Not all diets are created equal. During my college years (pre-nutrition school) I decided to go vegan… and filled up on junky cereals, vegan cookies (Oreos), and not a whole lot of plants or nutrient-dense foods. Unsurprisingly, I felt awful. My skin was a wreck, I was irritable, cranky, and my digestion was completely awry.
The silver lining of my suffering, however, was that I quickly learned the ingredients in your meals and the ways in which your food is processed are crucial to a successful plant-based diet. It is truly amazing what happens when you start eating meals full of organic, wholesome foods that haven’t been genetically modified or sprayed with chemicals - you will notice the difference almost immediately.
But quality of ingredients doesn’t stop with what’s in your lunchtime salad. It is especially true when evaluating protein and nutrition powders. Grocery aisles and claims on packages have become utterly confusing and overwhelming, even for some of my longtime clients. The number one thing I tell my clients is that before you look at calories and carbohydrates, you should look for a clean ingredient profile.
Where your protein comes from is the single most important element in choosing a powder that will benefit your body. It often comes as a surprise to my new clients that whey is not the only way when it comes to protein.
In fact, most of the world is lactose-intolerant, which says a lot about whether or not many of us should be eating dairy at all. More so, if your protein is not organic, or contains artificial ingredients, your post-workout smoothie is now just a chemical-laden concoction.
Scientific evidence supports claims to eat more a plant-based diet. One study found that eating just 3% more plant protein instead of conventional animal protein cuts the risk of overall early mortality by 10%, and cardiovascular-related mortality by 12%. Additionally, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released a study that indicates eating excess animal protein, particularly dairy protein, is a contributor to childhood obesity and related diseases.
While this data can be daunting, it does show the importance of incorporating more plants into your diet. So what are the benefits of eating protein derived from plants?
The primary difference between plant and animal protein is the amino acid profile, and the rate of absorption and speed at which your body uses it. Before you use the “complete protein” argument for animal-based protein, note that this is valid for many plant-based proteins, such as ALOHA plant-based protein. Its blend of hemp, pea and pumpkin seed protein has a complete amino acid profile, so you can get everything you need from a plant-based protein powder.
We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” I like to say, “You feel what you eat.” It’s important to pay close attention to how the food you’re ingesting affects your digestion and mood. In addition to impacting your digestive organs, the food you eat affects your body on a cellular level. Yes, protein helps you to build strong muscles, but it is also responsible for so many bodily processes, including creating hormones and neurotransmitters, building bones, skin, and blood cells.
Often with clients, I see that they are not only allergic to a food, but also what has been done to that food. This includes pesticide residue found in non-organic products, which is why an organic, clean ingredient profile (looking at you Superfood Greens!) is crucial to your wellness. If you feel nauseous, bloated or sick when you eat certain foods, I can pretty much guarantee you it is causing other inflammation throughout your body.
One thing I frequently hear and see from people consuming whey protein and dairy products is that, when they eliminate it, and then try adding it back in, they immediately notice the brain fog and bloat return to their bodies. Brain fog is a common side effect of dairy, and the rationale is fascinating. Casein, another protein in milk, converts to compounds called exorphins, which can elicit pharmacological properties similar to opium or morphine.
And that is not all. Dairy can also directly impact mucus and phlegm build up (lovely I know), so when you feel under the weather, it can make you feel sicker for longer. Alternatively, plant-based proteins, especially those rich in omega 3’s (hey hemp!) can help prevent neurodegenerative decline and promote memory. They are also full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
While it is important to focus on what you are eating and getting the right amount of calories in your diet, it is also essential to be cognizant of where your food comes from, the number of ingredients it has and the processing it has gone through when you are making decisions over what you eat. By eating a diet consisting mostly of plants, you are guaranteed to get the nutrients and antioxidants you need and avoid the potential side effects of consuming too much animal-based protein.