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Best Plant-Based Protein Powders

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How to Choose a Plant-Based Protein Powder

1. Pea protein or sprouted brown rice are going to provide the highest branch chain amino acids, while hemp will also provide a good amino acid profile along with other unique compounds.

Look for a complete amino acid profile with an emphasis on higher amounts of essential amino acids. Amino acids are split into essential and non-essential amino acids. Your body makes the non-essential amino acids (although genetics reveal some of these are produced in lower amounts in some individuals), but you need to obtain the essential amino acids from your diet. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Whey is naturally high in all the amino acids. For plant protein powder, you want to look for higher amounts of isoleucine, leucine, valine, lysine and tryptophan. Isoleucine, leucine, and valine are the branch chain amino acids required for healthy muscle. Lysine is often lacking in plants and plays an import role in collagen (skin and tendons), muscle tissue repair, production of L-carnitine for fat metabolism, as an anti-viral, and for the absorption of calcium. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and melatonin, beneficial for mood and sleep.
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As you can see, whey protein is superior when it comes to the branch chain amino acid profile and pea protein comes in second. Pure pea protein can be chalky and an acquired taste. To compromise between taste and profile, you will be happiest with a blend of different plants.

2. If you are female, you want a higher fiber profile. Fiber is more important for women than men because it is beneficial for increasing sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG on blood tests) to normalize estrogen levels and target delivery along with regulating daily elimination. For men, too much fiber negatively affects SHBG levels and can lead to lower testosterone. For this reason, I recommend men use the lower fiber options for plant-based protein or grass-fed whey protein.

3. Third, it needs to taste good, mix well and be cost effective. The major challenge companies face, is making a plant-based protein powder delicious, minimize grittiness and make it worth the expense. The common complaint is that the powder “tastes like dirt.” The trick is how you prepare it because if you put plant protein in water, mix it with a spoon and expect it to taste like a milkshake, your morning will be ruined. Understand that reviews on taste are going to range drastically with plant-based protein powder.

I recommend making a smoothie with banana, cacao, berries, coconut water, nut or seed milk or kefir and your plant-based protein for the best taste. Add your own anti-inflammatory additions like ginger and turmeric if needed, and grind fresh flax seed if you need more fiber.

What to Avoid in Plant-Based Protein Powders

1. Avoid the usual suspects. When analyzing a label, you want to avoid the usual suspects like artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, food dyes and synthetic folic acid. This isn’t as common in plant protein powders like it is in whey protein powders.

2. Avoid non-sprouted grains. If it contains grains they should be sprouted, and if brown rice is used you want verification that is cold processed without chemicals and low in heavy metals. Grains that have not been sprouted contain higher levels of phytic acid, which binds to calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. For example, quinoa is high in phytic acid and should always be sprouted.

3. Avoid ground flax seed that has been milled into a powder. First off, flaxseed is an amazing source of lignans and protective against estrogen-positive breast cancer. So what is the problem? Flax seeds contain high amounts of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and low antioxidant activity. This increases the risk of oxygenation and rancidity once the seed is opened and exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time. Companies who do use milled flax seeds might claim that flash pasteurization prevents oxidation. According to this study, “Pasteurized flaxseed milled under refrigerated temperatures (10 – 18 °C) did not exhibit any significant improvement in oxidative stability. Flaxseed pasteurization at 148 °C for 16.25 minutes using dry heat was found to be detrimental to the oxidative stability flaxseed once milled. ”

The best way to consume flax seeds is to mill them fresh with a coffee grinder and add them to your shake.

What about hemp seeds? Hemp seeds do not contain any phytic acid, are low in ALA, high in the antioxidants C, beta-carotene and vitamin E (including tocotrienols) to protect against rancidity, and are an incredible source of manganese, magnesium and GLA (excellent for female hormones). Vitamin E is used with fish oil and cod liver oil to keep it fresh.

What about chia seeds? Chia seeds are also actually higher in ALA than flax. This would make you think that chia would be more sensitive to oxidation than flax. However, chia seeds have high antioxidant activity and contain polyphenols, chlorogenic and caffeic acids, myricetin, quercetin and kaempferol that appear to help protect against rancidity. In a study comparing chia to flax, chia had almost nine times more antioxidant capacity according to a FRAP assay.

I recommend keeping all plant-based protein that includes chia or hemp in the refrigerator to decrease oxidation.

Best Plant-Based Protein Powders

1.  Pure Food Plant Based Protein Raw Cacao

Cost: $2.50 per serving
Protein: 20 grams

Pure Food Plant Based Protein uses organic sprouted brown rice protein, organic pea protein, organic hemp protein, organic mesquite powder, organic lucuma powder, organic vanilla bean and organic stevia. It has a total of 20 grams of protein, rivaling whey protein. It is higher in sodium (258mg), so this is a good post-workout shake after losing some sweat.

The bonus feature of this formula are the probiotics, mesquite powder, and raw cacao. Mesquite is a pod that grows in the desert and has been found to be an excellent source of fiber, minerals, and lysine. It also has a delicious flavor. Raw cacao boosts the antioxidant profile and one study found that dietary flavanols from cocoa contribute to endogenous photoprotection (sun protection), improves dermal (skin) blood flow, hydration, and complexion.

Recommendation: Best for workouts that lead to sweat loss for men and women, especially out in the sun.

2. mBreakfast by Crucial Four

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Cost: $3.80 per serving
Protein: 12 grams

mBreakfast is a product I analyzed for months and tested on myself for a month. I spoke with Charles Barber, the founder of Crucial Four, and I was extremely impressed with his knowledge, approach, and sourcing of the product. Charles is the first person I would go to if I wanted to know where to get the most pristine, wild or organic ingredients. This is also why the doctors working with cancer trust him and his products.

The name Crucial Four represents the four missing food groups — superior herbs, medicinal mushrooms, algae, and biotic extracts. Since I am a major fan of wild ingredients and mushrooms, this had my name all over it.

The formulation contains a 5000-year-old South American medicinal base formula and 8 years of intensive wellness center practice with medical doctors and leading health experts. The protein blend contains hemp protein and brazil nut powder. While it doesn’t use pea or brown rice for protein (it use to until they secured a brazil nut powder source powdered within a week of harvest with negligible aflatoxin), the blend of hemp and brazil nuts is sufficient in amino acids while providing a host of other nutrients.

This formula is more than a protein powder. Brazil nuts are known for selenium and ellagic acid (cancer fighters) and this is one of the few clean sources I have seen. It contains 12 grams of protein, 8.5 grams of fat and 21 grams of carbohydrates, making it closer to a nutrient dense meal. It contains raw cacao, ashwagandha, maca, wild astragalus, pine pollen, colostrum, spirulina, cordyceps, reishi, chaga, turkey tail and maitake to name a few of the superfoods in this blend.

Recommendation: If you are looking for very high-quality ingredients and a complete meal shake, this one is worth the price. If you have any food sensitivities, check the label on this one first.

3. Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Proteins

Cost: $1.25 per serving
Protein: 15 grams

This is fermented protein powder that was recently brought to my attention from a client. It is from Canada and uses non-GMO fermented pea protein and brown rice protein, and a fermented blend of hemp seed, quinoa sprouts, mung bean sprouts, spirulina and alfalfa protein. It is sweetened with stevia and Lo Han Guo.

Recommedation: This should be an easier formula to digest if other plant-based formulas have bothered your stomach.

4. Dr. Mercola Vegan Protein Powder

Cost: $1.46 per serving
Protein: 12 grams

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This is a unique blend of pea protein, hemp, chia, chlorella and potato in the concentrate form. Chlorella boosts the tocotrienol, tocopherol, and carotenoid profile, while potato protein increases the BCAA total. Acacia, inulin (prebiotic), bamboo and apple provide different types of fiber to help diversify gut bacteria, which may increase fat loss. Enzymes are also added to improve digestion. Stevia and Lo Han Guo are used to sweeten it.

Recommendation: For those partaking in light to moderate exercise for weight loss, wanting grain-free and needing higher fiber. For many serious athletes, protein levels are going to need to be higher. Or you can boost it by adding protein-rich ingredients to a shake.

5. Sunwarrior Warrior Raw Protein Blend

Cost: $1.12 per serving
Protein: 17 grams

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This product uses a blend of organic pea, hemp, and goji berry protein. The other ingredients include organic vanilla flavor, organic guar gum, sea salt, organic stevia extract and organic whole ground coconut.

Along with 17 grams of protein, it has 4 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar and a good amino acid profile. This is formulated with sufficient branch chain amino acids while also being low in glutamic acid. This may be beneficial for those who are sensitive to higher levels of glutamic acid (glutamate). If you eat a predominately plant-based diet, your taste buds will most likely be acclimated to the flavor. If you are new to plant-based protein, I would try a different product on this list first.

Recommendation: Light to moderate exercise, or as a light breakfast smoothie.

6. Garden of Life RawFit Organic

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Cost: $2.64 per serving
Protein: 28 grams

This formula is high in plant-based sprouted protein (28 grams) and contains 6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 120mcg of chromium, 350mg of magnesium and 1,000IU of vitamin D. It also contains the adaptogen ashwagandha, enzymes and two strains of probiotics.

This protein powder is marketed for weight loss, but I would market this towards athletes engaging in intense training. Blending this with a banana and other fruit would give you a very substantial breakfast or post-workout shake for heavy workouts. Be aware that taste may be a factor for this one and if you are picky, it probably won’t work.

A few years ago Garden of Life RawFit tested high in lead, cadmium, and tungsten due to the brown rice protein. However, they responded with a swift and rigorous change to sourcing and testing to ensure purity in their present formula.

Recommendation: This is a heavy hitter for athletes working out 5-7 times a week.

How this could be improved: There are only 10 servings per container, and this should be increased to at least 15 servings.

Submit Your Plant-Based Protein Powder for Review

If you have a plant-based protein powder you would like me to analyze, submit it in the comment section and I’ll research it for you.

36 Responses to Best Plant-Based Protein Powders

  • Thanks. Very helpful.

  • Absolutely love your articles. Always so helpful, informative and non biased. I wouldn’t take advice of anyone else now! Keep up the great work and thank you for keeping us so well informed 🙂

  • How about Vega one?

  • Hi Alex,
    Thank you for yet another great article. Looking for a healthy protein powder for my husband for muscle gain. Are any of those good? Definitely not for weigh loss.
    Thank you 🙂
    Cannelle

    • Hi Cannelle,

      Thanks for the feedback. His overall diet and training regime will make the biggest difference for muscle gain. Since he will want to increase his protein intake, a protein powder over 20 grams is going to be the best choice. Using a banana, kefir, and a nut butter in the shake would be a good way to get more calories. The PureFood Protein could be used, but I recommend grass-fed whey protein for guys who may have trouble putting on muscle. Here is the article on whey protein. http://paleoedge.com/best-and-worst-whey-protein-powders/

  • Hi! I have been looking for a great plant-based protein shake. I work out 4 times a week and trying to maintain my muscle. I read the article above and was so excited to try nutiva. It sounded like a powder that would work for me. I presently use Vega but your article frowns against use of milled flax seeds. I didn’t know that was an issue. Nutiva is organic, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, soy free, has good probiotics and enzymes, and no artificial flavors. So what is the problem…you failed to mention the added sugar…dextrose and the silicon dioxide. Artifical sweetners and perservatives!! So should I go for that or have milled flax seeds? Which would you choose? Or, is there something else out there that provides what Nutiva provides without all the artificial ingredients and no milled flax seeds? BTW, Sun Warrior looks good but goji is a no-no. Help please!

    • Hi Karla,

      Dextrose is glucose, not an artificial sweetener. Silicon dioxide is silica, a natural element that prevents clumping and not a preservative. So the claim that there are no artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives is correct. Nevertheless, it is true that the “no added sugar” claim on their label isn’t entirely accurate, but the small amount of glucose isn’t something I would be concerned about either. I will add this note to the article.

      However, I just added a new one called mBreakfast, which is a very high-quality superfood blend. This might be what you are looking for. If not, let me know and we will find a fit.

      • Thank you so much for the recommendation. I will look into that product. I did email Nutiva about the dextrose and silicon dioxide. They had no comment but referred me to their Hemp products. So I did take a look. Looked good except is not labeled as soy free, although saw no soy in ingredients and only had 15 grams of protein. I’m so confused.

  • Hi Alex,
    Great articles, very informative. I’m looking for a post cross-fit and endurance workout plant protein powder. Can’t do whey because of a casein allergy. More for recovery than building muscle anyway.

    Wondering if you’ve come across Orgain, Organic Protein Powder?

    Thanks again!

    Nick

    • Hi Nick,

      Yes, I did analyze Orgain. I think it is a clean product, but the combination of erythritol, acacia gum, guar gum, inulin, xanthum gum combined with the fiber of chia and hemp makes me wonder how well people are breaking this down. It would be helpful to hear from more people here how well they digest it.

  • Hi Alex
    I use Orgain Organic Protein + Greens vanilla. Tried it from Costco. I, my 12 yr old son and my husband all use it and nobody has had any digestive issues. I am sensitive and working through sensitivities to gluten and dairy in addition to recovering from a minor bout of diverticulitis inflammation. So far no issues. Is there anything else in the Orgain products we should be concerned about? Thank you!
    Judy

    • Hi Judy,

      No, but I do think that is a lot of fillers for one product. Glad to hear that you haven’t had any issues.

  • I have been a long time fan of Vega Clean protein. In fact I like most of Vega’s products. Im surprised there was no mention of them here. But a great article none the less.

    • Hey Brian,

      The Vega Clean protein is a good product, but I’ve received feedback that people don’t like the taste. I didn’t include the All in One product because they used milled flax seed. I use to rotate the Vega Sport protein when I was doing heavier training. They changed the formula of that one recently that altered the taste and I’ve seen a lot of people unhappy with it. So if the taste of the Vega Clean works for you, I think it is a solid product.

  • I have discovered your website and it’s fantastic. I’ve been using Garden of Life grain free protein powder. How do you feel about this product? I’ve been staying away from stevia or any kind of sugar. Also is there any article about pre menopause or menopause. I’m going to be 50 soon and I have been experiencing some hot flashes and aches on the joints. I started cutting out spices and using turmeric and cumin capsules which helps. Thanks Theresa

    • Hi Theresa,

      Thanks for the feedback! I think that the Garden of Life Grain-Free protein looks okay from an ingredient standpoint, but I don’t understand why they used stevia and erythritol. Too sweet for me and I think the stevia makes it sweet enough. So if you are trying to avoid stevia, this may not be a fit.

      I haven’t written any articles about menopause, but here is one from my other nutrition practice: Menopause Article

  • Hi Alex,

    What do you think about the vegan protein powder from Pro Mix Nutrition? The unflavored version has no additives whatsoever and they seem to be a pretty reputable company. I’m debating on what vegan protein to buy since I have recently not been able to stomach whey anymore and the price per serving for the Pro Mix is the best I have seen. Your thoughts on the product?

    https://promixnutrition.com/products/vegan

    Thanks!

    • Hi Patrick,

      Yes, it is a good one. It is just pea and rice, so the taste is a little bland. As long as you don’t mind that, it is a quality product.

  • I am a 64 year old vegetarian who does moderate exercise and am looking for a vegan protein supplement. What would you recommend? I have come across Canadian Protein: Can you please comment on their brown rice protein powder and pea protein powder? I was thinking of mixing them 50/50. Thank you for this most informative website!!!

    • Hi Bridget,

      You’re very welcome! Very nice of you to say. The Canadian Protein pea protein looks fine. The brown rice protein isn’t sprouted, so I would pick a sprouted brown rice protein. The first protein on this list (Pure Plant Protein) combines both pea protein and sprouted brown rice protein.

  • Great article, Alex! Do you have any recommendations for pregnant women? Forgive me if you already addressed this and I missed it. Thanks!

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Are you asking in terms of plant-based protein powders or general recommendations for pregnant women? There is a lot of great information for pregnancy on my prenatal article. If you are wondering about plant-based protein powder, there is one listed that includes all the prenatal vitamins at the bottom of that article.

  • Tahnk You for a great pointers, maybe you’ll write something about meal replacements or protein bars?

    • Hi Marius,

      You are welcome. The meal replacement and protein bar category changes rapidly and is pretty saturated. I think I see at least a few new bars on the shelf every month. I’ll see what I can do!

  • Hi Alex, I can’t find Garden of life Rawfit in iherb for Singapore. But this is available. What do you think?
    Check out this product I found on iHerb.com.
    Garden of Life, Raw Organic Protein, Organic Plant Formula, Chocolate, 23.4 oz (664 g)
    http://www.iherb.com/pr/44133?code=MLP736

  • Hi Alex,
    Please help to review Nutrilite plant protein powder and give your comments: http://www.amway.com/en/ResourceCenterDocuments/Visitor/nutr-nut-nutr-v-en–AllPlantProtien_NI.pdf

    • Hi Thao Le,

      This formula uses isolated soy protein and wheat protein. That is a pretty allergenic combination and hard on the digestive system. Soy should only be consumed in the fermented form (miso, tempeh, natto) because it contains a lot of problematic compounds in the raw and isolate form. Wheat should definitely not be isolated as a protein and this is the first time I have seen that. It doesn’t look like either one is organic. If they aren’t, both are sprayed with glyphosate (Round-Up), which a potent toxin.

  • Thank you Alex for your informative comment.

  • Thanks for the great info on plant based protein powders

  • http://www.revolution-foods.co.uk are a UK company that is organic and plant based , ticks all the boxes that have been mentioned here !

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