- Eat these 10 foods to get complete protein on a plant-based diet
- 1. Quinoa
- 2. Buckwheat
- 3. Soy
- 4. Ezekial Bread
- 5. Seitan
- 6. Hummus And Whole Wheat Pita
- 8. Pinto Beans And Whole Wheat Pita
- 9. Green Peas And Whole Wheat Pasta
- 10 of the Best Plant-Based Sources of Protein
- The Possible Benefits of Trading Meat Protein for Plant Protein
- ‘How Much Protein Do I Need?’
- Soy Milk
- Veggie Ground
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Seeds and Seed Butters
- Whole Grains
- Nutritional Yeast
- Black Beans
- Lima Beans
- Peanuts or Peanut Butter
- Wild Rice
- Chia Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Brussels Sprouts
- PROTEIN: Top Plants that are High in Protein
- Top 15 sources of plant-based protein
- The Essential Guide to Plant-Based Protein
- The Myth of the Complete Protein
- Whole Food Plant-Based Protein Sources
- Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
- Plant-Based Protein Powders
- 10 Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein by Whitney E. RD
- 7 Ways Animal Protein is Damaging Your Health
- 1. Animal Protein and Fiber (or total lack thereof)
- 2. Animal Protein and IGF-1 (increased cancer risk)
- 3. Animal Protein and TMAO
- 4. Animal Protein and Phosphorus
- 5. Animal Protein, Heme Iron, and Free Radicals
- 6. Higher Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids and Bone Health Problems
- 7. Animal Protein and Cholesterol
- The Real “High Quality” Foods
- Should we all become vegetarian or vegan?
- Where will I get my protein?
- Easy Spiced Lentil Tacos
Eat these 10 foods to get complete protein on a plant-based diet
There are plenty of benefits to eating a plant-based diet — or going vegan and omitting animal foods entirely. Since fruits and vegetables take center stage in these types of diets, following them can increase your intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. What’s more, plant-based diets have been linked to a healthier heart. A new study presented at Nutrition 2018, a yearly conference organized by the American Society of Nutrition, found that those who ate more plant-derived protein compared to animal-derived protein were at lower risk of developing coronary heart disease later in life.
But is plant protein really equal to the protein found in meat and dairy?
Contrary to what many people think, it’s not that difficult to eat enough protein, even if you’re on a strict vegan diet. However, you need to make sure that you’re eating the right combination of foods. If your vegan diet consists of mostly white bread and pasta, for example, you probably won’t be getting much protein. Your body requires 20 different types of amino acids — the building blocks of protein — to function properly. Eleven of these amino acids can be produced by your body, but you need to get the remaining nine from your diet.
Food sources that contain all nine of these essential amino acids are called “complete protein” sources. Those who eat a typical American diet (and even vegetarians) can easily meet their daily complete protein needs by eating meat, fish, eggs and/or dairy products. For the vegans among us, getting that complete protein requires a little more effort, but it’s not impossible. Here’s a list of 10 plant-based protein sources that supply your body with all nine essential amino acids all in one go.
This grain provides 8 grams of protein per one-cup serving. Quinoa is considered a “complete protein” source on its own because it provides all nine amino acids in the amounts needed for your body to function properly. It’s also a good source of filling fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and many other essential nutrients. It’s an easy high-protein alternative to rice and can be used to make muffins, cookies and even breakfast casseroles. Here are nine clever ways to use it in the kitchen.
Buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free, grain-like substance. It’s often processed into flour or eaten in its noodle form (Soba noodles). One cup of cooked buckwheat provides 6 grams of protein and all nine of the essential amino acids. Like quinoa, buckwheat is also high in fiber and other essential nutrients. In particular, it’s a good source of the eight B vitamins, copper and zinc. For a healthy, protein-rich twist to your traditional spaghetti, try a buckwheat noodle salad.
Soy products like tempeh, firm tofu and natto are known for being versatile meat protein substitutes. All three of these varieties contain complete protein but in different amounts. Tempeh and natto contain 15 grams of protein per half-cup serving, whereas firm tofu contains 10 grams for the same serving size. All three of these soy products can be used to create both savory and sweet protein-rich vegan dishes in the kitchen.
4. Ezekial Bread
Thanks to the invention of Ezekial bread, you can now get all nine essential amino acids from a single loaf of bread. Most varieties are made using a combination of wheat, millet, barley, spelt, soybeans and lentils. Just two slices of Ezekial bread contain 8 grams of protein. So if you’re looking to increase your plant-based protein intake, opt for this bread instead of whole wheat the next time you’re at the grocery store.
This popular meat substitute can be used to make anything from kebabs to sausages to burgers. It provides complete protein and a whopping 21 grams of protein per third-cup serving. Seitan is made by mixing gluten with herbs and spices and then hydrating it with water or stock and simmering it in broth. Fun fact: It was first created more than 1,000 years ago as a meat substitute for Chinese Buddhist monks. You can use seitan as a substitute in many traditionally meat-based dishes.
6. Hummus And Whole Wheat Pita
Although wheat does contain protein, it’s deficient in lysine, one of the nine essential amino acids you need to get from your diet. But chickpeas, found in ample amounts in hummus, are abundant in lysine. So combining these two foods together in the form oft hummus and pita chips is an easy (and enjoyable) way to get your complete protein in one go. But know that it only works if you choose whole wheat pita chips or bread — not the refined kind — because the two don’t have the same nutritional profile.
7. Whole Wheat Bread And Peanut Butter
Who says protein-rich foods can’t also be delicious? Just like hummus and whole wheat pita, peanut butter and whole wheat bread complement each other to form a complete protein. Two slices of whole wheat bread coupled with two tablespoons of peanut butter provide your body with 15 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids. Although peanut butter is relatively high in calories (two tablespoons contain 188 calories), it’s a great source of healthy unsaturated fat, magnesium and vitamin B6.
8. Pinto Beans And Whole Wheat Pita
Give your typical burrito a healthy twist by nixing the chicken or beef and loading up on pinto beans. Swap out your flour tortilla for whole wheat pita bread and — voilá — you’ve got yourself a healthy plant-based source of complete protein. Although pinto beans provide 41 grams of protein per cup, they are deficient in methionine and cysteine, two amino acids that can be found in whole grains, like whole-wheat pita bread.
9. Green Peas And Whole Wheat Pasta
You might find the concept of putting peas in your pasta very strange, but it’s both delicious and good for your health. Although whole wheat pasta and peas alone don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, put them together and you get a complete protein. Peas are actually a fairly abundant source of protein — a one-cup serving of green peas yields 8 grams of protein. Whole wheat pasta, on the other hand, provides 6 grams of protein per cup. Combine the two and you get 16 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids. Try whole-wheat pasta with cream, ham, and peas for a delicious and nutritious meal with plant-based protein.
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10 of the Best Plant-Based Sources of Protein
When you hear the word “protein,” you likely think of a chicken breast or a hunk of steak. That makes sense — meat is one of the best sources of this macronutrient, according to the Heart Foundation. But it’s not the only source. In fact, it’s entirely possible to get the protein you need each day without eating meat like poultry, beef, and pork. “When done thoughtfully, individuals can meet their protein needs exclusively from plant-based sources,” says Nathalie Sessions, RD, of Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.
The Possible Benefits of Trading Meat Protein for Plant Protein
One perk of eating animal protein is that these sources are complete — meaning they provide the nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t make, according to the Cedars-Sinai Blog. But there are benefits to trading or reducing your meat consumption and filling up on plant proteins, including:
Losing weight When followed properly, plant-based diets, such as a vegetarian diet, may help you lose weight, according to a review of 12 randomized controlled trials published in January 2016 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Helping the environment Swapping meat for plants to get your protein fix can similarly benefit the environment, notes an article published in December 2018 in Nutrients.
Boosting your heart health When it comes to red meat, the benefits of relying on plant alternatives for protein arguably get even more impressive. “Some studies have linked red meat with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, partly due to the saturated fat content,” Sessions says.
In fact, a randomized controlled trial published in June 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that among diets with red meat, diets with white meat, and diets with plants, the plant-based diets had the most positive effects on LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Per the American Heart Association, replacing saturated fat with healthier fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, can benefit lipid and cholesterol levels.
Meanwhile, other research, like a meta-analysis published in April 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, reveals that compared with omnivorous dieters (those who eat both plant and animal proteins) vegetarians had lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure numbers. Those benefits can lead to a healthier ticker, lowering your risk for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lengthening your life The National Institutes of Health reports that red meat consumption may shorten your life. The group recommends swapping it out of your diet in favor of healthier protein sources.
By following a diet with a variety of foods, it’s possible to get your fix of the amino acids your body needs to perform at its best, notes Cedars-Sinai.
“No one needs to eat red meat to be healthy,” Sessions says.
RELATED: 9 Best Vegan-Food Blogs for Plant-Based Eating Inspiration
‘How Much Protein Do I Need?’
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram of body weight. Multiply your weight in pounds (lb) by 0.36 — that’s how many grams of protein you should be getting each day at a minimum. Therefore, if you weigh 150 lb, you’d aim for 54 g of protein daily. To think of it another way, protein should make up between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calorie intake, says Shira Sussi, RDN, the founder of Shira Sussi Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York.
That’s not a difficult ask for most Americans. “We are not terribly worried about getting enough protein — most Americans are meeting or exceeding the recommended intake,” Sessions says. “In many cases that I’ve seen working with clients and patients, they are overdoing protein intake while also underdoing the recommended intakes of the nutrient-rich vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.”
Sussi suspects it’s because “people are raised with the idea that protein — specifically animal protein — needs to be the center of the meal, and that a meal without protein is not satisfying or fulfilling.” She challenges this thinking and says it doesn’t need to be all about a large piece of meat at dinner. You could get your fix by incorporating high-quality protein to meals and snacks throughout the day, such as by adding a serving of beans to a salad or stacking grilled tofu steaks in between slices of bread for lunch, Sussi says.
RELATED: 9 Veggie-Loving Instagrammers to Inspire Your Plant-Based Diet Goals
Ready to explore the plant side of protein? Here are 10 of the best plant-based proteins to start incorporating into your meals, whether you’re looking to ditch animal products completely or are simply looking to diversify your protein options.
Plant-based eating is on the rise, for both health and environmental reasons. Some research links vegetarian and vegan diets with better protection against heart disease and cancer—but you don’t need to give up meat entirely to reap the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Toronto researchers found that replacing 1 to 2 servings of animal protein with plant-based protein every day resulted in about a 4 percent decrease in the three main cholesterol markers: LDL (“lousy” cholesterol), non-HDL (total cholesterol minus HDL or “healthy” cholesterol) and apolipoprotein B (artery-clogging proteins). Soy, nuts and pulses contain components such as soluble fibre, plant sterols, and healthy fats, which in and of themselves lower cholesterol, and consuming these foods displaces the meat (and saturated fat) that you would otherwise be eating. While this decrease may seem modest, when the reduction of about 4 percent in each of the three markers is added together, the effect is quite significant.
If you’re looking to eat more plant-based sources of protein, you’ll want to know which foods are going to satisfy you and keep you full. Here’s a primer:
Soy is the only plant source that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. In the case of other plant proteins, various sources provide different amino acids, and only when combined do they make a complete protein.
Tofu packs 13 grams of protein per 85-gram serving (this will vary by brand and variety). It comes in different textures: silken (best used as a pudding-style dessert, added to a smoothie or pureed into sauces like a caesar salad dressing), soft (nice in miso soup or as an appetizer), medium (pan-fry it or try it in a scramble) and firm/extra-firm (marinate it, then pan-fry, toss it in a stir-fry, try it roasted, or use it in a curry).
Edamame—fresh soybeans—have 9 grams of protein per ½ cup. Buy it frozen, either in the pod or pre-shelled. For an easy snack, steam the pods in the microwave with a splash of water for about 2 minutes, then sprinkle with sea salt. You can also add shelled beans to soups and stir-fries, steam them and toss into salads, or whirl them into a dip.
Tempeh is made from whole soybeans that are partially cooked, then fermented and formed into a dense loaf. It sometimes has a white layer on the outside (which is totally safe to eat). With a satisfying, chewy texture, it offers up 15 grams of protein per 85-gram serving, as well as healthy gut probiotics. It marinates nicely, then you can grill, pan-fry or roast it. Eat it on a sandwich, chop it and use it like bacon bits in a salad, grate it and use in place of ground beef in chili or spaghetti sauce, or try our tempeh superfood burger. Find it in health food stores and some grocery stores (even PC Blue Label makes a variety now).
Soy milk has 8 grams of protein per cup (more than any other non-dairy beverage). Try it in smoothies or on your cereal, but avoid flavoured varieties that can contain a lot of added sugar.
Veggie ground (or veggie crumble) is made predominantly of soy protein with various flavourings added. At 9 grams of protein per 1/3 cup serving, it can be used anywhere you’d normally use ground beef. It’s great for chili, tacos or spaghetti sauce, and it goes mostly undetected by meat-eaters. Look for it by the tofu and veggie burgers, near the produce section of your grocery store.
With plenty of fibre and 10 grams of protein in ½ a cup, lentils are sure to fill you up. Dried lentils are cheap, fast and easy to cook, but for even more convenience you can buy them canned. Red, brown, green and specialty varieties offer tons of variety and versatility. Lentils are fantastic in burger patties, lentil curry over brown rice, lentil bolognese, a pot pie, or in grain bowls. For satisfying lunch, try a hearty lentil soup with a whole grain roll.
Chickpeas provide 7 grams of protein in ½ a cup, and are an easy way to turn any salad or grain bowl into a complete meal (drain and rinse to remove excess sodium). Try chickpea burgers, or a Moroccan stew. Spread hummus (about 5 grams of protein in ¼ cup) on sandwiches instead of using deli meat, or snack on hummus cups with crackers and baby carrots. Stuff whole-wheat pitas with store-bought falafel, spinach and chopped veggies. Roasted chickpeas make for a satisfyingly crunchy snack, and chickpea flour turns into tasty, protein-rich pancakes.
Black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, white beans (you get the idea…) all contain about 8 grams of protein in ½ cup. Chilis, soups and stews are beans’ best friends, but you can also make them into dips, nachos, rice dishes, toppings for toast or even gratins. Use refried beans (homemade or store-bought) in quesadillas, burritos and tacos.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, etc., provide about 6 grams of protein in a ¼ cup, and nut butters provide 5 to 8 grams in 2 tbsp. Stash nuts at your desk or in your purse for snacking (but keep portions in check—one small, closed fistful is enough). Dollop a spoonful of peanut butter into your oatmeal, or top whole grain toast with almond butter and sliced banana. Pack containers of trail mix or make energy balls with nut butter, oats and dried fruit for snacks that will keep you fuelled. Use a quick cashew or peanut butter dressing in stir-fries or grain bowls.
Seeds and Seed Butters
Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, etc., have around 6 grams of protein in 2 tbsp, and seed butters such as tahini have 5 grams per 2-tbsp serving. Try making chia pudding for breakfasts and snacks and top with thawed frozen cherries. Top cereal or yogurt with pumpkin seeds. Blend flax or chia seeds into your morning smoothie. Toss sunflower seeds into your salad, or toasted sesame seeds into your stir-fry. Tahini dressing on roasted vegetables is to die for.
Whole grains are an important part of plant-based eating. Per ½ cup serving, quinoa provides 4 grams of protein, brown rice 3 grams, oats 3.5 grams, buckwheat 3 grams, and farro 4 grams. Try batch-cooking steel-cut oatmeal for filling breakfasts, and quinoa, brown rice or farro to use as the base for quick meals throughout the week. Grain bowls are perfect plant-based work lunches.
A lesser-known option, “SAY-tan” is made from wheat protein (a.k.a. gluten) and at 21 grams per 85-gram portion, it’s very high in protein. Its texture is similar to meat, and it can take on a variety of different flavours depending on what ingredients it’s prepared with. Slice and serve on sandwiches, in tacos, add to stir-fries or use in dishes like grilled marinated kebabs because of its distinct texture. Look for it in Asian supermarkets, specialty grocers and most health food stores. You can also make your own.
An inactive form of yeast, this flaky yellow powder is a cheesy-tasting flavour-enhancer that packs 4 grams of protein per 2 tbsp, and a whole lot of B vitamins. Use it to top popcorn, add to soups, risotto or other dishes you’d normally use parmesan cheese in.
Want more veggie inspiration? Try 28 easy vegetarian recipes.
There lots of good reasons to go vegetarian. For one, there are major health benefits: People who eat more plant-based protein tend to weigh less and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes than people who eat a lot of meat, and some research shows a meatless diet reduces your risk of death from any cause. Even if you’re not interested in going fully meatless, simply cutting back on animal protein could have a positive impact on your health.
But if you go vegetarian, how are you going to get enough protein? Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, keeping you full between meals, and ensuring every cell in your body is operating properly.
Don’t sweat it—we figured it out for you. There are plenty of other sources of protein besides meat, and they’re incredibly good for your body. Here, we’ve ranked 20 high-protein vegetables, legumes, and minimally processed meat alternatives.
Lori Andrews/Getty Images
Protein: 18 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
Talk about healthiest appetizer ever—just a cup’s worth of edamame (or cooked soybeans) packs a huge protein punch. Be sure to pick an organic variety, though, as most soybeans in the US are genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
Try this recipe: Edamame with Asparagus, Scallions, and Egg
Sheridan Stancliff/getty images
Protein: 16 g per 3 oz serving
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans and shaping it into a dense cake that can be sliced and pan-fried like tofu. It’s nutty, chewy, and packs significantly more protein and fiber than tofu—and because it’s fermented, it’s easier to digest for some.
Try this recipe: Tempeh Meatballs
Protein: 8 to 15 g per 3 oz serving
Ah, tofu, the classic vegetarian blank slate made from curdled soymilk that’s wonderful pan-fried, sautéed in a stir-fry, and even scrambled. Though it’s not quite as protein-packed as tempeh, its taste may be more tolerable. Opt for organic varieties to avoid genetically modified soy and funky pesticides. Then try the versatile protein in one of these 7 delicious recipes guaranteed to make you like tofu.
Try this recipe: Pan-Fried Tofu 📺
Protein: 9 g per ½-cup serving
Low-cal, high-fiber, and high-protein lentils can be morphed into a nutrient-dense side dish, veggie burger, or even whipped into a hummus-like dip. Bonus: They’ve been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
Try this recipe: Wild Mushroom Lentil Burgers
Mitch Hrdlicka/getty images
Protein: 7.6 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Black beans are also packed with heart-healthy fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and a range of phytonutrients.
Try this recipe: Black Bean Brownies (and other black-bean dessert recipes)
Brian Yarvin/Getty Images
Protein: 7.3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
What, you haven’t had these since you were 10? Well, good news: In addition to filling protein, lima beans contain the amino acid leucine, which may play a big role in healthy muscle synthesis among older adults.
Try this recipe: Greek Lima Bean Salad
Peanuts or Peanut Butter
Lauri Patterson/Getty Images
Protein: 7 g per ¼-cup serving (or 2 Tbsp peanut butter)
Not only are peanuts and peanut butter great for munching and whipping up classic childhood comfort food, they’re also super versatile—really, you can even use them in a pizza. They’ve also been shown to help you eat less at lunch if you consume them at breakfast—aka the second-meal effect. PB and banana, anyone? Just make sure to use a peanut butter that’s 100% nuts and doesn’t contain added sugars, like Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter.
Try this recipe: Broccoli-Peanut Salad
Protein: 6.5 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
Move over, quinoa. Wild rice is the protein-rich grain you should be gravitating toward. With a nutty taste and slightly chewy texture, it’s way more satisfying, too. Use this ultimate guide to cooking whole grains.
Try this recipe: Spring Wild Rice Bow With Asparagus
Gil Guelfucci/getty images
Protein: 6 g per ½-cup serving
Permission to eat all the hummus—well, maybe not all of it, but chickpeas’ combo of protein and fiber make for one healthy dip. Try it slathered on sandwich bread in place of mayo, or serve up one of these four ridiculously tasty hummus recipes with veggie slices. You can even use chickpeas to make these super-easy Flourless Banana Blender Muffins when you’re hankering for something sweet.
Try this recipe: Simple Homemade Hummus 📺
Protein: 6 g per ¼-cup serving
Along with protein, almonds deliver some serious vitamin E, which is great for the health of your skin and hair. (These are the 25 best foods for your skin.) They also provide 61% of your daily recommended intake of magnesium, which can help curb sugar cravings, soothe PMS-related cramps, boost bone health, and ease muscle soreness and spasms.
Try this recipe: Tomato, Mushroom & Arugula Pizza with Almond Butter Sauce
Protein: 6 g per 2 Tbsp
Chia seeds pack a ton of protein in those pint-sized orbs, which are also a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Bonus: Omega-3s help stimulate the satiety hormone leptin, which signals your body to burn these fats instead of storing them.
Try this recipe: Fall Chia Pumpkin Granola
Image Source/Getty Images
Protein: 5 g in ¼-cup serving (dry)
Steel-cut oats aren’t just a solid source of protein; they also have a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. This means they don’t spike blood sugar as much, so you’re likely to be more satisfied and experience fewer cravings after eating them.
Try this recipe: Peach Crumble Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
In addition to a decent protein punch, cashews contain 20% of the recommended intake of magnesium, along with 12% of the recommended intake of vitamin K—two essential bone-building nutrients. (Here are 4 things that can happen if you don’t get enough magnesium.)
Try this recipe: Cashew, Tofu, and Broccoli Stir-Fry
only fabrizio/getty images
Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
Pumpkin seeds aren’t just a super convenient way to get a dose of satiating protein, they’re total nutrient powerhouses, packing about half the recommended daily intake of magnesium, along with immune-boosting zinc, plant-based omega-3s, and tryptophan—which can help ease you into a restful slumber.
Try this recipe: Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Protein: 4 g in 1 medium white potato
Another stealth source of protein! Despite having a reputation for being pretty much devoid of all nutrition, a medium-sized spud actually contains 4 g of protein, along with about 20% of the recommended daily intake of heart-healthy potassium.
Try this recipe: Potato and Greens Frittata
nata vkusidey/getty images
Protein: 3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Sure, 3 g may not sound like a lot, but for a green veggie, it is. Still, don’t just make a salad and call it a day. Cooking this green is the secret to upping its protein content.
Try this recipe: Spinach Mac ‘N Cheese
Protein: 2.5 g per ½-cup serving
Like potatoes, corn often gets put into the “plants with no redeeming qualities” category, but paired with protein-rich veggies and legumes, it can nicely round out a protein-packed plant-based dish. Pick organic or non-GMO fresh or frozen varieties, though, as most conventional corn has been genetically modified.
Try this recipe: Sweet Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash
Protein: 2 g per ½ avocado
This fruit is creamy, dreamy, and super filling, thanks to its bend of monounsaturated fatty acids and a bit of protein.
Try this recipe: Avocado Mojito Smoothie
Here are 11 ways to enjoy an avocado:
Protein: 2 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Broccoli’s not only an awesome source of fiber, its protein content is surprising, too (for a veggie anyway). And you can’t go wrong with a vegetable that’s been proven to deliver cancer-preventing properties.
Try this recipe: Italian Lentil and Broccoli Stew
Protein: 2 g per ½-cup serving
These little green guys get a bad rap in the taste department—especially the frozen variety—but they’re actually nutritional superstars. In addition to protein, Brussels sprouts pack hefty doses of potassium and vitamin K.
Try this recipe: Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Stephanie Eckelkamp Stephanie Eckelkamp is a freelance writer, health coach, and former associate editor for Prevention covering health, food, and nutrition.
PROTEIN: Top Plants that are High in Protein
PROTEIN: Top Plants that are High in Protein
Today I saw a “food guide” posted on Facebook that listed (Proteins, Carbs, Fats). Being someone who champions the real health benefits of a Plant-Strong Diet, I was totally bummed and somewhat disppointed that under the “Protein” column, there was “NO” mention of any other sources of protein other than from animals. Not one mention of PLATE BASED PROTEINS..!!! * “Note as a result of countless studies & research, it’s a fact that animal protein is not healthy for us. Animal protein has no real nutritional benefits, nor do our bodies require it.” I know that statement is going to open a can of worms. (People are also a bit Protein Obsessed in this country, but that’s another article to be written later.)
So in hopes of educating and informing, I decided to post the following. Please read on….
PROTEIN: Top Plants that are High in Protein
Protein is an essential part of any diet and vegetables are a great way to get more protein into your diet. This seemingly insignificant nutrient is deceptively hard-working and is vital to every cell, tissue, bone, and muscle in your body. Protein has many different functions and given that is makes up a massive 40% of our bodies’ dry matter, it begins to become clear how significant protein is. Protein is key to the growth and repair of your muscles, bones, ligaments, tissues, and even your hair, skin and nails. It also boosts your immune system and helps your body fight infection. It maintains bodily functions, such as digestion, metabolism and circulation.
Although I think many people are “Protein Obsessed”, (too much protein isn’t good for your body either and too much protein when processed will turn to Fat, believe it or not, it’s a fact!) Most people are consuming 50% more protein than what they need. That extra protein is stored as fat and also paces an extreme burden on your kidneys. Also people have been so brain-washed that the only way to get protein is via animal sources. Being a strict Vegetarian, I know this statement to be totally incorrect!
Vegetables do have substantial protein levels and can act as great substitutes for animal proteins (without some of the health risks associated with animal protein) and adding more vegetables into your diet is crucial for a number of factors. For one they are highly dense in nutrition with a low calorie count while providing you with a whole range of essential vitamins and minerals that are needed to maintain your basic cell metabolism and strengthen your immune system.
Did you know a cup of broccoli had 3 grams of protein, better yet..did you even know broccoli was a protein source?
Per calorie, broccoli has more protein than steak!
A 1/4 cup of Almonds contain 8 grams of protein!
Various vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are all good meatless protein choices. These groups of food each contain different amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and different levels of protein quality. (There is no need to consume certain foods in special combinations as nutritionists once thought! When your diet includes a variety of each of these types of foods, you can rest assured that you’re getting all the amino acids you need for muscle growth and cell repair.)
If you keep reading you will quickly see (and understand) that protein is EVERYWHERE in our diet, and even without meat you can get enough every day; you just have to look in the right places!
> Here are just some of the best protein-packing vegetables available:
Asparagus- Per serving, asparagus delivers over 3g of protein. This lanky, green vegetable is extremely versatile, as it can be boiled, grilled, sauteed or steamed.
Cauliflower- Excellent in curries and soups and equally appealing eaten mashed or as a steamed side dish; not only is cauliflower versatile and healthy but it contains 3g of protein per serving.
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts- Tying for fourth place are two more examples of healthy, green vegetables: broccoli and brussels sprouts. Both of these vegetables are protein-rich, low in fat and easily prepared; making them ideal side-dishes.
Artichoke- Artichoke is another vegetable that is high on the list when it comes to protein content. Serving up just under 3g of protein per serving, artichokes are an excellent addition to pasta, salads and soups and provide an earthy, intense flavor.
Watercress- Tiny yet surprisingly rich in protein, watercress is next on the list. Per 100g serving, watercress delivers almost 3g of protein, which, for its size, renders it an excellent source of the nutrient. Perfect for salads, soups and sandwiches, watercress can easily find its way into your diet.
Sweetcorn- It might be slightly more calorific than the other vegetables listed here, but sweetcorn also has its benefits: Per serving, it contains almost 3g of protein and is a delicious addition to many popular recipes.
Kale, Spinach, Chard- are just a few more to add to the list and some of my favorites!
> Here’s some other place to find your protein:
* Nuts / 1/4 cup / Protein
Peanuts, raw – 9 g
Almonds, dry roasted – 8 g
Pistachios – 6 g
Hazelnuts – 5 g
Pine nuts – 5 g
Cashews, raw – 5 g
Walnuts – 4 g
Nuts provide a good dose of protein along with some heart-healthy fatty acids and antioxidants (vitamins A and E). They are also packed full of fiber. Take your pick! Many nuts have a significant source of protein ready to work for your body. Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and pine nuts are among the highest in protein, while chestnuts and hazelnuts, although they do still have some protein, are the lowest. Think out of the box when you’re adding nuts to your diet. They can be grated, toasted, ground or eaten raw and are great when combined with salads, wraps, soups and stews and baked goods. But pay special attention to portion size! Nuts are a great source of many nutrients, but do come with a hefty dose of calories, thanks to the healthy fats they contain. A single serving is just 1 oz! Many nuts are best when stored in a refrigerator, which helps keep their fats from going rancid (for up to 6 months).
* Legumes / 1 cup cooked / Protein
Soybeans – 29 g
Lentils – 18 g
Split peas – 16 g
Navy beans – 16 g
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) – 15 g
Black beans – 15 g
Kidney beans – 15 g
Lima beans – 15 g
Pinto beans – 14 g
Beans- Beans top the list when it comes to protein-rich food sources. Pinto, garbanzo, white, kidney, lima and soy beans are all packed with protein. Per 100g, the average protein content of beans is 9g, but some varieties contain as much as 12g per 100g – making the almighty bean the vegetarian source of protein.
Dried peas, beans and lentils belong to a group of food known as “pulses” or “legumes.” Aside from soybeans, these plants have a very similar nutrient content, which includes a good dose of protein. On average, they have about 15 grams of protein per cup, and tagging along with the essentials protein are fiber andiron. Adding beans, lentils and dried peas to your meals is a great way to replace meat (a beef burrito can easily become a black bean burrito, for example) while still getting your much needed protein. Add pulses to soups, salads, omelets, burritos, casseroles, pasta dishes, and more! Make bean dips (such as hummus, which is made from garbanzo beans, or black bean dip) to spread on sandwiches and use as protein-packed dips for veggies or snack foods.
* Soy Foods / Protein
Soybeans, 1 cup cooked – 29 g
Tempeh, 4 oz cooked – 21 g
Edamame, 1 cup shelled – 20 g
TVP, 1/4 cup dry – 12 g
Soy nuts, 1/4 cup roasted – 11 g
Tofu, 4 oz raw – 9 g
Soy nut butter, 2 tablespoons – 7 g
Soymilk, 1 cup sweetened – 7 g
Soymilk, 1 cup unsweetened – 7 g
Soybeans are a complete protein that is comparable in quality with animal proteins. Eating soybeans (and foods made from soybeans) has been growing trend in America for only five decades, but this protein-rich bean has been a staple in Asia for nearly 4,000 years! This plant powerhouse is used to create a variety of soy-based foods that are rich in protein: tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (TVP, a convincing replacement for ground meat in recipes), soymilk and “meat analogs,” such as vegetarian “chicken” or faux “ribs” are all becoming more popular as more Americans practice vegetarianism.
* Grains / Protein
Amaranth, 1 cup cooked – 9 g
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked – 9 g
Whole wheat pasta, 1 cup cooked – 8 g
Barley, 1 cup cooked – 7 g
Spelt, 4 oz cooked – 6 g
Oats, 1 cup cooked – 6 g
Bulgur, 1 cup cooked – 6 g
Buckwheat, 1 cup cooked – 6 g
Brown rice, 1 cup cooked – 5 g
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice – 4 g
Sprouted grain bread, 1 slice – 4 g
In a culture that focuses largely on wheat, it’s easy to overlook the many types of other grains available to us. Some of these grains are very high in protein and can be included in your diet for both whole-grain carbohydrates and muscle-building protein. Quinoa is unusually close to animal products in proteinquality, making it an excellent grain to replace white rice or couscous. It can also be cooked and mixed with honey, berries and almonds in the morning for a protein-packed breakfast. Other grains high in protein include spelt, amaranth, oats and buckwheat. Choose whole-grain varieties of cereals, pastas, breads and rice for a more nutritious meal.
* Seeds (1/4 cup) / Protein
Hemp seeds – 15 g
Pumpkin seeds, roasted – 9 g
Flaxseed – 8 g
Sunflower seeds, roasted – 8 g
Sesame seeds, roasted – 6 g
Seeds are another great way to grab a few grams of protein and many other nutrients. Healthful unsaturated fats, as well as phytochemicals, make seeds a powerhouse for heart disease and cancer prevention. Just a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) has 8.5 grams of protein. Add this amount to a salad or eat them plain for a quick snack. Sunflower seeds are easy to add to pasta or salads, or sandwich wraps, while sesame seeds are easily ground and sprinkled onto steamed veggies for a protein dusting.
Again, as you can see, protein is EVERYWHERE in our diet, and even without meat you can get enough every day; you just have to look in the right places!
EAT HEALTHY AND THRIVE. Enhance Performance and Recover Faster! Sound Nutrition is The Competitive Edge. (By Markus & Texas Boesch/Eat Health and Thrive)
Top 15 sources of plant-based protein
The right plant-based foods can be excellent sources of protein and other nutrients, often with fewer calories than animal products.
Some plant products, such as soy beans and quinoa, are complete proteins, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need. Others are missing some of these amino acids, so eating a varied diet is important.
The following healthful, plant-based foods have a high-protein content per serving:
1. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
Share on PinterestSoy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are among the richest sources of protein in a vegan diet.
Soy products are among the richest sources of protein in a plant-based diet. The protein content varies with how the soy is prepared:
- firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10 g of protein per ½ cup
- edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup
- tempeh contains about 15 g of protein per ½ cup
Tofu takes on the flavor of the dish it is prepared in so that it can be a versatile addition to a meal.
People can try tofu, as a meat substitute, in a favorite sandwich or soup. Tofu is also a popular meat substitute in some dishes, such as kung pao chicken and sweet and sour chicken.
These soy products also contain good levels of calcium and iron, which makes them healthful substitutes for dairy products.
Red or green lentils contain plenty of protein, fiber, and key nutrients, including iron and potassium.
Cooked lentils contain 8.84 g of protein per ½ cup.
Lentils are a great source of protein to add to a lunch or dinner routine. They can be added to stews, curries, salads, or rice to give an extra portion of protein.
Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup.
Chickpeas can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes available online. They can, for example, be added to stews and curries, or spiced with paprika and roasted in the oven.
A person can add hummus, which is made from chickpea paste, to a sandwich for a healthful, protein-rich alternative to butter.
Peanuts are protein-rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 8 g per tablespoon, making peanut butter sandwiches a healthful complete protein snack.
Almonds offer 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.
Spirulina is blue or green algae that contain around 8 g of protein per 2 tablespoons. It is also rich in nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins — although not vitamin B-12 — and manganese.
Spirulina is available online, as a powder or a supplement. It can be added to water, smoothies, or fruit juice. A person can also sprinkle it over salad or snacks to increase their protein content.
Quinoa is a grain with a high-protein content, and is a complete protein. Cooked quinoa contains 8 g of protein per cup.
This grain is also rich in other nutrients, including magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese. It is also highly versatile.
Quinoa can fill in for pasta in soups and stews. It can be sprinkled on a salad or eaten as the main course.
Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein. Mycoprotein products contain around 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving.
Products with mycoprotein are often advertised as meat substitutes and are available in forms such as “chicken” nuggets or cutlets. However, many of these products contain egg white, so people must be sure to check the label.
A very small number of people are allergic to Fusarium venenatum, the fungus from which the mycoprotein brand known as Quorn is made. People with a history of mushroom allergies or with many food allergies may wish to consider another protein source.
9. Chia seeds
Share on Pinterest Chia and hemp seeds are complete sources of protein that can be used to make smoothies, yogurts, and puddings.
Seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are a complete source of protein that contain 2 g of protein per tablespoon.
Try adding chia seeds to a smoothie, sprinkling them on top of a plant-based yogurt, or soaking them in water or almond milk to make a pudding.
Chia seeds are available from some supermarkets, health food stores, or to buy online.
10. Hemp seeds
Similarly to chia seeds, hemp seeds are a complete protein. Hemp seeds offer 5 g of protein per tablespoon. They can be used in a similar way to chia seeds. Hemp seeds can also be bought online.
11. Beans with rice
Separately, rice and beans are incomplete protein sources. Eaten together, this classic meal can provide 7 g of protein per cup.
Try rice and beans as a side dish, or mix rice, beans, and hummus together then spread on Ezekiel bread, which is made from sprouted grains, for a savory, protein-packed meal.
A large baked potato offers 8 g of protein per serving. Potatoes are also high in other nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin C.
Add 2 tablespoons of hummus for a flavorful snack that is healthier than butter-covered potatoes and increases the protein content. Two tablespoons of hummus contain about 3 g of protein.
13. Protein-rich vegetables
Many dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables contain protein. Eaten alone, these foods are not enough to meet daily protein requirements, but a few vegetable snacks can increase protein intake, particularly when combined with other protein-rich foods.
- a single, medium stalk of broccoli contains about 4 g of protein
- kale offers 2 g of protein per cup
- 5 medium mushrooms offer 3 g of protein
Try a salad made from baby greens with some quinoa sprinkled on top for a protein-rich meal.
Seitan is a complete protein made from mixing wheat gluten with various spices. The high-wheat content means that it should be avoided by people with celiac or gluten intolerance. For others, it can be a protein-rich healthful meat substitute.
When cooked in soy sauce, which is rich in the amino acid lysine, seitan becomes a complete protein source offering 21 g per 1/3 cup.
15. Ezekiel bread
Ezekiel bread is a nutrient-dense alternative to traditional bread. It is made from barley, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt. Ezekiel bread is an excellent choice for bread lovers who want a more nutritious way to eat toast or sandwiches.
Ezekiel bread offers 4 g of protein per slice. Get even more protein by toasting Ezekiel bread and spreading it with peanut or almond butter.
The Essential Guide to Plant-Based Protein
Maybe you got a smart pet and decided you had to go vegan. Maybe you’re cutting back on eating beef to lighten your environmental footprint. Whatever the reason, when you reduce meat in your diet, getting enough plant-based protein becomes important.
Why? Every meal should include protein since it contributes to satiety (AKA prevents overeating), provides energy, and helps maintain and build muscle (especially if you’re a gym junkie).
The good news: Our food supply is now filled with plant-based protein sources. Hemp and chia seeds weren’t sitting on grocery store shelves five years ago; neither were high-quality vegan protein powders. We can now meet our needs without burgers or wings.
How to do that in the healthiest way possible? Here’s everything you need to know about plant-based protein.
The Myth of the Complete Protein
First of all, it’s important to know that it’s a (very widespread!) myth that you need to eat beans and rice together on one plate to form complete proteins (which contain all essential amino acids), like those found in meat.
Frances Moore Lappe proposed the theory of “protein complementing” in a book she published in the 70s. In later editions, she corrected the mistake to reflect the prevailing scientific position: as long as individuals are eating enough calories of varied plant-based food, they’ll almost always get all essential amino acids and meet daily protein requirements. In other words, yes, rice and beans are complementary, but you don’t have to mix them together during the same meal in order to benefit from the protein each offers on its own.
Plus, most Americans are eating more protein than they need, so it is rare to be deficient (although it’s much easier without meat!).
Whole Food Plant-Based Protein Sources
If you’re eating lots of different vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, you may already be getting more protein than you realize. Most veggies contain at least a few grams, for example, from broccoli to spinach and potatoes. But the following whole foods contain some of the highest amounts of plant-based protein:
Ancient grains like quinoa, farro, and amaranth all provide 8–9 grams of protein per cup (cooked) and are filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas provide many of the same important nutrients, like antioxidants, and deliver even more protein, with about 15–18 grams per serving.
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews are protein stars, too, and they contain healthy fats. That includes the nut butters you love, like almond and peanut. Just watch your serving sizes as calories can add up fast. And chia and hemp seeds are packed with protein (and many other beneficial nutrients) and can literally be sprinkled on anything—from avocado toast to zucchini noodles.
Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
In general, it’s best to stay away from faux meat, but not all options are awful.
When it comes to soy, avoid faux meats made with highly processed versions, like soy concentrates and textured soy. And choose USDA-certified organic if you can, since soy is one of the most pesticide-soaked crops on the planet. All that being said, a block of organic tofu added to a stir fry instead of chicken is a great source of protein. Even better, try tempeh, which is a fermented version with probiotic benefits.
Seitan, on the other hand, is best avoided, since it’s basically concentrated wheat protein and is usually highly processed.
Finally, when it comes to veggie burgers, read labels carefully, since many are filled with processed soy and other potentially harmful additives. Look for products that list whole vegetables, beans, and other recognizable foods as ingredients. Better yet, make your own!
Plant-Based Protein Powders
Finally, if you feel like you’re not getting enough protein, you can always boost your smoothie with a plant-based protein powder. This is a particularly helpful option if you love intense workouts and want to retain and build muscle shortly after a training session.
Skip soy protein since it tends to be super processed. Instead, reach for pea protein or hemp protein, which are both excellent, healthy plant-based protein powders.
Here’s the key: Most companies make powders that blend a mix of plant-based protein sources, combining pea or hemp, for example, with sunflower, flax, chia, or sacha inchi protein. These blends can be super healthy, you just have to pay close attention to the ingredient list to make sure they’re not also blending in preservatives, fillers, and artificial flavors. (P.S. I’m partial to Life’s Abundance Plant Protein Powder, since I just happened to help develop the recipe…so feel free to stock up on that one.)
The bottom line? If you incorporate all (or even some) of these foods into your plant-based diet on a somewhat regular basis, chances are you’ll be getting plenty of protein.
10 Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein by Whitney E. RD
Article written by Whitney English RD
When I tell people that I’m predominantly plant-based, their response is usually – so how do you get your protein? It’s a HUGE misconception that plant-based diets are low in protein. Yep, veggies, fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes – they all have protein. Today I’m going to share with you my favorite sources of protein for a plant-based diet.
1. Chia seeds
These tiny little nutritional powerhouses contain about 3.5 grams of protein per two tablespoons. They’re also packed with other important nutrients for plant-based diets like calcium, iron, and zinc.
Tofu is by far my favorite source of plant-based protein. With about 15 grams of protein per 4 oz serving (cooked), tofu provides approximately one-third of the average woman’s protein needs for the day. It’s also incredibly versatile. Soft tofu can be blended into a smoothie, medium tofu can be incorporated into vegan cheeses, and firm or extra firm tofu can be used for stir-fries and heartier dishes. And it has a mild flavor profile, so you can really use it for any type of dish. It easily takes on the taste of sauces or spices used in cooking. It also has a great texture for those new to plant-based eating and is easily subbed for meat in many meals. I like House Foods tofu as all of their soybeans are non-GMO and grown in the U.S. And despite what you may have heard, soy foods like tofu have tons of nutritional benefits. Studies show that soy may help prevent chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s also perfectly safe for kids. Research shows no difference in reproductive or endocrine functioning in adults who consumed soy infant formula as infants. In fact, it’s likely that the earlier you begin consuming soy products, the better. Studies show that women who consume soy in early childhood have an even greater reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who begin consumption later in life.
3. Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
Whole grain bread has about 6 grams of protein per slice. That means one sandwich is packing about a fourth of your daily needs before we even get to the filling! Whole grains are also an excellent source of fiber, which helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Quinoa is what some people would call a “complete protein”. All whole plant foods contain all 9 essential amino acids, some just have lower amounts than others. Still, quinoa, like tofu, has a large amount of all of the essential amino acids and 8 grams of protein per cup, making it a really great plant-based protein option.
5. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds got about 6 1/2 grams of protein per two tablespoons and are so easy to toss into salads, smoothies, and bowls to add a punch of plant-based protein.
6. Peanut Butter Powder
While peanut butter is a great source of healthy fat, peanut butter powder gives you more protein per calorie so it’s a great way to boost the plant protein content of meals.
Like bread, most people think only of carbohydrates when they think of oats. But whole rolled oats pack about 11 grams of protein per cup.
8. Nutritional Yeast
These nutty yellow flakes are a plant-based eater essential. Two tablespoons contain about 8 grams of protein, an ample dose of iron, and a plethora of B vitamins.
I like to say this vegetable is cruci-ferocious. That’s because one cup of cooked broccoli has almost 4 grams of protein. That’s quite a bit for a veggie. In fact, calorie for calorie, broccoli actually has more protein than some types of beef. While you’d have to eat a ton of broccoli to equal the amount in a steak, I think most plant-based eaters would be up for that challenge.
While all beans pack a ton of plant protein, lentils top the list with about 18 grams of protein per cup. Just remember to get BPA-free cans.
7 Ways Animal Protein is Damaging Your Health
Today, of course, we know that most proteins from both plants and animals are “complete proteins” (meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids we need).1 However, people sometimes use the term “low quality” to refer to plant proteins because they typically have a lower proportion of these essential amino acids as compared to animal proteins.
But it’s important to understand that having a higher proportion of essential amino acids, as animal protein does, is actually damaging (not advantageous) for our health. We outline seven ways that animal protein damages your health.
1. Animal Protein and Fiber (or total lack thereof)
Unlike plant protein, which comes packaged with fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, animal protein comes with exactly none of the foregoing. To this point, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy, fish and other animal foods have absolutely no fiber whatsoever.
Many people, in their effort to “get enough” protein, tend to eat large amounts of animal foods, which displaces plant foods that have these important nutrients. Fiber deficiencies, in particular, are far more common than not.
For example, The Institute of Medicine recommends that men consume 38 grams of fiber, but the average adult only eats about 15 grams per day—less than half the recommended amount. In fact, according to the USDA, almost all Americans (~95%) do not get an adequate amount of dietary fiber.38,39
High fiber intake is associated with decreased cancer risk, specifically colon and breast cancers, as well as lower risk of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, constipation and diverticulitis. It may also reduce the risk of stroke, high cholesterol, and heart disease.40,41
2. Animal Protein and IGF-1 (increased cancer risk)
When we ingest proteins that have a higher proportion of the essential amino acids (which is a characteristic of animal protein), it results in our bodies producing higher levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).2-8
This hormone stimulates cell division and growth in both healthy and cancer cells and, for this reason, having higher circulating levels of IGF-1 has been consistently associated with increased cancer risk, proliferation, and malignancy.2-8
3. Animal Protein and TMAO
Consuming animal protein also results in us having higher circulating levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).
TMAO is a substance that injures the lining of our vessels, creates inflammation, and facilitates the formation of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels. And that, of course, is highly problematic for cardiovascular health.9,10
TMAO is created by complex interactions involving our gut flora and the nutrients in the food we eat. And when we eat animal foods, it alters our gut flora in such a way that facilitates the creation of TMAO.9,10
So, consuming animal foods result in higher TMAO levels, which is damaging to our vessels. Even without all of the other problematic aspects of animal foods, this one issue involving TMAO is, according to the recent president of the American College of Cardiology Dr. Kim A. Williams, sufficient by itself for people to vigorously avoid animal foods.11
4. Animal Protein and Phosphorus
Animal protein contains high levels of phosphorus. And when we consume high amounts of phosphorus, one of the ways our bodies normalize the level of phosphorus is with a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23).
FGF23 has been found to be harmful to our blood vessels. It can also lead to hypertrophy of the cardiac ventricle (abnormal enlargement of our cardiac muscle) and is associated with heart attacks, sudden death, and heart failure.12,13 So eating animal protein with its high concentration of phosphorus can result in increased levels of this hormone in our bodies, which in turn is highly problematic for our health.
5. Animal Protein, Heme Iron, and Free Radicals
Iron is the most abundant metal in the human body. We can consume it in two forms: (a) heme iron, found widely in animal foods like meat, poultry, and fish; and (b) non-heme iron found widely in plant foods.
One of the problems with heme iron is that it can convert less reactive oxidants into highly reactive free radicals.14 And free radicals can damage different cell structures like proteins, membranes, and DNA.14,15
Heme iron can also catalyze the formation of N-nitroso compounds in our bodies, which are potent carcinogens. So, not surprisingly, high intake of heme iron has been associated with many kinds of gastrointestinal cancers as well as other pathologies.15
It is true that heme iron has higher absorption rates and bioavailability than non-heme iron. However, iron itself can cause oxidative stress and DNA damage, so with iron generally, it’s not always a situation where “more is better.”15
While we definitely need iron, the absorption and bioavailability of iron from a well-rounded plant-based diet is generally adequate, and we can avoid the problems associated with heme iron and other negative health attributes of animal foods.16,17
6. Higher Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids and Bone Health Problems
Animal proteins also have, in general, higher concentrations of sulfur-containing amino acids, which can induce a subtle state of acidosis when metabolized.18 One of the mechanisms our bodies use to compensate for this acidosis is leaching calcium from our bones to help neutralize the increased acidity. Over time, this can have a detrimental effect on bone health.19-24
This is thought to be one of the reasons why some studies have found that populations with higher dairy consumption, as well as higher consumption of animal protein in general, also have a higher incidence of bone fractures.18-30
7. Animal Protein and Cholesterol
Most animal foods contain saturated fat and cholesterol (this is true for even so-called “lean” meats like chicken, turkey, and salmon, regardless of how they are cooked or prepared—even if boiled, baked, or steamed).
As humans, we do not need to consume any cholesterol, since our bodies synthesize all the cholesterol we need for our physiologic functions.
Eating cholesterol despite this fact is problematic for our health, as it increases our risk of developing heart disease—currently the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States.31-37
Atherosclerosis, or plaques of cholesterol that accumulate in the lining of our vessels, is exquisitely less common on a plant-based vegan diet devoid of animal products. And some studies have found that eating this way can even reverse atherosclerosis.32-37
The Real “High Quality” Foods
Given all the issues, the “high quality” aspect of animal protein might be more appropriately described as “high risk” instead.
And there’s no need to obsess about getting enough protein either. If you are eating a sensible variety of plant foods (e.g., vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, roots, nuts, and seeds), and you are eating enough calories (i.e., you feel satisfied), there is no need to worry about protein adequacy.
The amino acids we need are structurally identical regardless of the source. However, as discussed above, there are serious health implications depending on whether the amino acids are packaged within animal or plant foods. Dr. Walter Willett, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, said it well:
“To the metabolic systems engaged in protein production and repair, it is immaterial whether amino acids come from animal or plant protein. However, protein is not consumed in isolation. Instead, it is packaged with a host of other nutrients.”42
He therefore recommends that you “pick the best protein packages by emphasizing plant sources of protein rather than animal sources.”42
In the end, plant foods are the real “high quality” foods that we should be eating for optimal health.
- animal protein
Science has shown us over and over again that the more meat we eat, the higher our risk of diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Conversely, the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the lower our risk for these diseases, and the lower our body mass index.
Why is eating meat bad? High-quality research shows that red meats (like beef, lamb, pork) and processed meats (bacon, sausage, deli meats) are metabolized to toxins that cause damage to our blood vessels and other organs. This toxic process has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. (Want to know more? Read about how these animal proteins harm the body here and here).
Should we all become vegetarian or vegan?
Not necessarily. One can be 100% perfectly vegetarian or vegan and still have an unhealthy diet. Many foods that aren’t made with animals are still unhealthy. Think candy, soda, and pasta, and baked goods made with refined flour. Sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grains are also toxic to the body and associated with significant health risks.
A better approach is a plant-based diet. This means consuming mostly fruits and vegetables, including beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. A plant-based diet is well associated with a lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and death from any cause.
An estimated 90% of the population of the United States is omnivorous, and the vast majority of people aren’t going to give up meat. The good news is, they don’t need to. A 2017 study published in JAMA showed that consuming just 3% less animal protein and replacing it with plant protein was associated with up to a 19% lower risk of death from any cause.
Not only that, but a plant-based diet can protect us when we do occasionally eat meat. Fruits and vegetables contain special plant nutrients that neutralize toxins. These are antioxidants, and they are really good for us. But they cannot be isolated and packed into a capsule or pill — supplements don’t work. A balanced diet that includes a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is what works. Just eat more plants that anything else, and minimize the meats, and you’ll be doing your body a huge favor.
Where will I get my protein?
Protein does not have to mean meat. As a matter of fact, many plant foods are excellent sources of protein. And no, it doesn’t have to be tofu. Think beans, lentils, peas, and edamame! Nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butter! Whole grains contain a fair amount of protein as well.
Having trouble envisioning meals without meat? You can enjoy the same classic meals, just substitute in plant protein. For example:
If you love tacos, replace the meat filling with spiced lentils. (Try my Easy Spiced Lentil Taco Filling recipe below.)
If you love shepherd’s pie, use finely diced mushrooms instead of ground meat.
If you love fajitas, switch out the steak or chicken for portabella mushrooms.
Classics like minestrone soup, chili, spaghetti, and lasagna are easily converted into healthier, animal-free meals. Use whole grain pasta where pasta is called for, and add extra veggies. Even if you prepare any of these dishes using animal protein, add extra veggies and you will be benefiting.
Going to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean eating plants exclusively. Just aiming to eat more healthful plant foods, focusing on overall nutrition, decreases health risks significantly. Even a little improvement can have big results.
A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention. The Permanente Journal, Winter 2015.
Healthy Dietary Patterns for Preventing Cardiometabolic Disease: The Role of Plant-Based Foods and Animal Products. Current Developments in Nutrition, December 2017.
Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA, March 7, 2017.
Animal and plant protein intake and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: results from two prospective US cohort studies. JAMA Internal Medicine, October 2016.
Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nature Medicine, April 7, 2013.
Intestinal Microbial Metabolism of Phosphatidylcholine and Cardiovascular Risk. New England Journal of Medicine, April 25, 2013.
3 from 1 vote
Easy Spiced Lentil Tacos
This dish cooks up fast, faster than meat. Red lentils are cheap; I always keep several bags in our pantry for soups and taco filling. This hearty, satisfying, high-protein meal can be made from scratch in under 30 minutes.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, grated or finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced or pressed (or, 1 teaspoon of garlic paste from a tube)
2 cups of red lentils, dry
5 cups of water
4 tablespoons of taco/fajita seasoning (buy it ready-made, or make your own — see recipe below)
8 corn tortillas
1 jar low-sodium salsa (less than 90 mg sodium per 2 tablespoon serving; examples include Newman’s Own, Green Mountain Gringo)
Chopped lettuce, lime slices, chopped green onions, plain Greek yogurt and/or red pepper flakes for serving, if desired
Homemade Taco/Fajita Seasoning:
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
Easy Spiced Lentil Taco Filling
Pour the lentils into a colander and rinse under cool water, swishing around. This removes any debris that may be mixed in. Classically, red lentils are known to have debris mixed in, and so people often call for washing them prior to cooking. You can choose whether or not to rinse the lentils in a colander first. I’ll admit I often skip this step, and haven’t come across any rocks yet.
Heat a large sauté pan or medium saucepan (that has a cover) over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swish around for a couple of seconds. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Add the lentils and water, and bring the water to just boiling, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes, then add the fajita seasoning and stir. Cover the pan and turn off the heat. The lentils will absorb the rest of the water while you prep the rest of your meal.
Put the meal together
Wrap the tortillas in a clean towel or paper towel and microwave for thirty seconds to heat.
Chop some lettuce (romaine is a good choice here), slice a lime, and set out plain Greek yogurt and the salsa. Let people put together their own tacos. Enjoy!
There’s a wide array of plant-protein sources to choose from. Below are some fan favorites, but there are plenty of others, too—you can mix and match based on your preferences and dietary needs. Add those you like best to meals, smoothies, and snacks to keep you satiated and energized all day.
(*signifies a complete protein)
Tempeh, 31 grams of protein per cup*
Tempeh is made from fermented whole soybeans and provides iron, calcium, and B vitamins. Because it’s fermented, the nutrients are better absorbed from tempeh than they are from tofu. Tempeh also contains prebiotic fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our gut, improving gut health and reducing inflammation in the body.
Lentils, 16 grams per ½ cup
These legumes deliver complex carbohydrates for sustained energy and balanced blood sugar levels. The soluble fiber they contain feeds good bacteria in the gut to help keep us healthy and may lower total and LDL cholesterol (often called “bad” cholesterol). Lentils are rich in iron, too.
Beans, 12 to 15 grams per cup
Legumes including black beans, mung beans, pinto beans, and others are good sources of minerals and B vitamins (including folic acid—especially crucial during pregnancy). They also contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants associated with protection against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.
Quinoa, 11 grams per cup
This seed can be cooked and eaten as you would other whole grains, although it has some advantages over those foods. Quinoa is gluten-free and higher in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients than most grains. It’s a good source of fiber, too.
Walnuts, 10 grams per ½ cup
Unlike other nuts, walnuts contain a significant amount of the omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which benefits the heart and brain. They also boast more antioxidant power than other nuts, helping to protect the body from free radical damage. Walnuts have even been shown to improve cognitive function.
Pumpkin seeds, 10 grams per ¼ cup
These tasty seeds contain health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids associated with maintaining a healthy heart. You’ll get a healthy dose of fiber, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and other nutrients when you snack on them too. Additionally, studies have shown that eating pumpkin seeds can help boost testosterone levels for men.
Nutritional yeast, 5 grams per tablespoon*
This vegan stand-in for cheese is a member of the fungi family that’s rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B12—an important one for anyone eating a plant-based diet because plant sources of it are few and far between.
Spirulina, 4 grams per tablespoon*
Beyond its protein content, spirulina (aka blue-green algae) is rich in iron and other minerals as well as vitamins, antioxidants, protein, and gamma-linoleic acid, a beneficial fatty acid. It’s a complete protein and a great source of vitamin B12, particularly important for vegans and vegetarians. Spirulina has also been found to lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol in some studies.
Almond butter, 4 grams per tablespoon
Almonds and almond butter are rich sources of minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium) as well as folic acid, potassium, vitamin E, and selenium, helping to cover your nutritional bases. According to research, almonds may reduce LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol and heart disease risk. They’re also reputed to keep blood sugar levels in check and protect against colon cancer.
Hemp hearts, 3 grams per tablespoon*
Hulled hemp seeds, called hemp hearts, are high in fiber, vitamin E, potassium, and several minerals. In addition, they contain a perfect ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 EFAs, which we need for heart and brain health, immune system support, energy production, and other healthy functioning.
Maca powder, 3 grams per tablespoon*
This superfood energizes without being a stimulant and boasts substantial vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. As an adaptogen, it has a balancing effect on the body. Maca helps to maintain equilibrium and balance stress levels, and it may alleviate depression and anxiety. It is recommended if you do enjoy this superfood to do so in the morning and not at bedtime.
Chia seeds, 2 grams per tablespoon*
The high-fiber content of these itty-bitty seeds will help keep you regular and might keep you feeling full longer. They’re high in heart-healthy omega-3s and also provide vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants to combat free radical damage that can lead to disease.
Flaxseeds, 2 grams per tablespoon
These seeds have the highest level of omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) of all plant foods, as well as an ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseeds help balance estrogen levels, alleviate menopausal symptoms, and appear to offer prostate-cancer protection. In patients with coronary artery disease, they’ve been found to improve triglyceride levels and blood pressure.