Are Pea and Soy Protein Isolates Healthy Meat Alternatives?

The heightened popularity of vegetarian and plant-based diets has likely led to the increased availability of plant-based proteins, with the most popular being pea and soy proteins.

What Are Pea and Soy Protein Isolates

Soy protein isolate is a powder food that has been isolated from other ingredients of the soybean, making it 90-95% protein and almost entirely free of carbohydrate and fat. (1)  

Isolated pea protein is made by separating fiber and starches from peas and isolating the protein. Pea protein is used as an additive for baked products and as a meat substitute or  extender  since it is high in protein (85-90%).

These vegetable proteins are entirely plant-based, unlike some other protein powders, so they are considered a good option for vegetarians and vegans on high protein diets.  

But from a health point of view, are these really good options?  

Are Soy Protein Isolates A Healthy Vegan Food Option

When consuming whole soybeans or whole soybean products like tofu, you get a blend of isoflavones, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds that may act individually and/or together with other compounds to exert beneficial physiologic effects.  

Some healthy components found in soy are not present in meat, such as Vitamin C, which is essential for your immune system as an antioxidant. Vitamin C also supports protein metabolism and the absorption of nonheme iron from plant-based foods. Vitamin C is also used in the synthesis of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue, which plays a critical role in wound healing.

Another ingredient is Isoflavones. Flavonoids are a big group of phytonutrients that can be found only in plants. Soybean and soy products are the most abundant source of these powerful antioxidants available.

Unfortunately, many of the health benefits of eating soy can only be found in whole full-fat soybeans and minimally processed soybean products like tempeh or tofu. (2)  

Soy protein isolate is significantly different. Soy protein isolates are processed soy, which contain high amounts of protein without all of the other nutrients found in the soy protein. It is a concentrated source of protein that, although low in fats, puts a burden on the liver. This may lead to reduced skin health in the long term, as well as reducing the healthy bacteria diversity in the gut. The processed ingredients are also not nourishing for your brain, which needs the nutrients provided in whole foods to support healthy brain function.  

Furthermore, processed soy foods like vegetarian burgers, protein powders, and meat alternatives that contain soy protein isolates are often high in sodium or additives, like gums, dyes, and preservatives. (2)

94% of soybeans in the US are also genetically modified, of which the long-term side effects to human health are still mostly unknown. Still, the impact on the environment and on the livelihood of farmers is devastating.

Independent research has shown that there is no scientific consensus regarding GMO safety. (4) Not all soy protein isolate products are made from organic or non-GMO sources.

Are Pea Protein Isolates A Healthy Vegan Food Option

Just as with soybeans, consuming pea protein is not as healthy as eating whole peas. Although there are higher concentrations of protein in isolated pea protein, it lacks the fiber and starches that can be found in whole peas.

However, like soy, when extracting the protein, some of the dry peas’ useful nutrients are removed. A serving of pea protein powder is not a good source of iron, and it is also missing the pea’s carbohydrate components that are essential for a healthy gut bacteria. Split peas contain significant amounts of folate, magnesium, and potassium, which only traces if any remain in the pea protein powder.  

Soy & Pea Protein Isolate As Alternatives In Meat Preparations:

These vegetable proteins are used in meat products as alternatives to phosphoric acid and phosphates, which carry health risks. (3)

Recent research shows that high serum phosphate levels are linked with an increased risk of heart disease risk. Another study shows that long-term high phosphorus consumption is associated with impaired bone health. (4)

So when used by manufacturers in meat product preparations, the answer is yes. These vegetable proteins are healthy alternatives to other compounds used in these food preparations.


Until now, for people interested in boosting protein in their diet, this usually involved consuming larger meat portions. But we know that evidence has shown that consuming too much meat, especially red and processed meats, can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, so vegetable proteins do make a better alternative to consuming meat regularly.

These vegetable protein alternatives are perhaps a good way to allow a person on a meat-based diet to make the transition to a more plant-based diet, but whether these are healthy alternatives, the answer is no. There is nothing better for your body than consuming the food in its whole form. Thus the best way to consume your protein needs is by consuming peas or soy in their whole form or any other legume that you enjoy the taste of.

Now the only question that arises is whether we really do need high levels of protein, even if we are training physically daily. And the answer to this can be found in my article:  How Much Protein Is Really Good For You.

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

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Dr. Galit Goldfarb


(1) Gianluca Rizzo1,* and Luciana Baroni2 “Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Dietsâ€, Nutrients. 2018 Jan; 10(1): 43. Published online 2018 Jan 5. doi: 10.3390/nu10010043, PMCID: PMC5793271, PMID: 29304010

(2) Reinwald S1, Akabas SR, Weaver CM “Whole versus the piecemeal approach to evaluating soyâ€.J Nutr. 2010 Dec;140(12):2335S-2343S. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.124925. Epub 2010 Oct 27. 2 USDA Coexistence Fact Sheets, Soybeans, February 2015

(3) Hilbeck et al. “No scientific consensus on GMO safetyâ€, Environmental Sciences Europe (2015) 27:4, DOI 10.1186/s12302-014-0034-1


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