Plant based protein vs whey protein – why choose what?

Whey protein has enjoyed a place in the spotlight for decades, heralded as a benchmark of protein quality by athletes and nutrition buffs alike. But times, they are a changing, and plant-based challengers like pea, hemp, and oat protein are popping up left, right, and center.

If you dropped into a supplement shop, both in traditional brick and mortar and e-commerce platforms, you’d notice that whey still holds a dominant focus. However, in on-the-go categories plant-based protein is on the rise.

It can seem like a veritable jungle out there with so many protein options. What is the best choice, and why?

Green is the new black

Although performance tops the list, sustainability is undoubtedly a differentiating factor for today’s consumers when choosing their protein sources. Is whey sustainable? It seems the answer could be both yes and no.

Whey protein is a dairy product. Considering the land mass required to produce feed for cows, the energy required to heat cow sheds in the winter months, water use, and bovine flatulence adding considerable carbon to the atmosphere, dairy production is notoriously hard on the environment.

On the other hand, as whey is a byproduct of cheese making that would otherwise be discarded, it can also be considered a sustainable choice, and one that helps to reduce food waste (1).

When it comes to plant-based proteins, soy is generally top of mind. However, soy comes with environmental challenges of its own depending on where and how it is grown. Oat protein has garnered a lot of attention lately as an environmentally friendly alternative.

The environmental benefits of oats (2) is a bigger topic which deserves a deeper dive, but in brief, oats are a low-input crop that is quick to propagate and doesn’t require as much water as soy or almonds.

A Matter of Health

As much as consumers are driven to make the most sustainable choice, the matter of health is still at hand. Whey protein provides very high-quality amino acids and has proven benefits (3), particularly when it comes to building muscle. It’s no surprise that whey is so popular amongst athletes.

Plant-based proteins, however, come with a slew of their own benefits (4). Pea and hemp protein in particular provide high-quality amino acids, and plant proteins in general are easy to digest, contain low residual additives, and provide a high level of nutritional density.

Tasty Business

Of course a protein can be sustainable and have great health benefits, but at the end of the day it has to taste good in order for there to be a demand for it.

Whey protein has a good texture that’s easy to dissolve in liquids, and a neutral flavour that lends itself well to being mixed into protein shakes, smoothies, and bars.

Plant-based protein products can be hit and miss when it comes to consistency, and may have a noticeable taste or after taste. Unlike pea or soy protein, oat protein does have a neutral flavour that is adaptable to being enhanced without the need for artificial flavouring ingredients.

A Peaceful Coexistence

In all reality, whey and plant-based protein options will most likely continue to live side by side. But as demand increases for alternatives, new ways of using plant-based proteins, new forms of protein, and new flavourings options will continue to emerge.

Foodiq is an experienced and reliable partner that can help in developing protein products and alternatives that meet the nutritional demands and taste preferences of today’s conscious consumers.  

References:

1) https://khni.kerry.com/news/blog/whey-a-shining-example-of-sustainability-driving-innovation/

2) https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Nonlegume-Cover-Crops/Oats

3) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Birsen_BULUT_SOLAK/publication/259570207_Health_Benefits_of_Whey_Protein_A_Review/links/552d66e00cf29b22c9c4f436.pdf

4) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Katarina_Babinska/publication/7562990_Health_benefits_and_risks_of_plant_proteins/links/0f31752f800b879c05000000.pdf