Can whey protein powder be replaced with hemp protein or brown rice protein powder?

If you regularly frequent the gym, then you'll no doubt be familiar with protein powders. Protein powders are made from whey or vegetable protein and can be stirred directly into smoothies and shakes or mixed into a simple glass of water. Strength athletes are particularly fond of protein powders, because they contain amino acids that promote the repair of damaged muscle tissue and simultaneously encourage the production of new muscle tissue. In recent years, however, protein powders have become increasingly popular with a broader range of consumers, such as vegetarians and vegans searching for additional sources of protein. And those watching their weight often mix a protein powder into their favourite green smoothie, in order to make it more filling. Unfortunately, many of the protein powders on the market today have some serious disadvantages. They’re often crammed with artificial flavours, fragrances and colours for example, or taste simply dreadful.

Can whey protein powder be replaced with hemp protein or brown rice protein powder?

This blog clearly outlines the pros and cons associated with whey, hemp and brown rice protein powder, so that you can make an informed decision when making your next purchase.

Why you should avoid the majority of whey protein powders

The vast majority of protein powders on the market today are made from whey (also known as milk plasma), a by-product of the cheese industry. Whey is the liquid that remains after the milk used to make cheese has been curdled. It has a fresh, slightly sour flavour and is used as an ingredient in baby food, bread, crackers, cakes, animal food and diet products, in addition to whey powder.

Pure, unprocessed whey boasts an extremely high nutritional value – it is rich in protein, B vitamins, lactose, minerals and beta-glucans, yet contains little or no fat. And, in contrast to vegetable protein powders, whey contains cysteine, glycine and glutamate, amino acids that are required for the bodily production of glutathione (an antioxidant that slows down the shortening of telomeres and thus helps to delay the natural aging process). Whey additionally contains glutamylcysteine, a unique cysteine residue that stimulates the production of glutathione (Bounous et al., 1991[1]).

You might therefore be forgiven for thinking that whey powders are quite good you. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth! Indeed, the overwhelming majority of whey protein powders are so packed with unhealthy additives, that they’re simply unfit for human consumption.

The harmful substances found in most whey powders include:

  • Refined sugars: we all know that sugar makes us fat and is bad for our teeth. But that's not the only drawback of sugar in protein powder. Sugar also raises your blood sugar levels, which means that you’ll quickly feel hungry again after drinking a whey protein shake. This inevitably leads to overeating and obesity (Malik et al., 2010[2]).
  • Artificial sweeteners: some whey protein powders are sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sorbitol and acesulfame-K. The name, artificial, says it all. Artificial sweeteners are anything but natural, meaning that they neither nourish your body nor contribute to your health in any way. They also fool your body into thinking that you’re eating sugar, causing the production of insulin. This leaves you feeling hungry and again, makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Soya: the greatest disadvantage with soya is that it contains phytic acid, a so-called anti-nutrient that binds minerals (including calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and iodine), proteins and starch together, making them more difficult to absorb. In addition, soya naturally contains phytoestrogens that are similar to the human hormone, oestrogen. A high consumption of phytoestrogens can therefore trigger a hormone imbalance. Perhaps even more concerning, much of our soya has been genetically modified, and scientists have yet to determine exactly what effect this will have on our long-term health (Hurrell et al., 1992[3]; Sathyapalan et al., 2011)[4]
  • Eggs: Eggs are extremely healthy. Unfortunately, most whey protein powders contain non-organic battery farm eggs that are brimming with hormones and antibiotics. And, the terrible life that battery hens are subjected to, just doesn’t bear thinking about.
  • Gluten: Many whey powders contain wheat flour, which acts as a both a filler and binder. Wheat contains gluten, a substance that many are allergic or intolerant to without even realising. Drinking whey protein shakes can therefore result in digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and / or flatulence (Biesiekierski et al., 2011[5]).
  • Preservatives: preservatives are often added to whey powder to extend its shelf life and retain structure. These tend to be artificial (chemical) substances that provide no added value and may even be harmful to your health. Disodium phosphate is a commonly used flavour enhancer, thickening and anti-caking agent, for example. Worryingly, it’s also used in cleaning products and pesticides, and can deplete your calcium levels, exacerbating conditions such as asthma and gout (Ritz et al., 2012[6]).
  • Inferior proteins: manufacturers are continually striving to produce whey protein powders as cheaply as possible. They often use whey products derived from factory farms, which are typically packed with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. This type of whey is also exposed to high temperatures during processing, resulting in the release of toxic substances and the loss of much of its nutritional content (including amino acids).

A staggering 95% of all whey proteins contain many unhealthy additives, so it’s essential that you read the product information on the packaging before making a purchase. Quality whey proteins contain zero artificial additives or fillers, and are made from whey that has been processed at low temperatures and derived from organic milk from grass-fed cows. 

The pros and cons of hemp protein powder

An increasing number of consumers are choosing for plant based (vegan) protein powders, as these tend to be rich in readily absorbable nutrients and free from harmful ingredients, such as refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, soya, non-organic eggs, gluten, preservatives and inferior proteins.

Pure vegetable protein powders are usually made from hemp, peas, sprouted brown rice or a mixture of these. Hemp protein powder is unique in that it contains all essential amino acids, as well as a generous quantity of enzymes and antioxidants, such as vitamin E and lecithin, which are important for healthy brain chemistry. Lecithin also supports healthy liver function and promotes the body’s natural cleansing process (e.g. Canty et al., 1994[7]). In addition, hemp protein powder contains more than 20 different minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, platinum, phosphorus, sulphur, boron, nickel, germanium, tin, iodine, chromium, silver, and lithium), trace elements and is rich in alpha, beta and gamma globulin, which strengthen your immune system and help to repair old and damaged tissue, and create new tissue (e.g. Dwyer, 1992[8]). Hemp protein powder also contains chlorophyll and the anti-inflammatory fatty acid G.L.A., which is known for its hormone regulating effect and anti-inflammatory properties (e.g. Ziboh, 2011[9]; Hirahashi et al., 2002[10]).

If you’re looking for a high quality hemp protein powder, then Superfoodies hemp protein powder is an excellent choice.

The pros and cons of brown rice protein powder

A major disadvantage of hemp protein powder is that it’s often unpalatable. This is not only due to its lack of artificial flavourings, but also its texture. Indeed, hemp protein powder is often so chalky that it’s difficult to drink.

Rice protein powder on the other hand, doesn’t have a grainy texture and boasts a pleasant flavour, making it a tasty and filling ingredient in shakes and smoothies. Another benefit of brown rice protein powder is that it’s more readily absorbable than other vegetable protein powders, such as hemp protein powder. Scientific research also indicates that brown rice protein powder is as effective as whey protein powder for the building and recovery of muscle, although it’s not as readily absorbable as whey protein powder (Joy et al., 2013[11]). Yet, brown rice protein powder remains the better choice because, unlike whey protein powder, it’s free from allergens, doesn’t trigger digestive problems and scores low on the Glycaemic Index, which means that enjoying smoothies and shakes containing brown rice protein powder won’t affect your blood sugar levels.

It’s important, however, that you choose for a high quality brown rice protein powder, and preferably one that’s organic. Indeed, brown rice protein powders of an inferior quality can contain traces of heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and tungsten (Natural News, 2014[12]). You can avoid this by choosing for the premium organic Brown Rice Protein Powder from Superfoodies.

The pros and cons of whey powder, hemp protein and brown rice protein powder 

Whey protein, hemp protein and brown rice protein powders each have their own advantages and disadvantages. To simplify things, we’ve highlighted these in the table below.


Whey protein powder

Hemp protein powder

Brown rice protein powder

Suitable for vegetarians / vegans




Contains all the essential amino acids




















Kcal per 100 grams




Contains allergens




Can digestive complaints (belching, flatulence, bloating)




Ranks low on the Glycaemic Index




Readily digestible






[1] Bounous, Gustavo, and Phil Gold. "The biological activity of undenatured dietary whey proteins: role of glutathione." Clin Invest Med 14.4 (1991): 296-309.

[2] Malik, Vasanti S., et al. "Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk." Circulation 121.11 (2010): 1356-1364.

[3] Hurrell, Richard F., et al. "Soy protein, phytate, and iron absorption in humans." The American journal of clinical nutrition 56.3 (1992): 573-578.

[4] Sathyapalan, Thozhukat, et al. "The effect of soy phytoestrogen supplementation on thyroid status and cardiovascular risk markers in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96.5 (2011): 1442-1449.

[5] Biesiekierski, Jessica R., et al. "Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial." The American journal of gastroenterology 106.3 (2011): 508-514.

[6] Ritz, Eberhard, et al. "Phosphate additives in food—a health risk." Dtsch Arztebl Int 109.4 (2012): 49-55.

[7] Canty, David J., and Steven H. Zeisel. "Lecithin and choline in human health and disease." Nutrition reviews 52.10 (1994): 327-339.

[8] Dwyer, John M. "Manipulating the immune system with immune globulin." New England Journal of Medicine 326.2 (1992): 107-116.

[9] Ziboh, Vincent A. Gamma Linolenic Acid: Recent advances in biotechnology and clinical applications. The American Oil Chemists Society, 2001.

[10] Hirahashi, Tomohiro, et al. "Activation of the human innate immune system by Spirulina: augmentation of interferon production and NK cytotoxicity by oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina platensis." International Immunopharmacology 2.4 (2002): 423-434.

[11] Joy, Jordan M., et al. "The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance." Nutrition journal 12.1 (2013): 1.

[12] Natural News: Garden of Life, SunWarrior, Natural News reach industry-leading agreement for the future of brown rice protein. Mike Adams, 2014.



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