Protein Powder… Which One?

There are literally hundreds of different brands and types of protein powder available for us to buy. How are we to know which is the best for our own individual protein needs? Ashleigh Vaughan (Nutritionist from @cake&kale) provides a breakdown of the main differences between four popular varieties of protein powder. Decide for yourself which one is right for you.

Prana-ON Power Plant Protein

Prana-On’s Power Plant Protein Powder has the highest protein content of the four protein powders. Sweetened only with stevia makes it not only taste amazing but also keeps the sugar content very low. The brand offers some delicious flavours so it can easily be added to plain water and still tastes great. Prana-On’s range boasts mainly organic ingredients, which is why I love it! (1). It does, however, have a higher calorie content than other protein powders.  This can be easily resolved (for those of you who are calorie conscious) by using a half a scoop instead of a full one. Half a scoop of contains 15g of protein which is more than enough.

Most of our protein consumption ideally should come from food sources rather than overloading on supplements (2). Eating excessive protein leads to weight gain, as the additional protein is difficult for the liver to process so it’s stored as fat.

Prana ON gets some extra brownie points for having a complete amino acid profile. Put simply, it contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids that our bodies need. Protein is made up of sequences of amino acids, otherwise known as building blocks. Some amino acids need to be consumed as they cannot be produced or recycled in our bodies. These are referred to as our essential amino acids.  The others can be made in our bodies and are classified as non-essential (3).

When protein is digested, it’s broken down into amino acids which are then used for a number of bodily functions. These include growth and repair of all tissues, genetic material and production of neurotransmitters (messengers). Amino acids are the foundation of our body’s organs (skin, eyes, heart, bones etc), which is why we need all amino acids working together. They also help with the production of nitric oxide which reduces blood pressure, and fuel for our bodies (4).

Rice & Pea Protein

Rice and pea protein powder are very similar in their content and are the cheapest of all the proteins powders analysed. They are both well known for their high digestibility and low risk for allergic reactions (5).

Honestly, they don’t taste great unflavoured, but are probably the best in terms of low caloric and sugar content. These are high protein and low carbohydrate protein powders but have incomplete amino acid profile. They are often mixed together for this reason, as rice protein is high in the amino acids cysteine and methionine and low in lysine while pea protein is high in lysine and low in cysteine and methionine (6). When mixed, they have an amino acid profile similar to dairy or egg proteins.

I like to add rice or pea protein into my protein ball recipes to bump up the protein content. You can’t taste it when blended with nuts, dates and cacao, so it’s a good way to eat it.

Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is usually the first option for gym junkies or anyone who wants to tone up and gain a bit of muscle mass. It’s absorbed fast and contains glutamine, which aids muscle growth (7), which is why it has become so popular.

Whey protein is made from removing the curd or casein from cheese after which the remaining milk portion (whey) is dried into a powder after being filtered. This is why it is not vegan friendly or lactose free. Low in sodium, rich in branched chain amino acids, essential amino acids and non-essential as well as containing many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, it seems like an attractive choice at first glance.

The sugar component, however, poses some problems. Sucralose is often used, an artificial sweetener with a bad reputation that increases sugar cravings. BUT, if you want to avoid it and still consume whey, the unflavoured/raw flavour doesn’t contain any.

On a side note, T. Colin Campbell’s book The China Study (also widely known as the ‘Nutrition Bible’) found through a series of experiments that people who eat animal protein have a higher risk of suffering from cancer and heart disease than those who live on a plant-based diet . This is due to its high content of galactose, casein and insulin-like growth factor I.

Consuming large amounts of protein (>25% diet of protein) long-term can also put strain on your kidneys and liver as it leads to a buildup of metabolic by-products in the blood, diarrhea, nausea and even death.

It’s unnecessary to supplement with large quantities of protein when we can get most of the protein we need from our diet. Consuming protein-rich foods like quinoa, buckwheat, chick peas and spirulina will give you plenty of quality plant-based protein.

Juice Plus’ Complete Protein Powder 

This protein powder is the most expensive of the four, but does contain an impressive list of ingredients (8). Not only does it contain several different plant proteins to utilise all essential amino acids (soy, chickpea, pea and rice protein), it contains broccoli, alfalfa and radish sprouts, spirulina, pumpkin, pomegranate, and quinoa. It also tastes absolutely amazing which is why many people opt for it.

Juice Plus Complete does, however, contain the highest sugar content (from stevia and evaporated sugar). But it is a great choice to get in all your essential amino acids and extra greens, especially for those just starting out on a plant-based diet.

An added bonus of Juice Plus Complete that I find useful is the individual sachets it comes in, rather than carrying around a heavy bag or container. It’s heaps more convenient for when you’re on the run.

Prana-ON is the protein powder I would recommend. It’s well priced for the high quality protein content and it tastes totally delicious (flavour is essential!!) I’d much prefer plant protein over whey due to the health benefits and Prana-on’s ingredients are mostly organic. Plus, it’s low in sugar and allergen friendly. The Power Plant Protein range has some great flavours to give your smoothies that extra burst of flavour to hide all that extra spinach!

Each type of protein has its pros and cons like many other supplements but at the end of the day it is up to you to choose which one works best for you.

The Raw Food Girl stocks Prana-On protein powders. Get in contact to receive a free Prana-On protein shaker (value $12) with your purchase.

~ Written by Ashleigh Vaughan, Qualified Nutritionist @cake & Kale ~