Pea Protein: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
A Short History of Peas
Peas have been a popular food since the Middle Ages,[i] serving as an important part of most people’s diet in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Eventually, the popularity of peas spread to North America—and even Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate.[ii]
Making peas a mainstay of the diet was an especially good choice for our ancestors, given that these legumes are naturally high in fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and lutein.[iii]
But pea protein powder has a different nutritional profile from ordinary peas. To begin with, it is far more concentrated with regard to its protein content, and it is highly digestible.
What is Pea Protein?
Pea protein powder is a supplement that is made by extracting protein from yellow peas. It is a high-quality protein and a great source of iron, which aids in muscle growth, weight loss, and improves heart health.[iv]
Pea Protein – Nutrition Facts
Pea protein is a source of all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot create and must get from food, although it is relatively low in methionine. Pea protein also acts as a great source of branched-chain amino acids and has a considerable amount of arginine which supports blood flow and heart health. It also provides leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which promote muscle growth.
Is Pea a Complete Protein?
Pea is a complete protein since it provides the nine necessary amino acids. Although it doesn't provide a significant amount of methionine, it still offers a variety of nutritional benefits.
What is Pea Good for?
- Pea protein powders are rich in iron, and most products contain around 5 - 7.5 mg of iron per serving. Approximately 10% of American women are iron-deficient,[v] and including pea protein powder in the daily diet can help overcome this to a large extent.
- Pea protein powder is naturally vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free.
- It doesn’t contain any of the top eight food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, wheat, and soy and therefore works for nearly any diet.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics,[vi] 70.7% of adults aged 20 and above are overweight. That’s right; the majority of adult Americans are overweight.
We’ve also learned that losing weight and keeping it off is not a as simple a process as one might hope. Studies have shown that the most people who lose weight regain the weight within 1 to 5 years.[vii]
The reality is, body fat is more than an issue of “calories in/calories out” – and because of this, different individuals are faced with different challenges when it comes to weight loss (which contributes to the overall difficulty of keeping weight off in the long-term.)
That said, two of the most common issues faced by individuals looking to lose and keep off weight are controlling appetite/hunger and having naturally slower rates of calorie burn.
Fortunately, pea protein may be able to offer support for both of these issues.
Pea Protein for Satiety
Multiple studies have demonstrated the satiating properties (i.e., “creating a sensation of fullness after eating”) of pea protein, which often resulted in people reducing their overall food intake. In one study, researchers investigated the effects of 10g or 20g of isolated yellow pea protein on food intake in healthy males between 20-30 years.
The results showed that 20g led to significantly lower food intake than the control group (about 12% fewer calories). Both 10g and 20g of isolated yellow pea protein helped keep a handle on pre-meal blood glucose levels compared to control.[viii]
In another randomized, single-blind, cross-over study[ix] with 32 male volunteers, pea protein was found to be more effective than whey protein, egg white protein, or maltodextrin in reducing food intake when consumed at the start of a meal.
Other studies comparing pea protein to other proteins have found that pea protein was more effective than whey protein or other milk proteins at reducing hunger and desire to eat.[x]
The mechanism of action appears to be that pea protein increases levels of the satiety hormones CCK and GLP-1.[xi] Since in-vitro research (i.e., laboratory research)[xii] demonstrated that combining pea protein with sugar or sucralose induced even higher levels of CCK and GLP-1 than pea protein alone, one of these sweeteners could also be used alongside pea protein as part of a pea protein powder.
Pea Protein for Thermogenesis
In addition to its ability to help individuals feel “full”, research also suggests a role for pea protein as a thermogenic agent.
Thermogenesis refers to an increase in the heat produced in the body in response to the burning of calories—especially body fat.
Diet-induced thermogenesis refers to the heat produced (calories burned) in response to and following the consumption of a meal. The ingestion of food causes a corresponding increase in heat production by the body as a result of burning calories to produce the energy necessary for the digestion, absorption, metabolism, and storage of nutrients provided by the food.
The effect of pea protein and soy protein on diet-induced thermogenesis was examined in two separate trials[xiii] by the same researchers. The results were that the consumption of both proteins similarly resulted in diet-induced thermogenesis. This suggests that the consumption of pea protein is an ideal one-two punch for helping to support the weight loss process: promoting satiety to help reduce food consumption and promoting thermogenesis to help burn up calories.
Other Pea Protein Benefits
Two other interesting pea protein benefits demonstrated in research have to do with blood pressure as well as a prebiotic function.
In a 3-week randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover human intervention trial,[xiv] the consumption of pea protein helped effectively maintain healthy blood pressure levels already within normal ranges—and did so more significantly than consuming a placebo.
In an in-vitro (laboratory) study,[xv] the influence of pea protein on friendly bacteria in the small intestine was evaluated. The results were that Lactobacilli species were able to utilize pea protein, demonstrating a hitherto unknown role as a prebiotic (i.e., food for probiotic bacteria).
Pea Market Trend
The global pea protein market size is predicted to grow from USD 745 million in 2020 to USD 1,400 million by 2025. The market has recorded a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5% during this period. This growth rate can be explained by the increasing spend on convenience food products in developing countries. The multifunctional properties of pea protein make it an ideal diet inclusion for customers in developing countries.
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[i] Bianchini F, Corbetta F. The Complete Book of Fruits and Vegetables New York: Crown; 1979:40
[ii] Kafka B. Vegetable Love. New York: Artisan; 2005:297
[iii] Nutrition Facts: Peas. Nutrition. vegonline.org. Retrieved February 28, 2015
[vi] Obesity and overweight. CDC/National Center for Health Statistics. Page last reviewed: June 13, 2016. Page last updated: May 3, 2017. Retrieved June 26, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
[vii] Wysoker A. A Conceptual Model of Weight Loss and Weight Regain: An Intervention for Change. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2002; 8(5):168-173
[viii] Smith CE, Mollard RC, Luhovyy BL, Anderson GH. The effect of yellow pea protein and fibre on short-term food intake, subjective appetite and glycaemic response in healthy young men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 1:S74-80
[ix] Abou-Samra R, Keersmaekers L, Brienza D, Mukherjee R, Macé K. Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter. Nutr J. 2011 Dec 23;10:139
[x] Diepvens K, Häberer D, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Different proteins and biopeptides differently affect satiety and anorexigenic/orexigenic hormones in healthy humans. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Mar;32(3):510-8
[xi] Geraedts MC, Troost FJ, Munsters MJ, et al. Intraduodenal administration of intact pea protein effectively reduces food intake in both lean and obese male subjects. PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24878
[xii] Geraedts MC, Troost FJ, Saris WH. Addition of sucralose enhances the release of satiety hormones in combination with pea protein. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012 Mar;56(3):417-24
[xiii] Claessens M, Calame W, Siemensma AD, Saris WH, van Baak MA. The thermogenic and metabolic effects of protein hydrolysate with or without a carbohydrate load in healthy male subjects. Metabolism. 2007 Aug;56(8):1051-9
[xiv] Li H, Prairie N, Udenigwe CC, Adebiyi AP, Tappia PS, Aukema HM, Jones PJ, Aluko RE. Blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Sep 28;59(18):9854-60
[xv] Swiatecka D, Swiatecki A, Kostyra H, Marciniak-Darmochwał K, Kostyra E. The impact of pea protein hydrolysates on bacterial physiological activity--an in vitro study. Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 Jun 15;140(2-3):263-70