The Pros and Cons of Popular Vegan Proteins- Our Expert Weighs In
The following is an excerpt from an article published on NewFoodMagazine.com. The article was written by NutraScience Labs' Senior Director of Product Innovation, Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG). Please click here if you'd like to be taken to NewFoodMagazine.com to read the full article.
The major functional and structural component of all the cells of the body, protein, is needed for all enzymes, membrane carriers, blood transport molecules, the intracellular matrices, hair, fingernails, serum albumin, keratin, and collagen – as well as many hormones and a large part of cell membranes. Furthermore, the amino acids which serve as the building blocks of protein function as precursors for many coenzymes, hormones, nucleic acids, vitamins, and other molecules essential for life.
Clearly, adequate dietary protein is essential to maintain cellular integrity and function, and for good health in general.[i] But, which sources of protein are best? Certainly, protein from animal sources (casein, whey protein, egg protein) is considered a complete protein, containing the necessary amount of all essential amino acids. However, vegan proteins are gaining significantly in popularity and this article addresses some common vegan proteins, including several of the rising stars.
Quinoa - The Vegan Protein Superhero
Quinoa is increasingly becoming popular in the United States and Europe. Classified as a gluten-free pseudocereal, quinoa doesn’t grow on grass like other grains such as rice, wheat, and oats.
It should be noted that quinoa is also higher in protein than other grains such as buckwheat and barley, offering 16 percent protein by dry weight – significantly more than most cereal grains, including rice, barley, and corn.
[Learn more about the pros and cons of quinoa by reading the full article on NewFoodMagazine.com.]
In a randomized, placebo-controlled study,[ii] 29 subjects received quinoa or placebo daily. Results showed that the quinoa group experienced a significant decrease in BMI (body mass index) and HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control) and an increase in satiation and fullness.
In another study,[iii] quinoa flakes were shown to significantly reduce serum triglyceride and increase glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) levels in postmenopausal women.
Rice Protein - An Ideal Vegan Protein for Sports Nutrition
If you are vegetarian or someone with food allergies, you might be interested in rice protein (extracted from rice) since it seldom activates food allergies.[iv] However, vegetarian proteins tend to be short in one or more amino acids – known as the “limiting amino acids”- and this is also true of rice protein. Specifically, rice protein has insufficient levels of the amino acids lysine and threonine,[v],[vi] so these amino acids are frequently added to rice protein-based products to supplement this imbalance.
In any case, rice protein is still an effective vegan protein for sports nutrition and for other uses. In fact, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study was conducted with 24 healthy, college-aged (average age 21 years), resistance-trained participants. They received either 48g of rice or whey protein isolate for eight weeks, immediately following training on training days. The results showed that rice protein isolate decreased fat mass and increased lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy (i.e., size and growth), power, and strength in a way that was comparable to whey protein isolate.
To learn more about the pros and cons of other popular vegan proteins, please read Gene's full article on NewFoodMagazine.com!
[i] Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Protein and Amino Acids. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2002:589-768.
[ii] Ruiz MSA, Espinosa MDB, Santamaria CG, et al. [Effect of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) consumption as a coadjuvant in nutritional intervention in prediabetic subjects] [Article in Spanish]. Nutr Hosp. 2017 Oct 24;34(5):1163-1169.
[iii] De Carvalho FG, Ovidio PP, Pavovan GJ, et al. Metabolic parameters of postmenopausal women after quinoa or corn flakes intake–a prospective and double-blind study. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 May;65(3):380-5.
[iv] Moro GE, Warm A, Arslanoglu S, Miniello V. Management of bovine protein allergy: new perspectives and nutritional aspects. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2002;89(6 Suppl 1):91-6 [review].
[v] Murata K, Nishikaze M, Tanaka M. Nutritional quality of rice protein compared with whole egg protein. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 1977;23:125-31.
[vi] MacLean WC Jr, Placko RP, Graham GG. Postprandial plasma free amino acid changes in preschool children consuming exclusively rice protein. J Nutr 1979;109:1285-9.