Taking the Vega Breakfast Challenge

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A few weeks ago, the wonderful folks at Vega sent me some of their fabulous Whole Foods Optimizer, on the house. They had asked me to participate in the “Vega Breakfast Challenge,” which is an initiative to show how Vega—my favorite vegan protein powder and supplement—stacks up to an average breakfast when added to smoothies, puddings, and so on. I was happy to participate, of course: it’s no great secret that Brendan is a dear friend, and that I love the whole Vega line.

The problem, I quickly realized, was this: my breakfasts aren’t so far off from the kind of morning meal that Vega offers. For example, let’s take my typical weekday breakfast: chia pudding with almond milk, rice protein powder (or Vega!) a chopped banana, and cacao nibs.


This is what comes with me to school nearly every day. If I were to calculate stats on this, it would look something like:

Kcal: 500
Protein: 25 grams
Fat: 15 grams
Carbohydrate: 60(ish) grams
Potassium: 600 mg
Calcium: 60% RDA
Iron: 25% RDA

This quick count doesn’t include the many healthy EFA’s (omega 3’s and 6’s) from the chia. Note that I typically use storebought almond milk during the week (time-saver), but always make my own on weekends. This reflects storebought nutrition info, so fortification accounts for 30% of the calcium. But even so, the other 30% (from chia) is substantial!

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The other morning, I decided to take the Vega challenge, and I created a smoothie with a packet of the chocolate flavored whole foods optimizer, a frozen banana, half a cup of frozen blueberries, a cup of almond milk, and a topping of granola (the granola version of my no-bake sunflower oat bars). It was scrumptious, but my real curiosity was about its stats: how would it stack up to my typical chia seed creation? Here’s how it looked:

Kcal: 450
Protein: 15 grams
Fat: 13.5 grams
Carbohydrate: 68 grams
Calcium: 80% RDA*
Iron: 45% RDA*
Potassium: 1050 mg


Once again, the calcium value reflects fortified almond milk. But even if I’d used my own version, I’d still be looking at 50% of my RDA. Which is fantastic—not to mention the very high iron count.

What I realized is that the backbone of my home breakfasts is a lot like the Vega breakfast: similar caloric intake, similar fat and carbs, and a difference in protein, but not a vast one. What makes the Vega breakfast stand out is the fact that it’s not only a boost in macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) but in micronutrients: it’s a supplement, ready to blend into your smoothie. When I take Vega, I forgo my daily supplement, since Vega contains the whole spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, Folate, Biotin, B-12, and so on, not to mentioncalcium and iron. It also contains a perfect ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, chlorella (which is fantastic), a probiotic blend, and maca.

In short, it gives me what a bunch of supplement pills would give me, but it gives those nutrients to me in a delicious and accessible breakfast form. Vega isn’t notable because it’s a protein powder: as you’ve probably noticed, the price point is just a notch higher than many vegan proteins. It’s notable because it’s a whole foods supplement: an easy to digest, easy to assimilate helping of not only protein, but rather all of the most essential nutrients for optimal performance and health. This is why I so constantly advocate it to my clients and friends: not only is the product top-of-the-line in terms of quality, but it’s also unparalleled in terms of nutritional scope.

It’s also worth noting that the fact that my own breakfast (sans Vega) is so well-rounded has a lot to do with Brendan and his work. The Thrive Diet was one of the most influential books I read as I transitioned into raw food: it taught me the importance of proper nutrition, and it taught me how to translate protein, iron, EFA, and fat needs into the paradigm of a high-raw vegan diet.

One of my favorite things about Brendan is his sincerity about helping people live well: Vega is his business, but he doesn’t wish to hold a monopoly over its benefits. Instead, he teaches people how to eat a nutrient dense diet without the aid of a supplement or product. He openly shares the Vega formula (bars, drinks, and so on) in his books, because his main goal is for people to be well nourished—even if they’re on a budget and can’t invest in his line. That’s a rare kind of selflessness in an entrepreneur, and only one small part of what makes Brendan admirable.

So, the upshot? My breakfasts are pretty solid (and filling). But for those days when I want an extra boost of the vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that boost my health just a little further, Vega is an essential part of my diet. And, reluctant though I usually am to endorse anything on my site, no product gets more of a hearty thumbs of from me than this one.

How does your breakfast stack up? Try taking the Vega challenge yourself, or simply learning more on the Vega Facebook page or by following along on twitter. And I’d love to hear what your own favorite nutrient dense breakfasts are!!


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  1. Hey Gena (and others)

    What type of store-bought almond milk do you recommend/use?


  2. I’ve been using the Whole Food Optimizer for a few months now:
    -As a breakfast replacement with berries and rice milk
    -As a mid-morning snack mixed with rice milk and a banana
    -Post exercise for a protein boost, mixed with coconut water
    -Added to many recipes
    I cannot believe how much energy it provides, how it aids in recovery, balancing out sleep patterns, no bloating…I could go on and on and on…
    Anyway, I’m soooo thankful to Brendan, Sequel and the Vega line

  3. Hi Gena,
    I’m curious about your thoughts on calcium.. when I was pregnant with my kids I did a lot of research on nutrition and one thing I found was that we can not absorb more than 300mg (approximately) at a time and that consuming more than that was essentially ‘wasting’ the calcium.

    I don’t remember where I read that or the source, but from the same source, they stated that consuming calcium rich products with anything containing Oxalic acid would inhibit absorption.. (chocolate, spinach, coffee) ..

    Love to know your thoughts!

  4. Love Brandon and Vega, but two things are niggling. I thought calcium prevents the absorption of iron. Plus, wouldn’t both nutrients in such high amounts just get flushed through?

    • A very nuanced point, Lee. I’m actually not entirely sure of the answer: I know that both are true to some degree; the question is whether both are true wholesale (thus invalidating the usefulness of the calcium in Vega). Why don’t we toss this one out to Dr. Seale as my next “the doctor is in” segment?

  5. I nearly peed my pants with excitement when I found Thrive at a used bookstore yesterday! Been on my list for awhile and now its next to my pillow. As for my breakfast I usually start the day with a large glass of warm water with lemon juice and cayenne and occasionally some tumeric to shake things up.

    Within an hour or two I dig in to a big bowl of goodness:
    oats + chia seeds (soaked overnight in almond or soy milk)
    heaping spoon of ground flax seed
    a green apple (finely chopped by my little food processor helper)
    molasses (inspired by your nutritional advice in Crazy Sexy Diet)
    dash of cinnamon + nutmeg

    I welcome any advice from the choosingraw community on ways to optimize my big bowl of goodness breakfast…

  6. My breakfasts are at the low-end of the protein scale, but I have been wanting to try a protein powder for a while. I have heard of Amazing Grass, but Vega looks enticing too! 🙂

  7. Actually haven’t tried this yet!! But want to-I have all of his books. And am trying to eat more raw and so actually did just buy some SunWarrior stuff to make super mega smoothies and to cut down the nut intake. I am such a raw wannabe slut, pathethic, wannabe!!
    Someday I will be in the cool clique like you!!!!

  8. Love the title of this post because I just saw the Vega ad in this month’s Vegetarian Times. 🙂 I’m on my second tub of Whole Health Optimizer, berry flavor this time, and love it! Perfect for half marathon training and making sure I’m starting the day with a well-rounded list of nutrients when I’m running myself a bit ragged with work and family stress. While it’s very pricey and something I can’t afford all the time, it’s worth it for times of physical and emotional stress.

  9. I love seeing your take on this! I’ll be doing the Vega Breakfast Challenge next month too. It’s years since I’ve seen Brendan, but I totally agree with all you say about him: his gentle, balanced, levelheaded sharing is so awesome.

    Lately I’ve tweaked my breakfast from all-fruit to something much more balanced and nutritious, and I’m expecting a similar question to what you have about how the vega stuff will improve it. I wish their products weren’t quite so expensive, though–but perhaps it’s partly because they have to come in from Canada, plus the super-high quality.


  10. i love love love the vega whole foods optimizer, it is well worth the price tag! my favorite post-workout breakfast is chocolate vega smoothie (w banana and nut butter and almond milk) and a toasted piece of ezekial sprouted bread!!! mmmmmm

  11. Throughout the hot summer months my breakfasts have been 1-2 lbs of watermelon, but soon I’ll start transitioning to heavier, more warming things. Chia pudding will come in, and steel-cut oatmeal with dried fruit, etc. Smoothies are usually my post-workout snack / second breakfast…I always add at least a little protein powder – Vega, Sunwarrior, or Sprout Living. I do <3 Vega.

    • I’d faint if I just had watermelon for breakfast! But agree that obeying seasonal cravings is fun and healthy.

  12. I respect your loyalty to Brendan and your desire to promote his product line, Gena, and you know I respect you and your ideas greatly, but I feel compelled to strongly disagree with you on this one. I can’t get past the fact that the price for this product seems way out of line to me – a notch higher than others? I am more than willing to spend quite a bit on quality real food, but for some reason I just resent the unreasonable price point on the Vega line of protein/supplement powders. Furthermore, as your experiment shows, it’s completely unnecessary for most folks to invest in such a product – unless they are competitive athletes requiring such a high level supplementation. I’m not fond of relying on manufactured protein powders, but on the occasion that I do want to add some heft to my smoothies, I choose a clean rice based protein that does the job at a fraction of the cost of the Vega line.

    • Yes, the “notch” bit came with a wink and a nudge. In all seriousness, Karen, I totally see your point — the whole point of the optimizer is to be simple and whole foods based, which means that pricing it at a premium seems unnecessary. But even if the price points are high, I’d keep in mind the fact that Brendan does essentially give out all the formulations in his books, so that people can do it themselves if they want to. Those who don’t have the energy/initiative to make their own concoctions, but *do* have the means to purchase the stuff? Well, I’d rather their dollars support Vega than anything else on the supplement shelf.

      If not, check the books out of the library. It’s what I did, at first 🙂

  13. Gena, what your favorite brand of rice protein? I’ve wanted to try this but was afraid to waste a lot of money on an icky-tasting product. I thought about adding hemp protein to the chia puddings but it’s so grainy. Thanks!

  14. Truly everyone’s taste buds are different. As good as I know it is for me, any of the protein powders that combine the greens are nasty tasting to me. It doesn’t matter what else I add, I just can’t stomach them. And, then there is the cost. 1 month of Vega Optimizer runs about $150.
    I just bought the Vega Chocolate Performance Protein. I have used it in smoothies and oatmeal, and like the taste. No need to hide the taste behind bananas etc. It is cheaper than the Optimizer since it doesn’t include all of the other supplements, and a container lasts twice as long. My health food store sells containers for $53, which lasts 3 weeks. One scoop includes 26g of protein.
    Nice to see this discussion and to hear what works for other people. The chia stats are very helpful.

  15. I must be using the wrong Vega protein powder…yesterday morning and today I used the Vega Sport Vanilla protein powder (I think it has 20 grams!) and it’s just not good at all. Copious amounts of peanut butter, coconut oil, and banana could help. I mixed it with oatmeal…is that just a silly idea? I’m sure the chocolate optimizer one is a lot better.

    • I really love the Vega sport, actually! Tastebuds run a full gamut 🙂 If you don’t like it, though, you can’t force it!

  16. The smoothie you made looks delicious! I’ll have to try the Vega breakfast challenge, as I love Brendan’s book – Thrive Fitness.

    Most days I like to keep it simple with yummy green smoothie: kale, banana, frozen strawberries, and chia seeds!

  17. I had bought Brendan’s first book years ago and just from reading it one could tell how passionate and genuine he is about helping people. In the past the cost of his products had always kept me from buying them, but this year I was looking for something to have after work that would hydrate me and wouldn’t weigh me down. I tried the Whole Foods Optimizer with water and loved it! I feel that the cost is so worth what you are getting, it but I discovered that I can even use half a scoop too so it lasts longer. I’ll have to try the breakfast challenge!

  18. I wish I could do vega but the stevia aftertaste is so nasty! I’ve tried it several times and just can’t do it. I want to support him too but it’s just too gross for me. I have been using the amazing grass chocolate flavor as protein powder in a smoothie and it’s pretty awesome, alot of the same nutrients plus probiotics. If I don’t do a smoothie, I usually do chia like Gena, and always a banana, some kind of nuts and almond milk 🙂

  19. I used to work in a supplements section of a health food store, and honestly there is nothing even close to vega out there. Not only is its protein sourced from real foods (good bye mono-hydrolyzed-isolated-cow extract), but it adds in whole food sources of vitamins and minerals. Other products have, at best, synthetic poorly absorbed micro-nutrients. My favorite part is the greens blend though! Anyone who promotes greens in the morning is a kindred spirit in my books 🙂

  20. Wow, what a beautiful photo and great review! I’ll be doing the Vega breakfast challenge soon, too. I love your chia pudding b-fast too, it’s my favorite recipe right now although so far I’ve only been making dessert variations. 🙂

  21. I adore Vega; the taste, the nutrition, the quality, and most importantly, I value what Brendan’s company stands for. However, I am an undergraduate student on a very tight budget, and Vega just doesn’t quite fit. It’s good to know that I can get similar macronutrients through a Chia Seed based breakfast, as that has been my choice of breakfast since I’ve moved. (Specifically, your Chia Power Pudding!)

  22. I do love the whole food health optimizer, for all the reasons you list, but no matter how nutritious, if it weren’t also delicious, I would forego it. I think I average three, maybe four, Vega smoothies a week. I use only one scoop and blend it with frozen banana and bee pollen. Sometimes almond milk but mostly just spring water. And I’ve taken to adding baby spinach, not too much. I don’t insist on a Vega-style breakfast every day, however. If I feel like grapefruit, or green juice, I’ll go with my craving and not worry about the protein, etc.

  23. I love my Vega Smoothies! The cost of the product is definately worth it to me. Maybe I will make the chia pudding to offset my hefty daily smoothie costs! 🙂

  24. i have to chime in on this one…i follow a modified paleo diet (i am strictly no gluten or grains besides what it’s vega (brown rice i think?), and no dairy but in recent weeks have been changing my macros a bit, eating far less protein (only 1x daily instead of at all 3 meals) and increasing my plant foods. i don’t think i’d thrive personally on a vegan diet BUT my go to powders are the vanilla chai and chocolate whole food optimizers. i feel good with them in my diet and the ingredients/nutrition is stellar. here’s to being an omni on brendan’s side! x

    • I love that Brendan can unite eaters of all varieties, actually, so I’m delighted you chimed in, friend!

  25. I bought a sample of vega’s vanilla chai from a local health food store for my brother in an effort to get him consuming something other than his whey protein powder. I ended up making a shake out of it for myself with ice and homemade coconut milk! It was DELICIOUS! I have since purchased 3 more samples for my brother, only to make more shakes for myself! I, too, was surprised and impressed with the EFA’s, chlorella, and probiotics that it offers. I’m definitely going to be getting more.

  26. Thanks for the info, Gena. I supplement with B12 (after reading your post!), but I feel like I get a good amount of everything else I need through a varied, healthy diet. I really love that you included information on Brendan and his business practices, though. I don’t eat much raw food now but I’d like to try to incorporate some more raw foods into my diet. I’ve been meaning to read his book for awhile now, I think I’ll move it to the top of my list!


  27. I received some of the whole foods optimizers from Vega and posted about it, too. Nice to have as a little “insurance” every now and then because of all the added probiotics, trace vitamins & minerals, protein, etc. Not something I feel is necessary on a regular basis for me personally but fun to try and mix it up every now and then.

    Glad you thoroughly enjoyed the products and hope you’re having a great weekend 🙂