Did you know that plants can be sources of protein? Plant-based sources of protein are not as popular as meat sources, but you’d be surprised to know that these contain adequate protein. Some are even better protein sources than meat. But before we delve into these plant-based sources, let’s know a little bit more about protein.
Protein, according to the Harvard Institute of Medicine, is found in the body’s muscles, hair, skin, bones, etc., is responsible for important bodily functions such as chemical reactions and carrying oxygen in the bloodstream. There are at least 10,000 proteins that make these bodily functions happen.
Recommended daily protein intake
In order for these bodily functions to continue, you need to provide protein to your body. The Harvard Institute of Medicine suggests that for every kg of body weight that you have, you should consume 0.8g of protein every day. So if your weight is 50 kg, you should get 40 g of protein in your diet, daily.
There are certain recommendations based on geographical location. For example, in the United States, female adults over 19 are recommended to eat 46g of protein daily while males should eat 56 g of protein daily.
There are claims that in order for a person to reach the dietary intake requirement for protein, one should consume meat or animal sources only. But this is not true. According to this study, plant based sources of protein is enough.
Kinds of protein
You’ve heard of the term complete proteins and essential amino acids. To explain these concepts in simple terms, your body needs complete proteins in order to function properly. A complete protein, according to Columbia University, means it has all nine essential amino acids.
What are these essential amino acids and why are these important? The essential amino acids are what makes up the protein and can only be taken from food. Your body cannot produce it. Not all plant-based sources of protein have all 9 essential amino acids. In fact only soy and quinoa has these nine essential amino acids.
However, it does not mean that you cannot get all 9 essential amino acids from plant-based sources. You can if you mix your sources together. For example, if you eat one green leafy vegetable for lunch and it may contain only 5 essential amino acids, and then you have nuts for snack and it also contains several essential amino acids, plus green peas and rice for dinner – then you get all 9 essential amino acids within the 24 hour requirement.
Plant based sources of protein
Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables are not significantly known for their protein content and more for the antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that they have to offer. However, spinach and broccoli contain a hefty amount of protein. Eating two cups of spinach (raw) will give you 2.1 g and a cup of broccoli has 8.1 g.
You can reap the protein benefits of beans even if you buy them canned, according to Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. But you can also dry the beans and soak these in water overnight prior to cooking it, you want. Eating two cups of kidney beans will give you 26 g of protein.
Before you think that you’re getting stoned from consuming hemp seeds, think again. Hemp contains all 9 essential amino acids and you can add them in your shakes, smoothies, or even on your meals. There’s even hemp milk if you want something lower in calories than skimmed milk.
Three tablespoons of hemp seeds will yield 10 g of protein.
Soy is a great source of protein, according to this research. There are different kinds of food made from soybeans that are great protein sources. Tofu and tempeh are some examples. Soy is also a complete protein source.
With only 94 calories and 10 g per ½ cup, tofu is a great source of protein. If you also want higher protein content, you should choose a harder and firmer tofu. You also won’t get bored eating tofu as this food item has an ability to absorb different flavors.
Another kind of food item made from soybeans is tempeh. Half a cup of this has 15 g of protein and 160 calories.
Consuming 2 tablespoons of chia seeds will give you 4.7 g of protein and a lot of fiber. You can use chia seeds by sprinkling it over your salad, mixing it with your yogurt or smoothies. Or eat them as it is by soaking it in any liquid.
Chia also has a lot of other nutrients like calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, zinc, iron, and antioxidants. These can even be used to replace eggs in when baking the vegan way.
Nuts are rich in protein, but also in healthy fats. So if you want just the protein, try to consume the ones that are dry roasted or the raw ones. Almonds, pistachios, and cashews have at least 5 g of protein/ounce and 160 calories to boost.
Peanut or almond butter are also great protein sources but make sure to avoid the ones containing hydrogenated oils or a hefty amount of added sugar.
You can get 7 g of protein if you eat ½ cup of canned black beans. Combined with rice, it gets even better. Beans havelow methionine content and high lysine (both of which are amino acids), and rice has low lysine and high methionine content.
Made from wheat gluten, ½ cup of seitan can give you 36 g. Best of all, it actually tastes like chicken and can be used as a substitute for poultry ingredients. To make sure you get all the essential amino acids, you need to cook seitan in soy sauce broth, so it will have the amino acid lysine.
A cup of green peas will give you 7.9 g of protein, which is the same amount of protein a cup of milk gives you, less the other additives. While not everyone is a fan of green peas, Elle Penner, RD, suggests to mix frozen peas together with toasted pine nuts, fresh mint, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Or you can create your own recipe to make it enjoyable.
A cup of quinoa seed gives you 8 g of protein, which also has all 9 essential amino acids. You can also use this by adding it to your hot soup, over your summer salad, or even as an addition to your breakfast cereal. It’s versatile enough to be added on any food item.
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