Peas aren’t just for salads and veggie stir-fries anymore. These sweet little delights are packed full of perfect protein making them a wonderful plant-based protein product. But not all peas offer the same benefits.
Pea protein is specifically sourced from protein-rich yellow peas. This wondrous ingredient is not only naturally vegan, but is also hypoallergenic, which makes it great for those with a range of food sensitivities and allergies. Along with protein, peas are a great source of iron — which is generally lacking in a plant-based diet — and low in carbs — perfect for those keto practitioners! Pea protein also helps with the growth of muscles, boosts heart health, and can even help weight management.
The Difference in a Pea: Split Green Peas vs. Split Yellow Peas
Before delving into pea protein, it’s probably a good idea to get a handle on peas in general, specifically, the type used to create that protein powder that you’ve heard so much about.
First off, pea protein is sourced from split peas — that come in yellow and green varieties — which are actually “seeds of the Pisum sativum L., or field pea, plant.” In short, split peas are part of the legume family, alongside other more readily used foods such as lentils and beans. The split term in the name refers to a mechanical process of “splitting the dry seeds of the Pisum sativum L. plant first involves husking, or dehulling, the seeds.” What is left is a “sweeter, less starchy, earthier taste, softer texture and shorter required cooking time than for whole peas.”
With that said, manufacturers generally prefer to use split yellow peas.
This is mostly due to flavor. Both green and yellow peas have similar nutritional profiles and health benefits, yet split yellow peas “tend to have a milder flavor than their slightly sweeter, green counterparts.” This makes split yellow peas a better option for protein powder supplements that will be added to protein shakes, smoothies, or used to cook with. A more neutral natural flavor palate also makes the split yellow pea a better option to add natural flavorings such as vanilla or chocolate.
What is Pea Protein?
If there’s one thing to take note of when it comes to green pea protein, is that it’s referred to as the “non-dairy muscle builder.”
Not a bad nickname for a vegan protein alternative!
What is green pea protein powder? Just as the name implies, it’s protein sourced from peas and then turned into an easily digestible powder. This protein powder is fast becoming a popular vegan alternative due to the fact that it is “among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten, soy or dairy,” and also happens to be super gentle on the “tummy and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.”
Plus, this specific protein powder comes with a variety of health benefits that are easy to get on board with!
Green pea protein aids in weight loss or healthy weight management, supports heart health by lowering high blood pressure, has been shown to promote kidney function, and helps balance blood sugar levels. With that said, one of the most desired health benefits is the thickening of your muscles. Research shows that “pea protein was just as effective as dairy-based proteins at increasing muscle thickness after resistance training.” This may be attributed to the “high quantities of L-arginine in pea protein, which are found in higher concentrations than in other protein products.” L-arginine happens to be one of those necessary amino acids that focuses on the health and build of your muscles.
How is Pea Protein Made?
Pea protein is made by “grinding the peas into a powder and then removing the starch and fiber to leave a highly concentrated pea protein isolate that’s perfect for adding to smoothies, baked goods or desserts to quickly boost protein intake.”
When you take a closer look, it’s easy to see why protein powder is a healthier option, even down to the processing.
While most protein powders are chemically processed, pea protein powder is mechanically processed. The peas are dried, ground, and “soaked in a saline solution to remove the starch and fiber.” The leftover product is then ground again and “processed to the desired consistency and packaged for sale.”
Nutrition Profile of Pea Protein
We know what it is and how it’s made, but what does this new fangled form of vegan-friendly protein powder offer in the nutrition department? On top of that, is it better than other vegan protein alternatives?
First off, green pea protein is one of the higher-quality protein supplements due to the fact that “pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot create and must get from food.” Along with those nine essential amino acids, green pea protein is also a source of “branched-chain amino acids, especially arginine — which promotes healthy blood flow and heart health — and leucine, isoleucine and valine — which promote muscle growth.”
There are a host of different types of green pea protein which all offer varying levels of nutrition, yet, to get a general snapshot, Healthline took a look at NOW’s Sports Nutrition Unflavored Organic Pea Protein Powder. They found that 20 grams of this green tea powder have 80 calories, 15 grams of protein, 1 gram of carb, 1 gram of fiber, 1.5 grams of fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 5 grams of iron.
This protein powder is relatively low in calories, yet still offers a healthy helping of protein. Another aspect of this protein powder to take into consideration in your diet is that it’s low in fiber — therefore don’t use it as a fiber substitute — but it’s also high in iron — which means you can use green pea protein as an iron substitute.
Cooking with Pea Protein
As long as you get the consistency right, you can pretty much add your green pea protein to most dishes! With that said, some are better than others. While you may want to jump right in and begin adding it to your favorite curry recipe, rice dish, or even soup, try playing around with some of the below simple recipes first. It’s important to understand how the powder will affect the consistency and taste of a dish, therefore, before creating a sticky mess of that organic-ingredient filled stir-fry, take a day to experiment and have fun!
One of the most popular uses of protein powder is in “protein shakes” or smoothies. These are drinks that substitute as an entire meal, meaning they need to be rich in many of the compounds that make you feel satiated including fiber and protein. This makes creamy smoothies and shakes a great option to use your new green pea protein! You can opt for recipes that already ask for a plant-based protein powder such as this High-Protein Apple Pie Smoothie. Yet, if you’ve got a favorite smoothie or shake recipe that doesn’t require plant-based protein, try adding a small scoop such as in this Raw Turmeric Ginger Smoothie or this Blue Banana Smoothie.
Another great way to get this pea protein into your weekly meal regimen is via creams and sauces. You’ll want to choose heavier and creamier sauces that can easily absorb the powder and use its density to make the texture even creamier and thicker. For example, this Cashew Alfredo Pasta Sauce is an easy recipe to start experimenting with due to the fact that it has a wide range of flavorful ingredients, as well as a base of thick and creamy cashews. With that said, you can also experiment with adding your new green pea protein to simpler recipes such as this Cilantro Chutney or even this Slow-Cooker BBQ Sauce recipe.
If you’re looking for a super simple way to integrate this green pea protein powder into your diet without having to think about it, try adding a small bit to your plant-based dairy products. Keep in mind that the powder will change the consistency of your plant-based dairy product, so try experimenting first! Make sure that you mix the powder well with a blender (for milk) or a food processor (for those cheeses and butter).
Nut milk is a great place to start, plus there are lots to choose from including this Almond Milk, Cashew Milk, Brazil Nut Milk, Simple Vanilla Oat Milk, or even this powerfully flavored Turmeric Peppercorn Wellness Milk. Add a scoop of your green pea protein to your plant-based cheese such as this American Cheese Slices recipe, this Pear Cashew Cheese, or this 5-Ingredient Almond Feta. You can also try adding a bit of green pea protein to your homemade vegan butter. For traditional vegan butter, such as this Homemade Butter, make sure to use unflavored green pea protein.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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