As a professional athlete, Shireen Limaye, captain of the Indian women’s basketball team, knows that it’s essential for her to get enough protein. So she began supplementing her regular meals with a plant-based protein powder that gives her an energy boost and helps her train better in the gym and on the basketball court. She admits to being somewhat amazed at what goes into her protein powder--just yellow peas and rice. “That pushed me to check it out,” she says.
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Plant-based nutrition has been garnering more and more interest: People are more concerned about the environmental effects of animal-based proteins and want to live better overall. This, in turn, has led to the vegan supplement market gaining tremendous traction over the last couple of years. With celebrities endorsing a vegan lifestyle, there has been an increase in demand for plant-based protein supplements to counter animal protein. For example, pea protein has replaced whey protein, and algae-based brown seaweed is as good as fish oil when you want omega-3. Dietician Shikha Mahajan, the founder of Diet Podium, Delhi, agrees that eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes and cutting back on meat is a good sign. “Whole-food, plant-based meals are nutrient-dense foods, and following a diet that emphasises getting more of these critical elements into our bodies will make us naturally healthier,” she says. Also, meat, which often contains saturated fat, can cause heart problems if consumed in large amounts. “You’ll be doing your ticker a favour if you cut back on meat and consume more plant-based foods.”
Of course, plant-based foods aren’t necessarily healthy—potato chips and Oreo cookies are plant-based too. But if you ensure that you choose from nutritious foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils, you are likely to look and feel better.
One of the critical concerns with going plant-based has always been: How do I get enough protein? The range of plant-based protein supplements available in the market can help you get over that hurdle. “Around the world, people are waking up to the realisation that a plant-based diet is more nutrient-dense compared to a diet rich in meat and dairy products. As the world recognises the priority of staying fit, the protein industry is booming,” says Mahajan. According to MarketStudyReport, the worldwide plant-based protein supplements market was worth USD 5.35 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 9.5 billion by the end of the forecast period 2021-2027, registering an 8.6 per cent CAGR through 2027. Escalating demand for healthy plant-based products is primarily driving the market growth.
Malin Petersson, co-founder and CEO of Näck, a Swedish-Indian startup in the growing health and supplement space, says that the health benefits of a plant-based diet coupled with the increased understanding of livestock production and its impact on climate change are contributing to this shift. “We currently see more plant-based protein options in the market than ever before,” she agrees. Not so long ago, soy protein was more or less the only alternative for plant-based protein powders in the market, she points out. “Today, we see a wide variety available, such as pea, rice, hemp and canola, just to mention a few,” she adds. Most new-age plant-based protein supplements are pure vegan products. Most of these are derived from nutrition-rich plant sources such as brown rice, soy and pea. People are becoming more inclined towards such plant-based products due to rising concerns about animal cruelty.
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Plant-based proteins provide certain clear benefits. In a country like India, where meals are mostly centred around grains, adding a protein supplement, if plant-based or vegan, may help bridge myriad nutritional deficiencies. Aarti Gill, co-founder and CEO of OZiva, a plant-based nutrition and wellness brand, says that these supplements are absorbed well, are safe for long-term consumption and derived from entirely natural sources. Also, with modern food technology, they can be easily concentrated and turned into a variety of convenient formats like delicious drink powders and gummies. Jhoomer Sinha, the founder and CEO of nutrition supplement company Hea Boosters, agrees. “In vegetarians, nutrition deficiencies are common and lead to everyday health issues such as fatigue, weakness, digestive discomfort, acne and hair fall. Thus, there is a pressing and ever-growing need for plant-based supplements and health boosters that can address these deficiencies and issues,” she says.
However, the one issue with plant-based protein is that it doesn’t have the same pleasing mouthfeel and taste as animal-derived supplements, believes Petersson. “Brands will need to keep innovating to be able to compete,” she says. Another thing to do, of course, is to add these supplements to your food. Restaurateur Jaspal Teja does so. “I have been using a plant-based protein powder for two weeks now. I like how easy it is to include in food. It does not leave any aftertaste or lumps at all,” he claims.
Medha Dutta Yadav is a Delhi-based writer