The Importance of Protein
Protein is a vital nutrient throughout your body for processes like building muscles. Each day you should eat around 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds that you weigh. Depending on your individual dietary needs, between 10% and 35% of your daily calories should come from protein.
Understanding Plant Protein
Our bodies need 20 amino acids for optimal function. We cannot produce nine of those amino acids independently, so the nutrients must come from a food source. Experts say that animal sources are “complete” proteins because they contain all nine amino acids.
Most plant protein sources do not contain all nine. Because of this, variety in a plant-based diet is very important when it comes to getting the right protein. Learn more about plants with the highest protein and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
You can get 6 to 9 grams of protein in a half-cup of beans. Plus, beans contain just as much fiber, so you’ll feel full longer and have better digestion. Beans are good for you because they help balance the bacteria in your gut and lower your bad cholesterol levels.
Examples of beans you can add to your diet include:
- Pinto beans
- Adzuki beans
- Fava beans
- Lima beans
- Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas)
- Kidney beans
- Mung beans
- Black beans
Lentils come in several colors and taste great in a variety of dishes. You can get 18 grams of protein in one cup of lentils. You can add them to:
- Loaded baked potatoes
- Protein bowls
Edamame is a whole soybean, and it is one of the highest plant food proteins. It is one of the best sources of plant protein because soybeans are one of the only plant protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids. Eat one cup of edamame for 18 grams of complete protein. You can boil or steam edamame and eat it with the shell still on.
Tofu is a great plant-based protein made from whole soybeans, making it a complete protein. 3.5 ounces of tofu contains 8 grams of complete protein. Tofu is a great alternative to animal meat when making recipes. You do have to be careful when shopping for tofu because additives can quickly make it less healthy. Read packages and look for organic or non-GMO labels that contain very few other ingredients.
Another soybean product, 3 ounces of Tempeh contains 17 to 18 grams of protein. To make Tempeh, fermented soybeans are pressed together to form a block. The fermentation process means that Tempeh is also a great source of prebiotics, making it great for your gut health. It's slightly firmer than tofu and makes an excellent substitute for ground meat in recipes.
Whole grains are especially healthy for you because they are high in protein. One-half cup of oats contains 5 grams of protein. One-fourth cup of barley or quinoa contains five to 6 grams of protein. Bonus: Quinoa is also a complete protein. Cook grains for breakfast or add them into recipes for a protein boost.
When you think of protein, you may not think of peas, but one cup contains 8 grams of protein. There are a variety of peas you can eat fresh, like snap peas, or cooked, like green peas.
Peanuts are the nut with the greatest source of protein at 9 grams in a fourth of a cup. Almonds contain seven grams of protein for the same serving size, and pistachios contain 6 grams. They make a great snack whole, and nut spreads are delish for sandwiches and snacks. Try to choose natural nut spreads and read ingredient lists to avoid added salt and sugar.
Seeds like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds make a healthy snack. Each ounce of sunflower seeds has 8 grams of protein, and each ounce of pumpkin seeds has 7 grams. Hemp seeds have 10 grams of protein per ounce and are very versatile. Add them to salad and soup or grind them up to make a plant-based protein powder.
Soy milk is one of the only plant-based milks that contains almost as much protein as cow’s milk. Because of the processing, it is not a complete protein like whole soybeans, but it’s rich in other nutrients, including calcium, protein, and vitamin D. If you replace cow’s milk with soy milk, you don’t have to worry as much about replacing other important nutrients found in cow’s milk.
Sprinkling nutritional yeast on meals adds 2 grams of protein. This may not seem like much, but it adds up over time – especially when you add an extra spoonful every day. Plus, it’s a great source of vitamin B.