Nutritional supplementation is a question that comes up a lot in the health and nutrition world. Should you be taking any? Which ones? How much? Which brands?
Supplements are everywhere: from the multivitamin you can pick up at the grocery store, to the weird brown smelly tincture your naturopath recommends (speaking from experience). But how do you know which supplements are really necessary and which ones you can leave on the shelf?
Before diving into this discussion, it's important to note the two kinds of nutrients (all of which can be supplemented if necessary): essential and nonessential.
Essential nutrients are those found in food that are important in order for our bodies to function optimally. It's important that we get them through diet, as our bodies do not have the capacity to create them on their own. Essential nutrients include vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. Since these nutrients are found in food, we don't necessarily require supplements (think: fish oil, for example). However, many of us don't quite hit the mark when attempting to consume the proper amount of these nutrients for our age and size. Before you turn to supplementation, however, turn to whole foods. Food is a powerful tool. Don't underestimate what it can do for you and your health. Try to find food sources rich in the essential nutrient you are lacking. It's always better to go straight to the source. Amino acids, for example, are proteins. So work to increase your daily protein consumption. Lacking in vitamin A? Look for vegetables like sweet potato or pumpkin to boost your A consumption (but make sure you're also getting enough D. The one doesn't work without the other. Nutrients are tricky like that).
Purchasing supplements can be an overwhelming process, whether it’s protein powder, fish oil, or an every-day multi vitamin. There are so many brands available, all with varying claims and reviews. It’s difficult to know what you should be purchasing and incorporating into your daily routine.
A personal supplement hunt of my own has been around finding the best tasting plant-based protein powder that meets my nutritional standards. Although I like to get the majority of my protein through whole foods, I still find this difficult to do in the morning, or when I'm really busy, which is why I turn to a powdered supplement to help me meet my protein intake goals.
As I’ve noted in the past, I prefer plant-based proteins because I tend to digest them much better than whey. This isn’t uncommon, as whey is a dairy-based supplement, and can be somewhat inflammatory, depending on your system.
Now, if you’ve never had a plant-based protein, I’m just going to say it: it’s not as good as whey isolate. Disagree if you’d like, but my personal opinion is that it’s rare to find a plant protein with a texture that even comes close to whey. For those of you who are regular consumers of plant-based protein, I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from—it can be grainy, chalky, and simply not good, flavour wise.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a few brands. So, I thought I would take some of the guess work out for you, and provide a brief review of each, based on my own experiences.
The three brands I am going to review are:
Vega Sport Performance Protein (vanilla)
Garden of Life Raw Protein (chocolate)
Lean Fit Naturals Complete Green Protein (vanilla bean)
When I’m looking for a protein powder, I am not looking for a meal replacement. That is, I almost always mix my protein powder with other foods, whether I’m making a smoothie, or (more often than not) a protein pancake. So I don’t need a nice balance of carbohydrates and protein. I can easily get my carbs and fats from other sources (I don’t know about you, but finding carbs to eat generally isn’t an issue for me…). So I look for brands that offer an adequate dose of protein (20g is preferable for me), while remaining low in carbohydrates (under 10 grams).