When you think of protein, what comes to mind? A piece of chicken breast, a big slab of steak, or an omelet?
I’m sure you’re aware that protein doesn’t just come from animal-based foods. Many plants are high in protein, too.
If you’re thinking of going vegetarian or vegan — or maybe you want to just reduce your meat consumption, rest assured that you can still get the nutrients you need for your active lifestyle.
You can get enough protein on a vegan/vegetarian diet if you eat an adequate number of calories from a variety of whole foods.
Great Plant Protein Sources
Here’s how different vegan and vegetarian protein sources stack up:
Beans: Beans are known to be magical, and it’s probably because they pack loads of protein! In addition to hearty burritos, you can add them to soups, dips, salads, or make delish veggie burgers out of them. Just a half cup of any bean variety packs 6 to 9 grams of protein — plus 6 to 8 grams of fiber to keep you full. Beans may also help lower cholesterol and promote healthy gut bacteria.
Chia seeds: Despite their size, chia seeds dish up 4.7 grams of protein per ounce. Sprinkle them over oatmeals or blend into smoothies. If you’re looking for a dessert, you can even make chia pudding.
Edamame: These lightly boiled or steamed soybeans — often served still in their shell — make a great snack or appetizer. One cup of edamame (not in its shell) packs 18 grams of protein. The even better news? Whole soy is a complete protein, which means it provides all the amino acids your body needs but can’t make on its own.
Grains: You probably think of grains as primarily carbohydrates, but they also pack a protein punch. A half-cup serving of oats, for instance, adds 5 grams of protein to your morning meal. A quarter cup (uncooked) of barley or quinoa also add 5 to 6 grams. You can use quinoa in place of rice in most recipes. It can also be simmered in a plant source milk for a creamy, protein-rich breakfast porridge. Teff, millet, amaranth and other ancient grains are also great options to mix up your meals. Amaranth is a versatile grain that can be boiled for a side dish or porridge, or popped in a skillet to add texture to granola bars or salads. Similarly to quinoa, it has a delicate, nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked. When ground into a flour, amaranth can also be used in gluten-free baking.
Green peas: Though green peas don’t pack as hefty of a protein punch as other plant-based options, they’re still worth considering. Including a little extra protein doesn’t hurt after all, and they’re perfect in soups, stir-fries, and chilis. Peas get a bad rap, but one cup of cooked peas has 8 grams.
Lentils: Whether they’re brown, green or red, adding a half cup of cooked lentils to soups, curries, tacos or salads adds about 12 grams of protein to your meal. Check the bulk bins at your grocery store for the best deals.
Meat substitutes: Faux meat products can make the transition to a plant-based diet easier for meat lovers, but they’re not all healthy. Choose options with minimal ingredients, ample protein and reasonable amounts of saturated fat and sodium.
Nutritional yeast: The secret ingredient in many vegan “cheese” sauces, nutritional yeast is a great source of protein and B vitamins. One tablespoon sprinkled on top of your meal adds two grams of protein.
Nuts: Though it’s technically a legume, the peanut packs the most protein out of all the commonly consumed nuts (9 grams per quarter-cup serving). Almonds and pistachios are close behind with 7 and 6 grams, respectively. Grab a handful as a snack or garnish your morning oats with a tablespoon of nut butter to add protein and filling fats.
Plant-based beverages: Some milk substitutes, such as soy milk and pea milk, have nearly as much protein as cow’s milk. Look for unsweetened or lightly sweetened varieties.
Seeds: Like nuts, seeds are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats. For a snack, reach for sunflower seeds, which contain 8 grams of protein per ounce, or pumpkin seeds, which have 7 grams per ounce. You can also sprinkle hemp seeds, which have about 10 grams per ounce, on your morning oatmeal or toast.
Tofu: Tofu, which is made from soybeans, is so versatile that you can use it in place of meat in a recipe or even as a base for creamy desserts. Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk that’s pressed into white blocks and comes in a variety of textures, including silken, firm, and extra-firm. As it’s quite bland, tofu tends to take on the flavor of the foods with which it’s cooked.
A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of tofu provides approximately 8 grams of protein. It also offers 15% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium, as well as smaller amounts of potassium and iron
Tempeh: Made from soybeans that are fermented and pressed into a block, tempeh is high in protein, prebiotics and other nutrients. Tempeh is much chewier and nuttier than tofu and made from fermented soybeans, which are often combined with other seeds and grains to form a firm, dense cake.
Because it’s more compact than tofu, it’s higher in protein — a three ounce serving will give you 15 to 16 grams. Tempeh’s firm but chewy texture makes it a superb addition to sandwiches and salads.
Vegetables: They’re not the most abundant sources of protein, but if you’re eating a diet heavy in vegetables, you’ll get a decent amount of protein from them. For example, a cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contributes 4 grams of protein to your meal. A cup of sweet yellow corn is 5 grams. Leafy greens like spinach, watercress and bok choy are low in calories but have a high protein content per calorie.
Now that we’ve gone over a great list of vegan protein sources for your active lifestyle, have you thought of tending to your body’s wear and tear? I may not be able to help with your nutrition, but I can certainly help relieve those muscle knots and workout recovery.
Located near Hermosa Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes area? Come and see me for your massage needs. I look forward to working with you!