Whether you need it for building muscle or as a meal replacement for weight loss, the vast majority of the powders on the market – including those which are plant-based – come with 3 major pitfalls…
1. Whey and casein causes gas and bloating
All protein supplements will have a propensity to cause flatulence, but whey is the worst.
This is because of lactose, which is a milk sugar. Since its unnatural for humans or animals to drink milk past their infanthood, it’s no surprise that up to 25% of Americans don’t have adequate lactase enzymes for digesting dairy by the time they’re an adult. If you think that’s high, the global average is estimated to be around 75%. (1)
Sure, those folks can digest it, but it’s with a reduced ability. The fermentation to break it down causes farts and to be frank, they often smell worse than rotten eggs thanks to the high amounts of certain sulfur-containing amino acids (which you really don’t need much of, so they’re overkill).
2. Many vegan protein powders are bad, too
The best protein powder for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or just any woman or man who experiences excess gas will generally be those which are rice-based.
Why? Because when it comes to complex carbohydrates in plant sources, only 1% of them in rice are absorbed, which means it shouldn’t cause increased gas or bloating. (2)
However, relying solely on rice protein has its drawbacks (more on those in a minute).
On one hand, you have the hard-to-digest complex carbs of polysaccharides in dairy. In the most popular vegan protein source of peas, you have soluble fiber which can cause gas as it ferments in the large intestine. Depending on the quality and extraction method used, it may also have high amounts of oligosaccharides – another complex carb that isn’t easy to digest.
For whatever reason the brand Nuzest doesn’t seem to have that same side effect. It probably has something to do with the European golden peas they use and the unique chemical-free way they’re processed in Belgium. They’re the only pea-based protein we would recommend trying if you have IBS, Crohn’s diseases, or similar GI disorders.
3. Stevia is “highly mutagenic” in animals, human effects unknown
The premium brands for whey isolate like Optimum Nutrition, EAS, and MusclePharm use artificial sweeteners like sucralose and/or aesulfame potassium (acesulfame K or Ace-K). To make matters worse, many brands use artificial flavors and coloring, too.
Are the “natural” and organic vegan brands better?
Almost all use stevia. Vega, Garden of Life, Orgain, MRM, Sunwarrior, and just about any other you can think of will use it for their chocolate, vanilla, and other flavors.
The word “natural” isn’t regulated in the United States and even organic foods can use non-organic or “unnatural” ingredients in smaller quantities. But elsewhere in places like Canada, you can’t legally call stevia natural because it definitely is not. (3)
The process of manufacturing stevia extract is almost on par with putting a man on the moon. Bitterness aside, the reason it’s such a complicated procedure is because raw and crude stevia leaf is not safe.
During digestion, stevia creates a mutagenic byproduct known as steviol, which causes DNA mutations.
“…steviol, the aglycone of stevioside, was found to be highly mutagenic when evaluated in the presence of a 9000 X g supernatant fraction derived from the livers of Aroclor 1254-pretreated rats.”
In plain English, the gut flora in the intestines create a “highly mutagenic” substance when they ferment stevia and break it down. (4)
All cancers ultimately start from a DNA mutation.
The rate at which the human gut bacteria create this is unknown.
If you can believe it, a World Health Organization human study on this wasn’t even published until 2016 and because it only involved 10 males, they couldn’t answer the question! (5)
“The Committee concluded that this human toxicokinetic study on a small number of males does not provide a reliable estimate of the variability in toxicokinetics, especially the conversion of steviol glycosides to steviol, in the human population.”
The science behind all of this can be a bit difficult to understand, but if you want to know more then please see the dangers of stevia.
The important thing for you to know is that even highly refined stevia – which is the only legal form to sell in the U.S. – has the lowest recommend daily allowance (RDA) among all sweeteners. The max is just 9 packets per day for a 132 lb. person!
That’s lower than ANY other approved high-intensity sweetener, artificial or natural. Even the safety of aspartame is classified as being over 700% higher according to U.S. government guidelines. (6)
Whey vs. pea protein isolate
Male bodybuilders shun soy protein isolate because of the phytoestrogen in it. Plants have hormones too and phytoestrogen is their version of estrogen.
Phytoestrogen is similar, but not nearly as potent as actual estrogen.
The type of estrogen in cows is actual estrogen.
Remember milk comes from pregnant cows. Whether they’re artificially or naturally impregnated is beside the point, as this liquid is loaded with hormones because it’s intended to spur the growth of their babies.
Now the estrogen content in dairy may not be concerning enough for you to give up your cheese addiction, but adding highly concentrated sources of even more dairy to your diet as a protein supplement – i.e. whey or casein – seems like a bad idea.
Does the prevalence of man boobs (gynecomastia) in bodybuilders have anything to do with all this dairy consumption? That’s currently unknown but it’s definitely research worth pursuing.
The amino acid profile of whey is fairly comparable to pea…
Brown Rice Protein
Essential Amino Acids (g)
Non-Essential Amino Acids (g)
Glutamine + Glutamic Acid
Total Protein Per 100 Calories
Source (all products unflavored)
Now Foods pea protein powder
Jarrow Formulas whey isolate
Sunwarrior Classic brown rice
Whey does win with the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) but not by a wide margin. In fact, for those who think whey is the best protein, they should know that brown rice actually beats it for both BCAAs and total grams of protein.
Hemp protein? We left that one out because it’s a bad source for bodybuilding. When compared to whey, hemp has 50% less leucine and isoleucine.
Even though pea protein doesn’t match whey with valine, leucine, and isoleucine (the BCAAs), pea does have more grams of total protein per 100 calorie serving. Though what makes pea better than whey is that it has lower amounts of the bad sulfur-containing amino acids; methionine and homocysteine. In addition to foul smelling flatulence, higher amounts of those are linked to cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
It’s true that methionine is one of the nine essential aminos, but you don’t need much of it. Not even for muscle bulking.
“Many human cancer cell lines and primary tumors have absolute requirements for methionine, an essential amino acid. In contrast, normal cells are relatively resistant to exogenous methionine restriction.”
Statements like that are scientific fact, not opinion. The reason why is because it has been confirmed that most types of cancer cells do not have methionine cycle enzymes intact, so they need to get it from external sources (your food). (7) (8)
What’s interesting is that unlike the other nine essential amino acids, it’s the only one where long-term deprivation is possible and hence, why methionine reduction methods are a major part of cancer research. (9)
Homocysteine is another sulfur-containing amino and it’s created from methionine. Elevated levels are associated with heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and strokes. (10)
Higher ratios of methionine are primarily in meats and dairy, not plant-based proteins like pea. It’s believed to be one of the explanations as to why vegans and vegetarians tend to lower rates of cancer than omnivores throughout the world.
Pea vs. rice protein
After reviewing the amino acid profiles, your first inclination may be that rice is numero uno for bodybuilding.
Rice remains a good choice, but it does have drawbacks…
1. Gritty and sandy texture
Even the finest quality rice protein powders can be very difficult to blend. Sure, if you’re using a high-end Blendtec blender to make your shakes, then it won’t be an issue. But if you want the ability to make a delicious drink using nothing but a cup, spoon, and scoop of powder, that will be nearly impossible to do with rice. With a good pea powder, you can do just that.
2. High levels of arsenic are in rice (even organic)
The manufacturers are not at fault for this. There can still be elevated levels of arsenic in organic rice protein that’s not grown in China, India, or Thailand. This is because the roots of the rice plant are designed to suck up as much silicate from the soil as possible. It just so happens that the toxic metal arsenic is molecularly very similar and as a result, there’s high uptake of that in the plant, too.
These alarmingly high levels in rice is why the FDA has had to take a great deal of action to regulate its use in baby cereal. (11)
3. Bacterial and fungal infections
Because it’s a dried grain, most people assume there’s very little risk of food poisoning from rice. The problem is that the spores of the following often reside in uncooked rice:
The bacteria Bacillus cereus
The fungus Aspergillus
After dry rice becomes wet, these bacterial and fungal sports are activated. They even survive boiling, which is is why cooked rice should never be eaten after it’s been at room temperature for longer than two hours. (12)
Why do you think all those rice-based gluten free breads are sold in the freezer aisle?
Even when cooked rice is refrigerated after cooking, the UK’s National Health Service advises to discard it after 24 hours due to this danger. (13)
This presents a potential problem for powders. Of course you wouldn’t want moisture getting into your tub of protein pea supplement, but at least if it did, it won’t carry the same food poisoning risks as rice.
It’s no longer than 90’s. Thanks to the prevalence and affordability of soy-free vegan proteins, relying on whey for bodybuilding no longer makes sense.
The best overall choice is pea, especially for bodybuilders who may be consuming multiple servings on a daily basis. Brown rice protein remains a good choice but due to the more likely side effect of arsenic poisoning, you need to be careful as to which brand you buy and how frequently you use it.
What does pea protein taste like?
Not like peas. The protein isolate has a more neutral flavor, like a mild version of split peas. While the taste is palatable, the bitterness is not. That’s why most people do not like the taste of plain pea protein without added flavoring and sweeteners.
Even unflavored, its taste certainly isn’t as bad as plain hemp protein. That tastes like freshly mowed grass. It’s disgusting!
Pea is also better tasting than brown rice in one aspect; texture. While rice protein has the benefit of a neutral flavor, its drawback is the sandy texture that’s impossible to get rid of with water alone. If using a high quality pea protein, you get a creaminess that is just like a milkshake – with nothing more than water and a spoon for mixing!
Which is the best pea protein powder?
Finding vegan protein powder without artificial sweetener or stevia being used is a challenge. All of the following brands use pea as a primary ingredient and contain stevia:
Dr. Mercola Vegan Protein
Garden of Life Fit
Garden of Life Grain Free
Garden of Life Raw Organic
Garden of Life Sport
Gold’s Gyme 100% Plant Protein
MRM Veggie Elite
NOW Sports pea protein
Sunwarrior Classic Plus
Sunwarrior Warrior Blend
Vega Protein and Greens
Vega Protein Smoothie
That pretty much covers all of the major brands on market. Specialty and online retailers like Vitacost and The Vitamin Shoppe don’t even carry all those. At a place like Walmart or your grocery store, you probably will only find a couple of those brands, with Vega most likely being one of them. It’s nearly impossible to find a stevia-free protein option when you exclude the unflavored versions, like the one from Now Sports.
Even setting aside the stevia issue for a moment, many of these brands are known for causing gas and bloating. They might be better than whey, but they can still be pretty bad!
Vega products have probiotics added which may sound like a benefit, but more is not necessarily better. For many people, their powders cause an increase in gastrointestinal side effects. Aside from the fact that they all contain stevia, the men here at Superfoodly won’t even use Vega due to the GI issues they experience with them.
For a pea-based flavored protein powder without stevia, sucralose, or artificial sweeteners, you really only have two good options…
This brand uses a blend of pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp seed proteins. Rather than stevia, they use monk fruit (which is good).
The only drawback is that it’s a higher calorie count per serving, so for those trying to make a meal replacement shake without stevia, it might not be ideal.
Their powders are made with monk fruit as the primary sweetener and some added sugar (coconut sugar) but it’s not much; 4g in the chocolate and vanilla, which is equivalent to 1 teaspoon. The berry and banana have more. Depending on your needs, this added sugar may also be a disadvantage.
All flavors are non-GMO, USDA certified organic, gluten free, soy free, and of course dairy free.
This Australian-based company has been popular there as well as the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand for quite some time, but only recently have they made a foray into the US and Canadian markets.
The company’s founders, father and daughter team Trevor and Monique Bolland, started the company after Monique was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. This put them on the path of nutritional science and eventually, Nuzest Clean Lean protein was created.
The ingredients are 100% vegetable-based and free of common allergens. Chocolate and vanilla contain just 3 ingredients; pea protein isolate, natural vanilla or cocoa, and thaumatin (katemfe fruit extract).
The wild strawberry (pictured in this review) contains both vanilla bean and strawberry. For natural food coloring, there’s red beet.
What is thaumatin?
Similar to monk fruit, thaumatin is a non-glycemic impacting natural sweetener. It’s extracted from the West African katemfe fruit (Thaumatococcus daniellii). The whole fruit has been used there for generations as a sweetener for beverages and foods. Since the 1970’s, the compound responsible for the sweetness – the amino acid thaumatin – has been extracted and used in the European Union, Japan, and Israel.
Pure thaumatin is up to 2,000 sweeter than sugar and it has a comparable flavor, unlike stevia which has that nasty aftertaste. The only reason thaumatin uses aren’t more prevalent is because of its high cost expensive and limited availability. As supplies increase in the coming decade or two, it’s destined to dominate the natural sweetener market given its superior taste and safety. There are no mutagenic worries with this one. (14)
Review of Nuzest protein
Unlike Vega and most other brands, Nuzest is unique in that they use golden peas grown in Northern France, which are then processed using chemical-free methods in Belgium.
The result is a pea protein unlike what’s in Vega and similar. This is a powder which for whatever reasons, does not seem to cause GI distress.
It blends amazingly, even with just plain water…
What you see there is how we prefer to eat Clean Lean Protein. Rather than dilute it in lots of water, we use a little and make a delicious protein-packed pudding. Topping it with berries, nuts, and raw cacao nibs gives you the satisfaction of ice cream or yogurt, but with the nutrients an athlete needs for a post-workout treat.
For weight loss, try substituting out your dessert with some of this.
For making a traditional shake, just add more water…
That’s blended with just a spoon in a glass of water. Not using a shaker or blender means there’s less air added to the drink and in turn, it’s another reason why you’re far less likely to experience gas and bloating with Nuzest.
When you use an electric blender to make a protein shake, all of that added air has to escape your body somehow.
A spoon and 20 seconds of stirring gives you this incredibly smooth texture with zero grittiness.
It’s one of the few alkaline protein powders in existence. Its pH is 7.8 is something you won’t find with whey protein or any animal-based source, unless it has something like baking soda added to it!
Now there are a couple drawbacks with Nuzest…
It’s not unusually high for a vegan protein, but it’s not low for one, either. While it can vary by flavor, expect to get around 360 mg per serving, which is 15% of your daily value of sodium. We would like to see them bring that number down.
Although we’re not excited about that amount, it is the same the bestselling Sunwarrior Warrior Blend.
Nuzest is the Rolls-Royce of plant-based protein powders. While the price will vary depending on where you buy it, expect a per serving cost that’s up to double what you get with the cheaper brands like Vega and Sunwarrior.
Again, this is something we dislike, but we would rather pay more for the premium European golden peas and thaumatin, than have them cheapen the quality and be like everyone else.
Where to buy Nuzest protein powder?
Amazon will be your best bet. Even here in Los Angeles, we have only found it for sale at one store; Erewhon, which is a very expensive natural grocer. We’ve never seen Nuzest at Whole Foods or elsewhere in town.
So which flavor is best?
If you’re someone who prefers vanilla over chocolate, then buy the wild strawberry on Amazon. It actually has vanilla bean in it too, while the natural strawberry is an additional layer of taste. It’s our favorite.
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