Examining Plant Proteins

Examining Plant Proteins

With the launching of our new PROVIDE: Balance Vegan Smoothie Mix, comes a series of newsletters delving into some of the main ingredients found in this revised product. Having already covered Lion’s ManePartially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum, and Raspberry Seeds, we turn now to the plant proteins used in this formula.

Plant Proteins

In our last version of PROVIDE we used whey protein as a base, and I am still a fan of whey, due to its ability to raise glutathione levels in the body. However, the general marketplace has taken a strong turn towards plant-based protein, and there are a number of valid reasons for this.

The primary reasons for the movement away from animal proteins, both meat and dairy-derived protein powders (whey and casein), are environmental and ethical (animal rights). As well, many are simply allergic to dairy products, or find them difficult to digest.

Thus the new PROVIDE is moving to be more inclusive by using plant proteins that anyone can benefit from, and comfortably include in their diet. And, as this product is designed to work on the gut-brain axis, and to be suitable for those with severe digestive disorders (Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, IBS, etc), it needs to contain the least contentious type of protein available.

There are a variety of plant-derived proteins, which have gone through phases of popularity only to fall out of favor. Soy was big for quite a while but was done in by negative publicity suggesting it was estrogenic, and thus unsafe. (Not true, but then again, many things that are not true become widely believed.)

Hemp was popular for a time, but it is expensive to produce a hemp protein isolate (due to its high fat content), and unprocessed hemp protein is fibrous and gritty, with poor “mouthfeel” (an industry term).

Brown rice protein has maintained a reputable position in the market for years, as it is one of the most hypoallergenic proteins. However, it is essential that a rice protein be organic due to the recent discovery of high amounts of arsenic being found in non-organic rice. (Usually due to the crops being planted in soil already contaminated from previous non-organic crops, particularly cotton crops.)

Given this hypoallergenic property of brown rice protein (making it still favored by Naturopaths), we chose to use this plant protein (organic of course), along with a newly popular plant protein.

The new kid on the protein block is pea protein, and that is the one NutriStart chose to mix with brown rice, since there are reasons for its current popularity.

Attributes of Pea Protein

As an alternative to whey protein, for decades preferred by athletes for its muscle-building properties, pea is the strongest contender out of the plant-derived proteins.

Each protein source has its own unique profile of amino acids. One advantage animal proteins have over most plant-derived proteins is that they are “complete” proteins, which means they have an appreciable amount of all the nine “essential” amino acids. (Beans for example are not a “complete” protein: this is why they are combined with rice, which provides the missing amino acids, producing a meal that has a “complete” protein profile.)

Certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are considered to be “essential” because they cannot be synthesized in the body, and thus must be obtained from the diet. Pea protein is an exception among plant proteins in that it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it one of the most complete plant-based proteins currently available.

Pea protein is also a good source of iron, compared to other plant-based proteins, though it does of course provide less iron than animal-based proteins.

While a drawback of pea protein (like all plant proteins) is that it lacks methionine (necessary for the production of glutathione), it does contain more of the amino acid arginine than whey protein does.

Arginine is converted into nitric oxide in the body, which causes blood vessels to open wider for improved blood flow, helping to protect us from hypertension and heart disease (as well as serving many other functions).   (Source)

Muscle Building

As well, pea protein is especially rich in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine, and valine, required by the body to support muscle growth and repair.

In a 12-week study, 161 young men ate 25 grams of pea protein powder twice a day, including right after weight training. Not only did the weakest participants have a 20% increase in bicep muscle thickness, compared to only 8% in the placebo group, but the muscle gains were comparable with that of those who consumed whey protein.   (Study)

Blood Sugar Regulation

Both animal and human studies have found that components of the pea can help with improving glycemic control. In one human study, subjects were given pea protein, along with fiber, resulting in lower blood glucose levels, following a meal with a high glycemic index. And, in this case, fiber alone did not have the same glucose regulating effect as when pea protein was added. Since PROVIDE: Balance includes fiber, along with the pea protein, we can assume it will serve as a good blood sugar regulator, along with its many other benefits.   (Study)

How is Pea Protein Made?

Pea protein is made from dried yellow split peas, which are ground into a fine powder, then mixed with water to separate out the fiber and starch, leaving only the protein. As with whey protein, pea protein is produced in two forms: concentrate and isolate, isolate having the higher protein content, and concentrate retaining more fiber and starch.

Isolates are always more expensive to produce, but in the case of pea protein it is worth using since the fiber and starch remaining in the pea concentrate make it taste chalky, and can cause more digestive disturbances. Thus, for a product like PROVIDE, designed to help with gut issues, we had no choice but to go with the isolate form. Virtually all pea protein is made from peas grown in the US or Canada,

Organic Brown Rice Protein

Brown rice protein is a preferred plant-protein in part because it is easily digested and highly bioavailable. Also, like pea protein, brown rice protein is hypo-allergenic, making it suitable for those with multiple allergies. However, unlike pea protein, which contains all nine essential amino acids, brown rice protein is lacking in one essential amino acid: threonine. Brown rice protein makes up for this by having a higher concentration of the amino acids arginine and valine than even whey protein does.

And, also like pea protein, brown rice protein is especially rich in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), required by the body for building and repairing muscle tissue. In fact, studies indicate that brown rice protein powder may be as good as whey protein at supporting muscle growth, when consumed after weight training.

In an 8-week study, young men were given 48 grams of rice protein powder immediately after weight training for three days a week, and showed a 12% increase in bicep muscle thickness, the same as for men consuming an equal amount of whey protein powder.  (Study)

Provide: Balance Vegan Smoothie

Provide: Balance is designed to support the link between gut and brain health, serving to revitalize the microbiome while benefiting cognition and memory. As well as the aforementioned plant-derived proteins, this unique formula contains Lion’s Mane mushroom, hydrolyzed guar gum, and Lactospore prebiotic, all of which work to encourage healthy communication between the gut and the brain. Along with these powerful nutraceuticals is included an array of berry seed powders, providing a high level of antioxidant protection.

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