Demystifying Protein Powders

By: Gretchen Fox Schempp, Wellness Manager

Hemp, Rice, Whey, Pea, Pumpkin, Soy, Sprouted… oh my, the choices.  Like many of the categories on the wellness shelves, there are many choices in protein powders too. Wouldn’t it just be easier if we had two choices, like chocolate and vanilla and that was that? If only it were so simple.

At the Co-op we cater to customers with a vast range of dietary needs and/or allergies.  This is often why there are so many different items to choose from.  In this article we are going to get down to the nitty-gritty on our selection of protein powders.  Then the next time you are peering at all the choices on that shelf, you’ll have a better idea of which one fits your needs.

Protein is necessary for muscle repair, maintenance and building.  A complete protein is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks in protein that are used to produce antibodies, enzymes and hormones.  Some common reasons to use protein powders include: athletic support, vegan or vegetarian lifestyles or general nutritional support.


Soy was once the leader in protein powder sales, but today we only offer one choice in soy protein.  Soy is a good source of protein, weighing in at 14 grams per serving.  It is also high in phytoestrogens, particularly isoflavones.  Some women find soy products to be supportive for menopausal symptoms.  Soy is known for being low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol.  It is not surprising that the consumption of soy products is associated with cardiovascular health.


Rice protein is a good vegan option with around 12 grams of protein per serving.  It mixes easily and doesn’t have too strong of a flavor.  I like to use rice protein when making energy bars because of the simplicity in flavor.  For a simple rice protein with just protein and your basic amino acid profile, we carry Nutribiotic Organic Rice Protein in vanilla flavor.

Looking for protein with a little something extra?  Garden of Life’s Raw Protein in chocolate or vanilla are ramped-up rice protein powders.  Made with not only sprouted brown rice, but also with sprouted grains including amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, garbanzo bean, lentil, adzuki bean, flax seed, chia, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed and sesame seed.  In addtition this product contains chlorella for enhanced energy and a raw probiotic and enzyme blend for digestive support.

Rainbow Light also offers a rice protein option with a little something extra.  Their Creamy Vanilla Protein Energizer has 14 grams of brown rice protein and a green food and fiber complex along with enzymes for digestive support.


Hemp protein is a great vegetarian and vegan choice weighing in at 11-15 grams of protein per serving.   Some additional benefits of hemp as a choice is its fiber and essential fatty acid content.  Hemp protein is one of our only offerings with up to 5 grams of fiber per serving.  It also boasts a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  Additionally hemp is an excellent source of magnesium and iron.  Hemp seeds are ground into a powder that mixes in with liquids and smoothies.  I recommend hemp protein in blended drinks or even baked goods as its consistency is generally a bit grainier than that of whey or pea.


Whey protein is from animal milk sources.  We carry both cow whey protein and goat whey protein.  At anywhere from 18-22 grams of protein per serving, whey protein offers one of the higher protein profiles available.  You will find that whey has natural sugar content in it, often 1 gram or less, due to milk sugar present.  Whey protein is a top choice for many people because of taste and because it mixes well with a smoother consistency.  Another often overlooked benefit of whey protein is its ability to enhance the immune system.

Whey protein come in two varieties, concentrate and isolate.  Each has its advantages.

Whey concentrate has a low lactose level that is often well tolerated by most lactose sensitive individuals.  It is a more concentrated source of protein than isolate.  Comparing to the isolate we carry which is 18 grams, the concentrate wheys in (yes, pun intended) at 22 grams per serving.   We carry two whey concentrate products by Tera’s Whey, one is dairy whey and one is goat whey.  Tera’s Whey is non GMO, gluten -free and offers an rBGH-free option.  They are located in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.

Whey isolate is virtually fat free and is also very low in lactose, even more so than the concentrate.  Some think that it tastes better than the concentrate, though the consistency is a little thinner due to the lack of fat.  Oneota Community Food Co-op brand is one option with three flavors to choose from – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry – each offering 18 grams of protein per serving and are rBGH-free.  Whey Factors French vanilla is 17 grams of protein, grassfed and rBGH-free.


Pea protein is a fairly new addition to our selection.  This choice is the highest protein per serving we have to offer at 24 grams per scoop.  Peas are a highly bioavailable source of protein and are not highly allergenic.  Each serving offers the spectrum on amino acids.  This choice is unflavored and mixes well in beverages with a smooth consistency.  Now Foods uses only non-GMO yellow peas and manufactures in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility.  This item is free of wheat, gluten, soy, egg, fish and tree nuts.


Pumpkin seeds have a celebrated history in many Native American tribes for their dietary and medicinal purposes.  Pumpkin protein is derived from the seeds and is a great dairy free, soy free, vegan option in protein powders.   With 14 grams per serving, Oneota Community Food Co-op’s Organic Pumpkin Protein is made from non GMO pumpkin seeds and comes in a creamy chocolate flavor.

Add any of these powders to smoothies or drink them with milk or milk alternatives such as soy, rice, flax or nut milks.  Protein powders can also be used in bars and baked goods for added protein and energy.