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What is protein?
Proteins are large, complex molecules that consist of 20 amino acids. Nine of these 20 are called essential amino acids because the human body cannot manufacture them and they must be consumed through diet. Known as the building blocks of all cells, proteins play many critical roles in the body, including the transport of nutrients and oxygen to cells, building valuable enzymes that regulate bodily functions like digestion and regulating your sleep/wake cycle, and creating the structure and flexing ability of muscles. New research has indicated that protein consumption plays a positive role in weight management and blood sugar control. Products fortified with plant protein can help ensure you eat enough protein each day to support and enhance health.
What is the difference between plant proteins? Is there one that is better for me?
Every protein source has a unique amino acid profile but all plant-based protein sources can help to fill your daily protein needs. The health benefits of plant proteins are similar but there are some differences in the way they taste and in their protein “richness.” That’s industry-speak for ingredient protein’s concentration by weight. It is also worth noting that the richer a plant protein powder is in protein, the fewer other nutrients it will naturally contain.
For example, rice and pea proteins are among the richest or densest plant proteins, but these protein sources provide just a smidge of iron and magnesium. Proteins from hemp and sacha inchi seeds contain slightly less protein than rice and pea, but this slightly smaller protein concentration means there is room for a substantial amount of vitamins, minerals and even some beneficial fatty acids. Our best advice? Read product labels to determine how much protein you are getting per serving and from what sources. And a consultation with your doctor or nutritionist to determine your individual nutritional needs.
What are plant protein concentrates?
Protein concentrates are the result of processing a plant to isolate or separate their key nutrients. In the case of protein concentrates, usually water or enzymes and a mechanical process are used to separate other nutrients, carbohydrates and fats. And by removing everything but the protein, this single ingredient can be concentrated and used as a stand-alone powdered ingredient or to fortify other food products.
Why should I choose products made with plant protein concentrates?
Products made with plant proteins are typically healthier, more nutritious and allergen-friendly. Unlike dairy or egg-based proteins, plant proteins contain no cholesterol, no traces of hormones or antibiotics, and are associated with significant health benefits.
Plant proteins offer a convenient, easy to digest, alternative source of this critical nutrient to the millions of people with egg, dairy and other animal protein allergies and intolerances, as well as to the growing population of vegans and vegetarians. Also, plants are notoriously good for the environment, helping to return carbon to the soil where it rests inert until it is time to support another plant’s growth.
The key is not only choosing high protein products but also looking at the source of protein.
What does protein “isolate” and protein “concentrate” mean?
Isolate is defined as “being alone or solitary.” In the case of protein ingredients, an isolate is one that has been separated out and made distinct. Concentrate is “to express or exhibit in condensed form.” With protein ingredients, concentrates can mean something where the water is removed, leaving behind the nutritive properties; a more condensed version of that ingredient. The primary difference between a protein isolate and protein concentrate is that Isolates contain more protein with less fat and carbs per gram of serving. Isolates usually contain between 90-94% protein while concentrates have a contain 60-85% protein. Isolates are not considered harmful to humans unless you have pre-existing kidney or liver disease.
Do plant proteins contain phytic acid?
Phytic acid, present in the bran and hull of most grains, beans, nuts and seeds, is a natural plant antioxidant. When protein concentrates made from grains, beans, nuts and seeds are processed from raw food to protein powder, the brand and hull are largely removed. This action significantly reduces or eliminates the phytic acid content of plant proteins.
Do I need to mix plant proteins to get a complete protein?
Yes. Most plant proteins are low in one or more amino acids so it is better to get protein from a variety of plant-based sources to ensure optimum nutrition. Since most of us base our eating on a day’s 24-hour rhythm, try and eat some grain-based proteins and some legume-based proteins every day. You do not need to consume each kind of protein at the same meal.
How much protein do I need if I am physically active?
In general, the more physically active you are, the greater your daily protein needs will be. Other factors, such as your age, gender, and workout goals, also play a part in nutrition needs. Check out this calculator to help you figure out how much protein you need each day or consult with your physician or nutritionist.
How much protein should I eat or drink after a workout?
How much protein to consume after a workout depends on a few factors: your health and fitness goals and the intensity and type of workout. Consuming protein after a workout helps your muscles recover from the workout and helps build stronger, and sometimes, bigger muscles. Fitness studies indicate that properly executed strength exercises combined with adequate protein intake throughout the day of the workout can help to increase muscle mass and overall body strength. At least 25 to 30 grams of protein is typically recommended within an hour after your workout to maximize recovery and workout benefits. Protein can be consumed as part of a substantial meal or snack or as a protein shake, many of which are available and made with plant proteins. The options are endless!
Can I and should I replace a meal with a plant protein shake?
Complete nutrition is always the goal for health and wellness so please read the product label to discern what nutrition is inside. Although plant protein powder supplements can be used to make meal replacement shakes and snacks, some powders do not contain all the nutrients needed – healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals - to be considered a balanced meal when consumed on their own. With a few additional ingredients, such as kale, nut butter or fruit, shakes made with plant protein powders can become a convenient meal replacement. Although shakes are convenient and wholesome, whole-food meals remain the gold standard as the path to good nutrition.
What is a “protease” and do I need to supplement with them?
Protease is an enzyme found in humans, animals, plants and fungi. During digestion, protease helps digest what are called long-chain proteins and helps aid absorption of the amino acids found in proteins. Often included in products known as digestive enzymes, protease is generally beneficial. In general, a healthy body is equipped with sufficient protease to break down protein molecules it encounters. However, you can consult with your doctor or nutritionist to determine if you need to add protease to your diet.
Why should I rotate or blend plant protein sources?
Every plant protein is a bit different in the amount and variety of amino acids, vitamins and minerals they contain. Since most plant proteins are low in one or more amino acid, it is recommended to consume a variety of plant proteins, such as both grain- and legume-based proteins, throughout the day. As with eating a variety of foods, the nutrition is complementary, adding needed nutrients and balancing out your nutrition over the course of a 24 hour day.
Will the protein I ate or drank yesterday help me the following day?
No. Your daily protein requirements refresh each day. Our bodies do an amazing job (most of the time) of excreting what we do not need. And, unlike minutes on your cellphone plan, excess protein consumed the day before does not “roll over” to the following day.
Are plant proteins safe to consume during nursing or pregnancy?
a. During pregnancy, your doctor or OB/GYN should be consulted prior to adding protein powders or supplements or other added ingredients of any kind. Talk to your doctor about any products made with plant proteins, especially those labeled as supplements. The range and variety of products, supplements, and added ingredients within products is daunting. Steer clear until the doc gives these ingredients a thumbs up.
Will my body properly digest pea protein? I heard that legumes need to be cooked before they are digestible.
It is true that legumes in their raw form need to be soaked, cooked or exposed to heat as these processes break down the thick, indigestible cellulose (or starch) that coats a legume. The protein extraction process that legumes are subjected to replicates this process. The result is that most of the starch is removed from the finished pea protein powder. Even better, the powder’s drying process helps to further break down any indigestible starch remaining in pea protein powder. That said, some people experience a bit of gas and bloating when they boost the amount of fiber they eat in any form. Over time, your body adjusts to the boosted amounts of fiber you are eating and the issue should resolve itself.
Why doesn’t my rice protein powder supplement mix easily with liquids and what is the best way to mix it?
The unique composition of rice protein contains some natural particles which act as a barrier to liquids. While this is beneficial for storage of rice, this characteristic can make mixing liquids something of a challenge. As with anything, practice makes perfect. We recommend pouring any liquids in before adding powder and using a blender or shaker bottle to combine. A whisk can help, too.
What are the advantages of rice protein?
Rice protein is a highly allergen-friendly protein source – it causes fewer allergic reactions than other protein sources. Because of rice protein’s status as causing fewer allergic responses, it is often used in hypoallergenic products. We always recommend reading a product’s ingredient label thoroughly, no matter what the product is, to ensure it is free-from allergens. We all need protein but for those who have food intolerances or allergies, rice protein may be the safest option. Despite rice protein’s limited amino acid profile, it has has been shown to be comparable to whey protein when used as a supplement after a workout. A 2013 study demonstrated that athletes who consumed rice protein gained as much muscle mass and strength as those who consumed whey protein.
What are the advantages of pea protein?
Pea protein is also a hypoallergenic protein source. A 2015 study showed that pea protein supplements are a viable substitute to whey protein for sport nutrition. Of all the plant-based proteins, pea protein is especially earth friendly. Pea plants are superstars at retaining nitrogen; they require little fertilizer to flourish. After harvest, the chaff is returned to the soil, naturally returning nitrogen in the soil where it belongs to nourish the next generation of plants.
What are the advantages of seed-based proteins like hemp, sacha inchi, flax, and chia protein?
When examined side-by-side with pea or rice protein, seed-based proteins hold slightly less protein content. But seed-based proteins provide other beneficial nutrients like fiber, fatty acids like omega 3 and 6. Nutrient content will vary from product to product, especially if the product contains more than one protein source. We recommend a thorough read-through of the ingredient label of any product before consuming.
Is rice protein the same as rice flour?
No. Though both are derived from rice grains and are powdery in texture, rice protein goes through a process to concentrate its protein. Rice protein is is very high in protein compared to rice flour, which, because the carbohydrates and fats found in rice are not separated out when the rice is processed, is mostly carbohydrates as well as protein and other vitamins and minerals.
Will I get “high” from consuming products made with hemp protein?
No. Unlike marijuana, hemp does not contain enough Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that can produce psychological effects. The amount of THC in hemp is negligible and will not produce a false positive drug tests.
Are plant proteins gluten free?
Not always. Plant proteins derived from grains and seeds other than wheat, rye or barley are naturally gluten free. Always read a products label as some products may contain other gluten-bearing ingredients. To confirm gluten-free status, look for gluten-free symbols or certifications or contact the manufacturer.
What does “low metals” mean?
Any plant, such as a fruit tree, vegetable or grass that is grown directly in soil or in water (such as rice plants), will absorb some metals. Metals, called minerals when consumed in small amounts, are naturally present in soil and are beneficial in small amounts for human nutrition. Iron, calcium and zinc are minerals that are essential for human health. Plants will also absorb some heavy metals like lead and cadmium. These metals are generally not considered good for human health. However, the presence in foods does not indicate use of pesticides or exposure to pollution as these metals, too, are naturally found in soil.
Like the produce you purchase at the store, plant-based proteins also contain trace levels of both beneficial and not-so beneficial metals. It is worth noting that the amounts of heavy metals in all Axiom Food products are so tiny as to be nearly unmeasurable. More importantly, a growing body of science-based evidence indicates that the benefits of consuming plant-based foods FAR OUTWEIGH any consequences attributed to the miniscule level of any heavy metals present in them.
Does rice protein contain arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring toxin found in soil. Plants grown in soil, including grains, fruits and vegetables, may contain small amounts of arsenic. The presence of arsenic is not necessarily a result of pesticide exposure. Much of the trace amounts of arsenic found in rice protein are washed out from the rice once it is processed into a protein powder.
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