#48 Is Pea Protein a Smart Choice after Bariatric Surgery?

bariatric surgery success podcast beyond bariatric surgery podcast

HOST: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell 

Does pea protein contain the nine essential amino acids? And if so, is this a good source of protein after bariatric surgery? Let’s look closely at popular pea protein.

Hi, I’m registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell. You’re listening to the Bariatric Surgery Successpodcast episode number 48. Most of my career I’ve worked in some type of media, particularly radio where I did morning drive nutrition spots for over 18 years. That’s what lead me to start podcasting and ultimately to you. I created Bariatric Surgery Success to provide you with life-changing information based on science along with simple strategies and tools to help you be successful in your transformation and your entire journey. So happy you’ve connected with me. You’re in the right place and I’m glad you’re listening.

If you haven’t joined me in the private Facebook group yet, what are you waiting for? It’s called Bariatric Surgery Success with Dr. Susan Mitchell. There is good conversation happening in there. Lots of questions and feedback going on.      

With so many protein supplements on the market, how do you know what to choose? Plus you’ve had bariatric surgery so do all protein supplements provide what your body needs to thrive?

Recently in our private Facebook group, someone asked if pea protein contains the nine essential amino acids and if so, is this a good source of protein after bariatric surgery. In this podcast, I’m not covering vegetarian or vegan diets as they’re more difficult to follow after surgery due to the limits on carbs and calories. After bariatric surgery, the big focus is and continues to be on protein, high quality protein which comes from animals or soy.

Let's talk a minute about whey protein. In a whey protein powder for example, it's typically just whey protein and not a lot of other added items you probably don’t need. Plus whey protein tends to contain a few more grams of protein per serving than pea protein. It’s a complete protein with the correct proportions of those nine essential amino acids needed by the body. It isn’t missing or low in any one of the nine. Essential amino acid means that it cannot be made by your body and must be taken in thru food. You probably know of amino acids for their role in making and repairing muscle. But these aminos do a lot more in the body from hormone production and the absorption of calcium to roles in immune function, sleep-wake cycles and sexual function.

Science 101 today: One of the reasons why animal protein which includes whey protein works so well after bariatric surgery is that it has a high protein digestibility corrected amino acid score known as the PDCAA. Basically it measures protein quality. Why does that matter to you? The highest PDCAA score is 100. Milk (whey/casein), eggs, and soy all have a score of 100 and are all complete proteins. Also important is the quantity of leucine found in protein. It’s one of the nine essential amino acids which helps maintain lean tissue and the amount varies widely in products. Animal products including whey protein and soy products are very good sources of leucine. 

Let’s look at pea protein closer. What exactly is it? Pea protein powders or supplements are made by extracting protein from yellow peas making it naturally vegan and also gluten-free and dairy free. Both whey and pea proteins are relatively low in carbs, fat, fiber, and sugar when nothing else is added to it. Plus pea doesn’t contain any of the top food allergens such as fish, shellfish, eggs, and soy. So it’s very popular with those following a vegetarian or vegan way of life. It’s also a good source of iron from the peas. Pea protein powder is good quality and works for many people but not as well as animal protein specifically in the case of bariatric surgery. It's does contain the nine essential amino acids but here is where we dig a bit deeper. Quality matters.  A product may have all nine of the essential amino acids but be limiting in one or more. This means that the level is not high enough to meet the body’s requirement.

Pea protein has a limiting amino acid or one in a very low amount which is methionine. You can add methionine to the diet by eating foods such as brown rice, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Here’s where the issue is specific to weight loss surgery. Some pea protein powders contain just pea protein. Then brown rice or seeds need to be added to the diet to boost the methionine level. What happens, the carb and fat grams get a boost up too. Other products add sunflower or pumpkins seeds directly to the pea powder which then affects the total calories along with carb and fat grams in a serving of that powder. This addition often pushes up the total carb level in a serving of pea protein powder to around eight grams compared to one or two in whey protein. I would prefer you to have the choice of those grams of carbs and fat and to use them on real foods that you love since you have to watch carbs and fat each day.

Other pea protein products also contain various vitamins and minerals but not in amounts appropriate or specific to bariatric surgery. A specific bariatric vitamin-mineral supplement would better meet your needs than those added to a product not designed for weight loss surgery. Bottom line, in this case, it’s all about the very specific needs of bariatric surgery and choosing protein powder that leads to the best outcome. Pea protein is a good protein but not the best choice for post surgery. 

And remember, it’s all about taking care of yourself. You’re worth it!

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