Should You Add This Shelf-Stable Protein To Your Pandemic Pantry?

by Emily Harland RDN, CSO, LDN

Last Updated: May 13, 2020

As we stock up on shelf-stable proteins, the wide array of products on the market can quickly cause selection anxiety. As rumors swirl around disruptions in the meat supply, and plant-based eating becomes more and more popular, a variety of alternative protein sources have hit the shelves. You have likely seen pea protein supplements amongst the plant-based protein powders and wondered how it stacks up. We’re here to break it down for you.

What is pea protein?
Pea protein is derived primarily from ground yellow split peas, which are a part of the pulse family, as are beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas. It is rich in essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids, both of which make it a great supplement for maintaining lean muscle mass. Pea protein is also naturally gluten-free and rarely triggers allergies. Unlike whey protein, which is derived from cow’s milk, pea protein is a great alternative for those seeking to stick to a primarily plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet.

How is it used?
Pea protein is now being used widely as a protein booster for many plant-based foods on the market. Protein powder is likely the most obvious product choice and is a great way to add substance to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, and beyond. Pea protein is also being used as a nutrient booster in plant-based milks, protein bars, and veggie-based burgers.

What are the pros and cons?
If you have allergies, pea protein may be a great choice as it is not derived from any of the top 8 allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat), which are often used to create other protein supplements. Pea protein is also a great source of soluble fiber which can aid in digestion, satiety, and may even be helpful in reducing blood pressure. As with most supplements, there are a few things to consider. Pea protein does not have a complete profile of all the amino acids that we need (amino acids are the building blocks of protein). There are some amino acids, known as the essential amino acids, that we must get from our food, as the body cannot make these. Animal based proteins, such as meat, fish, and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids. However, plant-based proteins are not always “complete” proteins. Pea protein is missing some of the essential amino acids and must be combined with other plant-based protein sources to become known as “complete.” Lucky for us, pea protein can often be combined with other plant-based sources such as quinoa protein, brown rice protein, or hemp protein to be made “complete” such as the one linked here.

How to pick the right pea protein powder:
  1. Check the ingredients list.
    • It is best to look for a powder that has the least number of ingredients.
    • Keep an eye out for added sugars and try to choose a powder that has the lowest number.
      • As a guideline, women should limit added sugar to 25 grams daily and men should limit to 35 grams of added sugar daily).
    • In addition, it is also wise to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose as these sweeteners are much sweeter than typical table sugar and there is mixed evidence on long-term effects of these additives.
      • If looking for a pea protein supplement with a zero-calorie sweetener, stevia may be a better option as it is from a natural source.
  2. If using pea protein as part of a meal, aim for about 15 to 20 grams of protein per serving.
  3. Since protein powders are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is important to know that the product is safe. Double check that the protein powder you are buying is tested by a third party, such as NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation) Certified for Sport seal. By choosing a protein powder with this seal, you are choosing a product that has been verified to contain only what’s found on the label. It also has been tested for contaminants and has been made at a facility that is frequently tested for safety and quality.
Regardless of the kind of protein powder that you choose, remember that it is best to consume protein as part of an overall balanced diet. If you have additional questions about how to fit pea protein into your diet, set up an appointment with one of our Kroger Health Registered Dietitians today!

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Emily Harland RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily Harland RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily is a passionate clinical dietitian who strives to make nutrition changes sustainable while improving peoples’ relationship with food. She makes every effort to get to know each one of her clients on a personal level to ensure whole-person care. Emily is specialized in nutrition for oncology and cancer prevention/treatment. She has expertise from diabetes and heart health to hormonal health and fertility issues. Emily is an avid indoor cyclist and loves spending time in the kitchen cooking up nutritious and energizing meals.