Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.
Before we discuss pea or legume proteins, let’s talk proteins. They are comprised of 20 different amino acids, which form various combinations to create an assortment of chains. They are the foundation of our physical structure, our bones and muscles. Hence the moniker “building blocks” (x). They are also a source of fuel/ energy, part of metabolic reactions involving enzymes and hormones, they’re transport carriers of other essential molecules and support our immune system (x).
Unfortunately, our bodies make only nine amino acids. The rest must come from our diet, and may include supplements. Dietary amino acids are called essential. The ones produced by our body are called non-essential (x). Protein powders are one of the, if not the, most popular supplemental therapy for proteins and dietary fiber.
Currently there are about eight different types of protein powders on the market. Some are animal-based and others are plant-based. Most of you may be familiar with whey and casein. Both are milk-derived and therefore animal-based. You may also be familiar with soy protein powder, which is plant-based (x). Plant-based protein powders are usually marketed to vegans, vegetarians and people with dairy allergies.
Some animal-based protein powders are manufactured from a specific source as in the aforementioned whey and casein protein powders case. Different types of legume protein powders exist too. Labels may use the words “pea” or “bean.” Both are legumes.
Legume Protein Powders
We will compare three legume protein powders: soybean, pea/split pea and lupin/ lupini beans. We’ll discuss their nutritional profile, potential health benefits and safety concerns. Always consult your healthcare provider for diagnoses, accurate medical information and permission before consuming any dietary supplements. There’s no medical evidence that protein powders can cure, treat or prevent disease.
Soy Protein Powder
Soy protein powder comes with a lot of baggage. Some scientists tout it as an excellent source of nutrients. Others suggest avoiding it like the plague. They believe it can be more damaging to human health. This creates a dilemma for vegetarian and vegan women. Reason being the culprits creating problems, soybean’s isoflavones, have estrogen-like properties that may lead to breast cancer (x).
Soy protein isolate powder is used as an ingredient in various food types: sports nutrition supplements, weight loss supplements, flour, sauces, milk, tempeh and tofu. It’s also used as a binder or emulsifier in processed foods such as luncheon meat and pancake mixes (x), (x). This protein powder is one of the easier digested plant-proteins (x). So, what else is in its nutritional profile?
Soy Protein Powder Nutrients
Part of the soy protein isolate manufacturing process is the removal of fats and sugars. This renders it almost fat- and cholesterol-free. Preserved are dietary fiber, minerals iron, phosphorus, copper, manganese, calcium, selenium and molybdenum, B-vitamins, folate, vitamin K, omeg-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, antioxidant-anti-inflammatory-antimicrobial compounds, including isoflavones, and protein. Though it has all nine essential amino acids, it is often left out of the “complete protein food” category because it of its inadequate supply of the essential amino acid methionine (x), (x), (x).
Soy Protein Makes You weak & Womanly
Health Benefits of Soy Protein Powder
What health benefits do soy protein powder supplements offer?
- Boosts Weight Loss. A number of studies suggest that soy protein powder stimulates weight loss by increasing satiety. This may benefit obese individuals even if their obesity is a symptom of diabetes (x), (x).
- Reduces “bad” LDL Cholesterol. In several studies researchers not only found properties in soy that may lower LDL cholesterol levels, but that it may also increase levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol (x).
- Improves Cardiovascular Health. Soy protein may also help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease because of its omega-3 fatty acid content and cholesterol activities (x).
- Reduces Prostate Cancer. Researchers uncovered soy’s potential ability to reduce prostate cancer risk in men, especially in older men. The isoflavones seem to be what’s supporting this activity (x).
- Benefits Menopausal Women. Studies believe that soy’s isoflavones may reduce hot flashes (x).
- Promotes Healthy Gastrointestinal System. The dietary fiber in soy protein powder may support good gut health (x).
Side Effects & Safety Concerns of Soy Protein Powder
We’ve noted that the isoflavones in soy protein powder may increase breast cancer risk (x). The powders also contain compounds called phytates which reduce mineral absorption (x). Allergic individuals may suffer gastrointestinal issues, rash, watery eyes, sneezing, hives and even life-threatening anaphylaxis (low blood pressure, tongue and throat swelling, breathing difficulties, nausea). High doses may impede thyroid function. (x).
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder supplements are made from yellow split peas. When one thinks of this legume, it’s usually as an ingredient in soups or stews. Split peas are actually mature green peas, and have been cultivated since 6,000 BC. Its protein content is considered high quality (x). Most of the carbohydrates are removed in the production of the protein isolate (x). The product is used as an ingredient in smoothies, shakes, yogurt, flour and even sausage (x).
Pea Protein Powder Nutrients
In addition to protein, pea isolate is rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, minerals phosphorus, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper and potassium, B-vitamins, folate, vitamin K and omega fatty acids (x). Pea powder supplement also has all nine essential amino acids but like soy, it’s low on methionine. It’s still an excellent source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and in particular, l-arginine (x), (x).
Pea Protein Superfood Smoothie
Health Benefits of Pea Protein Powder
What health benefits do pea protein isolate supplements offer?
- Builds Muscle. Researchers have found that the protein in pea powder may help build muscle mass as effectively as whey protein due to its rich supply of BCAAs (x).
- Reduces “bad” LDL Cholesterol. A study on rats indicated that pea protein powder may lower cholesterol levels and fat production (x).
- Improves Cardiovascular Health. Stroke, heart failure, myocardial infraction (heart attack), atherosclerosis can all be traced to hypertension or high blood pressure. Research on human subjects showed that an intake of pea protein powder significantly lowered their blood pressure (x).
- Fights Chronic Kidney Disease. Researchers concluded that since pea protein powder has the potential to lower hypertension, it may help patients with chronic kidney disease. Hypertension is a symptom of kidney disease (x).
Side Effects & Safety Concerns of Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder supplements may be relatively safe, but individuals may suffer gastrointestinal issues such as gas and bloating (x). Too much phosphorus and potassium can be a problem for chronic kidney disease patients (x), (x).
Lupin/ Lupini Bean Protein Powder
Lupin bean, also called lupini beans or lupino beans, are legumes or seeds of the perennial Lupinus plant. It belongs to the Fabaceae family, which includes lentils and chickpeas. The legumes resemble fava beans in shape, size and color. The Mediterranean has been enjoying them for some time, especially as snacks. Australians exported it mainly as animal feed until 1987 when it approved for human consumption (x), (x), (x), (x). Stateside, lupin is being incorporated more and more into vegan and vegetarian products for its rich protein supply.
Lupin Protein Powder Nutrients
The protein in lupin beans has an excellent supply of the amino acids, especially arginine and lysine (x), (x). Most of the amino acid chains are short (x). The bean isolate also offers substantial quantities of dietary fiber, antioxidants, B-vitamins, folate, minerals calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus (x), (x).
Nature's Power Lupin Video by Steve Smith
Health Benefits of Lupin Protein Powder
What health benefits do lupin protein powder supplements offer?
- Builds Muscle. Though it was difficult finding studies that suggest lupin protein powder builds muscle mass, its protein content may support muscle building and workout endurance just as it supports bone and dental strength. It’s also involved in enzymatic and hormonal activities. The B-vitamins and magnesium offer the potential to provide energy, and promote endurance and muscle contractions (x), (x), (x).
- Boosts Weight Loss. Lupin’s high dietary fiber and protein content could increase satiety which may boost weight loss. The fuller one feels, the less one tends to eat. Dietary fiber also regulates bowel movement (x).
- Improves Cardiovascular Health. Scientists studying the nutritional profile of lupin bean and its impact on cholesterol and HBP, determine that it shows excellent promise in improving cardiovascular health (x), (x).
- Reduces Blood Sugar Levels. Besides lowering cholesterol and other fats in the body, the proteins in lupin bean powder also seem to increase insulin sensitivity in research subjects. Great news for diabetics (x), (x).
- Promotes Healthy Gastrointestinal System. Nutrients in supplemental lupin helps maintain a balanced microbiome by promoting the growth of the beneficial “good” bacteria in our gut (function of prebiotic fiber). This may benefit our immune system and prevent disease (x).
How to Cook Lupini Beans
Side Effects & Safety Concerns of Lupin Bean Protein Powder
Individuals allergic to lupin protein powder may encounter nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis (x).
Before lupin beans can be consumed, toxic alkaloids, responsible for their bitter taste, should be removed (x). Consumers can brine and pickle the beans themselves or purchase them in that manner (x), (x), (x).
Legume Protein Isolate Preference
Soybeans, peas/ split peas and lupin/ lupini beans are all legumes. That may explain the similarities in nutrition and health benefits of their protein powders or isolates. Benefits listed exclusively under lupin protein powder could just also be applied to soybean and pea. The main differences are in the quantity of specific nutrients or lack thereof.
Regarding side effects, there’s the controversial issue of soybean’s estrogen-like isoflavones, which may cause breast cancer in women, yet benefits menopausal women. Lupin beans have additional toxic alkaloids which must be removed before consumption. And like any other legume, they all have phytate compounds may prevent absorption of certain minerals, protein and lipids, according to research. Quantity notwithstanding may vary (x).
For me, pea protein powder stands out. I appreciate its rich vein of BCAAs. And ignoring the slightly funky odor, I enjoy the rich, vanilla-y, slightly grainy flavor and texture. I can’t chance the consumption of soybean protein isolate, since breast cancer runs in my family. And lupin protein powder? I’d have to get used to its blandness and the alkaloid thing. Again, always consult your healthcare provider for diagnoses, accurate medical information and permission before consuming any dietary supplements.
Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on November 04, 2020:
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 02, 2020:
Thanks for the information complete with pros and cons of these products. Very helpful.
Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on October 31, 2020:
Thank you for the comment, Cynthia! Appreciated as well! I love it i.e. pea protein. It's quite filling too, which I enjoy.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on October 30, 2020:
I appreciate the comparisons you have made around the legume proteins. I currently use a pea protein product (Vega). I like it, partly because of nostalgia: my Dad was involved back in the 1980s with pea protein development and marketing, but also because the vanilla product I use is very tasty. We add it to our morning smoothies. Thanks sgain for all the nutritional details and alerts.