Trend Alert: Pea Protein
Proteins derived from plants are getting more recognition as many folks strive to have a more plant-based diet. At the forefront of this trend is protein from legumes like peas. Find out if the newfound popularity is worth the hype.
One cup of raw green peas contains 8 grams of protein. Yellow or green split peas are also often used for pea-based products; this dried version contains 48 grams in the same 1 cup portion. Depending on the product, you might find either of these options added so check ingredient lists for clarification.
The type of protein found in peas is different than animal derived sources. As with most plant-based foods, some amino acids are missing, but peas do contain three important muscle building “branched chain” amino acids, leulcine, isoleucine and valine.
Pea protein powder has become a popular additive in snack foods and bars. Extracting the protein from food to powder does require some processing so the nutrient profile will differ slightly from the whole food version. Pea protein does have an advantage compared to some other popular protein supplements (like whey or casein) as it contains more hunger fighting fiber.
There’s been a steep increase in the amount of products containing pea protein. Unflavored protein powders like Bob’s Red Mill and Now Nutrition can be added to smoothies and baked goods. Larabar ALT bars are a vegan snack bar enhanced with pea protein. Harvest Snaps turned peas into a crunchy snack.
Bottom Line: Pea protein offers a valuable vegetarian option for those who need more protein. Eating good ol' peas to increase protein intake remains the most-nutritious vehicle, but powders and other enhanced foods offer more variety.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc. , which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.