Protein is an essential nutrient which fuels ongoing bodily processes. Not only does it help to build and repair body tissue, protein-rich foods are filling and contribute towards maintaining a healthy body weight.
If you immediately think of animal products, including meat, dairy and fish, when protein intake comes to mind, you might be missing out on valuable sources of vital nutrients. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many plant-based foods which are also rich in protein.
“A diet rich in plant protein is usually lower in fat, and it has more fiber, antioxidants, and water, which help decrease disease-causing inflammation and even clear up allergies and skin issues,” explains Brittany Kohn, a nutritionist in New York City.
Check out some of our most recommended plant-based foods for upping your protein intake.
- Chickpeas – As well as being packed full of protein, chickpeas are also high in fiber, low in fat and are sources of minerals such as iron and zinc. You can use them with just about anything, but seasoning and roasting makes for a healthy, tasty snack.
- Broccoli – Broccoli is well-known as a rich source of fiber and a low-calorie source of vitamin A, C and K, but its protein levels often go unnoticed. Broccoli is cleansing and detoxifying, and high in antioxidants.
- Quinoa – This seed’s protein profile has contributed to its recent surge in popularity. And as a complete protein, quinoa contains the essential amino acids your body needs to function. It’s extremely filling and rich in fiber, while also a source of iron and magnesium. Add quinoa to a vegetarian chili, or serve it up with fresh fruit and syrup for a tasty breakfast snack.
- Sunflower seeds – Sunflower seeds are packed full of all sorts of goodness; nature’s on-the-go energy snack. They are full of protein and healthy unsaturated fats, as well as skin-boosting vitamin E. Great toasted or roasted, sunflower seeds make a perfect addition to any salad.
- Soy Milk – Soy milk has the highest protein levels of all non-daily milk products (such as almond/rice milk). The quantity of protein is actually the same as what you would find in an equally sized portion of cow’s milk. It’s also free of saturated fat, and being lactose-free, many people find it easier to digest.
- Oats – In comparison to most whole grains, oats are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate. Rolled oats also help to maintain steady blood sugar levels, preventing cravings and energy crashes. Try making oatmeal pancakes for breakfast, or bake some oatmeal cookies or breads. Oats are also a surprisingly good ingredients for upping the nutrition in smoothies.
- Hemp Seeds – Hemp seeds contain complete protein, as well as essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium and iron. They are also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, usually found in fish, and they lower levels of cholesterol and risk of depression.
Nutty and soft, hemp seeds can be blended up and mixed in with just about any dish that needs a protein boost.
- Tofu – Tofu is extremely versatile and has low fat levels. It is a product of soy bean which comes in varying degrees of softness. As a general rule, the harder it is, the more protein it contains. It effectively takes on the flavor of any dish you’re cooking, and serves as an excellent replacement for meat and fish.
- Beans – Beans come in an endless number of varieties – black, red, white, pinto, the list goes on. They all deliver high levels of fiber and protein, with barely any fat content. You may only be familiar with putting them in your burrito, but they have many different applications.
As you can see, there is no shortage of healthy sources of protein in non-animal foods. It might take you a little getting used to using these foods, but your protein intake will be at a healthy level in no time.
This article was written by Christian Abbas, a personal trainer in West Lothian. Spiral Fitness provides nutritional coaching, personal training and motivational support to help people reach their goals.