When you hear the word “protein”, the first thing that comes to your mind is meat. Others may think of dairy products or eggs. Maybe fish and other seafood, too.
But, with the ever-increasing trend for a healthy diet, more and more people are looking for other, healthier lean protein sources besides those that come from animals.
Well, you’re in luck. If you want to eat more protein without eating meat, eggs or dairy, you might want to take into consideration plant sources.
Plants Have Protein?
Yes, I can hear the shock in the above question. Plants DO HAVE protein. Unlike animals though, plants don’t get their protein and amino acids from eating other organisms and/or creatures. Instead, they synthesize their own proteins and amino acids.
In term of protein synthesis, the difference between animals and plants is that animals have all 20 of the amino acids, which they get from the food they eat. Plants end up having some amino acids missing as they are immediately used up during protein synthesis for plant growth and development to take place.
However, just because plants lack certain amino acids doesn’t mean that they are an incomplete source of protein or other nutrients for that matter. In fact, plants as a protein source provide a number of benefits compared to animal sources.
The Benefits of Eating Plant Proteins – they are lean protein sources!
Here are a few ways your body will benefit from eating plant proteins:
- Unlike animal proteins, plant proteins are easy to digest so there is no fear of gastrointestinal intolerance or allergies.
- Plants are great sources of energy because of their higher natural carbohydrate and fiber content.
- They are fat- and cholesterol-free, thus reducing your risk for Type 2 Diabetes
- Plant proteins aid in reducing inflammation in the heart, muscles and joints. Animal proteins increase acidity in the body which is very bad for your health. On the other hand, plant proteins increases alkalinity, which reduces and prevents inflammation.
Please note though that if you already have an existing inflammatory condition, plant proteins are best combined with fish protein, especially that which is obtained from wild fish.
Lean protein sources: Fantastic Sources of Plant-Based Proteins
Have I got you convinced on how great plant-based proteins are for your health? Pretty sure you want to know which specific foods you should eat so you can reap all the healthful benefits. Look no further because I’m listing them down just for you.
1) Black Beans
Black beans are one of the richest sources of protein at 15 grams per cup. In fact, many bodybuilders have included black beans in their diet so that they can get all the healthy proteins they need to build up their muscles.
Black beans are also rich in antioxidants, iron and magnesium which promote a healthy circulation, great functioning of your muscles, and the elimination of all harmful toxins from your body. They also improve digestion and reduce inflammation, so you can work out harder. They also help improve heart health.
Use black beans as a replacement for meat in your favorite recipes foir stews, salads and soups. You can even make a yummy veggie burger out of black beans. If you love Mexican food, you can add them to your fajitas and tacos. Don’t forget to soak your black beans overnight and rinse them before cooking to avoid stomach upset.
2) Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are another protein-packed source. Just three tablespoons of these yummy seeds will give you 12 to 14 grams of protein depending upon the variety of hemp seeds that you purchased in your grocery. They also contain all 20 essential amino acids.
Aside from protein, hemp seeds are rich in iron, potassium, magnesium and fiber. Not only that, they also have Vitamin E, which not only strengthens your heart and immune system, but gives you smooth and healthy skin. Add chlorophyll and you have a great nutrient that helps fight inflammation in your joints and other parts of your body.
You can buy hemp seeds in your local health food store or online. Keep them stored in your freezer or fridge to keep them fresh and prevent them from getting rancid.
Raw hemp seeds are yummy add-ons to your smoothies, soups, salads, and breads. Instead of flour, use hemp seeds for baking.
Like hemp seeds, lentils are not only rich in protein, they also have a high amino acid content. Lentils are rich in potassium, which is needed to keep your blood pressure at normal levels and reduce your weight gain due to water from excessive eating of salty or processed foods.
Just 1/4 cup of lentils will give you 11 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber and 1 gram of fat.
Add more lentils in your soups, stews, veggie casseroles, and chilis. Instead of meat, use lentils to make tacos or in any other dish that requires ground beef or pork. You can also use them as toppings in your favorite salads.
To those of you who are still asking me about this, Tahini is NOT the vacation paradise island in the South Pacific (that’s Tahiti, by the way!). TAHINI is a yummy butter made from toasted ground hulled sesame seeds. Aside from containing 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, tahini can provide you with 15 percent of your daily requirements for iron. It is also rich in Vitamin E, zinc and magnesium, which promote heart and muscle health.
Aside from being a tasty, nutty-flavored bread spread, you can add tahini to your favorite dishes. It can also be used as a salad dressing or as an add-on to hummus, smoothies, porridge and dips.
Amaranth is a grain-free seed that is packed with protein. One half cup of cooked amaranth contains 8 grams of protein. It is a fantastic replacement for rice or oats. Unlike other grains, you don’t even need to soak it overnight, so you can prepare a quick meal for those hungry moments.
Add amaranth to stews, soups or pilaffs in place or quinoa or rice. They are a filling addition to vegetable dishes. You can also add it to your oatmeal or you can replace your oats entirely for a delicious bowl of amaranth porridge. For a fun snack, cook popped amaranth instead of popcorn.
Almonds are nuts that contain a moderate amount of protein. One fourth cup of almonds or 22 almonds contain 7 grams of protein. They are also rich in Vitamin E, antioxidants, potassium and magnesium. Almonds are highly recommended for the improvement of heart health and for promoting relaxation in overstressed muscles. They also prevent that feeling of bloating in your tummy.
Almonds are yummy snacks in nut form or as energy bars, but they can also be perfect additions to your salads. Almond butter is also a tasty spread for your breads and pastries. Take note though that almond has a high fat content, so don’t eat too much.
Quinoa is a versatile seed that comes in a number of colors (white, red and black) and varieties (whole and flaked). One cup of quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.
You can add whole quinoa seeds to your breakfast porridge and rice pilaf. Just make sure that the whole quinoa that you buy has been pre-rinsed. Flaked quinoa can be used to make soups, casseroles, stews, and veggie burgers.
Just one note regarding quinoa. Make sure that you rinse or soak it. The outside of the seed contains saponins, a chemical compound that is not only bitter, but may give you stomach upset.
If you’re already eating oats as part of your healthy diet, good for you! Just 1/4 cup of oats will give you 7 grams of protein, together with 3 grams of fat and 6 grams of fiber. Want to get more protein out of oats? Then you should eat a lot of oat bran, since it is this part of the oat grain that is rich in protein and other nutrients, like iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Aside from getting all the protein you need to build up muscles, oats help to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health overall.
Oats are available in a variety of forms, including rolled, steel cut, and quick. Aside from enjoying oats as porridge, you can add them in your favorite dishes or baked goods.
09) Leafy, Green Vegetables
Some leafy green vegetables are packed with protein. A great example is spinach, which contains 5 grams of protein per cup.
Broccoli and asparagus not only have 4 grams of protein per cup; they are also rich in B vitamins and fiber.
10) Raw, Plant-Based Protein Powder
If you are not very fond of vegetables, seeds, or grains, you can still get your protein by purchasing raw, plant-based protein powder from your local health food store. The good thing about these protein powders is that, unlike whey protein powder, you can use them in your smoothies and shakes. You can also add these powders to your favorite desserts.
However, when you buy raw, plant-based protein powders, make sure that you check the label first. A good protein powder should not contain any sugar, additives and fillers.
These are just a few of the plant-based lean protein sources that you can eat other than meat, eggs or dairy. To get the most out of these foods, it is important that you eat a variety of veggie, grain or seed sources. By combining these foods, you are assured that you will be getting your protein and all the essential nutrients that your body needs.