Where does protein come from?
One of the questions most frequently asked when talking about meat vs. vegetarian is ” where do you get your protein? “. It’s a fair question and one that can be answered fairly easily, but I have to wonder why it is asked so often. Personally, I think it is because we were raised to believe that the best source of protein is meat. While meat can in fact provide us with protein, it is certainly not the best nor only source.
There are 20 different amino acids that form a protein and 9 that our body’s cannot produce naturally on its own: essential amino acids. A “complete protein” is a source of protein that is comprised of the 9 essential amino acids in equal parts. While meat and eggs are considered complete proteins, let’s take a look at some amazing plant forms of protein:
- Quinoa – 18 grams of protein / 1 cup.
bonus-> fiber, iron, magnesium & manganese.
Quinoa, close relative of chard and spinach, is a light and mild seed that can easily be incorporated into meals (replace rice or pasta) , as well as used in baking.
- Hemp Seeds – 10 grams of protein / 2 T.
bonus-> magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium & omega-3s.
Hemp seeds are nutty in flavor and extremely versatile. In my personal opinion, hemp seeds should be sprinkled everywhere like pixie dust. From sauces to salads, smoothies to desserts; go nuts!
- Chia Seeds – 4 grams of protein / 2 T.
bonus-> iron, calcium, zinc & antioxidants.
Ch ch ch chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3s and contain more fiber than flax seeds or nuts. Along with flax seeds, chia seeds can also be used as an egg alternative in baking. Again, go ahead and sprinkle them e.very.where!
- Peas – 9 grams of protein / 1 cup.
bonus-> fiber (also 9 grams), potassium, iron, zinc, Vitamins A & K, B vitamins.
- Spinach – 5 grams of protein / 1 cup.
bonus-> calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, Vitamins A, K & E.
Cooked spinach is low in calories and can easily be added to many of your favorite dishes from soups to sauces.
- Beans – average of 15 grams of protein / 1 cup.
double bonus-> edamame tops the charts with 22 grams of protein/cup.
Beans, one of the best sources of protein available, are simple and inexpensive. With such a variety of color, taste and texture, it is easy to find one or many that you enjoy. Top favorites of many include; white, adzuki, pinto, kidney, black, garbanzo, etc.
- Nutritional Yeast – 12 grams of protein / 3 T.
bonus-> high in B vitamins
Nutritonal yeast, sold in powder/flake form, is dairy free and contains zero active yeast. Once it is mixed with liquid, it forms a paste and can be used in a variety of yummy dishes including this Vegan Mac n Cheese recipe.
- Nuts – 7-9 grams of protein / 1/4 cup.
bonus-> rich in minerals, Vitamin E & healthy fats.
Almonds, cashews, walnuts and pistachios, to name a few, can be used as a wonderful snack, ground into flours & nut butters or used in your favorite homemade healthy bars.
- Lentils – 18 grams of protein / 1 cup.
bonus-> folate, manganese, iron & B vitamins.
Lentils are earthy by nature and are excellent for sauces, stews and soups.
- Soy – 10 g. (tofu) 14 g. (tempeh) of protein / 1/2 cup.
please note-> with soy being one of the current top GMO crops, it is imperative to purchase only organically produced.
Both tofu and tempeh, typically used as a meat alternative, are both very mild by nature and can be easily manipulated as far as taste and texture go. Check out these amazing Black Bean Tempeh Tacos!
As you can see, there are a variety of ways to integrate protein into your diet through plants. Incorporating more plant based proteins into your diet increases your fiber, vitamin intake and environmental responsibility which leads to a happier and healthier lifestyle.