We take a deep dive into non-dairy protein powder – and recommend 6 of our favourites.
Is there dairy in whey protein?
Yes. Whey protein is made from cow’s milk.
Pasteurised cow’s milk contains two types of protein – whey and casein. These are separated using heat or enzymes, then the resulting whey is filtered several times to remove fat and carbohydrates, leaving a highly concentrated milk protein.
Whey protein is not suitable for people who are allergic to, sensitive to or avoid dairy for other reasons.
Is whey protein gluten and dairy free?
As whey protein is made from milk – it’s not dairy free.
Whey is naturally gluten-free. Gluten is a form of gluey protein, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.
Sometimes, manufacturers add flavourings, stabilisers or extra fibre to whey protein powders to improve the formula. This means they are no longer gluten-free.
People with coeliac disease are able to use whey protein, so long as it doesn’t have any added extras such as malt or modified starch.
Is there a dairy-free protein powder?
Yes. There are plenty of dairy-free protein powders on the market which don’t contain any whey, egg or casein.
We love the Precision Engineered Plant Protein powder, which contains 20g protein, from a dairy-free blend of pea protein isolate and rice protein. These two plant proteins combine to make a full amino acid profile, therefore are a complete protein.
Plant-based protein – a big deal
Just a couple of decades ago, plant-based was still a niche concept- especially in the context of sport and fitness. Thanks primarily to social media – celebrities, athletes and fitness influencers have led the charge- showing it’s possible to be fit, healthy and strong while following a plant-based diet.
Today, companies pour funds into research in order to discover new ways to meet the nutritional needs of consumers without using animal products.
As a result, the world of plant-based nutrition is expanding constantly with new products. The global plant-based protein supplements market is forecast to be worth a staggering $4.51bn by 2025.1
5 reasons why more people are choosing plant proteins
- Supports better gut health
A plant-based diet promotes the development of more diverse and stable gut microbiome than a diet high in animal products, including dairy products.2 This means that if you leave meat and dairy off your plate, the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut will increase and the levels of harmful bacteria will decrease.
Plant-based proteins including nut and soy-based proteins are also rich in polyphenols – a type of organic compound found in plants. Polyphenols promote the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut which also hold immune-boosting effects.3,4
- Kinder to animals
The more we know about the horrors of factory farming and unethical practices in the dairy industry, the more we look to plant-based versions of our favourite foods.
It’s an inescapable fact that the more you buy more plant-based food, the less you buy into questionable practices which aren’t fair to the animals we share the world with.
Now that nutritional science has isolated the highest quality plant protein and plant-based products are enriched and fortified with the necessary nutrients to fuel an active lifestyle, many people are turning away from animal proteins.
- Better for the environment
The animal agriculture involved in producing animal products comes with a huge environmental burden. Whether it’s deforestation to create livestock pastures, or greenhouse gases emitted in the keeping of cattle, animal products leave a dent in the environment.5
More and more people are looking for ways to reduce the impact they have on the environment.
There is perhaps no surer way to reduce your carbon footprint and help save the planet than to go plant-based.
- Food allergies
Dairy allergies are on the rise- and the dietary supplements industry is listening. Even in the absence of a milk or egg allergy, some people wish to avoid these foods due to sensitivities or mild intolerances.
Luckily, plant-based and lactose free protein powder are derived from a range of sources including pea, hemp and soy, meaning those experiencing common allergies don’t need to miss out on the benefits of protein supplements.
- More knowledge about plant-based nutrition
Wannabe fitness buffs might tell you there’s no way you can get all the nutrients you need from plants alone.
Nutritional scientists would beg to differ. While it’s true that plants don’t tend to contain ‘complete’ proteins, the right combination of plants will give you the full amino acid range you need – without the calories, fat, cholesterol and potential for the bio-accumulation of toxins from animal products.
Therefore, more and more people are choosing the benefits of dairy-free protein shakes and plant-based nutrition.
- Weight loss
Plant-based proteins are generally lower in fat and calories than animal-based proteins, making plant-based a better choice if you’re looking to lose fat and gain lean muscle.
Further, plant-based proteins are naturally higher in fibre, too. Fibre helps you feel fuller for longer, fills you up with fewer calories than protein and helps keep digestion running smoothly – all of which help promote weight loss.
- Peace of mind
If you’re regularly consuming protein powder, it’s important to consider exactly what you’ll be putting into your body.
You don’t have to be a vegan to choose a plant-based protein powder. Ethically-minded meat-eaters who enjoy a farm-reared steak may also choose a plant-based protein, as it can be virtually impossible to know about the life and health of the animals used in the production of animal-based protein powders which include animal-derived products such as gelatin or collagen.
Which dairy-free and plant-based protein powder is best?
Here is our pick of the 6 best plant-based protein powder products:
- Precision Engineering (PE) plant protein vanilla cream This vanilla-flavoured powder is made from a blend of pea protein and rice protein, and weighs in at 20g dairy-free protein per serving.
- Pulsin Rice Protein Powder At 81% protein, this protein powder from rice is dairy-free, soya-free, gluten-free and suitable for vegans. This protein powder boasts a high digestibility and amino acid profile.
- Missfits Protein Vegan Multitasker Chocolate Made with pea protein and fortified with essential nutrients such as zinc and vitamin B12, this powder makes delicious lactose-free protein shakes containing only natural flavourings.
- Applied Nutrition Vegan Pro Protein Strawberry Made with a custom blend of soya protein, pea protein, brown rice protein and hemp protein to deliver a full amino acid profile, this dairy-free powder has an impressive 25g protein per serving. It also contains branched chain amino acids profile (BCAA’s) leucine, isoleucine and valine for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.
- Precision Engineered (PE) Branched Chain Amino Acids Made up of the 3 branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, this protein powder contains 5g of BCAA’s per serving. It’s also completely dairy-free and suitable for vegans. This is a great choice for those looking to pack on serious muscle.
- Vega Clean Protein Vanilla Comprised of a unique blend of plant-based protein from hemp, pea, pumpkin and alfalfa sources, this protein powder boasts a full range of amino acids which form an easily-digestible protein. At 25g protein per scoop, this powder is also low calorie and low sugar, with 133kcal and 0.2g sugar per serving.
Why do people say a plant-based diet isn’t good for working out?
We need plenty of protein in our diet to build strong muscles which will help us perform at our best.
It’s a common misconception that you can’t get enough protein from plant-based sources.
To understand this, we must first understand that when we talk about protein, we are talking about a range of amino acids.
There are 20 amino acids in total which make up protein. 11 of these amino acids are made naturally by the body, while the other 9 must come from the food we eat.
The 9 amino acids we must get from diet are:6
Meat, fish and poultry contain all 9 of these ‘missing’ amino acids in one portion. This is also called a ‘complete protein’ – and is the reason why many people think that animal proteins are superior.
However, all 9 amino acids can also be found in plant sources, just not always in the same plant. Some plants, including hemp, buckwheat, quinoa and soy, do contain the 9 amino acids you need to make a complete protein.7
Otherwise, with a bit of combining, you can easily get the 9 amino acids you need to make a complete protein solely from plant sources such as a blend of hemp, rice and pea.
Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient which helps us make red blood cells, build bones and has a role in energy production.
Vitamin B12 deficiency causes weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss – hardly ideal when you’re following a fitness regime.8
With some exceptions (such as edible seaweed), plants don’t generally contain natural sources of vitamin B12, so those following plant-based diets need to get them from other sources.
Fortified cereals and plant milks are great places to find your B12, and some plant-based protein powders come enriched with vitamin B12. Vegans concerned about deficiency should consider taking a B12 supplement.
Does plant protein contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)?
Yes, some do.
Out of the 9 essential amino acids that your body must get from food, 3 of these are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
BCAA’s – so-called for the way their chemical composition is shaped- are thought to be especially good at stimulating protein synthesis as they’re stored directly and metabolised within the muscle tissue.10
BCAA’s are usually found in meat, poultry, fish and dairy products like eggs. However, they can also be found in some high-quality plant-based protein powders.
Why should you take protein powder shakes?
Protein powder shakes are an easy, convenient and effective way to get good amounts of protein into your diet every day.
Protein is a key nutrient for cell repair, energy and strength. Vegetarians and vegans especially can struggle to eat plenty of protein at the levels required when taking part in sport and fitness. This is because you’d have to eat lots of, for example, nuts, to get as much protein as from a small piece of meat.
That’s where plant-based protein powders come in. The protein content in these powders is highly concentrated, meaning a plant-based protein powder can pack up to 25g protein per scoop.
You’d need to eat a large bag of nuts to get that much from vegan whole foods.
Are plant-based protein powders better?
This depends on what you’re looking for in a protein powder. As with everything to do with your body – it’s all about personal choice.
However, it’s true that plant-based protein powders can be:
- Lower in calories and fat
- Better for gut health
- Better for the environment
- Kinder to animals
A reason people may have avoided plant-based protein powders in the past was the fear that they don’t provide the full range of amino acids and proteins required to stay energised and build strong muscles.
Questions like “are plant protein powders safe?” and “is plant-based protein powder good for building muscle?” are commonly asked by people worried that by bypassing animal protein, they’re also missing out on the nutrients.
Now, with advancements in nutritional science, the quality of products available and general knowledge on the subject, more and more people are choosing to fuel their workouts with plant protein.
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile
Last updated: 9 December 2020