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. Ellen Avatar

    I’m curious to know if anyone has tried the vanilla Vega protein and greens? The label says it is gluten/dairy/soy free, non gmo, no sugar added, but it does contain stevia and xanthum gum. Since I prefer to avoid corn and am concerned about lead content I am weighing my options between the Vega and Nutiva. As always, thanks for all of the good input from fellow readers, and especially your research and diligence, Katie.

  2. Michelle Avatar

    Two corrections;
    *Beet Juice* not beer juice & * Sacha Inchi* not Sachs Inchi*.

  3. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you as always for your comprehensive reviews and well-researched info! I personally appreciate your efforts and given your family commitments it’s a marvel that you can devote the time you do to share your experience.
    I was ecstatic to try the Nutiva Plant Protein after reading your review. I love other Nutiva products so it seemed like a natural progression to me however my experience was the complete opposite of your own.
    I ordered 2 tubs from and received an additional 25% off the sale price, wow I though what an amazing deal!
    I added the powder to my regular shake which consists of coconut milk, sea buckthorn berries, 1/4 cup frozen beer juice, 1/4 banana, Tbsp Collagen, Tbsp ground flax & 1Tbsp full fat yogurt. Believe me I could hardly contain my anticipation!
    However…the resulting shake tasted so repulsive that I literally had to chug it down without thinking about how horrific it really tasted. It was just awful.
    I could not believe it, how disappointing. I’ve since made this shake by omitting everything except the coconut milk and powder but I have to contend that it’s not ever going be palatable at least not to me.
    Not until I scoured the ingredients more closely did I find the culprit-Sachs Inchi. This nut is so bitter it overtakes any goodness that may otherwise be present. I strongly urge readers to first try this ingredient on its own before considering this product because the Sacha Ichi is such an overpowering flavour unto itself!
    My best advice is, as Wellness Mama herself advocates, do your own due-diligence or you could be hugely disappointed and out some serious money because the regular price of this stuff is Not cheap.

  4. JEN Avatar

    Do you have any concerns about the amount of lead found in this powder?

  5. Scott Christ Avatar
    Scott Christ

    Katie – the issue I have with this protein, and other plant proteins as well, is their “flavors”. These are substances that contain hundreds of ingredients … many of them derived from chemicals and GMOs. Google “EWG Natural vs. Artificial Flavors” for a more detailed explanation. While Nutiva, like the others, will claim they only use “plant-derived” ingredients, they won’t tell you exactly what these ingredients are (usually because there are A LOT of them and you can’t pronounce half of them). Just something to be mindful of when we’re talking about a “clean” protein powder. As the founder of a small clean plant-based powder called Pure Food, I most certainly am biased … but I think it’s important to include “natural flavors” on the list of ingredients clean eaters should avoid.

  6. Lindsey Portugal Avatar
    Lindsey Portugal

    Hi Katie,

    I have been considering buying this but I noticed all the “nutrients” in the panel. Are those added nutrients or just biproducts of the source foods? Like I have to be very careful with the type of iron and folate I intake… I just didn’t know if these were “added” vitamins and minerals or just on the panel because there is naturally iron and folate in the products used for the protein.

  7. MJ Avatar

    Based on your recommendation, Katie, I ordered the vanilla protein powder from Nutiva and love it! I have tried different protein powders, and none compares with the taste of Nutiva. I noticed from one commenter that an ingredient in Nutiva is dextrose (sugar), which I normally avoid, but I don’t think I’ll find anything that is 100 percent to my liking–but Nutiva is close. … I appreciate all the hard work you put into your site and have learned so much from you. Thanks so much for sharing your recipes, suggestions and opinions for living a healthy lifestyle.

  8. Amanda Avatar

    I just received my powder (chocolate) and am disappointed to report it tasted absolutely DISGUSTING. It was chalky, a little bitter, and left a bad aftertaste, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend anyone else try it. Maybe the vanilla is better. I’m so bummed that I didn’t find it as appealing as you did because I’ve been in search of a tolerable-tasting protein powder. But I’ll find out how Nutiva’s return policy is I guess. Thanks for trying to help out with your post, but I guess my search continues…

  9. Laura Avatar

    Thank you for your very useful information.I regularly eat brown rice. It helps me full of energy during the day.

  10. Annette F Avatar
    Annette F

    You mentioned in the article above that those affected by SIBO might not do well with protein powders with inulin in them. This vegetable protein powder does have inulin. Does that make it one you would NOT suggest for those with SIBO?

  11. Natalie Coisman Avatar
    Natalie Coisman

    I m grateful for all your information and research. You mentioned Hashimoto’s and this has been a struggle for years with 4 kiddos. I see you substitue it for a breakfast item along with eating a lot of soups. Do you have any other recommendations. Still trying to find my root cause with MTHFR gene also positive. Mega arts of info out there,

  12. Salvatore Avatar

    I love Nutiva products but doesn’t the amount of lead concern you? This is a response I received from 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”

  13. Rene Avatar

    It says 1G protein, 2G fiber & 9G fat written on the video recipe for the smoothie?…….that’s a very negligible amount of protein if that’s true.

  14. Sisie Crawford Avatar
    Sisie Crawford

    HI Katie, i know that you have used collagen powder as well as gelatin in many of your Drink recipes. My question is that, since collagen powder also contain protein, why the need for plant based protein powder? I’m just really curious on your thoughts about that since, i stop using protein powder and using more of Vital collagen powder.

    Thank you!

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      I do still add collagen to coffee and even water, but it doesn’t make a good smoothie on its own and as a meal substitute, I found I wanted something a little more substantial. I definitely still use gelatin and collagen though!

      1. Brittany Avatar

        Thanks for all this info. I had this same question. I use collagen powder in smoothies and it tastes fine to me. Are you referring to taste or does it not contain as much protein as other powders?

        1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

          It does have a lot of protein and it is still a great option. I was just saying that I wouldn’t mix collagen in water and call it a meal on its own. I can do this with the protein powder without the need for other ingredients, so it makes it great for travel or for when I’m busy.

  15. Jenny Avatar

    I ordered some of the chocolate Nutiva after reading your email about it. I like the ingredients, but the chocolate protein powder does not taste good and not at all like chocolate. It tastes very plain. I really like the Sun Warrior Warrior Blend chocolate vegan protein powder in case anyone wants to try that one. It tastes great. I do love your recommendaations, Katie. This one just did not work for me. If you have any suggestions on spicing up the flavor, please let me know. Thank you.

  16. Kirstin Krekelberg Avatar
    Kirstin Krekelberg

    Hi Katie,

    I noticed both the vanilla and chocolate flavors have Silicon Dioxide in them. Do you have any protein powders that you recommend that do not carry silicon dioxide?

  17. Kati Avatar

    What a coincidence…I was recently considering protein powders, particularly the Vega brand. I like to keep a small stock of protein powders for occasional times when I haven’t had time to cook. This is a very helpful article! Thank you.

  18. Candy Gardner Avatar
    Candy Gardner

    I’ve been using JJ Virgins protein powders. She has one that is beef peptides and another one that is plant based. They are both excellent with no bad taste and clean ingredients. It’s certified organic. Thanks for your posts, and information you give out.

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