Trend or Tool? The Real Deal on Pea Protein

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pea-soupRemember those mushy little peas you threw across the room as a child? Well, it might be time to take another bite and power up with peas.

Lately, pea protein has been popping up from headlines to diet books, so it’s time for a primer. Peas are legumes, which are an excellent source of protein. Peas are also cholesterol-free and low in fat. As a bonus, pea protein is vegan, gluten, and lactose free, making it a great option for individuals with dietary restrictions.

Not a fan of split pea soup? Don’t worry. According to Rotimi Aluko, Ph.D., a food chemist at the University of Manitoba, the purified protein extract from peas has potential health benefits. Pea protein is made by extracting the soluble pea protein from yellow-split peas. Dr. Aluko reports that pea protein hydrolysate (that extracted protein) could potentially delay or prevent the onset of kidney damage in people with high blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that pea protein hydrolysate reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension. Estimates show that millions of people suffer from chronic kidney disease, as well as high blood pressure, so the potential of pea protein is pretty exciting.pea-protein-flatulence-free

The really great news for the more demure among us? The purified form of pea protein doesn’t contain the parts of the plant known to trigger flatulence.

Although you won’t be passing gas with pea protein, you may be passing on iron, which is a potential downside to this source of protein. Iron is a chief mineral required for transportation of oxygen throughout the body and cell growth. Being short on iron can lead to heavy fatigue. Plant based foods, such as peas, have what’s called “non-heme iron,” which your body doesn’t absorb as well as the heme iron in pork, red meat, fish and poultry. Consuming Vitamin C-rich foods, such as orange juice, can help increase the absorption of non-heme iron. So, if you’re going for a pea protein smoothie to power up your day, you may want to consider adding in some citrus.

This year, there has been more and more positive attention on pea protein.  A variety of nutrition bars are now using pea protein as one of their key ingredients. Pea protein itself is also sold as a powder that you can add to soups, beverages, and even made into crackers for a protein-rich snack. Regardless of how you like to get your protein, pea protein can help you with an extra boost. The verdict: mind your iron, but be on the prowl for the pea. 

This blog was written by Veronica Chocron, MS.