How to Choose a Clean Plant Based Protein Powder

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

How to choose a clean plant-based protein powder
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » How to Choose a Clean Plant Based Protein Powder

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. Jes Avatar

    Hello! So, i did a ton of reading and came to the same conclusion you did. Went to buy Nutiva, and it’s out of production while they reformulate! Do you have a second favorite??

  2. Max Avatar

    Just an FYI for all the readers: If you look at the nutrition facts on their website it says that this supplement includes a popular food additives Silicone Dioxide and Dextrose. Silicone Dioxide is a food additive typically serving as an anti-caking agent to avoid clumping in supplements. Dextrose is a common type of sugar additive found in packaged and processed foods, considered ‘Natural’, but is still processed sugar.

  3. Grace Avatar

    What a wonderful site!!
    I try to eat very clean and avoid all sweeteners. I’m really interested in starting a protein shake in the morning, But I have tried several and so many of them have either artificial sweeteners Like monk fruit or stevia or other sweeteners that seem not to agree with me. I tend to get headaches from them. In years past I suffered from migraines if I had aspartame. I recently found a protein powder from mary Ruth’s organic.
    I respect your opinion if you have any feedback.

    Thank you!!!!!!

  4. Marissa Avatar

    This protein powder is currently being re-formulated. Any other recommendations for whey and casein free plant protein powder?


  5. Kimber Avatar

    I used to LOVE this one! It’s been gone for awhile though for reformulation and I’ve been waiting for it’s return. Do you have any idea of when that may happen?

  6. Sarah Avatar

    I’m pregnant and trying to find a protein powder per my doctor’s recommendation. Was looking into Nutiva protein powder you recommended, but the formula is “currently being improved.” (Problems with the FDA or changing recipe?) Anyways, it’s no longer available to purchase! Do you have any other you have tried and been able to stomach? Recommendations? I have been getting really overwhelmed trying to find a quality protein powder without crazy additives or stevia and is natural. Thanks!

  7. Arlene Avatar

    All I want is a good bean protein powder without ANY sweeteners. I want to control the sweetness. I do agree with all posted, above. I’ve tried all non-dairy protein powders and they taste AWFUL. I’d rather eat grass with the other animals.

  8. Sally Avatar

    I have been looking for a good plant based protein powder for a while so was excited to get your recommendation! However, according to Nutiva’s website, “We are currently reformulating our Plant Protein Superfood 30 Shakes and anticipate a relaunch in mid-December.”
    Can you recommend an alternative for the time being?

  9. Lori Parr Avatar

    Being in Montana, I had to research what monk fruit is. I’m curious where the California based company sources this from, is it organic?
    I’ve been using ZNaturalFoods Ultimate Superfood Blend. I am not bothered by the green taste of protein powder because I stir it up in yogurt with juice of the berries and raw honey I add.
    I’m interested in adding more legumes to my diet. And supporting the farming of more legumes. This sounds like a great mix.

  10. Kim Avatar

    This product says proudly that it isn’t sweetened with Stevia, which is a NATRUAL sweetener. Instead, it is sweetened with dextrose is sugar, plain and simple. I would not buy this product.

  11. Scarlett Full Avatar
    Scarlett Full

    Hello Wellness Mama, I appreciate your article content. I am a Registered Dietitian who works for a plant protein powder company, and I just wanted to kindly clarify a couple of things which I think would be very important for your readers to know. For one thing, rice protein isolate does not “lack” threonine, leucine or histidine. It actually provides sufficient amounts of these amino acids. I’ve been studying and researching rice protein for over 5 years now. The ONLY amino acid that is is LOW in (not lacking) is lysine. This is the same amino acid which is found in high amounts in legumes or beans, which is why rice (or grains in general) complements legumes/beans so well. Secondly, MOST plant proteins are LOW (not lacking) in one or more amino acids–not JUST pea and rice. This includes chia, hemp and pumpkin as well. (Chia and hemp are low in lysine, and pumpkin is low in histidine). However, just because it is low in one or more amino acid, does not mean your body can’t make use of the amino acids. Plant proteins do NOT need to be combined in the same meal or sitting in order for your body to be able to utilize them. You can have rice protein in your smoothie for breakfast and baked beans with supper in the evening, and that would be good enough. So long as there are a variety of protein sources being consumed throughout the day (24 hours), then there is no need to combine complementary proteins in one sitting. Anyway, I hope this helps and if ever you are writing about plant proteins again and need questions answered, i’d be happy to assist. Please email me at anytime. Kind Regards, Scarlett.

  12. Vicki Avatar

    Am I reading label correctly for sodium? What is source of being so high? Really wanted to try but I am not suppose to have those levels.

  13. eileen nappi Avatar
    eileen nappi

    Everything I read about plant based protein shakes say don’t buy anything with more than 1 gram of sugar. Nutiva has 2 grams, what are your thoughts?

  14. Laura Avatar


    I love your site! My friend cannot tolerate pea protein. Can you recommend a protein powder without it?


  15. Diane Avatar

    I’m looking for one with no inulin. It bothers muy gut.

  16. Tina Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama,

    Quick question.. I ordered the Nutiva organic plant based protein- chocolate that you recommened about 2 months ago but it has been back ordered due to a recall and I can’t find it anywhere in stock. Do you have any other protein powders you recommend? I drink a smoothie every morning for breakfast because I have hashimoto and am following the autoimmune paleo diet which doesn’t give me many options for breakfast. Let me know if you have any other recommendations while i anxiously wait for my Nutiva. Thank you!

  17. Nikki Avatar

    I have to say I am very disappointed in Nutiva Corporation. I purchased this protein powder and received a notice for their “voluntary recall” of the product or peanut contamination. As I am extremely allergic to peanuts (thank goodness I didn’t rip into it as soon as I got it!) I contacted them immediately and was told that, since I was allergic to peanuts (I guess folks who aren’t have no recourse) they would pay to have the product shipped back to them and I would receive – not a refund but a gift certificate to re-purchase the product. Since this product is technically “adulterated” I’m surprised to see the cavalier attitude adopted by the Company. What on earth would make them think I trust ANY of their products enough to purchase!??!!

    For now, I’m steering clear of these products; there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. Glad to see some folks are posting alternatives.

      1. Gwen Avatar

        Nutiva Plant Protein Superfood 30 I is not being produced/sold by Nutiva at this time. Website states they expect to start selling again this fall (2017). I just spoke with the company via their 800# and she said they expect to begin selling it again closer to late November… or to check back the first of the year (2018). The product will be offered Nutiva online prior to retail sales.

  18. Heather Avatar

    Well shoot. These have been recalled for undeclared peanuts according to the Nutiva website.

  19. Fiona Avatar

    Did you know Burt’s Bees makes a plant-based protein powder? I found it on Amazon and LOVE it!! It’s super tasty in my morning shakes. PS – <3 your site!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *