Protein is an important part of our diets. With plant-based diets becoming more popular, many people are looking to switch to vegetarian or vegan sources of protein. This article discusses why protein consumption is important to our health and shares 9 vegetarian and vegan foods that provide you with all the protein your body needs.
WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT TO OUR DIET?
Protein is a powerful macronutrient with many beneficial, even essential functions. Here are some important ways protein supports our health:
Regulating hunger and metabolism.
Protein improves satiety, or the feeling of fullness, better than carbohydrates and fats. This ability to lower appetite and hunger levels can help reduce calorie intake, which helps us stay closer to a healthy weight and avoid overweight or obesity.
In addition to reducing your appetite, eating protein boosts your metabolism. The body uses more energy to digest and make use of the nutrients in food, a process called the thermal effect of food. The thermal effect of proteins is much greater than that of carbohydrates and fats.
Forms the central building blocks of your tissues and organs.
Proteins are found in all of the body’s cells. Eating a high protein diet can help your body maintain the structural integrity of skin, nails, hair, the skeleton, and so much more. An adequate intake of protein also helps the body repair itself faster after injury or normal wear and tear.
Since protein is the structural block of our muscles, eating satisfactory amounts of protein helps maintain muscle mass and prevent muscle wasting. If you exercise a lot, enjoy cycling, or engage in exercise to stay active, you should make sure you eat the recommended amount of protein. High-protein intake can be especially beneficial for athletes who often fuel their bodies to perform for long periods.
- Helps transport and store nutrients. Proteins are involved in the process of carrying and storing key nutrients in your body. The protein hemoglobin helps carry oxygen throughout the body. The hormone insulin, together with glucose transporter proteins on your cells ensure that simple carbs can get into your cell to be used for energy. Lipoproteins help carry cholesterols and other fats throughout the body.
Whether you are an elite athlete moving towards an ideal body composition, someone trying to lose some belly fat, or someone who wants to make sure you provide the body enough protein for optimal function, consider replacing some of the carbohydrate- and fat-laden foods with protein-focused foods in your daily meals and snacks.
VEGETARIAN SOURCES OF PROTEIN
Despite what some people think, there are several plant-based options for protein. When consuming protein, try to be mindful of varying your protein sources to ensure you are getting all 9 essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that your body cannot make, so it must get them from the diet. Recommendations are made below for on how to turn any incomplete plant-based protein sources into complete ones.
Textured soybean is often used as a meat replacement. It can be shaped into different size particles to create different types of food; fine size similar to mince meat or thicker pieces to simulate ground meat.
It is made up of more than 50% protein and can be included in many vegetarian dishes such as bolognese sauce, stuffed potatoes, vegan bourguignon with mushrooms or vegetable-based stuffed peppers or tacos.
Related to textured soybeans is Tofu. Tofu is made from condensed soy milk using a process similar to cheesemaking. Tofu is high in protein and contains all of the essential vitamins your body needs. It also provides fats, carbs, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
100 grams of tofu contains 8 grams of protein.
Some algae such as spirulina are good sources of vegan protein, and even more so when in their dried version. Dried spirulina is more than 60% protein, which makes it an excellent substitute for meat. It also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which support your overall health. Just add dried spirulina seaweed to a smoothie, soup or yogurt to get a boost of protein.
2 tablespoons of spirulina provides 8 grams of protein.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanuts are a legume that is also a good source of plant-based protein.
Peanuts contain fiber and more than 30 grams of protein per 100 grams. Add them to a salad, a stir fry, or baked goods. Peanut butter, derived from peanuts, is another great way to add protein to your vegetarian or vegan diet and is also a source of unsaturated fats.
Peanut butter offers more than 30% protein. Eat it on whole-grain toast to make it a complete protein. It is also great as an ingredient in dishes such as noodles with tofu, a dressing for a stir fry, or added to a nutritious smoothie.
2 tablespoons of peanut butter provides 8 grams of protein.
Black beans are another legume with high protein levels. We can use black beans in various dishes: in salads and burritos, blended in dips, in appetizers, or as a side dish. Black beans are considered an incomplete protein unless combined with brown or white rice, so consume them together when possible.
100 grams of black beans can contain up to 22 grams of protein.
Quinoa has grown in popularity in recent decades. It is an ancient grain that has a fluffy texture and nutty flavor. Quinoa is classified as a pseudo-cereal as it doesn’t grow from grasses like other cereals and grains. It is naturally gluten free. In addition to being a complete protein, quinoa provides more magnesium, iron, fiber, and zinc than many common grains.
One cup of quinoa (cooked) provides approximately 8 grams of protein.
Another ancient grain is Amaranth. It can be prepared like quinoa by boiling and used as a side dish or porridge or heated in a skillet and added to granola or salads. Like quinoa, amaranth is gluten-free and can be ground into flour. It also provides your body with magnesium phosphorus, manganese and iron.
One cup of cooked amaranth contains 9 grams of protein.
Although not as high in protein as quinoa or amaranth, buckwheat is another pseudo-cereal which provides a complete protein. It can be cooked like oatmeal or used as flour in baking.
One cup of buckwheat groats (cooked) provides 6 grams of protein.
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds. They can absorb liquid and form a gel like coating. Because of this unique quality, chia seeds can be used to make puddings and jams without pectin. Chia seeds can be used raw, added to smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal or salads or ground into a flour like powder. They are also a good source of omega 3’s.
Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides 4 grams of protein.
Nutritional yeast is another good source of protein and can be used as a cheese substitute or to add an umami flavor to dishes. It is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae grown specifically to be a food product. Nutritional yeast can be found as a powder or in flake form.
A 1/4-cup (15-gram) serving of nutritional yeast provides 8 grams of complete protein.