How to Choose a Clean Plant Based Protein Powder

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How to choose a clean plant-based protein powder
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Many of us rely on protein powder as one of the sources of protein in our diets. While it is possible to pack superfoods in a scoop of protein powder, many also contain junk ingredients. Have you ever wondered what makes a healthy protein powder?

Why Plant Based Protein Powder?

Protein is an important part of a healthy diet and animal sources are the most common choice. Consuming protein is especially important for breakfast because it can help stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day and anchor your circadian rhythm.

With my thyroid disease, I feel better if I limit or avoid dairy. I’m also somewhat sensitive to eggs, so while I love them, I don’t eat them often. This leaves salads or soups or leftovers for breakfast. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with any of those options, but I’d always wished for a dairy-free and egg-free way to get some extra protein that actually tasted good.

If your digestive system needs waking up in the morning, you might prefer a breakfast that goes down more easily than sausage and eggs. Smoothies are a great option because they allow you to quickly pack in nutrients by adding whole foods and protein. Protein powder on its own can make a great meal replacement or a flavorful ingredient in baked items as well.

The Pros and Cons of Plant Based Protein Powders

Many people choose plant based protein as opposed to dairy-based powders (whey or casein) due to lactose intolerance or sensitivity to dairy proteins. Dairy proteins can also raise insulin and activate some cancer-signaling pathways (source).

The problem is that plant protein isolates naturally do not taste very good, nor do they behave well in liquid. It can therefore take a lot of food additives or industrial processing to make plant based protein taste acceptable. This means that some plant protein powders might trigger inflammation or digestive upset.

Common Ingredients to Watch out for in Protein Powders Include:

  • Sugar
  • Sweeteners (artificial or refined natural)
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Thickener or stabilizers like xanthan gum, guar gum, and lecithin
  • Ingredients that may come from genetically modified (GMO) sources
  • Non-organic ingredients that often are sprayed with toxic pesticides
  • Vegetable oils
  • Gluten
  • Milk ingredients
  • Fillers
  • Soy protein or soy derivatives

While many healthy protein powders (without these unhealthy ingredients) are fortified with vitamins and superfoods, it is still possible to react even to the healthy components of the protein powders. These effects are totally individual.

For example, a person who struggles with small intestine bacterial overgrowth might not do well with protein powders that contain fermentable fibers like inulin or psyllium. Those with an MTHFR mutation may not do well with protein powders that are fortified with folic acid (instead of the natural form of folate). Those allergic to ragweed or dandelions may react to protein powders that contain dandelion powder.

The key to finding the best protein powder for you is to be informed about your own health and always read the ingredient list. When in doubt, select protein powders with a shorter ingredient list.

Different Types of Plant Protein Powders

There are many different types of plant protein powders on the market, such as:

Peas and legumes – A good source of proteins that are higher in branched chain amino acids and lysine but lack methionine. Pea proteins often contain soluble fibers from the pea itself, causing it to swell and thicken up as water is added.

Brown rice protein isolate – A source of protein that is higher in methionine, but lacks other amino acids including threonine, leucine, and histidine. Rice protein isolates tend not to dissolve well in water and have a rather grainy texture. Unfortunately, rice naturally uptakes heavy metals and most rice protein is grown in China.

Hemp protein – Contains complete amino acids without the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Hemp also contains plant-sourced omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid and the anti-inflammatory omega-6 called gamma-linolenic acid. However, it tends to have a vegetable-like smell and a bit of an aftertaste that is really difficult to hide.

Pumpkin protein powder – Tastes good, mixes well in liquid, and is rich in minerals such as zinc, but like hemp proteins has its own unique flavor and aftertaste.

Plant proteins from single sources, such as from pea or rice, are typically incomplete proteins. They are low in some of the 20 essential amino acids, which we need to fully utilize the protein. Therefore, it is necessary to combine plant proteins from different sources in order to make full use of the proteins.

How to Choose a Good, Healthy Protein Powder

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different plant based proteins. I’ve tried to like them. But I just couldn’t. They tasted grassy or chalky and some had a flavor I can’t even describe, but it didn’t taste good. A lot of them also had more sugar than most cereals.

I feel best when I avoid dairy but I’d pretty much given up hope of finding a plant based protein powder that I could actually stomach without gagging. I basically avoided plant proteins completely because I figured I’d never find one I actually liked.

Then, a friend introduced me to Nutiva and raved about their products. So I tried their hazelnut spread… and loved it. And I tried their coconut and palm oils… and loved them too! Heck, even their superseed blend was good. But then there was that plant protein powder.

Since I liked all of their other products, I decided I should probably try out their protein powder as well, but it took me a while to work up the courage to give it a try. I made a smoothie with my homemade almond milk, a couple strawberries, and a scoop of their Plant Protein Superfood 30 Protein Powder. I braced myself for the disappointment… and I was surprised that I actually liked it. Especially because I really thought I would hate it like all the others I’d tried over the years.

And the best part about it? It meets my strict criteria, including:

1) Free of Harmful and Allergenic Ingredients

My first and most important criteria is that a protein powder should be free of any harmful ingredients. Nutiva Plant Protein Superfood 30 Shakes are guaranteed to be free of yucky ingredients that I avoid, and I feel great after taking it.

It is also certified gluten-free, so it won’t cause any problems for those who are gluten intolerant.

2) Tastes Great and Goes Along Well with Other Ingredients

Unlike many other protein powders on the market I have tried, Nutiva’s Plant Protein Superfood taste great on its own as well as with other ingredients in smoothie recipes. It is available in chocolate or vanilla flavors.

It is sweetened with monkfruit and inulin rather than with stevia, so if you don’t like the aftertaste or are concerned about the safety of stevia, this is a great option.

3) Contains Complete Protein

With protein from multiple plant sources, including pea, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, and hemp, you can be sure that you are getting complete and bioavailable proteins, plus 20 grams of protein per serving. In fact it contains 25% more protein per ounce than Vega’s All-in-One Shake and 35% more per ounce than Orgain’s Plant Based Powder.

4) Nutrient-Dense

Nutiva Plant Protein has a complete set of vitamins and 30 superfoods to ensure that you satisfy your nutrition requirements every day. In addition, it also contains a digestive enzyme, medium chain triglyceride, dietary fiber, and 1 billion CFUs of the probiotic Bacillus coagulans which support optimal digestive health.

5) Organic

Nutiva is a certified organic and non-GMO brand. Organic farming works to build soil health and avoids synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

6) Ethical and Responsible Manufacturer

In addition to producing very high-quality organic products, Nutiva is a very respectable and ethical company in many ways. They are a certified California Green Business, a certified B Corporation, and operate a certified Zero Waste facility that is powered by 100% renewable energy.

By choosing Nutiva, we not only enjoy organic and nutritious foods but also support the sustainable food movement. Nutiva has donated over $4 million to sustainable agriculture programs.

Get the Nutiva Plant Protein Superfood 30 I use here.

Plant-Protein Shake Recipe

Most days, if I’m drinking a protein shake, I’ll throw some homemade almond milk, protein powder, a little collagen, and a few frozen strawberries in the blender and call it a day. It’s good, but this recipe is da-licious- though, of course I omit the banana and add a few extra strawberries! (For those who have asked, nothing against bananas… they are just the one food on the planet I absolutely can’t stand!)

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD, board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.

What are some of your experiences with plant protein powders? Please share in the comments below.

Plant-based protein powder can taste pretty bland and have some sneaky bad ingredients. Find out how to choose a good protein powder without the junk!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


109 responses to “How to Choose a Clean Plant Based Protein Powder”

  1. Karen Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks for this post. I am very interested in trying the powder, though have a question.
    The ingredient list includes Dextrose…isn’t that an added sugar?  


  2. Francesca Avatar

    Wow! I love Nutiva! I have been using their hemp seeds since January last year which are amazing- never knew about their plant protein powders so thank you for sharing!

  3. Amy Avatar

    I’ve been on an anti-inflammatory diet since (of course) January 1st. I read that isolates are the least inflammatory of the protein powders! I’m not allergic to anything that I know, so any whey protein isolate is my preference. I love to add the peanut powder, but not a whole serving. You really just need 2 teaspoons of peanut powder to get the flavor of 5 tablespoons of real peanut butter. Cheers.

  4. charity crawford Avatar
    charity crawford

    Thank you so much for telling us about this new protein powder! I had previously been using Raw Garden of Life Protein powder and have now switched to the Nutiva and just got my first container of the Vanilla in today and love it taste and ingredients.I am vegetarian so always need the extra protein and now that I am pregnant once more (with my 8th) i especially need the extra protein. I love all the wonderful products you introduce to us and all your recipes I refer to and use them all the time so thank you for all your wisdom and hard work to have a healthy blog!

  5. Shelby Avatar

    Hi there!
    I made the switch to vegan a couple of months ago because I too have an allergy to milk products, especially whey protein! Thank you so much for the protein powder recommendation!
    P.S. My go to breakfast is avocado toast and a dairy free yogurt w/ granola! I’ve found that this combo keeps me full and focused throughout the mornings

  6. Victoria Avatar

    Hi There,
    Just an FYI…pea protein is not good for those allergic to peanuts. I had to find out the hard way when I went into anaphylactic shock drinking a pea protein based shake, and later with eating a Daiya vegan cheese product, which is made with pea protein as well. That may not be the case for everyone, but those with food allergies and those with allergies to legumes should be forewarned before drinking something with pea protein. I only mention this because those that are allergic to dairy are most likely allergic to other foods as well, and sometimes the term “vegan” can be misleading to those who try to avoid milk products because of a serious allergy, especially when it’s replaced with another potentially life threatening allergen like pea protein.


  7. Cathy Scarborough Avatar
    Cathy Scarborough

    What do you think of Green Smoothie Girl protein powder. It’s plant based. No sugar .

  8. Robin Avatar

    Thank you so much, Katie! What a bummer to hear that Epigenetics labs uses the same label as the other one discussed (I noticed the original poster added his name again, so may want to remove it as it only removed one reference). What are your thoughts on TTAC/Epigenetics other products? Hoping their bone broth can be organic and grassed soon… you are awesome! Thanks for all you do!! Raising up this next generation in great ways. Hugs, mama!

  9. Meredith Avatar

    Hi Katie! We really love & respect you around our home! Thank you for all of your hard work and research. My husband uses Organic Orgain Protein powder mix every day and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that brand. It seems to fit your criteria for ingredients, and is a more budget friendly alternative… But, are there any ingredients that we should be taking a second look at? Thank you & God bless! =)

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Thanks so much for the kind words Meredith! I personally don’t do well with protein powders that have rice as the main source, which is why I don’t use that one. I also liked that Nutiva has probiotics 🙂

      1. Meredith Avatar

        Thank you Katie, Love the probiotic factor of Nutiva for sure! Plus, after comparing ingredients again, I also see that Orgain contains Xanthan & Guar Gums (in case anyone needs to avoid those). Looking forward to trying the Nutiva. Thanks again! =)

  10. Sandy Avatar

    Sorry, looked it up on amazon and it’s cheaper there. Maybe they can work a better deal for your readers so you can get compensated for expanding their exposure. I definitely wouldn’t have known about their protein powder if it wasn’t for this post.

  11. Julie Avatar

    You’ve really sold out as well, Katie. Protein powder made by corporations??? I/O whole foods? So sad. I thought you avoided hype and trendiness. I am going to unsubscribe now. You’re no more than a marketing mouthpiece for corporate sponsors.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hi Julie- I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ve also used collagen for years and it is technically made my a corporation as well. Most small business are actually corporations. I never share opinions or products I don’t actually use and don’t think my readers will love and Nutiva is still a small corporation with high quality products. I do not automatically write off a company just because they are “a corporation.” In fact, I think it is actually important to support corporations whose mission I agree with, even large ones. Of course, you are free to unsubscribe and not read anymore, and if you do, I wish you the absolute best in the future, but please also consider this: If you and I did everything perfectly for ourselves and the environment by growing our own organic foods, recycling perfectly, making our own clothes even… it would have a relatively small global impact. If a small to medium size corporation makes the same changes of choosing organic ingredients and recycling, this makes a bigger global impact. When massive corporations make these same changes, it can actually change things really drastically for the better. Huge amounts of farmland can be converted to organic and tremendous amounts of waste and pesticides saved. I don’t think we will ever realistically move away from a profit-driven society and big corporations with a focus on profit, and in order for change to happen, my opinion is that it needs to happen at all levels from big corporations to individual families. So that is why I am not opposed to any and all corporations and why I wanted to share a product that I actually use and that has given me another breakfast option besides soup. I certainly understand where you are coming from, and I hope you understand where I am coming from as well.

    2. Kristen Avatar

      Oh, come on Julie. This is exactly the kind of information we “not 100% crunchy moms” want and need. Where we live, lifestyle choices, activity level, availability of items, abilities, when and where we starting making changes in our lives, etc., all influence what and how much we can do. I very much appreciate Katie’s affiliations. I know that she does her research and uses her broad base of knowledge to find items for her family and her reader base. That makes it a lot easier on me! And what she said about supporting companies that are focusing on organic and changing the way they do things makes a lot of sense to me and I agree with that. So, no. Katie absolutely has not sold out.

      1. Lisa Avatar

        Agreed! I am thankful that when I am needing to add extra protein into my diet be I have gestational diabetes and have not been able to figure out how, I can come to wellness mamas page and find a plant based protein powder recommendation from someone I believe I can trust! Thank you Katie!

  12. Cara Avatar

    Katie, this product contains corn. I know you eat mainly a grain-free diet as do I. Even though this product is gluten free, will it not hurt the digestive lining since corn is technically a grain?

  13. Kristi Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    My one-year-old is going through a phase where she only wants fruit & spits out most veggies we give her. I’m trying to disguise veggies in a way that she will eat them & I seem to be most successful with smoothies but she still refuses it if it tastes more like veggies than fruit. She’s also going through a string of colds since starting daycare & I worry about her getting all the nutrition she needs. Would you consider this a good smoothie addition for little ones as well as adults? Thanks in advance!

    PS – Thanks so much for all you do in your blog! You have been a fantastic resource for my family!

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Thanks so much Kristi. I feel like babies do go through that stage around a year old… hang in there! It should pass soon. I do give this protein powder to my kids and would personally feel comfortable starting it at a year old, but definitely check with a doc if you are concerned about her being deficient in anything!

      1. Kristine Avatar

        what are your thoughts about the lead levels in it? According to Nutiva: “In recent independent laboratory testing Nutiva Organic Plant Protein Superfood 30 Shakes tested for heavy metal (Lead) of 1.4 ug/serving. These results are slightly above the Prop 65 limit of 0.5ug/day. Because of these test results, we are required to label Nutiva Organic Plant Protein Superfood 30 Shakes with the following statement: “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm”

        1. Jessica Avatar

          Yes, I read this too! Nutiva was very poorly rated & contaminated.

  14. Jess Avatar

    So excited to see you post on this! I am currently doing a 21 day Daniel Fast (vegan) and am having a hard time finding a good protein powder. What flavor did you end up using/trying? I’m always leery to spend $30-$40 on a container of protein only to find I don’t like the taste. I do plan on trying this brand and using your recipe, maybe even adding bananas, to make it palatable 😉

    Thanks for all you do! Been a long-time follower and crunchy/holistic mama due to all the knowledge and tips that you share!

    1. Maria Avatar

      The health food store I work at sells single serving packets in addition to the big containers, so if you can find those in your area you can give it a try before making a bigger investment.

  15. Lisa Avatar

    I was looking at this on Nutiva’s website….how many servings does the container hold? Have you used this in any recipes or just as a drink….I am thinking it will be a good addition to my healthy arsenal!

  16. Robyn Avatar

    Ok so you are saying the same for his business partner then?
    This is of importance to me as I work at a health food store and we sell (and I take) that product quite a lot.
    How do you know it’s not organic or reputable?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      I’ve had trouble finding real answers on him. Since he sold his last company, I’m not sure which products are actually his or not. I think he is a co-founder of the bone broth protein company. As far as the protein powder and knowing about their sourcing: the whey protein is grass fed, according to the labeling, but the bone broth version is not. It is not listed anywhere on the label and I called their customer service to ask if it was grass fed and organic and they verified that it was not. The FAQ page on their site (not his main site, but the site for the name of the product) also states that it is not certified organic and that they can’t even verify it is free range. It is also the same protein white labeled as epigenetic labs (I don’t recommend this one either). So essentially, these could very well be from feed-lot chickens- they say they are working toward organic but don’t have enough supply yet. Definitely do your own research or call and ask to confirm if you aren’t sure though.

  17. Robyn Drew Kardos Avatar
    Robyn Drew Kardos

    Katie have you tried the bone broth protein by (name removed)? I know you’re friends with josh so curious about your thoughts on it

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hey Robyn… I removed the names above because I refuse to have them on my site and give them any exposure. We are definitely not friends. We were for a short time, and I suspect that he still likes to say that we are, but we are absolutely not. I have seen him do things I personally consider highly unethical, including copy content from bloggers and experts… even copying entire sales letters word for word. I do not associate with him and won’t even work with anyone who does anymore. Since you asked about the broth protein powder though… I would not touch it with a ten foot pole. It is not organic or grass fed (look at the label) despite marketing make it looking like it is.

      1. Wendy Sandine Avatar
        Wendy Sandine

        My stepson follows him very closely, and I have been skeptical of him, and I trust your word Wellness Mama!!

      2. Kristen Avatar

        Oh wow. Good to know. I have a couple of cartons of his bone broth protein in my cabinet right now. I’ll look into this some more.

      3. Cindy Fulton Avatar
        Cindy Fulton

        I recently tried several flavors of bone broth protein powders, and want to respect that Katie would prefer we not mention the name on her site, but can tell you that both flavors I tried we’re absolutely horrible! I’ve certainly tried my share of bad protein powders in the past, but these were by far, the absolute worst tasting protein powders I have ever tried! I ended up returning them! Please don’t waste your money! Bone broth protein won’t provide you any benefit if they are too unpalatable to tolerate!

  18. Kimberly Avatar

    I was also excited to find Nutiva, but after a closer look at the ingredients, I saw that this protein powder does contain corn. Just a warning for those that try to avoid it.

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