Protein, fats, and carbohydrates are the three macronutrients your body needs for energy and optimal health. Carbohydrates and fat supply energy while your body only uses a small amount of protein as a fuel source except under stressful conditions such as excessive exercise or starvation. Still, protein is a critical dietary component for health. You need it to build muscle tissue, to make antibodies that fight infection, to manufacture enzymes that run chemical reactions, to rebuild muscle tissue, and to make proteins that maintain fluid balance within tissues and blood vessels. In fact, protein, and its amino acids, is one of the most important components in your body.
An active person needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, while you might need up to double that amount if you exercise. But you have lots of options for meeting your protein requirements, as you can get protein from both plant and animal sources. In fact, people are choosing more plant-based protein these days than they did in the past. Some people also supplement their diet with protein powder and shakes, especially those who weight train or exercise vigorously. When you’re browsing the shelves of health food stores, you might see sprouted protein powder and wonder what it is and whether it’s healthier. What’s the verdict?
What is Sprouted Protein?
Manufacturers make sprouted protein powder from sprouted grains and seeds. Grains and seeds contain protein along with carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. When you buy sprouted protein powder, you get the protein from the seeds and grains in a processed powder you can use to make protein shakes.
Are there advantages to buying sprouted protein powder? To make sprouted protein powder, manufacturers use whole grain seeds that have just begun to germinate and sprout. That’s an advantage since, during germination, some carbohydrates in the seeds and grains break down and the ratio of nutrients relative to carbohydrates rises.
Germination also reduces the concentration of phytates, compounds that reduce mineral absorption. Therefore, sprouted grains and seeds contain more bioavailable minerals. These include iron, magnesium, and zinc. Sprouting also makes grains and seeds more digestible, so you experience less bloating and gas when you consume sprouted seeds and grains.
If you’re intrigued by sprouted protein and don’t like protein shakes, you can also find a variety of protein bars made with sprouted grains at health food stores and grocery stores too. As with any energy or protein bar, look at the nutritional data and the ingredient list to see how much sugar and other additives it contains.
The Downside of Sprouted Protein Powders
You may get slightly more minerals if you choose sprouted protein powder, but there are disadvantages to getting protein in powder form. You don’t always get what you pay for and you might even get some surprises! When the Clean Label Project tested 134 protein powders, they found almost all contained one or more heavy metals and over half contained bisphenol-A (BPA). Some of these heavy metals include inorganic arsenic, cadmium, and lead, all of which damage the human body. The quantities may be small, but if you use these powders often, the exposure adds up. In fact, of the protein powders, Clean Label Product tested the plant-based ones contained more contaminants than those made from dairy. Manufacturers can get by with this because the FDA doesn’t closely regulate supplements, including protein powder. They only intervene if a number of people report adverse effects from a product.
Sprouted Protein Powder May Contain Other Additives
When you buy protein powder, you get a product that’s highly processed, so you’re getting more than sprouted seeds and whole grains. Most commercial protein powders contain sweeteners, flavorings, and thickeners. The product you buy may also contain a substantial quantity of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Manufacturers sweeten some sprouted protein powders with sugar alcohol such as erythritol. Although sugar alcohols are safe overall, you don’t absorb them, so it’s not uncommon to experience gas and bloating after consuming these sweeteners. Protein powders are often high in sodium too since added sodium makes the product more flavorful.
Whole Food Protein Sources Are Best
When you’re in a hurry, a protein smoothie might be a good pre-workout drink or a post-workout snack, but the best way to get protein is from whole foods. With this approach, you avoid added sugar, sweeteners, additives, and contaminants. It’s not hard to get enough protein if you include protein with every meal. Start the day with eggs, eat yogurt as a snack, and nosh on turkey or chicken for dinner. If you eat a plant-based diet, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, edamame, chia seeds, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are good sources of plant-based protein. Even green vegetables contain significant protein. For example, a medium stalk of broccoli contains around 4 grams of protein. Plus, you get fiber when you bite into broccoli too.
The Bottom Line
Sprouted protein powder offers a slight nutritional advantage over other plant-based protein powders. You may absorb more minerals since sprouted grains and seeds contain fewer phytates that block mineral absorption. However, the difference isn’t enormous. In fact, it’s better to make whole foods your main source of protein and use powders only occasionally.
Choose wisely! If you buy sprouted protein powder, don’t assume it’s healthy just because it’s sprouted. Read the label and see how much added sugar it contains and whether it’s sweetened with other sweeteners. Buy from a reputable company to reduce the amount of heavy contamination. You can even visit sites like Consumer Reports, Consumer Lab, and Clean Label Project where they do independent testing and publish the results. Don’t buy a protein powder because it’s the least expensive or someone hyped it up online. Do your own research and make sure it’s the best product for you!
- Consumer Reports. ‘Arsenic, Lead Found in Popular Protein Supplements’
- Medical News Today. “Top 15 sources of plant-based protein”
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Vol. 116, Issue 9.