Of all the health messages floating around today, two big ones are particularly tricky to reconcile: we should eat less meat and we should eat more protein. Eating too much meat can contribute to weight problems, heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Eating more protein helps us get stronger, lose weight, lower blood pressure and more. The tricky part? Meat is such a generous source of protein!
Luckily, though, meat is not the only way to get our protein levels up. Plant-based sources of protein are abundant and varied and versatile, and they generally have additional benefits that we could all use.
The recommended daily intake for protein is around 50 grams — about 46 grams for women and 56 for men. (This New York Times article takes an interesting look around the high-protein trend and why sticking to the allowances — rather than going overboard — is wise.) We’ve pulled together a list of top plant-based proteins that will help you hit your protein goals in a meatless, delicious and healthy way.
It’s hard to beat edamame — which are soybeans harvested while they’re still young and soft — in terms of plant-based protein content. We’re talking 17-20 grams per cup. Eat them on their own (steamed with a pinch of salt, if you’re dining with me) or mixed into a stir-fry, soup or salad — but educate yourself on the controversy surrounding the effect of soy on women’s bodies before you go too crazy with them.
Quinoa hit celebrity status awhile back as an alternative to pasta and rice; it’s a solid source of fiber and minerals, and has 8 grams of protein in one cup. Plus, it’s gluten free. You see why people love it? Use quinoa to bulk up salads and wraps, to stuff roasted vegetables or to mix with spinach, feta and cherry tomatoes. And, in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “keen-wah.”
Source: Spinach for Breakfast
Ah, green peas . . . as a child you attached them individually to the end of each prong on your fork. Now, you can treat them with far more respect. A cup of green peas — which have been credited with preventing all sorts of problems including stomach cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis — can have over 7 grams of protein! If you’re not a fan of green peas on their own, try this fresh pea hummus recipe to spread on some tasty crackers.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, beans probably already play a big role in your diet. They’re filling, adaptable, tasty and nutritious. But they’re also a great source of protein. Outside of soybeans, most beans — such as white, pinto, navy, black, kidney and even lima beans — have around 15 grams of protein per cup. Bring on the vegetarian chili!
SEEDS AND NUTS
It’s stunning how much protein can be squeezed into tiny little seeds and nuts, which makes them super-convenient and effective sources of protein. For example, an ounce of chia or sesame seeds has about 4.7 grams of protein; an ounce of almonds or pistachios has nearly 6 grams of protein; and peanuts (which are actually legumes, but who’s counting?) have 6.6 grams in an ounce! So take a handful of almonds on your next hike, sprinkle some peanuts in your veggie stir-fry and start adding seeds to your smoothies.
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES
Dark green vegetables are supremely healthy and relatively low calorie — so you can eat loads guilt-free and just watch your protein numbers rise all day. These leafy options are particularly protein-dense: collard greens have 5.15 grams per cup, spinach has 5.35 grams per cup, and kale has 2.47 grams per cup. Use spinach as a base for your next salad, toss kale into your green smoothies, steam yourself some collards, or keep those leaves raw and just nibble away.