Which protein powder is healthiest? Whey Protein  vs Vegan Proteins: Pea Protein, Rice Protein, Hemp Protein, Spirulina or Chia?

Hi Everyone,

Following last weeks post on vegetarian protein sources, I thought I would delve into the topic of protein powders, and look at the variances in vitamin and mineral provision between some of the popular sources that we have at our disposal.

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Interesting high protein plant based product I came across at an expo earlier this year!


Interesting high protein plant based product I came across at an expo earlier this year!

africrops plant protein

There are now protein powders coming from a variety of sources such as whey, soy, rice, pea, hemp, spirulina, and more. I thought I would look at some of these more readily available ones and point out a few of the differences that may not initially jump out at you at first when comparing the products based on the kilojoules / calories vs protein ratio (which I know some people seem to do).

Pea protein!

It is well regarded that some of the cheap protein powders on the market are highly processed, and it is in these products that there can be traces of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, at levels that are not ideal to be ingesting into our bodies.

There are also differences in the amino acid profiles for those looking at a protein powder from the stand point of modifying their body composition (which I would guess many people are, irrespective of the motive coming from wanting fat loss for fitness, health or aesthetic purposes), however I will leave the in-depth discussion of this to come from a registered sports dietitian.

Rice protein powder

I would however like to show you the differences in the average vitamin and mineral composition between whey, soy, hemp, rice, pea, and spirulina protein powders, in order for you to see that sometimes a product may appear from a macronutrient perspective as equal, but really not actually have the numbers to back this from a micronutrient perspective.

I came across chia seed protein powder which stacked up nutritionally phenomenally and I just had to share with you too!


I haven’t included one of my favourites, sacha-inchi protein powder, however as those of you who have been following my blog know by now, I am a huge fan, and it has already managed to get its own individual highlighted post a while back for anyone interested in reading more about it!

My delicious sacha inch high protein apple, chia, and coconut cake

My delicious sacha inch high protein apple, chia, and coconut cake which I posted a while ago.

The below table hopefully will paint an easy to read and clear picture of some of the pros of the different protein powders in order to help you select the best one for your particular purpose and overall nutritional needs.

Some of the key points to take away from the table include:

  1. Spirulina is a key stand out in relation to Iron, Zinc and B12 provision, which are all very important nutrients to obtain should someone be selecting to use a protein powder in place of a regular high protein produce source i.e a piece of steak.
  2. Spirulina is a key stand out for Potassium provision which is great to help balance the high sodium intakes many people are consuming through high sodium packaged foods or dining out a lot.
  3. Hemp protein was a stand out for Calcium and Iron, both important nutrients should someone be selecting to use a protein powder in place of either dairy proteins (such as those in a Greek yoghurt) or an animal based protein source as mentioned above.
  4. Chia seed protein powder was a clear stand out for Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron and I would predict could potentially provide a small amount of Omega-3s (it would be dependent on just how de-fatted the end product was). With significantly more Calcium and Phosphorus naturally occurring than the other varieties (although some whey, soy and pea powders are fortified), this is a great option for those replacing dairy foods and still wanting to obtain these bone and teeth health important minerals.

I hope you find this useful!

For now,

TD x

Protein powder comparison nutrition information table per 100g:

Figures sourced from a variety of sites including: nutrientdata.self.com, FoodWorks software, and foodsalive.com, with the assistance of Felicity Curtain.

Protein powder Per 100g Calories Kilojoules Protein Fat, total Fat, Sat. Carbs Sugar Dietary Fibre Sodium Calcium Potassium Phosphorus Iron Zinc Vit B12 Omega 3s
Rice – natural flavour 100g 450 1884kj 85.0g 0.0g 0.0g 10.0g 5.0g 5.0g 125mg 100mg 80mg 760mg 5.0mg 0.0mg 2.5mg 0.0mg
Rice – vanilla flavour 100g 450 1884kj 75.0g 0.0g 0.0g 20.0g 10.0.g 5.0g 275mg 100mg 80mg 760mg 5.0mg 0.0mg 2.5mg 0.0mg
Rice – chocolate flavour 100g 450 1884kj 80.0g 0.0g 0.0g 20.0g 5.0g 5.0g 225mg 100mg 80mg 760mg 5.0mg 0.0mg 2.5mg 0.0mg
Spirulina 100g 450 1884kj 70.0g 0.0g 0.0g 25.5g 0.0g 4.9g 700mg 120mg 1365mg 118mg 22.5mg 75.0mg 3.0mg 0.0mg
Hemp 100g 403 1686kj 45.0g 12.0g 1.0g 25.0g 3.0g 17.0g 0mg 533mg 90mg 50mg 15.0mg 0.0mg 0.0mg Data unavailable
Pea 100g 360 1506kj 91.0g 0.32g 0.0g 0.3g 0.0g 9.5g 89mg 100mg 200mg 700mg 3.5g 3.5g 0.0g 0.0mg
Soy -average all flavours 100g 397 1660kj 75.0g 4.4g 1.0g 13.0g 4.4g 3.2g 870mg 178mg 81mg 776mg 3.5mg 3.0mg 0.0mg 0.0mg
Whey protein isolate – average all flavours 100g 369 1543kj 89.3g 0.6g 0.5g 2.6g 0.5g 0.0g 212mg 4mg 70mg 700mg 2.0g 1.0g 1.0g 0.0mg
Chia seed protein powder 100g 179 750kJ 35.7g Information unavailable 0.0g 57.1g 0.0g 57.1g 0mg 929mg 1071mg 1143mg 10.0mg 6.4mg Information unavaialble No figures available, although expected to be higher than the others.

It is worth noting that due to the chia seed protein powder figures being sourced from the company website in the USA, the energy figures will have been calculated by classifying all carbohydrate calories as fibre calories (which in America means they are then subtracted, and not classified as providing any calories).

This is different than how energy is calculated in Australia, where fibre is classified as providing a small number of calories per gram.

End result, the calorie calculation is probably slightly lower than it should be here, however it still appropriately reflects that there would be less calories in this particular product than the alternatives.

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in New York City. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, and barre class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea in how to make this world a healthier and better place.

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