Are you getting enough protein?
If you are confused about protein or have a feeling you aren’t getting enough, relax – you are not alone. One of the most common topics I discuss with my clients is protein (with meat eaters AND vegetarians). The good news is that no matter what “diet” you identify with you can get enough protein. Easily.
So what exactly IS protein? Protein, most simply, is a combination of amino acids. These amino acids have specific roles in our bodies, from metabolism to muscle development. Nine of them are absolutely essential to our basic functions because they can’t be created by our bodies. When we talk about dietary protein and getting enough, our concern is with these nine amino acids.
Contrary to what most people believe, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to protein. Our bodies can only process so much per day, and any additional protein is inefficiently converted to energy or even stored as body fat. In the US, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your weight in kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2. Athletes have higher needs and should shoot for 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
I also want to point out that it is NOT necessary to form complete proteins within single meals. Our bodies pool the amino acids we need as we eat them, and we use them when needed. Some combinations happen naturally – think black beans and rice, chickpeas with couscous, or granola with milk (or soymilk). This is not a requirement in order for us to get all of our amino acids. The idea of needing to combine proteins was popularized in the 1970’s, and even though it has been deemed unnecessary for decades, the idea lives on. The key is to consume a wide variety of amino acids every day by consuming a wide variety of healthy foods.
Okay, Great! Now….WHAT do I eat? I’m so glad you asked! You are probably familiar with animal sources of protein (those coming from fish, beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and dairy) so I am going to focus on some plant sources. Here are my top 8 favorite plant based proteins!
1. BEANS. Beans are an amazing source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. They are rich in the amino acid lysine with researchers suggest is important for bone health. 1 cup of cooked beans = 15 g protein.
2. LENTILS. Like beans, lentils are a fabulous source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Since they are so high in fiber, lentils help slow down digestion and stabilize blood sugar levels. They are also a great source of iron. 1 cup of cooked lentils = 30 g protein (wowza!)
3. HEMP SEEDS. Hemp seeds are not only high in protein, but also contain heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They have a delicious nutty flavor and are so small in size, they can be easily added to any recipe to boost the protein content. 3 tablespoons hemp = 10 g protein.
4. NUTS. Nuts are packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats in addition to many vitamins and minerals. ¼ cup nuts = 7-9 g protein.
5. SEEDS. Sunflower, chia, pumpkin, flax, hemp, and sesame are all examples of nutrient packed seeds. They are not only mineral rich, but also protein rich. ¼ cup seeds = 7-9 g protein.
6. TEMPEH/TOFU/EDAMAME. Soy foods offer a complete protein, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids. These foods are often good sources of fiber and healthy fats in addition to protein. Tempeh is the most nutritious out of the bunch, thanks to its natural occurring healthy bacteria from the fermentation process. 1 serving of tempeh/tofu/edamame = 20 g protein.
7. NUTRITIONAL YEAST. Nutritional yeast is a staple in most plant-based diets due to it’s versatility, high amounts of B vitamins, protein, and of course cheesy flavor. It contains no dairy or active yeast and is great for making sauces, dressings, and much more with. 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast = 12 g protein.
8. QUINOA. Quinoa is a gluten free grain (technically a seed). It is considered a starchy protein because it contains carbohydrates as well as protein and fiber. ½ cup cooked quinoa = 7-9 g protein.
This recipe is a great example of a high protein plant-based recipe. It is completely vegan, gluten free, AND free of added sugar. The beans add an abundant amount of heart healthy plant-protein and the assortment of vegetables add a wide array of nutrients and phytochemicals. The fresh ingredients and lime juice make the flavor really pop. If you are into more heat, add a whole jalapeno and maybe even some siracha. I added half a jalapeno and it was just perfect for me…although my spicy loving hubs added a strong handed dose of siracha to his. Either way, it’s absolutely delicious (and even better the next day)!
It’s like a party in your mouth…with a crap ton of healthy, plant-based protein ;)
Healthy Three Bean Fiesta Salad (V + GF)
| Makes about 6-8 cups |
- 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 orange bell pepper, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 - 1 jalapeno (optional)
- 2 tsp sea salt
- Juice of 2 fresh limes
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish
- 2 Hass avocados, diced
- Place all ingredients except cilantro and avocados in a large bowl and mix until well combined.
- Gently mix in cilantro and avocado. Serve and garnish with additional cilantro is desired.