The human body utilizes plant proteins less efficiently than animal proteins because plant proteins are less digestible and have lower concentrations of essential amino acids, the type of amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and therefore must be supplied by the diet.
Protein quality is measured by a score called the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Milk and egg proteins have a PDCAAS of 100%. Soy protein isolate is the only plant protein with a PDCAAS of 100%. Other plant protein ingredients range from 89% in pea protein concentrate and 74% in chickpeas to 52% in peanuts and a low of 25% in wheat gluten. Newer plant proteins such as water lentils could become popular – they have a higher PDCAAS than fast growing but lower protein quality sources such as fava and sunflower. Some manufacturers combine proteins, for example, pea plus rice or wheat plus soy, and that raises protein quality by presenting a wider complement of essential amino acids.
Most consumers surveyed prefer a combination of plant and animal foods and proteins to just one or the other, and that can help improve the protein quality of their diet. Maybe a consumer chooses to have a spoonable non-dairy yogurt at breakfast, for example, but a beef burger at dinner. Athletes and sports enthusiasts might choose a sports powder or sports bar, the top subcategories for protein, with a blend of whey (dairy) and plant proteins. This allows them to explore plant protein while ensuring that they get high quality protein from dairy. Furthermore, athletes and sports enthusiasts may put pressure on manufacturers to improve the protein quality of products with 100% plant-based proteins if they perceive that use of the products diminishes their performance.
Plant based ingredients are also on the rise in products positioned for babies and toddlers, led by plant based baby meals. Parents shopping for plant based alternatives will likely put pressure on manufacturers to develop products with higher quality protein sources or combinations that deliver optimal nutrition for young and growing children.
Does quantity compensate for quality? Not really. The growing popularity of protein and the health halo around it has ushered in a growing number of proteins with generous amounts of protein. Recent launches of proteins with more than 25g of protein per serving suggest that protein, whether plant, animal, or a combination, is here to stay.
“Plant Protein Ingredients: Global Trends” is a new Ingredients Insider report from Innova Market Insights, which brings together consumer research, market sizes, company analysis and a review of new product trends and activity to demonstrate just how the picture has been changing and to suggest where the future opportunities can be found.