As we continue to navigate through the Coronavirus pandemic, the latest threat seems to be a potential for shortage of meat. Rather than wiping out the shelves at the grocery store in fear that there won’t be enough, why not diversify how you get protein in your diet?
One of the biggest misconceptions of the plant-based diet is that it’s not possible to get adequate amounts of protein. Without protein, the potential for muscle growth is limited. Or so one thinks. However, this belief is false. All you need to do is watch the documentary The Game Changers, which follows some of the most elite plant-based athletes to learn this.
I will be completely transparent and tell you that when I’m designing customized meal plans for clients, the amount of overall protein intake per day does vary between vegan and non-vegan. It is more difficult to reach the amount of protein we are used to acquiring through plants alone, but many are consuming more protein than needed. Protein has a role to play in nourishing the body, but it’s in combination with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats that the body is able to operate as it should.
I am not advocating that it’s necessary or that you should go vegan. I do believe that diversifying protein sources in your diet can not only benefit your health, but can also have an impact on the environment, supply and demand for quality meat products, and the meat shortage possibility that’s ahead.
So what are the sources of plant-based protein?
Whole grains. We mostly think of whole grains as being a complex carbohydrate source, but they also contain a fair amount of protein. In fact, quinoa is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. An individual serving of whole grains contains on average 6g of protein, along with carbohydrates to fuel the body and fiber to keep you full for longer.
Beans and legumes. Some people are sensitive to beans and legumes and others are afraid of eating too many because we are conditioned to think that they are a major culprit of gassiness. However, beans are an incredibly versatile source of protein in the diet. One serving (1 cup) equals 14g of protein. Make a three-bean chili and you’ve got yourself a protein rich meal!
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Tofu. I’m not usually a fan of soy in the diet, especially if it is incredibly processed, such as soy sauce or soy protein powder. However, tofu maintains the integrity of soy as a whole foods product. When talking about protein, it’s worth mentioning. In one serving (½ cup) of tofu, you get 10g of protein. That’s about the same as two scrambled eggs, so a tofu scramble with veggies for breakfast would be a delicious start to the day.
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Nuts and seeds. One of my favorite ways to boost overall protein is with the addition of nuts and seeds. The kind of nut varies slightly in overall protein amount (cashews containing more healthy fats when compared to almonds which are higher in protein), but just 1 ounce of mixed nuts gets you 6g of protein.
Even more than nuts, seeds are a great way to sneak in additional protein. If you have been following me for a while, then you know my love affair with hemp seeds. Just 3 tablespoons gets you 10g of protein! They take up no additional volume or flavor on your plate, but add so many nutrients.
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Nutritional Yeast. I can’t believe there was a time that I cooked without even knowing what nutritional yeast is. Now, it plays such a big role in how I flavor and add nutrients to food. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast provides about 5g of protein. Let me repeat that. Five grams! It has a nutty flavor and is fantastic for adding to anything savory – salads, vegetables, sauces, soups, etc.
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Plant-based protein powder. If you make a smoothie most days, you’re already one step ahead of the game in boosting your overall health. I am a firm believer in smoothies and often refer to them as my liquid nutritional gold. One of the key components of a healthy smoothie is protein. There are many delicious plant-based protein powders on the market that can provide up to 25g of protein in one serving. Protein powder can also be added to oatmeal, homemade energy bites, and even baked into muffins.
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Getting protein in your diet through plant-based protein sources is completely possible. Maybe during this pandemic, you experiment with Meatless Monday, meatless until dinnertime, or try going mostly plant-based for a period of time.
Still not convinced? Let’s look at a day’s worth of plant-based meals:
- Breakfast: Tofu scramble with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast – 18g
- Snack: medjool date w/ almond butter – 6g protein
- Lunch: veggie thai quinoa salad – 15g
- Snack: post-workout smoothie – 25g
- Dinner: Hearty 3-bean chili – 25g
- Dessert: sweet potato double chocolate brownie muffin – 5g
- Total amount of protein consumed = 94g
I think you’ll be surprised to find that you don’t miss traditional sources of protein as much as you think you might! If you do, double check yourself to see if it’s a mental craving, or an actual physical need. My guess is that it’s more in your mindset than your body.