DHA in Vegan Diets. Is Supplementation Necessary? Plus, True Vitality Protein Powder (DHA Enriched) Product Review.
Posted Sep 02 2012 1:37pm
Hope you’ve been enjoying restful and happy holiday weekends. Mine has been very busy–tons of “back to the grind” stuff to deal with–which is fine with me. To be honest, as nice as vacation is, it only takes me a week or so to start aching for work again. I’ll be ruing these words in a month or so, but at the moment, it feels great to be stretched thin with projects again.
On my project list for some time has been a review of a new, and super favorite, protein powder. It’s called “ True Vitality” protein powder, and it is from Green Foods. Like many protein powders on the market, it is infused with probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, and greens. It’s vegan and gluten free. What makes it unique is that it contains a dose of DHA from algal oil.
What is DHA, exactly? DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid (or, more precisely, all-cis-docosa-4,7,10,13,16,19-hexa-enoic acid—take that, orgo!!!) is an Omega-3 fatty acid that may play a role in fetal brain and retinal development, heart disease prevention, prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, and even a positive role in managing ADHD. Though none of these correlations have been proven (research on DHA and human health has a long way to go), the findings suggest that DHA is at least worthy of broader study.
DHA is a hot topic for vegans, because vegan diets have historically been lower in the nutrient than omnivorous ones. The most readily available source of the nutrient is fish and fish oil. Though there is no hard evidence of health defects in vegans due to missing DHA, current thinking is that DHA supplementation is at least worthwhile. Here I’ll quote my friend Ginny Messina, R.D., who writes about DHA in her invaluable book Vegan For Life (which I consider to be a “must read” for vegans who want solid nutrition and health information):
…Because the research on the overall benefits of Omega-3s is so conflicting, it’s hard to know whether these supplements are useful for vegans. We are not convinced that they are. On the other hand, we are not convinced that the lower blood levels of DHA and EPA in vegans is unimportant. Until we know more, we are inclined to recommend supplementing with very small amounts, around 200 to 300 mg of DHA (or DHA and EPA combined) every two or three days.
Conveniently, in the 1980s, NASA researchers discovered a means of isolating DHA without the use of fish or fish oil for astronauts on long voyages. They realized that certain species of marine algae could be used to produce supplementary DHA, and so DHA from algae is now widely available to vegans.
I’ll confess that I have not consistently supplemented DHA myself, but Ginny’s recommendation is good reason to consider it seriously. Moreover, if you are an expecting mother, it’s well worth asking your health care practitioner if a DHA supplement may be wise, as its role in brain development may be significant. We aren’t sure what role DHA plays in plant based diet, but as Ginny points out, it does seem clear that some supplementation of this nutrient can’t hurt, and may help.
For this reason, I was excited to find that True Vitality protein contains DHA from algal oil! It’s worth noting that the DHA in True Vitality protein powder is 1000 mg per serving; this is about 3-4 times what Ginny and Jack Norris recommend. That said, it’s very easy to use half a serving of the powder per smoothie or drink, or to use it only a few times weekly, rather than daily. When we find new products that boast particular nutrients, it’s tempting to glut ourselves on them, but it’s important to remember that over-supplementation can be expensive, unnecessary, and even harmful; when you get a new powder or enriched food, always check out labels to see what your intake will be!
Green Foods sent me samples of both the chocolate and vanilla flavors. Both are delicious. Unlike some vegan protein powders, they’re not sicky sweet, but they’re sweet enough that the greens and slight trace of algae can’t be detected readily.
The base of the protein is a mix of pea, rice, and hemp, which I like because it means variety. If you’re curious about details, here’s the ingredient label:
I used both flavors, often in my “standard” smoothie mix of banana, greens, berries, almond milk, flax, and hemp seeds. The chocolate flavor worked really well in a smoothie of cherries, cacao, cacao nibs, strawberries, and greens.
As for the price point, it’s 29.99$ for 22.7 oz of the protein; this is not cheap, but it is more affordable than other premium brands (to give you a sense of comparison, 30.4 oz of Vega is $69.99). And the company has a range of products that also includes green powders, wheatgrass, carrot essence, and beet essence. Check out the array of products on the website, here.
I’d certainly purchase this protein again, and plan to. Though I don’t consider protein powders to be an essential part of vegan diets, they can be helpful means of boosting protein intake for particular purposes (if, for instance, you happen to be an athlete, a person in ED recovery, or a person who is new to veganism and struggling with protein sourcing) or if you simply feel that you thrive with more protein than you can get conveniently from your diet. They can also add a lot of density and satiety to smoothies.
I have a much more complete protein powder review in the works; if you guys have any particular questions, please comment and let me know, so that I can take them into account!