How to choose the best protein powder for your vegetarian diet

How to choose the best protein powder for your vegetarian diet

Whether it’s for ethical reasons, religious beliefs or simply personal preference, vegetarian diets are by no means rare in the UK. In fact, the latest figures show there are around 3.1 million vegetarians in the UK, accounting for 5.8% of the population.

Our comprehensive guide below offers some helpful tips for veggies choosing to supplement their daily protein intake with a protein powder. From natural ingredients to ethical sourcing, read on for more information on choosing the best protein powder to support your vegetarian lifestyle.

Do vegetarians need to use protein powder?

Before we dig in, there’s one question to consider first: do vegetarians need a protein supplement in their diet to reach the recommended daily intake of protein?

As a vegetarian, you no doubt field your fair share of questions about how you’re getting protein into your diet. You might even be worried yourself about whether you’re getting all your essential amino acids while remaining meat-free.

Vegetarian sources of protein

In reality, it’s generally considered that most vegetarians can get sufficient protein in their diet (1,2) by eating a variety of whole food sources like eggs, pulses (such as lentils or beans) and nuts.

A varied, balanced diet of vegetarian protein sources is therefore the number one recommendation from health professionals. But, while protein powders shouldn’t be your only source of this vital nutrient, they can be immensely helpful to supplement or increase your regular protein intake in a way that is quick, convenient and measurable.

Choosing the best protein powder as a vegetarian

If you’ve decided that supplementing your vegetarian diet with a protein powder is right for you, the next step is to find one that best suits your needs. Below, you’ll find more information on some of the key areas to consider when making your decision.

Protein source

The first port of call when choosing the best protein powder as a vegetarian is to consider the protein source. Naturally, you’ll want to avoid meat-based protein powders such as beef or collagen powders. Alternative vegetarian options include:

  • Whey protein powder*

  • Casein protein powder * 

  • Egg white protein powder

  • Soy protein powder

  • Pea protein powder

  • Rice protein powder

  • Hemp protein powder

  • Pumpkin seed protein powder

  • Sunflower seed protein powder

  • Plant-based protein powder blends

*Most will be vegetarian, but be sure to check the label before buying to be sure

Complete proteins

As well as avoiding meat-based protein sources, to choose the best protein source you should consider the essential amino acid profile of each option.

Essential amino acids are the 9 organic compounds your body needs for vital processes, all of which can only be supplemented through your diet. Some concerns around vegetarian diets and protein intake question whether you can adequately get all of these through meat-free or plant-based sources, but it’s been shown you can, in fact, get a balanced amino acid intake from these restricted diets (3).

Protein sources that provide all 9 essential amino acids in good levels are known as ‘complete’ proteins. By opting for a complete protein source as your protein powder supplement, you can be sure you’re getting the right quantities of these vital building blocks for your body.

What are the 'complete' protein sources?

Of the vegetarian protein sources mentioned above, here are the options which are considered complete proteins:

  • Whey protein powder

  • Casein protein powder

  • Egg white protein powder

  • Soy protein powder

  • Hemp protein powder

While the other options can still be a good source of high-quality protein, they are all lacking in at least one of the 9 essential amino acids for optimal intake. For example, pea protein is low in methionine and rice protein is low in lysine.

For vegetarians who also want to limit their dairy intake, or who simply want a different option than the complete proteins mentioned above, plant-based protein powder blends, such as rice and pea protein blends, are becoming a popular option to deliver a balanced amino acid profile.

Natural, additive-free ingredients

In your search for the best vegetarian protein powder, keep an eye out for what else goes into products besides the protein source itself. In many cases, companies will try to disguise the natural, earthy flavour of a plant protein - or indeed a whey protein - with unnecessary artificial sweeteners or flavours, or use additives for thickening or aiding mixability.

For many of us, avoiding these types of nasties in our diet is a priority. While this is a personal choice, there are vegetarian protein powders available which avoid artificial ingredients and added sugars altogether.

Artificial ingredients to look out for

Look out for options with a transparent ingredients list and which use as few ingredients as possible. For flavoured options, such as vanilla or chocolate, whole food ingredients not only offer a higher quality, less chemical, and tastier flavour, but they can also amplify the nutritional value of the protein powder with added vitamins and minerals.

We understand that it can sometimes be difficult to decipher these food labels. Some of the common ingredients to look out for in protein powder include:

  • Artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame

  • Thickeners and gums like xanthan gum

  • Fillers like maltodextrin or corn syrup solids

  • Artificial flavourings, including “natural” flavourings

  • Emulsifiers such as soy lecithin

Higher welfare sourcing

As well as what goes into products, choosing the best vegetarian protein powder is also about how it’s sourced and manufactured. As a vegetarian, you may be invested in how the food and drink you consume align with your ethical values.

When it comes to vegetarian protein powders - such as whey, soy, and egg whites - choose organic-certified options where possible. This certification assures you that they’ve been sourced and manufactured to higher standards and, in the case of animal-derived options, with greater care for animal welfare.

Organic protein powders will be free from pesticides, GMOs and routine-use antibiotics. Organically reared livestock will be raised in higher welfare conditions, with stricter standards for chickenscows and other types of farm animals. By looking for a protein powder made transparently - even down to the packaging they use - you can be more sure about what’s going into your supplement.

Beyond protein content

When choosing the best vegetarian protein powder, it can also be helpful to consider the broader nutritional profile of each option. While protein is the main nutrient that a vegetarian diet can impact, a well-rounded, nutrient-rich protein powder is a brilliant way to boost your overall wellbeing as a vegetarian.

Paying attention to certain nutrients that might be more difficult to get in a vegetarian diet - such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 (4) - can help you decipher if a particular protein powder is more suitable for you. Some examples of the added nutritional benefits of protein powders include:

  • Whey protein: a good source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and lactoferrin

  • Hemp protein: a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese (5)

  • Soy protein: a good source of fibre, zinc and iron (6)

Whole food ingredients added into flavoured protein powder blends can also add extra nutrients to each serving, such as the raw maca in our chocolate blend or the lucuma in our banana blend.

Find the best protein powder for your vegetarian lifestyle

Protein supplements are a fantastic way to boost your protein intake as a vegetarian. Their versatility means they can be whipped up into tasty breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks in no time, with a clear idea of exactly how much protein you’ll be consuming in grams. This can help you to measure up to  UK recommendations for protein intake.

Choosing the best protein powder for you is a matter of personal preference, but considering the above points can help you on your way. By opting for a protein powder that matches up with your individual health goals, lifestyle and ethical values, you can confidently tailor your diet for optimal health, supporting your muscles and overall vitality.

Considering a whey protein powder?

At The Organic Protein Co., we’ve ensured that our whey protein powders are 100% suitable for vegetarians. Organic cheese makers ferment the milk of primarily grass-fed cows with friendly bacteria - no animal rennet in sight - and the by-product whey is gently filtered and blended with whole foods to make our delicious protein blends.

Our products are also certified organic, ensuring higher animal welfare and no nasty pesticides, GMOs, or routine-use antibiotics. We pride ourselves on transparency and provide detailed nutritional information on every batch we produce. And, last but certainly not least, our protein powders are designed to taste fantastic too - including our unflavoured option. 

If you’re looking for the best vegetarian, ethically sourced protein powder, we might just be what you’re after! Shop our products and get up to 20% off with our bundle builder.