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Feel like you’ve been seeing pea protein in every product ingredient list you check lately? You’re not imagining it. The plant-based protein has become a key component in many packaged veggie foods. We asked Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, LDN, creator of the weekly e-newsletter Nutrition WOW and author of The Flexitarian Diet, to tell us what pea protein is and what we should know about it.
You’re right, pea protein is everywhere. Food manufacturers are using it in snacks, burgers, meal-replacement bars, pastas, and baked goods. You can even buy tubs of the stuff in powder form at health-food and supplement stores.
While pea protein is not a new ingredient (some companies have been producing pea protein isolates since 1997), industry insiders have predicted it will go mainstream for three main reasons: it’s GMO-free and sustainably grown, it’s gluten-free, and it provides an impressive nutritional profile. Peas are rich in fiber, protein, potassium, and the B vitamin folate. Plus, peas are particularly high in lysine, an essential amino acid your body needs for healthy bones, skin, and mood. Preliminary studies also suggest pea protein may control hunger hormones better than other types of protein. And with dairy and soy both on the list of top allergens, peas can be a safe low-allergen protein swap.
Contrary to what you might think, pea protein does not come from the green peas we typically eat. Instead, it’s usually harvested from dried yellow peas. The peas are picked, rinsed, ground into flour, and added to water to isolate the protein, which is then used for powders and in pastes to fortify foods and beverages.
But you don’t have to rely on fortified products or powder to provide the benefits of dried yellow peas. Dried peas are nutritious in their natural state: ¼ cup (uncooked) provides 12 grams of protein (about a quarter of your daily need) and 12 grams of fiber (about half of your daily need). Dried yellow peas are also versatile in taste and texture, so you can add them to many dishes, including hummus, soup, and salad, or use them to make vegetarian meatballs.