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A Guide For Choosing a Quality Plant-Based Protein Powder

Plant-based protein powders can be a convenient way to meet your protein requirements and help you achieve your health goals. But there are some things to consider to find a quality supplement.
Updated on Feb 28, 2024

One of the pitfalls of a vegan or vegetarian diet is that it can be difficult to consume enough quality protein each day, especially if you have high demands such as in the case of athletes. Plant-based protein powder can be a good option to ensure you are meeting your protein requirements.

With more plant-based protein powders on the market, finding the right brand and type can be overwhelming. So let’s sort through your options! This guide shares some advice on what to look for when finding the right plant-based protein powder for you and what to avoid.

What is Plant-based Protein Powder?

Plant-based protein powder is a supplement consisting of amino acids and proteins that are derived from vegetarian sources such as rice, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Unlike typical animal-based protein powders, plant-based protein powders are completely free of animal products like eggs, casein or whey.

Forms of Protein Powders

Protein powders are commonly available in three main forms:

  1. Protein concentrate – approx 70% pure protein extracted using heat and enzymes from the source.
  2. Protein isolate – approx 90% pure protein extracts any carbohydrates or fat in the protein concentrate to create the isolate. This is a more purified form of protein.
  3. Protein hydrolysates – enzymes are exposed to the isolate and break down the amino acids to give you the highest amount of absorbable protein. This form is rapidly absorbed and easily digested at a higher rate than protein concentrate and isolate.

Twenty amino acids make a protein compound. Our body’s make eleven of them and the remaining nine come from our diet. These are known as “essential” amino acids and when a food contains all nine, it’s referred to as “complete”.

Animal proteins contain all essential amino acids in optimal ratios. Whereas, plant-based protein sources tend to have reduced levels and suboptimal ratios of the essential amino acids. However, by consuming all the amino acids throughout the day, you can achieve your adequate complete protein intake. It just takes a little more consideration.

Types of Plant-based Protein Powders

There are four common types of plant-based protein supplements.

Soy Protein

  • Complete protein, good for muscle growth.
  • Cheap to make, common in vegan products.
  • Some worry it might affect hormones and thyroid.
  • Contains substances that might lower nutrient absorption.
  • Check if it’s GMO (genetically modified).

Pea Protein

  • Contains all essential amino acids, good for muscles.
  • High in iron, good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Can be high in sodium, so watch out if you limit salt.
  • About 25 grams of protein per serving.

Brown Rice

  • Has all essential amino acids but low in one, so not complete.
  • Good source of fiber and nutrients like iron and calcium.
  • Hypoallergenic, suitable for those with allergies.
  • Similar benefits to whey protein in studies.
  • About 24 grams of protein per serving.


  • Contains all essential amino acids, plus fiber and omega-3s.
  • Less processed, supports a whole food diet.
  • Easy to digest and gentle on the stomach.
  • Less protein per serving compared to soy and pea.
  • Can taste gritty and chalky.

Other plant-based protein powders include quinoa, chickpea, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed or a combination such as brown rice, pea, chia seed and flax seeds. A combination plant-based protein powder can help ensure you’re getting adequate amino acids and benefiting from the nutrient variety.

There can be a big difference in the quality of plant-based protein supplements as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate protein powders. Some brands have been found to contain dangerous levels of heavy metals including lead and arsenic. Researching the supplement brand is just as important as the protein type.

Plant-Based Protein vs Animal Protein Powder

The biggest difference between a plant-based protein and animal protein powder is the protein source. Here’s how they compare in terms of nutrition, digestion and taste.

FeaturePlant-Based ProteinAnimal Protein Powder
SourceDerived from foods like peas, hemp, rice, soyDerived from whey, casein, or egg
CaloriesVery little differenceVery little difference
CarbohydratesVaries, can be higher if sweeteners are addedVaries, can be higher if sweeteners are added
FatsCan be higher if including seeds and nutsGenerally lower, but varies
ProteinSlightly lower per serve, may lack some amino acidsGenerally higher per serve, contains all amino acids
MicronutrientsOften more varied, higher in fibre and ironLower in sodium, higher in calcium and potassium
DigestionOften easier to digest, usually lactose-freeCan be harder to digest for those with lactose intolerance
AbsorptionSlower than animal proteinsFaster absorption, especially whey
Taste and TextureEarthy flavour, gritty/chalky texture, may need additives for palatabilityGenerally smoother and more palatable, varies with additives

What To Look For In A Plant-Based Protein Powder

When choosing a plant-based protein powder, think about your reasons for using it and what you need. Here’s how to pick a good one:

Protein Amount: Choose one that helps meet your protein needs, especially if you’re vegan. A complete protein powder is best.

Source of Protein: Look for organic or non-GMO options to avoid pesticides and support your health and the environment.

Nutrients: If you’re using protein powder to fill dietary gaps, pick one with natural nutrients like flax seeds or almonds, rather than synthetic ones.

Ingredients: Go for powders with whole, recognizable ingredients without unnecessary fillers or artificial additives.

Safety: Choose powders tested for heavy metals to ensure they are safe to consume.

Look at the protein amount per 100g when comparing between brands and protein powder types as the serving size can differ. When it comes to plant-based protein, it’s more about the quantity of protein than the type if you’re consuming it to achieve a weight goal, appetite regulation or exercise performance.

Ingredients To Avoid In A Plant-Based Protein Powder

When choosing a protein powder, it’s important to go for one that’s high quality and has minimal ingredients. Here are some things to avoid:

Casein: This comes from milk and can cause digestive issues like bloating. It’s not suitable for vegans.

Skim Milk Powder/Milk Solids: These are often used as fillers and can cause discomfort, especially if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan.

Gluten: People who are sensitive to gluten or have coeliac disease should avoid protein powders that contain gluten.

Dextrins/Maltodextrin: These are processed starches that can spike your blood sugar and may upset your stomach.

Artificial Sweeteners: These can cause digestive issues and may affect your weight. Natural sweeteners like stevia or adding your own fruit can be better options.

Vegetable Oils: These oils can be unhealthy and lead to inflammation. They’re added to make powders creamier but aren’t good for you.

Pros & Cons of Plant-Based Protein Powder


  • Just as effective as whey protein on body composition and performance
  • A convenient way to help you reach your protein requirements
  • Can increase your micronutrient intake
  • Typically lower in sugars than animal-based protein powders although varies between brand to brand
  • It may be easier to digest than animal-based protein so great for those with gastrointestinal issues
  • Typically hypoallergenic


  • Can vary in the amount of protein and BCAA content
  • Serving size may need to be greater to achieve similar protein.
  • Can be costly especially if buying in small quantities or choosing organic.
  • Protein powders can contain fillers like added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
  • Can be made of GMO ingredients

Should You Drink Plant-Based Protein Powder?

Absolutely! There’s no reason not to. When picking a protein powder, choose reputable brands and simple formulations with minimal ingredients. And of course, choose products that align with your dietary needs, such as vegan, lactose-free, or gluten-free, to ensure they complement your health goals and lifestyle.

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Sarah Appleford
Sarah Appleford
Sarah Appleford is a registered clinical nutritionist who believes achieving optimal health and wellbeing relies on living with intention.


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