7 Protein Alternatives
News flash: Plants have protein too! Livestock eat only plants, and they are not deficient in protein. It is definitely a healthy choice to go meatless on Mondays, or meat free at lunch—like we often do. But you need to amp up your plant protein;—if you plan to do that, it doesn’t have to mean it’s tofu for the rest of your non-meat-eating existence. There are lots of ways to add protein to your diet, without eating meat. Check out these 7 protein alternatives that pack a punch, and are readily available to add into soups, salads, smoothies, yogurt, or dinner-on-the-fly.
One of my favorite starchy protein sources, are lentils. This is a guaranteed inexpensive way to sneak in an ideal amount of fiber, along with other powerful nutrients. For vegetarians, lentils are the perfect substitute for taco meat, to add into your favorite soup, or stuff into veggies. There are a few different types of lentils that come in a variety of colors: red, black, yellow, white and green. A little personal taste testing is what I recommend, to find your favorite kind. Lentils can be served cold or hot, as a stand-alone dish, or as a side. Try a cold lentil salad with fresh herbs and a vinaigrette. Perfect versatility, and plenty of protein!
A classic ingredient in your holiday casseroles, which is actually a great protein staple to use in your lunches. Beans are a part of the legume family, and contain 7.9 grams of protein per cup. Similar to lentils, beans provide much needed protein to a meatless diet. One of my personal favorites are green peas. For some of us, peas bring back bad childhood memories of being forced to eat your vegetables. I’m promise you that you should absolutely not count green peas out, from your diet. They can be blended into a pesto to top a pasta dish, or mixed into a smoothie. Not feeling super creative today? Peas are the perfect addition to a simple salad, or a side dish all on their own.
This super food dates back to the Aztec times. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is 70% pure protein. Not only are the protein benefits supreme, it may also boost your immune system. Spirulina can be taken as a supplement, or blended into your regular cooking. If you haven’t used spirulina before, be warned it will infuse whatever you’re cooking, into the same blue-green color. Flavor-wise, I think its worth the color change. Look for a sweet, nutty taste to blend into your breakfast smoothie, or slip into a dessert.
Most of my girlfriends have heard about quinoa, because they tried it out when going out to dinner. What I’ve learned though, is that many of them haven’t used it in their own cooking. Vegetarian or not, you’re truly missing out on a fabulous source of protein, if you haven’t experimented with quinoa. Not to be confused as part of the grain family, this power food is actually considered a seed. Along with a nice punch of protein, quinoa has all nine essential amino acids for growth and rejuvenation. The reason I love this seed, is because it’s so versatile. I can throw quinoa in a soup for lunch, or blend it into a breakfast smoothie. You can’t go wrong with a food this powerful. I will make a pot of quinoa on Sunday to throw in the fridge,—& then add it to salads, eat for breakfast with a little fruit, milk and honey, or toss into stir fry. It only takes a couple minutes to cook, but when adding it salads, I prefer it chilled,— so cooking in advance is a plus!
No longer used to grow fur on boring clay animals, chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain more fiber than flax seeds or nuts. (However, like hempseed, they are a bit low in the amino acid, lysine.) Chia is also a powerhouse of iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants, but the best thing about these little seeds, is that they form a goopy gel when combined with milk or water. This makes them fantastic for making healthy puddings, thickening smoothies, or replacing eggs in vegan baking. I toss them on salads religiously, and love to thicken smoothies, or add a little crunch to oatmeal or yogurt.
Nuts contain a good amount of protein and healthy fat, if consumed raw or dry roasted. Coated, dipped or salted nuts add unwanted calories, and diminish the nut’s natural nutritional value;—plus they can become rancid easily when cooked in oil. Rancidity produces inflammation in your body,— which is the main reason I store nuts in my freezer, to keep them fresh. Outside of the packages of mixed nuts, the grocery store is lined with different nut products that are packed with protein. Personally, I love the versatility of nut butters used as an ingredient in a light snack, or standing alone as a dip. My best advice in finding your favorite type, is to test out a few. Justin’s makes small snack size packets that allow you to sample them before committing to a large jar. A good rule of thumb is to seek out brands with low sugar and less added ingredients, or better yet, make them yourself! You can also purchase fresh nut butters that you grind yourself in-store, at healthy grocery stores like Earth Fare and Whole Foods.
When I began incorporating hemp into my personal diet , I found that it is actually present in foods that we all consume on a regular basis. Hemp seeds are a simple way to incorporate extra protein in your diet this year. Pop 2 – 3 tablespoons into your baked goods for roughly 20% of your daily protein allowance. They are great on salads too. Sprinkle these seeds over yogurt, or mix into a protein shake for breakfast on the go. Any time I make ice cream for my kids, I sprinkle a tablespoon of Hemp seeds on top,—they taste like tiny little nuts, and the kids love it!