One of the questions every vegan dreads is, “But where do you get your protein?” It’s not that we don’t get enough protein (we do) or that we don’t, in fact, know where we get our protein (we do); it’s just that the concept of ingesting enough protein exclusively from plant foods is just so . . . foreign to “regular” eaters.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not only easily possible, but also beneficial to get your protein from plant-based sources. Along with their protein content, foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains also offer a huge array of other important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. In addition, plant foods are cholesterol-free, while animal products are not.
Here are some of the best choices for plant-based protein so you can mix and match:
Lentils: Even though all beans and legumes are fairly high in protein (most have between 12-15 grams per cup), lentils are a superstar among pulses. They’re already familiar to most people; they cook up really quickly; they are virtually fat-free; and they provide 18 grams of protein per cup of cooked lentils. Try lentil soup, dal, or lentil salad.
Tempeh: Like tofu, tempeh is a soy-based product, but it is naturally fermented, which means it not only provides “good” bacteria in the form of probiotics (similar to the kinds you get from live cultures in yogurt); but it is also easier to digest than tofu, so is not as problematic for some people to eat. If you’ve never tried tempeh, the texture is somewhat grainy and more meaty than that of tofu, and only four ounces offers 20 grams of protein. Try tempeh on its own, in stews, or as “bacon.”
Hemp seeds: All nuts and seeds contain a fairly good hit of protein (most range between 5-8 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, or 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter), but raw hemp seeds top the list for protein, as well as offering a fantastic source of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. A mere 3 tablespoons serves up 16 grams of protein. Sprinkle on salads, on oatmeal, in smoothies—or turn them into brownies. Adding nuts in general to your meals is also a great way to consume more healthy fats and fiber.
Other Vegetables: Don’t forget that all vegetables provide some protein. A few of the better sources include avocado (technically a fruit, with 7 grams for one medium); broccoli (5 grams per cup, cooked); spinach (5 grams per cup cooked) or sweet potato (5 grams per cup of puree). Adding more vegetables to soups or salads, or consuming them as side dishes, will also help to boost overall protein intake. Try mashing avocado on toast, adding broccoli to pasta sauce, or baking sweet potatoes for side dishes or muffins.
And don’t forget—nutritionists tell us that it’s no longer necessary to combine two or more specific proteins per meal to achieve a full complement of amino acids in your diet. We now know that simply by eating a varied diet, you will provide your body with enough raw materials to string together the complete proteins all on its own.
Even if you don’t go fully plant-based, why not at least try out one day a week without meat and see how you feel? No doubt, your body will thank you.