Vegan Protein Powders: The Hows and Whys
I've been meaning to post about protein powders for months now, but never found the opportunity to do so. Conveniently, a recent post over on Kristen's blog has provided me with the perfect opportunity to give that topic a go.
I have to start this post with two disclaimers:
1) I know that I have probably mentioned that protein has become a little overrated in our culture today, and I still stand by that statement. I probably only get about 10% of my daily calorie intake from protein and that seems to be suiting me just fine (even daily recommendations made by the UN and such usually place the minimum at about 5%). Our society thinks we need way more protein than we do, and I think that's allowed our economies to fuel the meat and dairy industries beyond comprehension. Industrial agriculture aside, to me, the thing that people don't see when it comes to eating "high protein" meals is that those generally boost your unhealthy fat intake as much as anything else.
2) More importantly, I am an advocate of whole organic foods. The downside of protein powders is that they are processed. I recognize that protein powders aren't really "foods," as Kristen mentioned they are "fractured" foods not whole foods. Frankly, I'm not even sure I put them in the food category at all. I put them in the supplement box, like vitamins. I would never advocate a diet high in supplements because that's exactly what they are supplements, which means they should only be added on top of the fabulous diet you already have, if at all.
That being said, this does not mean that protein powders don't have their uses. In fact, they can be your best friend! The thing I agree with Kristen about the most is that protein powders can help you feel full and can curb cravings. When you eat raw, especially during a transition period, you might get hungry and impulsively want to eat foods high in fat, sugar, or some combination of both (think raw desserts). Otherwise, you may be tempted just to revert back to the "sated/full" feeling of cooked foods. This is when protein powders can come in really handy. Just one scoop in an otherwise 100% raw smoothie help fill that emptiness without making you feel the icky cooked feeling. Really, that one teaspoon can make a big difference! I know that some raw folks would just say to eat more calories of whole raw foods (generally fruit), but sometimes, I'm just not in the mood, and the extra protein does seem to have some benefits, especially when it comes to exercise.
As more of a "cardio with some resistance training" aficionado I don't really feel I need as much protein as my weight lifting hubby. I probably only have about a total of one teaspoon of protein powder a day (and it's probably actually more like every other day). For him though, and while he's also on the high raw journey with me, he's noticed a pretty significant difference when he tried to cut out the proteins and go 100% raw. When he's been off of protein powders, he has both noticed a physical difference (in terms of his capacity) and a visual difference (in that his muscles do get smaller). So while I love him for being on this raw journey with me, and appreciate the company, I also support him in whatever endeavours he chooses when it comes to maintaining his hunky man size.
Like with foods, I think it's important to vary your protein sources because each plant has a different nutrient profiles. For example, hemp protein is a staple as it has all your essential amino acids. Here are the protein powders that made our top 5:
1. Manitoba Harvest's Organic Hemp Protein (Hemp Pro 50 or 70)
2. Heartland Gold's Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Protein
3. Interactive Nutrition's Absolute Vegetarian Vanilla Protein (non-GMO brown rice, hemp, pea, and soy proteins)
5. Vega's Whole Food Health Optimizer (Natural flavour)
These were all chosen for taste, price, and texture. A lot of people think that protein powders can be chalky, or tasteless, but I think all of these are great (as far as I know though, brown rice protein will always be chalky and there's little you can do about it). The Manitoba Harvest and Heartland's Gold have definitely became staples in Andrew's kitchen, largely because they are the most unprocessed and only have 1 ingredient. I generally just use the powders in our breakfast smoothies, but he'll use them in his other two smoothies throughout the day, especially after his workout.
We used to get the Peaceful Planet protein when we lived down in DC, but we haven't been able to find it since. Not only was it organic, full of additional superfood goodness, but it also had the most amazing taste (I would just eat it with a spoon). We recently discovered the Interactive Nutrition Protein and because it did remind me of Peaceful Planet's taste, it might become a new favourite of mine (not a huge fan of the soy though... and while it's all non-GMO, I'd prefer something organic). I also recognize that Vega is technically not a protein powder but more of a supplement. However, we still do use it whenever we can, and it's got loads of good things in it (like B12).
So while my focus is always to encourage you to stick with whole organic plant foods, vegan protein powders can sometimes be a great part of an active lifestyle!
P.S. The Garden Page has been updated with our March prep!