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What is Pea Protein?

What is Pea Protein?
Vegans and vegetarians often struggle with finding ways to find ways to provide their bodies with enough protein to sustain a busy modern lifestyle. A diet rich in legumes helps, but some legumes are difficult to digest or have possible negative side effects. Peas have been cultivated since at least 6000 BCE, but have only recently been rediscovered and marketed in health foods stores in Western countries. What is pea protein and why should you consider including it in your diet?

What Is Pea Protein?

Peas are a member of the legume family, which includes many well-known sources of vegetable protein. For generations, soy protein has been a major ingredient in protein powder supplements, but in recent years, pea protein has come to take centre stage. When marketers refer to "pea protein", they are referring to green or yellow peas (pisum sativum). If you have ever made split pea soup or Indian dal, the dried split peas you used are the raw materials for making pea protein based powders.

Health Benefits of Pea Protein

Pea protein is said to be one of the most perfect proteins for human consumption. Its benefits over both animal and other vegetable proteins include:
  • Ease of digestion.
  • Lack of allergens.
  • Ideal amino acids for sports.
Some users find soy and other sources of protein difficult to digest, but because of its unique composition, pisum sativum has been found to be amongst the most digestible source of protein available. Soy, whey, egg and animal-based protein supplements have all been shown to produce allergic reactions in some people and their potential for allergic reactions can increase with repeated use. Of all the protein supplements available, pea proteins have been shown to produce the least allergic reactions.

Perhaps most importantly for sports enthusiasts, pea protein contains an ideal combination of essential amino acids for sports performance:
  • Lysine, for balanced nitrogen levels in muscles.
  • Arginine promotes muscle metabolism and a healthy heart.
  • Glutamine helps restore nitrogen balance after a heavy workout.
  • Leucine, isoleucine and valine (branched-chain amino acids) help maintain tissues during exercise.

Pea Protein May Help Prevent Kidney Disease

According to a 2009 Canadian study reported in Medical News Today, peas may be an effective way to fight high blood pressure and kidney disease. According to the article, incidences of chronic kidney disease (CKD), which often leads to drastic treatments such as kidney dialysis or kidney transplant, has increased at an alarming rate since the 1990s.

High blood pressure is an aspect of CKD that leads to a host of serious diseases, including heart disease. High blood pressure and kidney disease is a "two way street": work or lifestyle induced hypertension leads to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to kidney disease. In turn, kidney disease leads to high blood pressure. Since pea protein helps lower high blood pressure as well as seems to help the kidneys flush out toxins, it has both preventive and treatment potential.

Interestingly, the researchers found that pea protein extracts were of more value than natural peas because of the enzymes that are used in the protein extraction process. Whether or not the pea proteins used in health supplements undergo the same process was not stated in the article cited above, but the general health benefits of pea protein, both natural and in powdered form, are uncontested.

Natural Peas or Pea Protein Powders?

Of course, manufacturers of pea protein supplements tout the benefits of their products, but what about plain old garden variety peas? According to studies, the boiled green peas that parents encourage their children to eat (sometimes in vain) contain 8 grams of protein, very low levels of fat, high levels of essential vitamins and minerals and over 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance of potassium. Pea protein powders have the advantages of even higher levels of protein and because of the way they are processed, do not produce flatulence.

If there is a down side to pea protein supplements, it is that there is such a thing as too much protein. Excessively high protein intake can lead to a build up of uric acid in the system, which causes gout, a painful inflammatory disease that affects the joints. It can also lead to the leeching of calcium from the bones, which can have severe long term consequences. For these reasons, before commencing any radical changes to your diet, you should always consult a qualified nutritionist.

Topic: Nutrition

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