According to Walter Willet, who is among the 37 experts of the EAT-Lancet Commission, concluded that a healthy diet consists of “a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars.
Why is Protein Important?
Protein is a macronutrient–it is one of the main nutrients required in our diet, aside from carbohydrates and fats. It is the building block of our body: it builds muscle and repairs tissue. When it comes to protein intake, every individual needs a different amount of protein per day depending on several factors such as weight, activity level, gender etc.
However, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For athletes who practice weight lifting or other sports, 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal.
Below are the 9 best plant based sources you can try incorporating into your diet:
½ cup = 46 grams of protein
Seitan is a great high protein source that is low in carbohydrates and fat. It is also made of wheat, which makes it a great option for those with soy allergies. It has a very similar appearance and texture to meat, so you can substitute it to any recipe that calls for meat. It also has a slight savory taste, but is still bland enough to be incorporated into any dish you desire.
In order to consume seitan, it must always be cooked first, either pan-fried, grilled, or even baked!
100g = 8 grams of protein
Tofu is another great plant based alternative that can add a sufficient amount of protein to your meal. Unlike tempeh which is made from fermented soybeans, tofu is made from condensed unfermented soy milk pressed into a solid block, similar to the process of cheese. Furthermore, it contains all of the essential amino acids and a wide array of vitamins and minerals.
Tofu has about 20.2–24.7 mg of isoflavones per 100g serving, which offers many benefits. This includes protection against cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, hormone-dependent cancer among many others. With only 70 calories per serving, tofu makes a very nutrient dense food.
Despite its benefits, tofu contains anti nutrients (plant compounds that interfere with the body’s ability to digest essential nutrients). These include phytates and trypsin inhibitors. In order to maximize its nutritional benefits and reduce anti nutrients, it is recommended to soak or ferment the tofu.
1 cup cooked = 18 g of protein
Coming in different varieties from green, brown, black to red, lentils are low in calories and very high in fiber, iron, folic acid, and potassium. Because of these benefits, lentils are found to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, hypertension and obesity incidence–according to a recent systematic review and meta analysis.
They are also really versatile and great in dahls, soups and stews; green and brown lentils work very well in soups and black lentils are great in salads as they add a great texture and crunch. Lentils also make a good thickener and cook very quickly, typically taking 10-20 minutes at most. Over and above, lentils are also very affordable and accessible, making them a go-to plant based source for many.
4. Black Beans
1 cup cooked = 15.2 g of protein
Black beans have been around for thousands of years, they are an important ingredient in a lot of middle eastern countries and Brazil. They can be tossed in soups and salads or combined with rice. Black beans are super antioxidant rich, which help fight off free radicals and help you absorb more nutrients, making you feel better.
They are also high in fiber, not only aiding in digestion, but fiber has also been shown to reduce levels of c-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is the primary marker of inflammation within the body. Hence, black beans’ high fiber content makes it ideal for reducing inflammation. Thirdly, because of the fiber content, it can take a very long time to digest and as a result, lower blood sugar. The amylase inhibitors found in black beans prevent starch from being absorbed by the body, further slowing digestion.
5. Nutritional Yeast
¼ cup = 18 grams of protein
Nutritional yeast comes as a yellow powder or flake and tastes very similar to cheese. It is surprisingly high in protein and many of the brands today are fortified with vitamin B12, which is one nutrient that is not easily found on a plant based diet.
This vegan diet staple can be used to make cheese sauce, mashed potatoes, or even used as a popcorn topping! It’s versatility, taste, and nutrient profile makes it an excellent addition to a well-balanced diet.
6. Hemp seeds
3 tbsp = 10 grams of protein
Just one serving (3 tbsp) of hemp seeds contains 3000mg of omega 3 fatty acids and 10 grams of protein, our matching chia seeds or flax seeds! Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation as well as heart disease risk. They also have almost no carbohydrates or sugar, making it a great addition for people with diabetes. Moreover, hemp seeds are high in fiber, aiding in cleansing the colon and regulating bowel movement.
In only a single serving, hemp seeds contain 50% of your daily value of magnesium, critical for relaxing muscles, improving digestion and improving brain function. In addition, they contain 50% of your daily value of phosphorus and 25% of our daily value of zinc, which helps keep your bones and teeth strong and regulate immune function, respectively.
Cooking with hemp seeds is also very easy. They can be sprinkled into salads, baked goods, or smoothies. They can also be purchased in the form of hemp protein, a grounded form derived from whole raw hemp seeds which is perfect for smoothies, juices, or soups.
100g of cooked chickpeas = 10 grams of protein
Chickpeas make a versatile legume found in many middle eastern or indian recipes like hummus, falafels and curries. They are filled with a number of health benefits in addition to protein. They are rich in fiber and reduce the risk of diabetes. People who have type 1 diabetes have demonstrated remarkable changes in blood sugar levels after the consumption of chickpeas.
Fiber also helps strengthen the digestive tract system and protects you from colon cancer by flushing out the bad toxins from the body.
Aside from being high in protein, this legume is also rich in folate, calcium and magnesium, crucial to bone health and other bodily functions. Chickpeas also help reduce the LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body, which can lead to heart diseases. Furthermore, they are full of phytochemical properties such as sterols, carotenoids, and isoflavones which lower the risk of breast cancer in women.
8. Nuts and Seeds
¼ cup = 7-9 grams of protein
Nuts and seeds are known for their high fat and protein content, composed of fats and protein, low glycemic with a small amount of carbohydrate content. They consist of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with small amounts of saturated fats.
Each nut and seed comes with an abundance of vitamins and minerals including niacin, selenium, copper, magnesium and potassium. High amount of phytosterols, ranging between 95 and 271 mg per 100 g serving which can boost your cholesterol-lowering potentials, blocking cholesterol from being absorbed.
It was found in a study that the consumption of nuts, more than 4x per week, has a cardio protective impact and may help lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Some nuts like walnuts and almonds are known to lower LDL cholesterol levels due to their unique fatty acid profile.
Some seeds like chia, flax and hemp seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and most of the other nuts are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which most Americans consume more frequenty. Hence, incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, cashews as well as nut butters can help ensure you get a healthy balance of both fatty acids. They go great on top of salads or stir fries or even mixing them together in a trail mix can make a healthy and simple snack.
1 cup cooked quinoa = 10g of protein
Quinoa is a gluten free and complete protein, meaning that it has all 9 essential amino acids, unlike most grains. It is very nutritious and is prepared similarly to a grain, although it is not a true cereal grain. It has been consumed for thousands of years in South America and grows in white, red or black varieties.
It is rich in an important mineral: manganese. In fact, a serving of quinoa offers 58% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of manganese. Manganese is necessary for bone health, inflammation, fighting free radicals and overall body function.
It is perfect for people with gluten intolerance and can help increase the nutrient value of your diet. Quinoa makes a fantastic base for salads, breakfast or even patties, especially because of its bland taste and texture.
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