When it comes to protein, there’s not much controversy. Unlike carbs and fats, there’s no trendy diet out there that has as a hallmark low protein. And within the protein category, plant protein is surging. According to a Markets and Markets report, the plant-based protein market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 14.0% from 2019, reaching a value of $40.6 billion by 2025 (1). Why plant protein, specifically, is so appealing to consumers: “Plant proteins are an attractive alternative [to whey and casein] as they are void of many common allergens and tend to meet the requirements of popular diets such as vegan, paleo, and keto,” Applied Food Sciences (AFS) explains on its website (2). Plus, the company notes that plant proteins tend to have added value in the form of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
For everyone from vegans to casual flexitarians who are upping their plant protein intake, the goal is to get a healthy mix of nutrients. Proteins are formed from 20 different amino acids, and out of that 20, there are nine that the human body cannot produce on its own, called essential amino acids. Many plant proteins are not complete; as such, it’s important to eat a varied diet, so as to get all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts.
To make it easier for consumers accomplish that, manufacturers often combine several of the options listed below to ensure that a product is not only a more complete protein, but that it has a good texture, taste, and range of extra nutrients. For instance: Solgar makes their plant-based protein powder, Spoonfuls, with peas, brown rice, hemp seed, and pumpkin seed—along with a variety of greens, probiotics, and enzymes. Another option: Naturade’s Organic Plant Protein + CBD, with 20g protein and 20mg full spectrum hemp extract per serving, thanks to a partnership with CBD American Shaman.
Here, we take a look at 7 trending plant-protein ingredients.
Almond. A brochure from Blue Diamond regarding their Almond Protein Powder notes that “almonds are high in protein, calcium, potassium, omega-6, vitamin E, magnesium, and dietary fiber. They also have a healthy fat profile, and are cholesterol-free and gluten-free” (3). Citing Brandology, Blue Diamond adds: “When consumers were asked which type of protein they considered the most natural source of protein, 56% listed almond protein.” Blue Diamond’s powder, according to the company’s materials, has a clean taste and an extra-fine texture, for easy addition to any product.
Another option: Sabinsa’s Promond, standardized to contain not less than 50% protein.
Coffee. Branded as CoffeeProtein, this option from AFS has several benefits: AFS says it has “an excellent sensory profile and immediate consumer familiarity” (2). It’s a whole food protein, containing other phytonutrients, and—important for those who can’t handle caffeine—it’s caffeine free. Moreover, AFS has a strong focus on sustainability and transparency—two key terms customers are looking for. In a video titled “Importance of Sustainability in Supply Chain,” Brian Zapp, Creative Director at AFS, says that “Coffee is sustainable by nature. It regrows itself” (4).
Hemp. Hemp is a complete protein, and Healthline notes that 91% to 98% of the protein in ground hemp seed is digestible, although heat processing can reduce the digestibility of hemp protein by about 10% (5). Hemp protein powders often contain high amounts of fiber, too, and contain an ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, making hemp protein a nutritional trifecta. Retailers stocking the protein should ensure that the product is cold-pressed and high-quality; Nutiva, for instance, lists the protein, fiber, and omega content on the front of the packaging, for maximal transparency.
Pea. One of the top reasons for buying pea protein: Growing Naturals notes on their site that peas are free from the top 8 allergens, gluten, and more; the protein is safe for FODMAP-sensitive stomachs at a maximum of two servings (6). Growing Naturals says it can be added to foods by consumers: “Heat will not destroy the protein, it simply denatures the protein, which means the chemical structure changes. As long as what you are cooking/baking is not burned or overcooked, the protein is still usable by the body. So feel free to add pea protein to your next batch of pancakes or vegetarian casseroles.”
Formulators out there can also turn to Peasipro, available from AIDP. This line includes Peasipro Creamy; Peasipro Sol’N, useful for beverages; and Peasipro TX, a textured protein which, AIDP explains on its site, is “an excellent choice for meat alternatives, bars, and baked goods” (7).
Pumpkin Seed. These gems are rich in minerals and essential fatty acids, according to Bioriginal (8). The company says the protein is ideal for “active individuals or anyone who wants to maintain overall health and energy levels.” It’s a good source of fiber, while being paleo, keto, and vegan, as well as gluten-free. Bioriginal’s pumpkin protein powder is USDA Organic and non-GMO.
Rice. Rice protein has many of the same advantages as pea: It’s allergen-friendly, works with low-FODMAP diets, and fits well in just about any diet, including keto (9). Taking into account worries regarding the arsenic content of rice, Growing Naturals says on their site: “Arsenic, though an issue in whole grain rice, is washed out once made into rice protein powder” (9). The company tests every batch of rice protein for metals, and makes results available to customers. And rice protein, too, can be cooked, in recipes like Vegan Protein Pasta and Roasted Beet Hummus, available on Growing Naturals’ website.
Sacha Inchi. This is a complete protein, according to Imlak’esh Organics, seller of a sacha inchi protein powder (10). The drupe contains 8.5g of protein per serving, plus 9.5mg of iron per ounce. While many call sacha inchi a nut or a seed—for instance, it is often called the Incan peanut—it is not; it’s a drupe, a fruit that surrounds a shell with seeds inside (11). Sacha inchi, therefore, is useful for those looking for a dense source of nut-free, plant-based protein. It can be added to soups, sauces, or smoothies, allowing those seeking a protein boost to get that boost without altering their existing diet.
Whole Food Proteins
There are plenty of ways to get complete proteins from plants, but the amounts are much smaller than the amount found in meat, so those looking to get protein from plants need to do a little more planning.
Soy is king in the plant-protein world, with good reason: It’s got 12 grams of complete protein per half-cup serving in the firm tofu form; as tempeh, it’s got 15 grams per 3-ounce serving; as edamame it’s got 17 grams per cup; and as natto, it’s got 18 grams per 3.5-ounce serving (12). Natto and tempeh are fermented, which may prove desirable to the customers looking to get in on the fermentation craze—WholeFoods reported in our February issue that fermented foods may benefit everything from oral health to cognitive function.
Quinoa is a great start for the plant-protein-seeker: At eight grams per cup, and full of nutrients, it’s a solid base for just about any food, including cake (12). Buckwheat, too, is remarkably healthy, and contains six grams per cup; in flour form, it can be used to make gluten-free pancakes, and in seed form, it can be used in chili. Those looking for noodles can look at soba—it’s a buckwheat-based Japanese noodle.
There’s also a trick, for those willing to get their protein in more than one ingredient: Many grains are low in lysine and high in methionine, while legumes—beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts—are the other way around (12). Just about any combination will work, and it’s likely that your customers already know a couple. There’s the tried-and-true classic of rice and beans, or lentils, or chickpeas; Hummus-and-pita has the same deal going on, making it a complete-protein snack. See also: peanut butter sandwiches. WF