Wouldn’t it be awesome to have steak for dinner every single day? It can’t be bad especially if you have sweet potatoes and some grilled veggies on the side, right? Sadly, several studies show that animal meat as a protein source isn’t very healthy at all. It doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge once in a while, it just means that we need to consume more plant-based protein than animal meat. There are many reasons why plant-based protein is the healthier alternative to steak.
Here are some interesting facts:
● When compared to a pound of animal meat, a pound of plant-based protein has more nutrients into fewer calories. Not only that, animal meat lacks one thing, fiber. Fiber is very important in keeping a healthy digestive system and helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
● Eating a variety of animal meat ensures that you consume all the amino acids you need plus other nutrients like vitamin B12, B5, B6, B7, A, K, niacin, and thiamine. But guess what? You will still get the same nutrients when you consume plant-based protein and more. The only vitamin that most plants can produce is vitamin B12. But you can get it from edible seaweed and supplements.
● While plant-based protein has more nutrients and fiber, some don’t have all of the amino acids our bodies need, just making sure that a variety of plant sources is consumed will fix that.
● Meat has saturated fat. Fat is the reason why steaks, burgers, or bacon is delicious. It adds flavor but it can also clog your arteries, which leads to cardiovascular disease. With plant-based protein, you get less saturated fat and bad cholesterol.
● Processed red meat, bacon, and sausage have been shown to cause cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer. The black char on grilled or seared meat is also found to have some carcinogenic compounds in it.
So how do you start eating more plant-based protein?
Protein is a non-negotiable part of the human diet. They are vital, the building blocks of life. They promote cell growth and repair. Going plant-based can sometimes make it easy to not consume enough protein. Not having enough protein will hinder your body from functioning properly. We made a list of the top plant-based sources of protein to help those who are looking to get started.
1. Wheat Gluten or Seitan
Wheat Gluten or Seitan is made from gluten, which is the main protein of wheat. It’s made by washing and rinsing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch is removed. The sticky mass left behind looks and tastes very much like meat when cooked. Even the texture is somewhat like animal meat. This can be used as a substitute for any dish where meat is used. It has about 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. It’s high in protein, low in carbohydrates and fat, and high in fiber. This should be avoided by people with gluten sensitivity or celiac though.
2. Tempeh, Tofu, and Edamame
Tempeh, tofu, and edamame are made of soybeans. Soy has all the essential amino acids the body needs. It’s considered to be a complete protein. Soy contains up to 19 grams of protein per 100 grams. Tempeh has probiotics and soy, in general, contain vitamin K, folate, and fiber. They’re rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Tempeh, tofu, and edamame can be used in a wide variety of dishes like salads, soups, and sandwiches. Avoid genetically modified or GMO soybeans though. There are studies that indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified soybeans including immune problems, infertility, accelerated aging, and changes in bodily systems. Always make sure that what you’re buying is labeled, “Non-GMO”.
Lentils are part of the beans and legumes family, they’re the smaller versions of beans. They’re packed with nutrients but don’t have all the essential amino acids needed by the body so they are considered to be an incomplete protein. This isn’t much of an issue since a varied diet can easily ensure that you’re getting all of the essential amino acids. Or they can be sprouted before eating. Sprouting increases the amino acids they contain. Just soak lentils for 8 to 12 hours to sprout them. They contain about 9 grams of protein per 100 grams. Lentils are rich in carbohydrates, fiber, folate, riboflavin, and manganese. They can be used in many different dishes like soups, fresh salads, and dahl.
4. Chickpeas and Most Varieties of Beans
Chickpeas, navy beans, black beans, pinto beans, and other varieties of beans contain high amounts of protein per serving. Combined, they can provide the body all the essential amino acids it needs. Most beans contain around 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also packed with carbohydrates, fiber, iron, folate, potassium, manganese, and healthy fats. Hummus is one of the dishes that chickpeas are well-known for. Beans can be added in almost any dish.
5. Green Peas
Green peas are also part of the beans and legumes family, though they are commonly considered a vegetable. Snap peas and snow peas are varieties of peas and their pods are eaten as well. They contain around 9 grams of protein per cooked cup. Green peas are also rich in carbohydrates, fiber, folate, iron, thiamine, manganese, vitamins A, C, and K, plus B vitamins. Green peas are most commonly eaten as a side dish and can also be added to many recipes. There has been some debate as to whether or not green peas are good to eat because of the anti-nutrients it contains. These are compounds that hinder the body from absorbing some nutrients and causes bloating. It’s actually not really a cause for concern since fermenting, soaking, or sprouting peas before eating can help remove the anti-nutrients. Controlling portions will help as well.
6. Spelt and Teff
Spelt and teff are considered to be “ancient grains”. It means that they are the ancestors of modern grains and they already existed in prehistoric times. Spelt, the ancestor of modern wheat, looks like very much like wheat in appearance, but it has a tougher husk that protects the nutrients inside the grain. It’s an excellent source of protein, fiber, niacin, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin E. Teff is a grain that’s extremely small in size and mainly consists of the bran and germ. The most nutritious parts of any grain are the bran and germ which makes teff very nutrient-dense. It’s packed with protein, carbohydrates, fiber, calcium, phosphorous, copper, iron, and thiamin. It’s also gluten-free so it’s suitable for those with gluten intolerance. Spelt contains 15 grams of protein per 100 grams and there are about 10 grams of protein per cup of cooked teff. Spelt and teff are good alternatives to common grains like rice and wheat and can be made into flour to be used in baking and in a variety of recipes where grain is commonly used.
7. Quinoa and Amaranth
Quinoa and amaranth are called “pseudocereals.” They have many similarities to grain and are eaten like a grain, but are actually seeds. They taste a little nutty and has a texture similar to brown rice. Both contain about 9 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also excellent sources of carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and iron. They cook very fast and are excellent choices for a quick, healthy meal. They can be consumed just like any other grain and can be made into flour for baking as well.
8. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis Sativa plant and contain all the essential amino acids, plus essential fatty acids needed to maintain a healthy body. They contain 10 grams of easily-digestible protein per 28 grams. They’re also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium. They have anti-inflammatory properties, which help alleviate skin conditions, as well as reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause. Hemp seeds can be added to your smoothies or muesli bowls, as well as in salad dressings or home-made protein bars. There’s controversy surrounding hemp seeds because they come from the same plant family where marijuana comes from. They do contain THC, the ingredient that gives you a high, but the amount is extremely low that it’s not a cause for concern. Hemp is actually entirely different from marijuana in its function, cultivation, and application, and it’s still considered to be a superfood.
9. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are the edible seeds of the Salvia Hispanica plant. They’re considered as unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be easily absorbed by the body. They contain 6 grams of protein per 35 grams and are rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants, calcium, selenium, and iron. Chia seeds don’t have much flavor alone, which makes them an excellent addition to any recipe like baked goods, smoothies, or salads. They also absorb water and turn into a gelatine-like texture which can be made into healthy puddings.
10. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer, but in it’s deactivated form. It has a yellow color and comes in flakes, granules or in a powder-like form. It’s often used as a condiment because of its savory taste. It contains 14 grams of protein per 22 grams. It’s used as a popular substitute for cheese in vegan dishes, and to thicken sauces and dressings. It can also be sprinkled on pasta, mashed potatoes, or popcorn.
Spirulina is algae that grow in both fresh and salt water. Just like any other plant, it can make energy from sunlight via the process called photosynthesis. It’s considered as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on Earth. It can provide all the essential amino acids the body needs. It contains 8 grams of protein per two tablespoons. Low in calories and fat, it’s also rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The main, active component of spirulina called phycocyanin–which gives it it’s blue-green color– has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It makes the immune system stronger and helps reduce bad cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the body. Spirulina can be added to smoothies and drinks, can be used in baking, added to sauces and dressings, and can also be added to desserts.
12. Ezekiel Bread
Ezekiel Bread is made of organic, sprouted whole grains like barley, wheat and spelt, with added legumes like soybeans and lentils. Sprouting the grains significantly changes their nutrient composition which makes this bread very nutrient-dense when compared to regular bread made of refined wheat flour. This process increases its overall protein content, increases fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E content. Two slices contain around 8 grams of protein. Ezekiel Bread contains gluten so it’s not a good option for those who are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease.
Oats or oatmeal contains higher-quality protein than any other grain like rice or wheat. Although not considered to be a complete protein, combined with all the other foods on this list, it should be able to provide enough that the body needs. There are around 6 grams of protein per half a cup of oatmeal. It’s low in sodium, packed with fiber, B vitamins, folate, and other minerals like magnesium and zinc. Oatmeal contains very low calories and is very satiating so it helps with weight-loss. The fiber content also helps keep a healthy digestive system. Oats can be eaten as porridge, can be added to smoothie bowls, muesli, or granola. It’s also made into flour to be used in baking.
14. Nuts, Nut Butters and Other Seeds
Nuts and seeds can be eaten as they are, raw or toasted. Or they can also be made into butter. Tahini, peanut butter, and almond butter are examples. Most nuts and seeds contain around 5 to 7 grams of protein, depending on the nut and seed variety. They are also great sources of fiber and healthy fats. They’re rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. They can be spread and eaten on bread, crackers, or they can even be added in smoothies and porridge. Just make sure that you’re getting natural, raw, and unblanched versions of nut butter so there will be no added unhealthy ingredients.
15. Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of protein. Some contain more than others so we made a list below:
Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, sweet corn, artichokes, potatoes with skin, and sweet potatoes contain about 4 to 5 grams of protein per cooked cup.
Fruits: Guava, cantaloupe, blackberries, bananas, and nectarines are fruits that contain a bit more protein than other fruits. They have about 2 to 4 grams of protein per cup.
Considering the big picture, it’s undeniable that plant-based protein is better for our health. If you choose to go completely plant-based that’s awesome. But there are some people who also believe in enjoying life. Food should be enjoyable. You shouldn’t spend each and every day eating steak and sausage but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have them once in a while. Balance and moderation are key. Just consume more plant-based proteins and treat yourself from time to time.