Every time I see a health blog about lean animal protein in your diet I have to smile and think about just how naive people have become about what they read and see endorsed by celebrities who are promoting a new diet, strength-building lifestyle, (with their names attached) or just plain promoting the benefits of eating meat, fish or fowl.
Protein is found in other sources on the planet than just the 4 legged or finned varieties. Getting more of your protein from plants (rather than animals) is doubly beneficial: You'll reduce your calorie intake and consume more belly-filling fiber. Relying less on animal products can be a great first step in upping your intake of nutrient-rich whole foods and crowding out overly processed meat. But how are you going to get enough protein? Well, would you believe growing up from the ground? Yep, below are listed a few of the highest-protein veggies, legumes, and minimally processed meat alternatives, like tempeh, to show you that protein is where you find it.
Organic Edamame (Cooked Soybeans)
Protein: 18 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
Talk about healthiest appetizer ever—just a cup's worth of edamame (or cooked soybeans) packs a huge protein punch. Be sure to pick an organic variety, though, as most soybeans in the US are genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides. It pays to know where your produce that is sold in your store is coming from, so if you don't know, and you’re not getting the right sounding answers from the store manager. Don't be afraid to contact the chains main office, (if it is a large food chain). They will give you the "Skinny" on just where they get their produce from, they have to, it's the law. Organic is the best, but even organic farms can be using some types of pesticides. You may have to go one step further and contact the farm to make sure they are truly an organic farm, using only tried true ways of implanting their soil with natural nutrients by growing rotating crops.
Protein: 16 g per 3 oz serving
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans and shaping it into a dense cake that can be sliced and pan-fried like tofu. It's nutty, chewy, and packs significantly more protein and fiber than tofu—and because it's fermented, it's easier to digest for some.
Protein: 8 to 15 g per 3 oz serving
Ah, tofu, the classic vegetarian blank slate made from curdled soy milk that's wonderful pan-fried, sautéed in a stir-fry, and even scrambled. Though it's not quite as protein-packed as tempeh, its taste may be more tolerable. Opt for organic varieties to avoid genetically modified soy and funky pesticides. Seems like a pattern we need to really be aware of.
Protein: 9 g per ½-cup serving
Low-Cal, high-fiber, and high-protein lentils can be morphed into a nutrient-dense side dish, veggie burger, or even whipped into a hummus-like dip. They've also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. You’ve heard the term the “Spice of Life” well make sure you embrace that statement in your cooking. It’s amazing just what flavors you can bring to a dish consisting of beans, lentils and even tofu when you incorporate some healthy fats and oils combined with the right amount of different spices to add just the right amount of flavor to a healthy dish.
Protein: 7.6 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Black beans are also packed with heart-healthy fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and a range of phytonutrients. They can be added from anything to turkey chili, to a salsa, to even grinding up and coming up with a nutritious great tasting brownie! I did say before that plant based proteins are great, didn't I? And this is one of my favorite go-to sources of protein, if you're up to it, try some black beans in organic Greek yogurt, it tastes a lot better than it sounds!
Protein: 7.3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
What, you haven't had these since you were 10? Well, good news: In addition to filling protein, lima beans contain the amino acid leucine, which may play a big role in healthy muscle synthesis among older adults. They are a great additive to soups, stews and if you’ve never used lima beans in making a batch of “Baked Beans”, well then you missed the boat.
Peanuts or Peanut Butter (Grinding Your Own Peanuts, instead of processed Peanut Butter!)
Protein: 7 g per ¼-cup serving (or 2 Tbsps. peanut butter)
Not only are peanuts and peanut butter great for munching and whipping up classic childhood comfort food, they're also super versatile—really, you can even use them in a pizza! They've also been shown to help you eat less at lunch if you consume them at breakfast—aka the second-meal effect. PB and banana, anyone? And you thought it came just from a jar!!
As you can see, plants are another great source of good lean protein for you to choose from. And since this protein comes from plants, I bet you're going to find the amount of your food bill going down compared to one that includes a few steaks, chops and ribs from the meat counter.
So what are you waiting for? The above plant based protein sources are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to proteins. There are many more, and we haven’t even tapped yet, like the sprouts microgreens that are now trending.
So, go ahead and pick up a good organic, maybe veggie cook book and get your protein from organic plants instead of the hoof!