We’re hearing a lot of information about the benefits of plant sources of protein: fiber (animal sources of protein don’t contain any fiber), which promotes a healthy digestive tract, unsaturated fats that support a healthy cardiovascular system, and antioxidants that promote overall health. To gain these benefits, include plant sources of protein with meals and snacks:
- Add nuts to cereal or yogurt for breakfast
- Spread nut butter on whole grain crackers or celery sticks for a snack
- Enjoy a stir-fry with tofu and a variety of vegetables
- Include lentil, black bean, or split pea soup in your food choices
- Toss red beans or chickpeas into salads
One of the newer sources of plant protein on the scene is pea protein. You can find it added to foods like protein shakes, energy bars, vegan dairy substitutes, and meat alternatives (Beyond Burger, Chicken-Free Chicken, etc).
What is Pea Protein?
There are three types of pea protein, all prepared from yellow split peas:
- Pea protein isolate, which is made by drying peas and then processing them into a powder. Pea protein isolate contains only the amino acids naturally found in the peas. It can be added to foods such as energy bars and cereals or you can add it to smoothies, muffins, or cooked cereals at home.
- Pea protein concentrate contains carbohydrate and fat as well as protein and is often used in pet food, energy bars, and smoothies.
- Textured pea protein is most often used to make vegetarian meat substitutes.
Why Use Pea Protein?
Pea protein adds a creamy texture to smoothies and is naturally gluten- and lactose-free. It's high in branched chain amino acids, which help build muscle. However, it's low in two essential amino acids –- methionine and tryptophan. Animal research shows that pea protein has several potential health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and improving the gut microbiome. Pea protein also contains 5-7.5mg iron per serving, which is 28-42% of the recommended daily value.
Pea Protein Safety:
Pea protein obtained GRAS status (generally recognized as safe) from the FDA in 2018 to be used in a variety of different types of foods including baked goods, breakfast cereals, dairy product analogs, and snack foods. Pea protein is well-tolerated by most people and contains none of the top eight food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, wheat, and soy. If you are allergic to split peas, however, you will also need to avoid pea protein.
Our Thoughts About Pea Protein:
When purchasing foods, it’s essential to review not only the nutrition facts, but also the list of ingredients so that you know exactly what you’re purchasing. Plant sources of protein come in many forms, and some may contain more sodium, added sugars, or flavorings than you realize. Plant-based proteins offer a variety of health benefits and can be a great-tasting addition to your usual food choices.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC
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Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.