Summer Staple – Pea Protein Isolate
It’s not just hotdogs and hamburgers hitting the grill, meat alternatives continue to have a broad consumer reach. With the bursting market of meat alternatives, we'll take an updated look at a key ingredient found in these products: pea protein isolate.
Updated: May 28, 2020
What is pea protein isolate?
Food manufacturers create pea protein isolate from the yellow pea, Pisum sativum. It is part of the legume family and contains many healthful benefits. A few studies have shown that pea protein may assist in reducing cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, improving satiety, and increasing muscle.
Food manufacturers create pea protein isolate by drying peas and then processing them into a protein-rich powder that can be used with a combination of ingredients to provide flavor, texture, and balanced nutrition.
Where can I find it?
You will find this ingredient in many protein-rich products such as protein shakes, protein bars, vegan “dairy” products, and in meat substitutes and blends like Beyond Burger, The Blend, Chicken-Free Chicken, and more!
It’s also a common protein added to pet foods, especially grain-free pet foods, as it provides protein and bulk.
Will pea protein isolate replace meat if there are meat shortages?
At the time of the update, concerns around meat availability due to the COVID19 outbreak continue to drive buyers’ behaviors. While we know there may be shortages of specific cuts of meat as the markets flex, meat products will still be readily available.
Still, some people may choose to try pea protein-based meat alternatives or meat blends if our favorite cuts of meat are out of stock.
What do I need to know?
Pea protein is full of rich nutrients and possesses all 9 necessary amino acids. However, it is low in one essential amino acid, methionine, so pea protein must be part of a balanced diet.
Pea protein is popping up for sale online as supplements, and it’s important to be mindful of the food products you are purchasing online. Many supplements such as protein powder sold online or from indie brands are not adequately tested for purity standards, meaning you may not receive the advertised product.
While the U.S. FDA can issue a recall for a tainted product, it cannot do so until after it has been on the market. So, if you are purchasing pea protein powders, make sure it is from a reputable company or seller.
Is it safe?
In 2016, the FDA accepted pea protein isolate as a GRAS ingredient.
Some food manufacturers have marketed pea protein as being hypoallergenic because it does not contain dairy products and is part of the legume family. However, pea protein can trigger allergic reactions, as reported in the Mediterranean region and in several Asian countries. It has also been reported that in very rare cases people who are allergic to other legume seed-derived foods, such as peanut, have exhibited allergic responses to pea protein (1, 2).
Pea protein reactions can be especially troubling for allergy sufferers as products containing pea protein are not required to be labeled as an allergen at this point. However, manufacturers will list pea protein as an ingredient in any food product that contains it, so you can still get the facts from the label.
Also worth noting, FDA is investigating the long-term use of grain-free, protein-rich dog foods that often contain pea protein. Scientists are currently conducting research to investigate whether pea protein may contribute to a growing number of dilated cardiomyopathy cases found in dogs, and the FDA and researchers are exploring all ingredients to ensure the utmost safety for our pets.
The good news.
Knowing the pea protein isolate found in many alternative meat products and meat blends is safe, and part of an overall healthful diet can make the decision to try a new product easier if we cannot find our favorite products, or if we’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen or on the grill.