Walk up and down the health food shelves in your local supermarket, and you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of protein powder options. From soy to brown rice, hemp, and Belgian golden pea, there’s no shortage of healthy vegan protein sources available — not to mention a variety of flavour options, as well as the premium “isolate” and “hydrolysed” versions.
While vegan protein powders have a wealth of benefits compared to the traditional whey and casein, they have one potential pitfall — they sometimes don’t fit in with all our dietary needs. If you suffer from gluten intolerance, are on a gluten-free diet, or have been diagnosed with Coeliac disease, then a regular vegan protein powder will only aggravate existing symptoms. Plus, gluten has been shown to impact absorption of nutrients in your chosen protein powder supplement, thus hindering you in reaching your fitness goals.
No doubt, choosing a quality gluten-free protein powder supplement matters — and here’s why.
First, What’s Gluten?
Gluten is a general term used to describe the water-insoluble proteins found in wheat, rice, rye, barley, and spelt — and is, therefore, found in different types of foods, such as bread and cereals. Gluten consists of the elements glutenin and gliadin, and it’s the elastic, rubbery protein composite that helps foods maintain their shape and helps to bind the dough in bread and other baked goods.
Gluten intolerance or sensitivity is a condition that is characterised by adverse reactions to gluten. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, skin problems (i.e. psoriasis, chronic urticaria, alopecia areata), and depression, to name but a few. Usually, gluten intolerance can manifest in two forms — 1) Coeliac disease, which is the most severe of the two and affects 1 per cent of the population, and; 2) non-coeliac sensitivity, which is milder and only affects between 0.5 and 13 per cent of people.
In the context of Coeliac disease, gluten refers to the protein of grains capable of producing an autoimmune response. This happens as a result of digestive enzymes not being able to break down this protein — in barley, it’s hordein; in wheat, it’s gliadin; and in rye, it’s secalin. Once absorbed into the walls of the small intestine, they are perceived as a possible threat by the immune system, which, in turn, provokes an inflammatory response that eventually damages tissue.
Why a Quality Gluten-Free Vegan Protein Powder Will Make a Difference
- Alleviate the Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
You’ve been there — trying to work out and failing to do so because of a bloated tummy, painful abdominal cramps, or a splitting headache. If gluten doesn’t agree with you, then it’s time to ditch your typical rice or wheat-based protein shake and embrace a gluten-free alternative, such as pea protein powder.
Pea protein is sourced from field peas, which are typically the dried yellow peas used for making soup. To make pea protein, the starch and fibre content are both removed, which means the nutrition values of the raw peas versus the resulting pea protein powder are slightly different. Pea protein powder is between 80 and 85 per cent protein and is easily absorbed by the body — not to mention it’s allergen-friendly and free from dairy, egg, soy, and gluten — making it an ideal choice if you suffer from either gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
If you’re looking for a quality protein powder that won’t make your favourite skinny jeans feel too tight or unleash a whole series of pesky gluten intolerance symptoms, choose pea protein. The last thing you want is to spend money on a supplement that negatively impacts your well-being.
- Improve Nutrient Absorption Rate
The inside of a normal, healthy small intestine is lined with microvilli — millions of finger-like projections that produce digestive enzymes and absorb nutrients. These microvilli are held together by tissue transglutaminase (tTG), an enzyme that is produced in your intestinal wall to break down gluten into its building blocks: namely, gliadin and glutenin. Once ingested, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT — which, in layman terms, refers to the immune system in your gut — checks for potentially harmful substances. In people with gluten intolerance, the gliadin is identified as dangerous, causing the GALT to produce antibodies that attack it.
In coeliacs, these antibodies also attack the tTG, resulting in the atrophy and erosion of the microvilli. This decreases your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, not to mention the onset of intestinal permeability, AKA leaky gut, as a result of your intestinal walls becoming leaky. The result? Fewer nutrients are absorbed into your body, making that protein shake you’ve just gulped down less effective.
Gluten-triggered intestinal permeability may also inhibit your gut from making vitamin B12. What’s more, the indigestible phytates in gluten are considered an anti-nutrient because they bind important minerals like chromium and, therefore, make them bio-unavailable.
By choosing a gluten-free protein powder, you can avoid all the negative effects of gluten in your body and ensure all nutrients are properly absorbed so as to provide the results you’re aiming for.
- Lose Weight — and Keep It Off
If you’re struggling with weight loss, then we’ve got brilliant news: gluten-free protein powders can help you shed some extra pounds. According to Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, “Eliminating gluten helps you burn fat.” While there is not sufficient data to really decide just how much weight you can expect to lose once you ditch gluten-loaded protein powders, research results are promising.
If you’d rather burn fat at the gym and work hard towards your fitness goals instead of lying down on the couch and doing nothing, why not invest in a quality gluten-free vegan protein powder supplement that actually works and doesn’t trigger any of your uncomfortable gluten intolerance symptoms? It’s possible — and pea protein may be just what you need. Check out our in-depth guide on pea protein, how it compares to traditional protein sources, and more here.