With a husband who is lactose intolerant and our desire to find protein sources that are sustainable, we have started to consume pea protein. It’s in the milk-replacement drink that Thomas enjoys, as well as in the protein powder that we use.

 

So I thought I’d do a little research on this plant protein, which Bill Gates called the “future of food”. Those little green balls that make it onto every child’s plate are the seed of the pod fruit Pisum sativum and are categorized in the legume family. Plus, peas are a healthy source of nutrients. And if that wasn’t enough to get you excited about pea protein, pea protein has been demonstrated to provide the same increases in muscle size when compared to whey protein.

Peas Packed Full of Nutrients

Peas are an excellent source of fiber, providing 7.5 g total fiber. The current recommendations for fiber for women is 25 grams for women and for men is 38 grams for men, until you reach the age of 50 when fiber needs for women drop to 21 grams and 30 grams for men. Who knew peas could help keep your digestive system running smoothly?

Along with fiber, peas are an excellent source of iron, zinc, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and B2, niacin, and folate. Iron, vitamin B6 and B2 all play a significant role in protein metabolism. And niacin and the B vitamins help convert food into energy. Along with the benefits that you get from these vitamins and minerals, peas provide phytochemicals, including coumestrol, saponins, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. There’s some research that suggests phytochemicals may reduce your risk of developing certain cancers.

Protein Quality in Peas

When we are telling our kids why they should eat their peas, add it’s a good source of protein to that list.  For those interested in the individual amino acids of peas, peas contain all the essential amino acids but are low in methionine. Here’s a breakdown of the amino acid profile of yellow split peas, which is often used in foods.

 

Amino Acid

Split Yellow Peas,

one cup, cooked (g)

Histidine 0.4
Isoleucine 0.67
Leucine 1.17
Lysine 1.18
Methionine 0.17
Phenylalanine 0.75
Threonine 0.58
Tryptophan 0.18
Valine

0.77

 

When protein sources get analyzed, they often get looked at for the amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are prevalent. The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), valine, leucine, and isoleucine, are three of nine essential amino acids that are not synthesized by our body and therefore must be obtained from diet. Approximately 35% of indispensable muscle proteins and 40% of total amino acids required by mammals are comprised of these BCAAs. The three BCAAs either together or leucine alone can stimulate protein synthesis and can also inhibit protein degradation depending on the situation. As you can see, pea protein contains these three amino acids. Many individuals take whey protein supplements because they whey is a good source of these as well. Although, it is difficult to provide the exact amounts for each supplement, as the amount varies depending on processing.

It’s also important to note that it is more important to consume a variety sources of protein, instead of focusing on individual complete proteins. It’s no longer believed that you have to consume complete proteins in one meal but instead you can consume a variety of food sources throughout the day to meet your protein requirements.

This table shows why peas are a nutritional powerhouse.

Essential Amino Acid Adult Recommendations Green Peas, one cup, cooked  
Protein 0.8 to 1.4 g/kg body weight 7.38 g
Carbohydrates 45 to 64 % of total daily calories 21.53 g
Fat < 30% of total daily calories 0.3 g
Calories Based on individual needs 116 kcals
Total sugars Falls into carbohydrate requirements 8 g

 

Environmental Benefits of Pea Harvesting

Peas have a low environmental impact because of the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, which reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Peas are also less stressful on the environment because they have a shallow root system that doesn’t require large amounts of water to grow.

Alternative proteins are increasingly popular and no doubt that plant-based proteins are the cornerstone of this trend. Have you tried pea protein? 

You may also be interested in this previous post on the power of plant based protein.