Best Plant-Based Protein Powders of 2020 & How to Choose One
Protein powders aren't just for bodybuilders—the human body needs protein to build muscle and perform basic metabolic functions, and many adults don't consume enough. If you eat a vegan diet, you may be searching for the best plant-based protein powder available.
Plant-based protein supplements are dried, powdered forms of protein that come from a variety of sources. They are often made from soy, rice, hemp, and peas, where other protein powders are derived from eggs or milk protein, such as whey or casein.
Depending on the brand and source you choose, these products can range from 10 grams of protein to upwards of 30 or 40 grams per serving. Choosing the best plant-based protein powder for you depends on your lifestyle, dietary preferences, and taste buds.
What Do Plant-Based Protein Powders Do For You?
There are several reasons to add a protein powder to your daily diet. They help support a healthy body composition as well as overall wellness. If you're looking to lose weight or gain muscle, a protein powder can help.
When it comes to weight loss, a high-protein diet can help you feel fuller longer. This means you're less likely to make unhealthy food choices or reach for snacks throughout the day. One scientific review study on overweight and obese patients suggests that supplementing with protein improved patients' overall body composition and reduced risks associated with cardiovascular disease.
On the muscle growth side of things, a second review study demonstrates a link between protein intake and increased muscle mass in weightlifters.
Yet gaining strength isn't the only reason to enjoy a protein shake post-workout. Your fatigued muscles need protein to recover and rebuild after strenuous exercise. By feeding your body protein shortly after a workout, you may speed muscle recovery, reduce soreness, and increase the overall effectiveness of your workout.
Different Types of Protein Powder
There are several common types of protein powder on the market. These are the sources you're most likely to encounter in dairy-based to plant-based protein powder:
- Hemp: Hemp is a complete plant protein source, which means it includes all nine amino acids that your body needs, but cannot make on its own. Hemp protein is also soy-free, so it's a great choice for anyone with a soy allergy.
- Soy: Soy is a go-to protein source for anyone avoiding dairy. Like hemp, soy is also a complete protein.
- Pea: Pea protein is usually included in a blend with other plant-based protein sources. That's because peas offer plenty of one important amino acid, arginine, but not enough of the remaining eight essential amino acids.
- Whey: Whey protein concentrate is probably the most common protein source on the market. Whey is a complete protein derived from milk that is readily absorbed by the body. Like most dairy products, all whey protein is not created equally. When shopping for a whey powder, look for one made with milk from grass-fed cows.
- Casein: Another dairy-based option, casein protein powder is more slowly digested than whey. It also contains a high concentration of glutamine, an amino acid linked to speedier muscle recovery. Casein is a good option for nighttime exercisers to enjoy after a workout.
In this article, we're looking only at the best plant-based protein powder varieties.
5 Best Plant-Based Protein Powders
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Truvani's premium pea protein powder contains only five ingredients, all of which are organic and hand-selected to ensure this product is of the highest quality. Additionally, this lactose-free protein powder allows you to build and maintain lean muscle mass thanks to its complete amino acid profile. Truvani also offers a few flavor options (like vanilla, chocolate, and banana cinnamon), so you can choose one that appeals most to your preferences.
Why Buy: USDA Certified Organic; Gluten-, dairy- and soy-free; Paleo-friendly
Protein Per Serving: 20 grams
Fitppl's protein powder goes beyond protein. With every scoop of this supplement, you'll also get healthy nutrients from greens, fruits, and adaptogens to promote optimal health and vitality. You'll find unique, natural ingredients like spirulina and ashwagandha, which can help your body fight inflammation and keep you feeling your best—even after an intense workout. This protein powder is available in two unique flavor options: Cocoa & Blueberry and Vanilla & Goji Berry.
Why Buy: Gluten-free; Vegan; No sugar, soy, or stevia
Protein Per Serving: 18 grams
Orgain's protein powder is made with all organic ingredients and comes in a unique container that is more sustainable and reduces the amount of plastic used to make the product. Additionally, each serving of this organic protein powder includes 5 grams of fiber for increased satiety, and it comes in a few different flavor options, including chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla.
Why Buy: Organic; Vegan; Gluten-free; Non-GMO
Protein Per Serving: 21 grams
Certified by the USDA Organic seal of approval, ALOHA plant-based protein powder features top-notch ingredients and comes in a 100% recyclable tin. This product includes pea protein, brown rice protein, pumpkin seed protein and hemp seed protein sources, as well as some prebiotics and electrolytes to promote natural energy and endurance. It is available in both vanilla and chocolate flavors.
Why Buy: Gluten-free; Vegan; Keto-friendly; Only 3 grams of sugar; 5 grams of fiber
Protein Per Serving: 18 grams
KOS plant protein powder is infused with organic Peruvian cacao, Himalayan salt, organic coconut milk, stevia and monk fruit. The soluble fiber in the powder supports a "full" feeling after consumption. This product contains a mix of pea, flaxseed, quinoa, pumpkin seed and chia seeds.
Why Buy: USDA and CCOF Certified ingredients; Responsibly-sourced; Gluten-free; Non-GMO
Protein Per Serving: 24g
How to Choose a High-Quality Plant-Based Protein Powder
When shopping for the best protein powder for you, there are some important things to take into consideration.
Start with your diet and taste preferences. There are plenty of vegan, gluten-free and soy-free protein products out there. So if you have allergies, food sensitivities or a strong preference, start by narrowing your search there.
Secondly, consider the amount of protein you want, or need, to add to your diet. To find your personal Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36. For example, that's 54 grams of protein per day for the average 180-pound male and 50 grams for the average 140-pound female.
That being said, athletes will have higher protein needs. If your diet is already rich in protein from meat, seafood, or plant-based foods, then a lower-strength protein powder might be sufficient for you.
On the other hand, if you're highly active and don't consume a high-protein diet, a powder that supplies 20 or 25 grams of protein can help you meet your RDA.
Finally, take a close look at the particulars of the powder itself. Many protein powders contain added sugars, fillers, and other unnecessary ingredients. Check the ingredient list. A short list that includes the main protein source at the top is a good sign.
Which Protein Powder is Right for You?
While there are dozens of options on the market, it doesn't have to be overwhelming to find the best plant-based protein powder for you. Start with your preferred protein source, like pea, soy or hemp.
From there, look for a product with an appropriate amount of protein for your diet. And don't forget about taste. Choose a flavor you enjoy, from fudge brownie to unflavored, and you'll always look forward to your post-workout protein shake.
Whether you're looking to shed weight, gain muscle, or close a nutrient gap in your diet, adding a daily plant-based protein supplement can offer important health advantages. Once you've found the best plant-based protein powder for you, all that's left to do is sit back, take a sip, and reap the benefits.
Lizzy Briskin is the founder of Earthen Food Co. She is a chef, food writer, and recipe developer who helps people eat more mindfully for themselves and the environment, without overthinking it.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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