should beware of. Making sure there is no xylitol, aspartame, sucralose or any other artificial sweeteners. These can be some of the most acidic ingredients in your body.

On the positive side look for ingredients that naturally add sweetness without using corn products, sugar or artificial sweeteners. Some of these options would include coconut, natural vanilla flavor from raw essential extracts, stevia or monk fruit. Reading the labels thoroughly would be the best thing to do while selecting a pea protein.

Conclusion on Pea Protein

green-peapods
green-peapods

Pea protein isolate is an amazing option for anyone looking to find a whey protein substitute. It is just as good as whey protein isolate and even better in some aspects. Pea protein is also highly bioavailable with 98% digestibility.

Like all other proteins that provide all the amino acids that are needed by the human body. Pea protein isolate offers a myriad of functional benefits that include maintenance and growth of muscles and bone health and also include improved satiety.

Pea protein isolate offers a high-quality, high-protein option for vegetarians, vegans and also people who are allergic to dairy products or simply intolerant. Pea protein is a clean option without anti-nutrients or allergic side effects.

If you’ve been looking for a substitute for whey than pea protein is the best option for you.

References

1. Broadbent, B., & HA, S. (1989, February 5). Cross-allergenicity in the legume botanical family in children with food hypersensitivity. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2918186.

2. The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. (2000). Retrieved from Bernhisel-Broadbent J1, Sampson HA. Author information.

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By Varun Paherwar

I love to blog about nutrition and health.