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Pea Protein: The Non-Dairy Muscle Builder (that Also Boosts Heart Health)

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Pea protein - Dr. Axe

Pea protein powder is becoming a fast favorite for gym-goers and health-conscious people alike. Not only is it gluten- and dairy-free, but it’s been proven to be spectacular for your kidneys, heart and waistline too!

Although you can typically get enough protein each day by following a well-balanced and nutritious diet, real life often has a tendency to get in the way, and preparing a healthy meal rich in plant-based protein foods can be a bit of a hassle at times. That’s why smoothies with protein powder can be a great option, augmenting protein intake with minimal prep time.

Another great reason to use protein powder is that consuming it within 30 minutes of working out can help speed up muscle growth and recovery to optimize your workout and get faster results. (1) But while preparing and eating a full meal is not only difficult directly after working out, it can often make you feel nauseous and heavy. A light smoothie packed with great proteins, on the other hand, is a quick and easy alternative to help bump up your protein intake.

Rotating the types of protein powders that you use is a great strategy to make sure your body consistently benefits from each one as much as possible. Ready to learn more? Let’s explore why pea protein should be a part of that rotation.


What Is Pea Protein?

Protein powder is available in several forms, most commonly as whey protein, brown rice protein powder and soy. Whey and brown rice protein have some incredible benefits and both are very useful in their own right. Soy protein, on the other hand, may not be so stellar for health due to its high concentration of phytoestrogens and the fact that nearly all soy in the U.S. is genetically engineered.

Although pea protein powder isn’t currently in the top three, experts predict that it will begin drastically increasing in popularity over the next few years, given the huge surge in health-conscious consumers and the continued push toward following a more plant-based and sustainable diet.

The rising popularity of this pea supplement should come as no surprise, considering the amazing makeup of this veggie protein powder. Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten, soy or dairy. It’s also easy on the tummy and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.

So how is pea protein made? It’s produced by grinding the peas into a powder and then removing the starch and fiber to leave a highly concentrated pea protein isolate that’s perfect for adding to smoothies, baked goods or desserts to quickly boost protein intake.

Whether you are allergic or sensitive to gluten or dairy or are simply looking for a healthy, plant-based vegan protein powder, pea protein is one of the best protein supplement options available.


Top 5 Pea Protein Benefits

  1. Aids in Weight Loss
  2. Supports Heart Health
  3. May Promote Kidney Function
  4. Increases Muscle Thickness
  5. Balances Blood Sugar Levels

1. Aids in Weight Loss

As with all good protein powders, pea protein can be a handy tool in your arsenal of weight loss weapons. Particilarly if you’re looking to lose weight fast, introducing protein in your diet is one of the best ways to do it.

It’s common for people trying to lose weight to neglect protein intake, which can stall and slow weight loss in the long run. However, getting between 0.8–1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight each day helps you to build muscle and burn fat faster. If you weigh 140 pounds — which is about 64 kilograms — for example, you should take in about 51–64 grams of protein each day.

Another way that protein benefits weight loss is due to its ability to lower levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating feelings of hunger. Pea protein can delay the emptying of your stomach and reduce the secretion of ghrelin to curb cravings and decrease appetite. In fact, research shows that pea protein matches dairy-based proteins in its ability to help you feel fuller for longer! (2)

2. Supports Heart Health

Not only is pea protein good for your waistline, but it’s also proven to support a healthy heart. In 2011, one animal model out of Canada reported that pea protein lowers high blood pressure. Impressively enough, the rats in the study showed a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure over the course of just eight weeks. (3)

In another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that intake over time of plant-based proteins, rather than animal-based proteins, was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). (4) If you are at any sort of risk for heart problems, the best thing you can do is to eat foods that reduce inflammation, such as peas and other plant-based ingredients. Inflammation is the cause of almost every major heart disease, and CHD is not excluded from that list. (5)

3. May Promote Kidney Function

Some studies suggest that pea protein may be one of the best protein sources for those with kidney issues. In fact, according to research conducted by the University of Manitoba, pea protein could help delay or prevent the onset of kidney damage in those with high blood pressure. It could also help those with kidney disease live longer by stabilizing blood pressure levels and can increase urine function to help the body rid itself of toxins and waste more efficiently. (6)

What’s fascinating about this particular study is that it was discovered that yellow peas alone do not provide these same benefits. Instead, it’s only when the protein in peas is extracted and activated with special enzymes that these pea proteins become especially beneficial for kidney health.

4. Increases Muscle Thickness

A common misconception about vegetable-based natural protein powder supplements is that they don’t have the same effect on muscle growth and muscle recovery after workouts as dairy-based whey protein. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition proved that pea protein was just as effective as dairy-based proteins at increasing muscle thickness after resistance training. (7)

The muscle-boosting benefits of protein may be due to the high quantities of L-arginine in pea protein, which are found in higher concentrations than in other protein products. (8) Arginine — and L-arginine — is an important amino acid that helps you to build muscle. This is because it stimulates the secretion of human growth hormone, a type of hormone involved in the regulation of growth, metabolism and muscle mass. (9, 10)

5. Balances Blood Sugar Levels

High blood sugar can impact many aspects of health and can cause a range of diabetes symptoms, such as fatigue, increased thirst, slow wound healing and unintentional weight loss.

Some research shows that all-natural protein powder supplements like pea protein could be beneficial when it comes to maintaining normal blood sugar levels. For instance, a study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences tested the effects of pea protein on food intake, blood sugar levels and appetite in healthy young men. While the addition of pea protein didn’t change food intake or appetite, the blood sugar levels of subjects stayed lower than they normally would. This suggests pea protein can be considered a beneficial ingredient and can help improve glycemic control when paired with other foods. (11)

 

Pea protein benefits - Dr. Axe

 


Pea Protein Nutrition and Amino Acid Profile

One of the things that people often consider when shopping for protein supplements is whether or not they are considered complete protein sources. The complete protein definition includes any food or supplement that contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which are the types of amino acid that your body is unable to produce and must obtain from food sources.

Because of the varied types of soy and the confusion often surrounding protein powders, there tends to be a lot of different opinions about the assortment of amino acids in different types of proteins and what is necessary. Many people think that soy is the only vegetable-based protein with a complete amino acid profile, but that’s not the case. Hemp protein powder is also considered a complete protein, while brown rice protein also sports a complete load of amino acids but is a bit low in lysine in comparison to whey protein or casein protein.

Pea protein has a nearly complete profile, although there are a couple of nonessential and conditional amino acids missing. Does that mean you should write off pea protein altogether? Absolutely not! That’s one big reason it’s important to switch it up when it comes to protein powders and include a good variety in your routine. And remember — it’s OK to use a protein powder that doesn’t have every single amino acid. If you eat organic superfoods as a daily part of your routine, you should consume a full load of amino acids and complete protein foods every day through your diet anyway.

One great reason to consider pea protein in your typical rotation is that it contains about five more grams of protein per serving than whey protein, so it really can be great for building muscle, burning fat and boosting heart health.

Plus, take a look at the green peas nutrition facts, and it’s easy to see why pea protein powder is so nutritious. Each serving of pea nutrition packs in a low amount of peas calories but is high in protein and fiber as well as several important micronutrients. (12)

A single scoop of pea protein powder, which is about 33 grams, contains approximately: (13)

  • 120 calories
  • 1 gram carbohydrate
  • 24 grams protein
  • 2 grams fat
  • 8 milligrams iron (45 percent DV)
  • 330 milligrams sodium (14 percent DV)
  • 43 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
  • 83 milligrams potassium (2 percent DV)

Pea Protein in Ayurveda, TCM and Traditional Medicine

Pea protein has recently emerged as a popular and convenient source of protein for those looking to bump up their intake and meet their nutritional needs. Peas, however, have long been used as a source of nutrition and healing in many forms of traditional medicine.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, peas are thought to promote urine production and relieve indigestion while also strengthening digestive health and supporting regularity.

Meanwhile, peas are often recommended on an Ayurvedic diet because they’re easy to digest and can help satisfy the stomach and keep appetite under control. Thanks to their high fiber content, peas are also thought to act as a laxative to prevent constipation and add bulk to the stool.


Pea Protein vs. Whey Protein vs. Soy Protein

Whey powder, pea protein and soy protein dominate the supplement industry as some of the top protein powders on the market. But although all three are considered convenient and cheap protein sources, each offers a different set of drawbacks and benefits.

Soy protein powder, for example, is dairy-free and made from soy beans. But while it is plant-based and considered a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids that your body needs, it’s often not recommended because it’s also high in phytoestrogens and likely derived from genetically modified and allergenic soy plants.

As the most popular and cheapest protein powder available, many people often wonder: Is whey protein good for you? Whey protein boasts a complete amino acid profile and supplies a good amount of protein for a low amount of calories. It’s especially useful for building muscle and enhancing exercise performance while also burning fat and stabilizing blood sugar levels. The biggest difference between pea protein powder vs. whey powder, however, is that it’s milk-based, meaning it may not be suitable for those with food sensitivities or dietary restrictions.


Pea Protein vs. Hemp Protein vs. Rice Protein

Pea, hemp and rice protein powder are a few of the most popular and best plant-based protein powder supplements available. All three are non-dairy protein powder options that are ideal for vegans or those on a plant-based diet. However, there are some minute differences between them that make each a worthy addition to your protein powder rotation.

Hemp protein powder is derived from the hemp plant and packs in all nine essential amino acids, plus plenty of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients like magnesium and iron. (14) It’s also easily digestible and has a mild, nutty taste that works well in many recipes.

Brown rice protein powder is often considered one of the best plant protein powder options for those with allergies because it’s free of soy, dairy and other added ingredients that may cause issues for those with food sensitivities. However, while it technically contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs, it is low in lysine and should be paired with other protein foods or powders to maximize the potential benefits.


Where to Find and How to Use Pea Protein

Pea protein isolate can now be found in the health food aisle of most major grocery stores, pharmacies and supplement shops. It can also be purchased through online retailers, which can be especially beneficial to read and compare the pea protein reviews and find the best product for you.

Pea protein milk is also available at specialty health food shops as a nutritious plant-based alternative to cow’s milk that also contains a higher amount of calcium and protein than other dairy-free milk varieties.

To balance out your amino acid intake and use a truly spectacular protein powder blend, it’s a great idea to combine pea protein with brown rice protein. Pea protein fills in the gaps sometimes found in in brown rice protein (such as low lysine levels) yet both are 100 percent vegan and can help you avoid potential gas issues associated with other types of vegetable protein powders.

Generally, the very mild taste of pea protein is pleasant, making it a great addition to smoothies or shake for a healthy post-workout meal. Organic pea protein powder also works well in everything from baked goods to snacks, desserts and breakfast foods, making it easy to ramp up your protein intake at any time of day.


Pea Protein Recipes

You can easily swap pea protein in place of other types of protein powder in your favorite protein shake recipes. However, the uses of pea protein isolate don’t just end there. Here are a few other creative and delicious ways to take advantage of the multitude of pea protein powder benefits in your daily diet:


Pea Protein Supplements and Dosage

You can find pea protein supplements in many different forms. While many prefer using a powdered protein isolate, which can easily be added to smoothies, shakes and protein-rich recipes, you can often find pea protein added into protein bars and supplements as well.

It’s usually recommended that healthy adults get at least 0.8–1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. This amount can also vary widely based on your activity level, with some high-intensity athletes requiring up to twice as much protein. Older adults and people with certain health conditions like cancer, burns or severe wounds may also require higher amounts of protein.

Typically, a standard serving of pea protein powder is about one scoop, or 33 grams. However, you can also divide that amount in half and pair it with half a serving of another protein powder, such as brown rice protein, to squeeze in a wider range of amino acids and essential nutrients.


History

Although pea protein has only recently emerged on the market as a dietary supplement, peas have been grown and cultivated since ancient times for their unique taste and powerful health benefits. They were originally grown for their dry seeds but were later used as a dietary staple to ward off famine during the Middle Ages.

During the period of Early Modern Europe, fresh green peas were considered a delicacy consumed among royalty. Other pea varieties, such as sugar peas, were also introduced to Europe in later years.

Today, peas are an important ingredient in many different dishes and cuisines. They’re frequently incorporated into stir-fried dishes in China, added to stews in many Mediterranean countries and served alongside meat pies in the United Kingdom. There are a number of different varieties of peas available, each of which varies slightly in terms of flavor, nutritional value and the way it is used and consumed.


Pea Protein Dangers, Precautions and Side Effects

Protein powder can be an easy and convenient way to boost your protein intake when you’re running short on time or need a bit of help meeting your daily needs. Keep in mind, though, that protein powder shouldn’t completely replace protein intake from food sources. Protein foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes are high in protein but also contain a wealth of other important nutrients that your body needs as well.

Pea protein is safe for most people and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects. However, consuming protein in high amounts could cause several pea protein side effects. In fact, overdoing it on the protein could cause issues like weight gain, bone loss, kidney issues and impaired liver function. (15) Keep your intake in moderation to take advantage of the unique benefits of protein powder without going overboard and harming your health.


Final Thoughts

  • Pea protein powder is a plant-based source of protein that has gained widespread popularity in recent years.
  • Adding pea protein to your rotation could help enhance weight loss, support heart health, improve kidney function, increase muscle thickness and balance blood sugar levels.
  • Each serving is high in protein and iron and contains a small amount of other micronutrients like calcium and potassium.
  • There are notable differences between pea protein vs. whey protein and other types of plant-based protein, in their amino acid profile, taste and ingredients. Adding a variety of protein powders to your diet helps you take advantage of the unique benefits of each.
  • Try adding pea protein powder to your favorite shakes, smoothies, desserts, baked goods and breakfast recipes for an added dose of protein and health benefits each day.

Read Next: Casein Protein vs. Whey Protein: The Benefits of the ‘Other Protein Powder’


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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