It’s the “if I had a nickle for every time…” question for vegetarians. Where do we get our protein? An easy answer is, “the same place you get your fiber” or “from the same sources the animals you eat get theirs.” That really gets people thinking. What provided the protein to grow a calf into a huge cow? Plants (and milk from their moms, who eat plants)! Yet most people, regardless of dietary choice, come up short when trying to think of plant-based protein sources. Tofu is always first on the list. Ugh. I hate that stuff. Next comes peanut butter or various kinds of nuts. A few people think of beans.
A friend and I recently took a quiz at an online health site and found that we both metabolize nutrients faster than most people. We are fast oxidizers. She has asked me to show her the way to incorporate more plant-based protein into her diet, since she needs to incorporate protein into every meal and snack she has during the day.
To help her (and you) out, I’ve come up with a basic outline of some plant-based sources of protein and 3 examples of how to incorporate each into your diet.
I. Quinoa (11g protein/cup) This grain (technically a member of the grass family) is a complete protein that is also high in fiber, iron, and calcium. Make sure you rinse quinoa before cooking as it has a bitter coating called saponin.
1. The simplest way incorporate quinoa into your diet is to use it like rice. Serve it with stir fry, curry, or grilled vegetables. You can also add it to soups and stews or use it in stuffed bell pepper recipes.
2. Replace your morning oatmeal. Add raisins, cinnamon, sliced apples, and agave nectar or brown sugar to cooked quinoa for a hot, hearty breakfast cereal.
3. Add quinoa to your homemade veggie burgers. There are plenty of recipes out there, including this one!
II. Lentils (17.9g protein/cup)
1. The simplest way to incorporate lentils into your diet is to add them to foods you already eat like chili and soup. Use them to replace ground beef when you make tacos, spaghetti sauce, or sloppy joes.
2. Make lentil loaf! Look up some recipes and try one!
3. Make vegan Spaghetti O’s! (Lentils make good meatballs!)
III. Tempeh & Seitan (24g protein/cup) These are both faux meat products, the former being soy bean-based and the latter being made primarily of wheat gluten.
1. Seitan is very versatile and can be sliced into cutlets, braised, and served with gravy; battered and deep-fried like chicken; or put into the crock pot with veggies for a mock pot roast. You can buy it packaged at Whole Foods or make your own to yield 5 times more for the same cost!
2. Tempeh can be crumbled and seasoned like sausage and then added to gravy to go over biscuits or formed into “meatballs” and added to pasta sauce.
3. Make tempeh bacon (lots of recipes out there) and use it on BLTs or serve with pancakes.
IV. Beans (black, pinto, kidney) 12-15g protein/cup
1. Replace the meat in tacos, burritos, and chili with any of these beans! For example, just add a pack of taco seasoning to black beans (just like you would ground beef) and serve with taco shells and fixin’s as usual. This is my fav chili recipe!
2. Mash any of these beans and mix with spices and breadcrumbs to make meatballs. Serve with pasta or in hoagie sandwiches with marinara sauce and some melted vegan cheese (Daiya).
3. Mash any of these beans and use them in bean/veggie burgers. Making your own is much better than the frozen patties they have prepared in the stores. Look up a few recipes and see what sounds good! This is one of my fav black bean burger recipes.
V. Hemp Seeds (16g protein/3 Tablespoons) These seeds can be eaten raw, sprouted, or ground into a meal.
1. Add hemp seeds to baked goods like quick breads, brownies (yeah yeah, ha-ha, “special brownies” and whatnot), muffins, and cookies.
2. Sprinkle raw hemp seeds onto just about any meal of the day including salads, grilled veggies and rice, oatmeal, veggie burgers, smoothies, cereal, or yogurt.
3. Make your own hemp milk by grinding hemp seeds and water and use it in coffee, cocoa, smoothies, pancake batter, or baked goods. Pour it over your morning cereal or oatmeal. It’s also great to have with vegan cookies! =)
VI. Green Peas (10g protein/cup)
1. You know what to do with peas! Eat them as a side dish with lentil loaf and mashed potatoes or add them to vegetable soup, veggie pot pie, pea soup, etc.
2. Add pea protein powder to your smoothies and shakes for a wholloping (yes, wholloping) 28g protein! (I use the NOW brand.)
3. Make low-fat “cheater” guacamole by following a recipe like this.
VII. Avocados (around 3-7 g protein per avocado, depending on the type)
You may be wondering why I’ve added avocado to this list since you only get 3-7 grams, but the mighty avocado is both an excellet source of Omega 3 fatty acids and a complete protein, providing all 18 essential amino acids.
1. Make guacamole (duh!) or just slice and add to salads, tacos, burritos, chili, soup, etc. (read: everything)
2. Puree into soups and smoothies to make them thick and creamy
3. Make raw chocolate pudding – mix 2 avocados with 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and agave nectar to taste. Puree in a food processor and top with chopped nuts, sliced strawberries, or coconut milk whipped cream (the angels are singing!)