Protein Goes Paleo

Plant protein powders can give this super-popular diet extra nutritional clout.

March/April 2017

by Lisa James


Whether they’re trying to slim down, buff up or just plain feel better, more and more people are turning to the Paleo (short for “Paleolithic”) diet to get the results they want. It’s a way of eating that centers around foods available to early humans before the development of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago.

This rise in popularity has resulted in more products becoming available for those who go Paleo, including protein powders that can serve as meal replacements and fitness supplements.

Paleo Power

What eventually became the Paleo diet has its roots in the early 20th century, when scientists first noticed the effects of imported Western foods—such as sugar, white flour and canned goods—on peoples who had been eating the same foods their ancestors ate for centuries. Within a generation of incorporating imported foods into their diets, these groups started experiencing poorer health including dental decay and signs of chronic disease.

By the end of the 20th century, a number of doctors and nutritionists realized the value of returning to ancestral diets as a path to optimal well-being. And while there are disagreements as to precisely which foods are allowed on the Paleo diet, most sources agree that organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat and pastured eggs (laid by chickens that spend most of their time outdoors) make the cut.

While the animal foods on this list are obvious protein sources, some of the plants are also rich in this crucial nutrient. As a result, they are ready sources of protein powders that fall within the guidelines of the Paleo diet.

Clean and Green

Take sunflower seeds, for example. In addition to providing vitamin E and other essential nutrients, sunflower protein is a good source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which help the body create muscle tissue. Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of healthy fats that support the body’s ability to control hidden inflammation, while flaxseeds contain substances that protect the circulatory system from inflammatory damage.

Seeds aren’t the only sources of Paleo-friendly protein. One reason almonds have become so popular is their reputation for enhancing heart health. Coconut, most popular now for the liquid it contains, yields a meat full of healthy fats and compounds with cholesterol-lowering properties.

Because the whole emphasis of the Paleo diet is on a way of eating that predates modern agriculture, it makes sense to find Paleo-friendly protein powders that are organic and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are now formulations that include proteins from sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, flaxseed, almond and coconut without powders such as pea, which as a legume doesn’t meet Paleo standards. Cutting-edge formulas also include enzymes that help to unlock protein’s energy-boosting potential.

Adopting a Stone Age diet doesn’t mean having to give up the portability and convenience of protein supplementation. Just make sure the powder you pick fits your Paleo lifestyle.

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