Our top 5, Whole Food sources of Plant Based protein
Where do you get your protein? Is the number one question we get asked. So, I have compiled a list below. However, I have to point out, getting enough protein into our diet is not something we think about. We simply eat a variety of Plant Based Whole Foods and the rest takes care of itself. There have been many studies showing too much protein (specifically animal protein…but even very high amounts of plant protein) can be harmful. Some of our meals are just vegetables while other meals are heavier in legumes and grains. When we are training hard we need more calories and the sources below help us get there while adding in a little extra protein. The very nature of eating a variety of Plant Based Whole Foods is you naturally hit about 10% of your calories from protein and more often than not even more. The great thing about the options below is they are biologically available to the body to be used as fuel quickly and they are cholesterol free and generally free of saturated fats. There is no need to worry about getting “complete proteins” as our bodies are extremely efficient at breaking down the protein we eat into amino acids and then re-configuring them into what the body needs at that time. So, check out our list below for some ideas and to put your mind at ease about reaching your daily protein needs.
*To learn more about human protein needs and how it works in the body check out our Science Behind it page and read up on Animal Protein and Plant Protein.
1. Legumes: King of the plant based protein world coming in at 15 to almost 20g of protein per cup with around 200 -300 calories. Legumes are extremely versatile and can be tossed into or onto almost anything. Lentils are a great substitute for ground beef (check out our stuffed bell peppers) or can be made into soups like curry dhal. Legumes such as black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas (lentils too) can be tossed over salads or incorporated into tacos, soups, chili, mixed into quinoa or rice or even made into burgers. They taste great plane with a little salsa and avocado as a snack too. There really is no limit to these bad boys. Lentils: 1 cup = 230 calories, 18g protein. Other legumes average: 1 cup = 220-260 calories, 15g protein.
2. Quinoa & amaranth: Quinoa is a staple in our diet and with red, black and white to choose from (all with a little different taste and texture) it never gets boring. We use it as a base for our veggie dishes, throw it into soups in the winter, add chopped veggies and vinegar for a summer salad, and even add cinnamon, almond milk and dried fruit and nuts for a breakfast meal. Amaranth on the other hand has a very earthy taste and might not be for everyone. We will sometimes add it to our shakes as the taste is masked by the berries. Quinoa and amaranth are considered pseudo-cereal grains and have a high protein to carbohydrate ration when compared to other grains. Quinoa is chocked full of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and is comprised of all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein. Quinoa: 1 cup = 220 calories, 8g protein. Amaranth: 1 cup = 250 calories, 9 g protein.
3. Tempeh and Edamame. We do not eat a huge amount of temphe or edamame but do enjoy the variety and taste. Temphe is a fermented soy product comprised of the whole soy bean offering fiber, protein and antioxidants. The fermentation makes it easier to digest as the enzymes pre-digest the carbohydrates, protein and fat. Note: We ALWAYS choose organic when dealing with soy. Add into stir fry, soups, salads or grill. Tempeh: 1 cup = 320 calories, 31g protein. Edamame: 1 cup = 189 calories, 17g protein.
4. Hemp, Chia, Flax and Other Seeds: Hemp seeds are a great protein source and with a very mild taste and can be added to a variety of foods. We mix hemp seeds into our oatmeal, shakes, sprinkle over salads or add into baked goods. Hemp seeds are a complete protein containing all 9 amino acids and provide roughly a 3:1 ration of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. They are also rich in protein, fiber, potassium and offer a good amount of iron. Other seeds we regularly consume are flax, chia and pumpkin seeds. Hemp: 3 Tablespoons = 168 calories, 10g protein. Flax and chia are similar to hemp offering lots of omga 3’s, phytonutrients (lignans) and antioxidants.
5. Leafy greens: There is a reason body builders eat so much spinach and broccoli; it is packed with protein. These low calorie, high fiber and protein rich eats will keep you lean and strong with no worry of overeating and packing on unwanted love handles. They also pack in a healthy dose of folate and Omega 3’s! We suggest eating a variety of leafy’s as each has their own special contribution when it comes to health. Spinach 1 cup cooked = 30-40 calories, 3 g protein (100 calories packs in a filling 9 – 10g of protein). Spinach: 1 cup raw = 7 calories.
Protein Sources we have very seldom:
Seitan: Josh eats seitan every now and then as a treat. While it is plant based, it is also refined and has added oils. Something we do not advocate on a daily or weekly basis. But for those just transitioning to a healthier way of eating (especially those wanting to cut down on their cholesterol intake) seitan is very versatile and tastes just like meat; it can be grilled, roasted in the oven, eaten cold or thrown into stir fries. However, seitan is made entirely of wheat gluten so be mindful of this especially if you or someone in your household has a gluten allergy or celiacs. I do not even touch it for this reason. For those of you who do not have a reaction to gluten, it is a good temporary replacement (until your palate becomes more accustom to plant foods) if you are having a hard time giving up meat products and want something with a similar taste and texture.
Tofu: There really is no particular reason we only indulge occasionally in tofu, other than we prefer to get as much as we can from whole foods and tofu is processed in that the whole soy bean is not present as it is in tempeh. Basically, tofu is made from soy milk that has been coagulated into curds and pressed to create the desired firmness. We will sometime have tofu scrambles in the morning or make creamy spreads out of silken tofu. We will also occasionally eat flavored tofu made locally in our area. Depending on the firmness you purchase you can do a variety of things including grilling it, making a spread by blending it with herbs and spices for sandwiches and you can cut it into chunks to include in soups or salads. It is much like Tempeh but with even more options available as there are different firmness’ you can work with.
Featured image by: Michelle Meiklejohn