Protein, along with dietary fat and carbohydrates, are the cornerstones of our diet. However, unlike fats and carbs, the main sources of protein tend to be animal-based. The reason for this is that animal protein is generally “complete” protein (unlike plant protein), which means it contains all essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are special amino acids that our body cannot produce and that we must obtain from our diet to maintain good health. Fear not! It is possible to build complete protein from plant-based foods by combining legumes, grains, and nuts in one meal or over the course of a day.
Just because you’ve decided to ditch the meat, doesn’t mean it becomes impossible to meet your body’s protein requirements. Far from it, there are plenty of great sources of plant protein. And according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, vegetarians actually have a slightly better chance at living longer than regular meat-eating folk. So here are some great plant-based sources of protein.
This rather remarkable plant protein sets a high bar for the rest to come. Unlike most plant protein, quinoa boasts complete protein status, packing in all the essential amino acids your body needs. It’s easy to prepare, tastes delicious and is super versatile; it can be cooked, added to soups, simply used as a cereal, or made into pasta. This food is so super, that the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared 2013 to be “The International Year of the Quinoa. I kid you not. It’s that awesome. If you’ve never tried it before, this is the year.
Beans are cheap, versatile and a great source of protein. One cup of kidney, pinto, white or black beans, will provide a whopping 12-15 grams of belly-filling protein. Beans are also full of filling fiber and rich in micronutrients. And what do you know, there’s a bean for everything. White beans are great in pasta or smoothies, black beans and pinto beans in tacos and burritos; edamame or garbanzo in stir-fries; while kidney are delicious in salads.
Another exception to the rule, tofu is a complete protein. A half block of tofu provides approximately 14 grams of protein and only about 110 calories. Tofu is made of solidified soy milk. There is firm tofu, which holds its shape when pushed around in a pan and works great in stir-fries and soups, then there is silken tofu, which is soft and creamy and works best in sauces, dressings, desserts and smoothies.
Lentils pack in about 18 grams of protein in just one cup! In fact, 30% of the calories in lentils come from protein. Lentils also are rich in fiber, folate, vitamin B1, and iron. Cooked lentils boast about 1/3 more folate (reduces the risk of birth defects) per cup than cooked spinach! Lentils come in all sorts of sizes and colors, including yellow, orange, green, brown and deep black. While lentils are an incomplete protein, they tend to be eaten mixed with grains, such as rice or small pasta, making it a complete protein dish.
5. NON-DAIRY MILK
Non-dairy milk can pack a protein punch too. Soy milk is the most popular alternative to dairy milk, and also has the most similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. Soy milk provides 5-10 grams of protein, while cow’s milk 8 grams. Many brands of soy milk will boast pretty much the same amount of protein, calcium, and vitamin D as cow’s milk. Rice milk and almond milk provide little protein. If you don’t like the idea of soy milk, hemp milk is becoming an increasing popular alternative. Hemp milk provides complete protein and is more creamy than soy milk and has a nutty flavor to it.