Comparing Plant Based All-in-One Nutritional Protein Powders
I know I want a plant based all in one nutritional powder. I know I want it be packed with protein and vitamins and I know I want it to taste good. Yet every time I go into whole foods, I stand in their protein aisle with my eyes glazed as I study the back of the nutritional labels. After a few minutes of not retaining any information, I jut my hand out for Vega one, throw it into the cart, and book it back to the comfort of the garlicky kale and ginger beets. I’ve attempted to rectify the situation from the sanctity of my desk… but all of my online searches were veggieless (see what I did there. Like fruit-less). The market is too saturated… there’s just too many choices, it’s impossible to compare! So I went on a mission to help the common consumer discern between the good the bad and the ‘tastes like fish food’. I bought individual packets of 8 of what I thought looked like the most promising brands and scrutinized them across the board. And this is the results..
An explanation of my judging criteria:
Cal: Calories. The calorie count bears no weight in my judgement of the value of a nutritional protein powder. These are meant to be supplements or even meal replacements and are dense with protein and often with minerals and vitamins as well. That being said, I’m most comfortable with under 200 cal/serving.
Prot: Protein. The more the better, but with such low calorie counts, having two scoops or more a day won’t break the bank. I wouldn’t bother with any nutritional shake that had less than 15 grams of protein/serving.
V: Vitamins. The vitamin and mineral makeup of these powders is an essential element for me. You’ll find that some plant based proteins don’t have any included vitamins while others deliver 50% of your daily value in everything from folic acid to b12. Personally, I’ll take all the vitamins I can get!
Fat. Similar to the caloric content, fat does not bother me. These fats are MUFAS – the heart healthy great kind we need more of, not trans fats!
Carbs: Carbohydrates. None of these powders are packed with empty carbs, but rather nutritionally beneficial carb makeup that is under 10% of the recommended daily value for an average adult. That’s something I can live with. …however I’m still a chick trying to fit into skinny jeans. Anything over 20 carbs might raise a red flag for me.
Fib: Fiber. The more the merrier! Fiber helps regulate the bloods sugar and can make you feel full and satiated longer. It also assists in regulating digestion. When choosing a powder, I like to find one with 5 grams or more of fiber, which is about 20% of the daily recommended value.
Sug: Sugar. Sugar is an inflammatory that causes countless problems in the body. Unfortunately most Americans are sugar-addicts who flood their systems with copious amounts of the white stuff everyday. I’m not trying to be one of them. The lower the sugar content the better. That being said, I try never put anything with artificial sweeteners in my body (and here’s why!), so I will take a few grams of naturally occurring sugar over the fake stuff any day. For a powder, I’d like the sugar to be under 3 grams/serving.
BCAAS: Branched-Chain Amino Acids: When you choose plant based proteins, it’s fairly common to lose out on the benefits of the BCAAs found in casein and whey. BCAAs are the most crucial amino acids for muscle building and help maintain proper nitrogen levels in your body. I most definitely prefer that my powder has added BCAAs so I can maximize the benefits of the protein on muscle building and recovery post workouts.
Prob: Probiotics. This is a big one for me, as I suffer from really poor digestion. I currently take a daily probiotic supplement, drink my kombucha and eat my kefir and sauerkraut… but there are quite a few recommended probiotic strains and not all of them are together in one source. So I’m on the ‘more the merrier’ boat with building my good gut bacteria too! Added probiotics are essential for me!
D.E: Digestive Enzymes. Another top priority, digestive enzymes help your body break down and absorb the most nutrients from the foods you eat. You can also take digestive enzymes in supplement form with each meal, but I’m trying to cut back on the number of pills I ingest each day. I much rather reap the benefits from my protein shakes!
Omeg: Omegas. These good fats improve vitamin absorption, maintain a healthy immune system and promote cell development. It is definitely beneficial to have these in your protein powder. I should note: it is recommended to get an even ratio of omega 3, 6 and 9, yet the typical western diet is heavily skewed with high levels of omega 6 and low levels of omega 3. Since I am nut obsessed and eat quite a bit of chicken, I am sure that I typically get enough omega 6. It’s the omega 3s I’m mostly looking for in my powders. However, if they are adding 3-6-9, well that’s definitely a welcomed bonus. (Read here for the dangers of not having enough omega 6!)
Taste. Taste might not be a big factor for you if you’re adding your powder to a spinach and berries smoothie every morning. I get a bit creative with my protein powders and often add them to plain yogurt or oatmeal and occasionally bake them into meals and treats. For all of these protein powders I tried them plain so I could provide honest feedback. My basis for taste is that I don’t like when the flavor tastes artificial. I’m also impartial to a stevia overkill. I’ve found that all in all, chocolate usually tastes the richest and best… since the raw cocoa powder is flavorful on it’s own. The vanilla flavors really range, I find the berry or banana usually unappealing, and the cookies and cream downright dreadful. You just can’t make natural flavors and no added sugar taste like cookies and cream. There, I said it.
As new brands come out, I’ll keep adding to the chart (or if someone wants to leave a comment with a suggestion!)… but as for right now, here are the nutritional plant based proteins that I have tried:
|Garden of Life||100||15||Y||2||6||2||1||Y||Y||Y||5|
*Complete Mobile Friendly version of the chart below
WINNERS: GARDEN OF LIFE & MACROLIFE
RUNNER UP: PHOOD
Before I get into a more in depth breakdown of each powder… you really can’t go wrong with any of the above, it’s just a matter of preference and your particular dietary needs. I suggest bringing the chart to you doctor or dietician and asking them which one is best suited for you!
I think Garden of Life vanilla and chocolate flavor tastes great, and with added BCAAS, probiotics, digestive enzymes and a plethora of vitamins, it is definitely one of my favorites. Garden of life is the same brand that makes the RAW plant based protein powders and supplements, but this nutritional all-in-one protein shake has nearly everything that I am looking for. The fiber is low and there aren’t any added omegas, but that’s a small price to pay for the nutrient dense powder. And with only 100 calories, why not have two scoops and boost your protein intake to 30 grams after a great workout?! ($20 for 10 servings)
MacroLife Naturals What a powerhouse. Time released protein with antioxidants, probiotics, digestive enzymes and healthy fats. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the chalky flavor, it mixes well into smoothies and oatmeal. I even baked some into my pumpkin pie! This protein powder is definitely an all star and one I highly recommend. ($40 for 15 servings – Use promo code ‘CHELSEA’ to save 20% off at checkout)
Phood is actually a sister brand to Plant Fusion. It is considered a meal replacement and is more in line with what I am looking for in my powder. Phood covers all of the essential vitamins and minerals, has a great energy matrix made from oats, amaranth, quinoa and chia, contains digestive enzymes and probiotics. And best of all, is the only powder on the list that boasts omega 3, 6 and 9! Really the only drawback for me is the lack of BCAAS. I’m okay with the increased calories and carbohydrates because of the great nutritional profile of the powder. ($44 for 20 servings)
I hate to talk badly about it, because it has everything I want besides the omegas, but Puregreen kinnnnnnd of tastes like fish food and stevia, or at least the vanilla did. It was great in a shake with spinach and berries, but I do not suggest this powder if you plan on just shaking it with almond milk and calling it a day. I also would have liked to see a bit more fiber. Taste aside, I would purchase it again just based on the fact that it has the probiotics, BCAAs, 20 grams of protein, vitamins and digestive enzymes. ($32 for 15 servings)
Vega One is by far the most popular and the most expensive, and for good reason. It is arguably the most nutrient dense – with 50% of your daily vitamin and mineral intake AND 6 servings of greens in just one scoop. It also comes in 6 flavors and counting. My favorites are coconut almond and french vanilla, but the chocolate and vanilla chai also taste great. Besides the astronomical price tag, the drawback for Vega is the lack of BCAAS and digestive enzymes. ($55 for 20 servings)
Considering Vega One has monopolized the search engine with it’s popularity… you’ll have a hard time ordering Vegan 1 online unless you type in the manufacturer, Nutrition 53. Vegan 1 has the vitamins, probiotics, digestive enzymes, high fiber and 20 grams of protein… but it’s missing the omegas and the BCAAS. I’m also not too fond of the 6 grams of sugar per serving. ($32 for 15 servings)
Amazing Grass at first glance doesn’t seem to be on par with the other brands in delivering adequate protein, but if you increase the serving size to 1.5 servings you are only adding an additional 50 calories (to bring you up to 140) but getting 16 grams of protein. I love the vitamins, high fiber, probiotics and digestive enzymes but it is lacking the BCAAS omegas and I’m not crazy about the chalky taste of the vanilla chai flavor. I have had samples of the berry and lemon lime flavor before and found them the best tasting for fruit flavors, but still not something I would necessarily enjoy drinking unless it was masked by real fruit flavors. ($25 for 11 servings)
What confuses me about Orgain is that it contains 5 grams of sugar alcohols. It doesn’t have any probiotics, digestive enzymes or amino acids and I’m not particularly fond of the 24 grams of carbs. The positives is that Orgain is high in fiber and protein and has the added vitamins and minerals. While the brand does not particularly advertise that it delivers omega 3s, I have taken the liberty to assume that the added chia and hemp seeds on the ingredient list have contributed to these levels. I have only tasted Orgain plant based protein powder and thought it was tasty (3), I have not tried the meal replacement protein shake yet. ($40 for 16 servings)
I included Plant Fusion even though it’s not necessarily considered a nutritional shake because it is primarily used at Earthbar… and it just so happens I get a shake or juice there most mornings. Plant fusion chocolate tastes great, but the vanilla isn’t necessarily my favorite. I love the BCAAs and the digestive enzymes, but the lack of vitamins and probiotics takes this protein powder off my fav list. I’m also a little perplexed why there is no fiber information listed on the container. ($32 for 30 servings)
I tossed the packet of Whole Foods Market brand, after enjoying the delightful vanilla flavor… only to come to find out that they illusively don’t list the majority of the information online. Since I go to whole foods once (sometimes twice) a day… I’ll just update the post tomorrow. But I’m rather put off that they couldn’t include at least the calorie/sugar/carb/fat content on the page dedicated to it. My HUGE drawback with the whole foods powder is that contains SOY, something that I personally try to avoid in all circumstances. This is perhaps why it does also does not tote the USDA seal for organic yet. (Whole Foods is really striking out with me lately – they’re still using canola oil in many of their salad bar and window foods! Canola oil=devil) The vanilla caramel flavor is delicious and I’m happy with the added nutrients, but I will not purchase this product again until it is certified organic and soy free. UPDATE: I purchased the whole foods market brand powder today and found a California proposition 65 warning on the back stating that the packet contains a chemical known to the State of CA to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. (click here to read more of my Whole Foods ranting!)