Peas and other legumes are high in protein and can be used as an alternative to traditional protein sources, including animal products like cheese and meat.
Pea protein is a 100% vegan and healthy addition to your diet. If you’re struggling to meet your recommended dose of protein, your pea protein could be your solution!
Pea protein has several health benefits, which we will be looking at in this article.
Pea proteins can be used for emulsifying (breaking up fats, which is helpful for maintaining the texture of milk, cream, butter, etc.), foaming (keeping bread, cakes, and meringues fluffy and stable), and gelling (important for keeping thickness and texture desirable) of food products (1).
This is a natural, cheap alternative to synthetic products that are currently used in the industry.
Health benefits of pea protein
Purified pea protein and pea protein hydrolysates (a specific component of pea proteins) are high in antioxidants, which can delete free radical oxygen molecules that can destroy tissues, mutate DNA, and cause cancer.
It has even been suggested that pea protein could replace synthetic antioxidants, which are currently used to treat several diseases.
Hypertension (better known as high blood pressure) has been reduced with pea protein consumption in rats, posing another pharmaceutical alternative (2).
Weight management, gastrointestinal health, and insulin resistance
Studies with peas have shown that they are beneficial for reducing weight, improving gastrointestinal health, and reducing insulin resistance (a cause of type 2 diabetes) (3).
Many of these functions are suspected to also be present in pea protein, but studies are ongoing.
The high fiber content in addition to the high protein content of peas is suspected to be behind these effects, and some of these benefits do carry over from unrefined peas to pea protein products. (4)
Cholesterol control, lower blood pressure, and other health benefits
Plant-based diets in general have been shown to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and have other positive health effects (5).
While these studies were not specifically looking at pea protein, these are some of the reasons why pea protein is thought to be healthier than animal-based proteins (e.g. whey).
In a recent clinical study, participants who ate a bar supplemented with pea protein twice a day had lower cholesterol compared to those who didn’t (5).
The nutritional benefits of pulses
Pulses in general (which includes peas) have a variety of healthy ingredients that fight disease. Pea proteins contain several of these bioactive compounds including phytosterols (reduce cholesterol, heart disease risk, and inflammatory conditions), antioxidants (powerful disease fighters), and many others (6).
While eating peas whole (dried or cooked) gives you all these benefits, pea proteins carry some of these benefits as well,. For more health benefits of pulses, check out our “The World’s Healthiest Beans” article.
The final consideration: Pea protein vs. animal protein
There are many factors at play when it comes to determining which decision is best environmentally, economically, and nutritionally (7).
From the point of environmental sustainability, plant-based protein is thought to be better for the environment, as it doesn’t require an additional step of feeding animals (simply growing the crop and harvest) (8).
There is no source of protein that leaves no environment imprint at all, but pea protein is considered an improvement, as it avoids animal agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions (9)
Pea protein is considered a feasible, sustainable source of protein that is climate change-resistant (10).
Pea proteins are also considered a “higher quality protein” when added to a balanced diet. This means they provide a protein source low in fats and other additives (11).
A study, examining the effect of pea protein compared to whey on a high-intensity training regime, found that both whey and pea protein consumption results in equivalent muscle building and outcomes (12).
Another study, examining the difference between alternative sources of protein (including dairy, whey, and pea protein) for elderly people, found that pea protein was competitive with other forms of protein, in terms of amino acid bioavailability, among other qualities (13).
In conclusion, pea protein has several benefits and is worth trying! When tested for its effect on post-exercise recovery and functionality, it performs as well as whey and animal-based protein sources.
In various populations and ages, pea protein has proven itself to be a viable alternative for dietary supplementation and functional usage for food processing.
There are many health benefits associated with peas, and some of these are believed to be present in pea proteins derived from them.
There are some side effects to pea protein, and you should always start with a low dose to ensure you don’t have symptoms of allergy or gastrointestinal upset.
So next time, instead of automatically reaching for the whey protein, try the pea protein instead! It might just give you some added health benefits in addition to much-needed protein.