On a special diet of some kind? Sometimes getting enough protein is challenging if you on a special diet, especially if you are a fitness enthusiast or serious athlete. Here are some non-traditional, allergy-friendly protein powders for special diets.
If you have food allergies or are on a special diet, making sure you get enough protein can be challenging, especially if you are active and trying to maintain a healthy diet. Most protein powders are blends that have some soy or whey in them (in addition to artificial flavors and sweeteners) making them problematic for individuals with digestive problems and food allergies.
The wonderful thing about living today is that while food allergies and digestive disorders are on the rise, many companies are rising to the occasion and meeting the dietary needs of people on special diets. Here’s a list of soy-, egg-, nut-, and dairy-free alternatives to traditional protein powders. There are some unique alternatives to check into, along with links to some places you can buy them.
Before jumping into the list, here are a few things to keep in mind when trying out a new protein powder:
- No food is entirely allergy-free (even if the label says “allergy-free”). There is always the potential for someone to react to any food, so if you have severe food allergies, take caution when trying new products or foods.
- Read labels carefully! Some of these products mentioned below have cross-contamination warnings on their labels so be sure to read the labels carefully before consuming.
- If you are curious how a new protein powder or food will affect you, stick to isolates before trying protein blends. If you have a reaction to a powder blend it will be much more difficult to pin-point the source of your reaction than if you reacted to an isolate.
- Make sure that your protein powders are natural and that harsh chemicals and solvents were not used to isolate the proteins. Different brands use different methods, so be sure to do some research.
- If you have a very sensitive system, rotate through your protein powders to prevent developing new food intolerances.
Protein Powders for Special Diets
- Sacha Inchi: Sacha inchi powder is made from roasting and grinding the seeds of the Plukenetia volubilis plant, also nicknamed the Incan Peanut or Mountain Peanut. Although several of the names of this plant include the word “peanut”, it is not related to peanuts or tree nuts but it is a seed that grows on trees. They are a rich source of omega fatty acids and the powdered seed is a good source of protein (over 60%). Check labels for cross-contamination as some brands have an allergy warning on the label. If you have serious tree nut allergies and are wary of trying sacha inchi, talk with your allergist and proceed with caution.
- Pea protein: Pea protein is becoming more and more popular as a hypo-allergenic protein powder and is found in many non-dairy protein mixes and drinks. The percentage of protein in pea powder varies, but some brands offer 100% pea protein powder. If you have soy or legume intolerances, pea protein may still bother your stomach, but many can digest it just fine. I personally cannot tolerate pea protein (legumes spell trouble for me), but many people have no problems with it.
- Hemp protein: Most hemp powders are very high in fiber, so it is a good idea to ease into this one by mixing with other powders to start to get your digestive system on board with the extra fiber. The Nutiva brand hemp powder is 37% protein, 43% fiber, and 10% fat, but they offer a new powder that is 50% protein, 20% fiber and 11% fat. Because the fiber content is high, this will digest slower than other protein powders, so it makes a good morning addition but I would not recommend using this in an immediate after-workout shake since the fiber can slow down protein digestion and uptake. Hemp protein can be gritty and doesn’t taste the best, but you can find natural flavored hemp shake mixes that help. It is a nice addition to other proteins if you need to add some fiber to your diet.
- Cranberry protein: Derived from cranberry seeds, this contains about 25% protein and is a complete protein source, but you may be hard pressed to find this in its isolated form. Most of the sources of cranberry protein powders are in powder blends, but one company is marketing a cranberry seed protein isolate (http://nutranovus.com/product/luracran/).
- Chia protein powder: Chia seeds are a rich source of omega fatty acids and fiber, and you can find raw chia protein powder that is 35% protein per serving. It isn’t super high in protein, but it is something different to try and you can add it to your own protein powder blend or mix it with other protein powders if you choose.
- Spirulina/Algae/Seaweed: Spirulina powder is 60-70% protein, is a complete protein, and it’s a green food full of chlorophyll so it’s great for people with limited diets. The only downside with this is the cost and the production methods. Some manufacturers use glass beads in processing that could leach lead into the product, and spirulina from contaminated sources can also have chemicals and heavy metals, so make sure your powder comes from a reputable source. Other seaweed sources of protein include chlorella, dulse powder, and brown algae powder. Because of the high iodine levels in seaweed products, people with thyroid problems should consult a physician before consuming these powders.
- Brown rice protein powder (BRPP): There are quite a few companies that make brown rice protein powder these days, so the biggest hurdle is finding a powder that is processed well and tastes good. Some BRP powders can be gritty and unpalatable, so try different brands until you find one you like. My personal favorite is SunWarrior brand: it can be high priced but it is top quality and tasty. SunWarrior (and other companies like Garden of Life) produce BRPP that is raw, sprouted, fermented, organic, non-GMO, 80% protein, and it has a 98% assimilation rate in the body.
- Collagen powder and Gelatin Powder: Collagen powder and gelatin powder are animal-derived sources of protein that are easily digested and assimilated, and they are almost 100% protein. NeoCell makes an unflavored collagen powder isolate mixes well with drinks or foods. Collagen and gelatin powder works great for joints, hair, skin, and nails, plus it can actually help repair intestinal damage so it’s great for people with GI problems. Gelatin is usually derived from beef, and you can find high-quality gelatin powder that is made from free-range, grass-fed cows. There are also some companies like Vital Proteins that make marine collagen as well if you want to rotate your collagen protein sources.
- Sesame Protein Powder: Sesame seed powder is high in fiber and is about 36% protein, plus it contains many other vitamins and minerals, including calcium. You can find black sesame protein powder from Foods Alive that is organic, raw, vegan, kosher, and gluten free.
- Pumpkin seed powder/flour: Pumpkin seed flour/powder can also double as a grain-free flour for people with nut allergies instead of almond flour. You can find pumpkin seed flour online as well, as not too many stores stock this. This Omega Nutrition sells a pumpkin seed flour that is 63% protein by weight.
- Cricket flour/powder (P): Yep, made from slow roasted and milled crickets! You might find it hard to find the cricket flour by itself, but you can buy protein bars made with cricket powder from Chapul (http://chapul.com/) and Exo (http://exo.co/). Dried crickets are 69% protein and are more sustainable than cattle and are super nutritious.
The following are not considered protein powders but are high-protein flours that make a good whole-food protein addition to your smoothies or baked goods:
- Quinoa flour: around 14-17% protein and a complete protein (Some protein blends have quinoa protein in them, but I haven’t been able to find a quinoa protein isolate for sale).
- Amaranth flour: 13-14% protein
- Teff flour : 14% protein
- Alfalfa powder: 20% protein
- Coconut flour: 20%+ protein (the Let’s Do Organic brand, which has less fat than most other brands). Also high in fiber