With protein supplements there is more than meets the eye. While whey proteins make up over half of the market, there more supplements available today than ever. Ongoing research is being carried out into the uses and benefits of supplementation and nutrition is a rapidly expanding and ever-changing field. While whey is considered the gold standard when it comes to protein it is not ideal for certain population groups, specifically vegan, vegetarian and those with lactose allergies. In looking to dairy free alternatives it brings its own considerations.
The amino acid profiles vary between plant and animal proteins meaning many vegan protein options do not contain a full amino acid spectrum therefore are not complete proteins on their own. That doesn’t mean they are inferior to animal proteins. To work around this, vegan proteins will blend plant proteins usually basing the blend around rice and pea proteins but can also include soy, hemp, peanut and pumpkin proteins at varying ratios to provide a complete protein. In general, animal proteins are better digested and absorbed compared to plant-based proteins.
- Brown rice: Vegan and hypoallergic, despite a slower absorption rate, rice protein is proving to be one of the best vegan alternatives to whey. Being hypoallergic means it is better suited to those faced with many common dietary restrictions and food intolerances. Despite not being a complete protein, has better digestibility and bioavailability comparative to many other vegan options.
- Pea protein: Also hypoallergic, pea protein is made by extracting protein from yellow peas. It retains more soluble fibre in its making process which has a positive affect on lowering cholesterol and cardiovascular health.
- Soy protein: Soy protein has a positive effect on cholesterol and has been found to assist in thyroid hormone production, therefore increasing the metabolism and aiding fat loss. Although a concentrated protein, soy protein contains phytates which decreases mineral absorption and may not be the most effective protein choice.
- Hemp: Hemp protein is relatively low in amino acid ratios and overall protein than many other protein options on the market (no you will not get high from it nor will you fail a drug test). It is however less processed compared to other plant-based options and generally will have a higher antioxidant, mineral and fibre content plus a higher fat content, specifically unsaturated omega 6 and 3 in ratios that are ideal for heart health.
- Hydrolysed beef protein AKA Collagen: Another non-dairy protein, this is the most expensive protein option due to its extensive filtration and processing; think less powdered eye fillet steak, more bone broth. Although collagen has been long-associated with skin care, its use as a protein supplement is relatively new. Its 100% bioavailability gives it fast digestion, absorption, nutrient uptake and synthesis rate, as well as promoting gut and joint health.
- Egg White Protein: Poached, fried, scrambled, now powdered? Eggs have the highest protein bioavailability and digestibility of all foods. Lactose free, it is made solely from egg whites without the messiness of separating whites from yolks. Egg protein powders contain only egg, with no added fillers, or flavouring. The downside to this is its taste, or lack of.
- Cricket protein: Yes cricket. A relative newcomer on the supplement market, made from milled crickets sourced from cricket farms. A complete protein rich in vitamins, minerals and healthy fatty acids, it also supports gut health. The biggest draw card for proteins made from bugs is that they are sustainable, eco and environmentally friendly.
Always bear in mind that supplements should used in conjunction with a whole foods diet. When choosing the right product for you, select a product that best suits your goals and needs.