10 Vegetarian Protein Sources…and How to Eat Them

A recent market study found that American meat consumption has decreased 19% since 2004.1 Perhaps that’s because reducing intake of meat has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.2 If you’re someone who has been cutting back on meat lately––whether for health reasons, environment concerns, or animal rights––it’s still important to include protein in your diet.

Why? Because protein is the building block of muscles, bones, skin, and blood. It is required to make hormones and enzymes, and necessary for tissue repair. It is also a component of every cell in your body. Finally, protein helps promote fullness and should be included with every meal and snack.

Here are a few of my favorite non-meat protein sources along with ideas on how to include them in your diet.

1. Chia Seeds

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(image credit: The Pioneer Woman)

Chia seeds are known as a superfood because of their nutrient-rich profile which, in addition to protein, includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 4.5 grams of protein and a whopping 10 grams of fiber. They are easy to eat and can be mixed into baked goods, added to smoothies, and are also the perfect topping for yogurt. There are many chia seed brands on the market; I like The Chia Company.

2. Lentils

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(image credit: Italian Food Forever)

Lentils have been a staple to Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines for thousands of years. They are filled with fiber and protein and are a great substitute for meat. One ½-cup serving of lentils has 9 grams of protein. Lentils can be added to soups or tossed into salads like this one. You can even make vegetarian meatballs with them! For snacks, I love SimpleSuppleFoods crunchy roasted lentils.

3. Peanut Butter

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(image credit: Pixelated Crumb)

Peanuts are actually a legume (not a nut) and are filled with healthy fats and protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein. If you’re tired of the traditional PB&J sandwich, try adding peanut butter to yogurt and smoothies, or even use it as a dip for carrots (trust me; it’s delicious). I like to keep these Justin’s single-serve peanut butter packets on me for a quick snack.

4. Greek Yogurt

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(image credit: Dr. Oz)

Greek yogurt is low in calories and loaded with protein and gut-healthy probiotics. One cup of plain Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein. While many people think of Greek yogurt as a breakfast or snack food, it’s actually very versatile. One of my favorite ways to use it is as a replacement for sour cream on tacos and quesadillas or as a dip for roasted vegetables. I also swap it for milk in pancake and smoothie recipes.

5. Quinoa

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(image credit: Genius Kitchen/DianaEatingRichly)

Quinoa is considered to be a grain, but technically speaking, it’s actually a seed. It cooks quickly, only taking about 10-15 minutes to prepare. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. Quinoa makes a great grain salad, can be stuffed in vegetables, or substituted for oatmeal at breakfast, with an egg on top for even more protein, or topped with fruits and nuts.

6. Chickpeas

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(image credit: Eat This Much)

Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a type of legume and are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they are digested slowly, giving sustained energy and thus preventing spikes in blood sugar. One ½-cup serving of chickpeas has over 19 grams of protein, which for many people is almost half of their daily protein needs! Chickpeas can be added to salads, soups, or made into hummus. There is even a brand called Banza that makes pasta out of chickpeas, and it is delicious!

7. Peas

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(image credit: Backyard Gardening Blog)

Peas are part of the legume family and a one-cup serving contains about 9 grams of protein. Frozen peas can be added into rice, soups, and stews. Pea-based protein powder is becoming a widely available alternative to traditional whey-based powders. Bob’s Red Mill makes a version with 21 grams of protein per serving. Feel like a snack? Try Harvest Snaps for an on-the-go way to get your pea fix. Bonus: they taste like potato chips!

8. Eggs

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(image credit: Health.com)

Hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled. or over easy, eggs are a quick, easy, and affordable protein source. They are also low in calories and a great source of fat-soluble vitamins. One egg contains 6 grams of protein. I suggest trying some non-traditional ways to eat eggs, such as over lentils (even more protein!) or baked eggs to change things up!

9. Almonds

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(image credit: Nuts.com)

Almonds are one of the highest protein-containing nuts with 22 almonds providing about 6 grams of protein. Almonds are a great snack option. They can also be added to salads for a nice crunch. Most recently, a new company called Noosh has made a line of almond-based protein powder, nut butter. and even almond oil that can be used for cooking.

10. Edamame

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(image credit: Organic Facts)

Edamame (soybeans) contain all 9 essential aminos acids, meaning they are a complete protein source. A ½-cup serving of edamame contains 11 grams of protein making them a great substitute for meat-based dishes. Try this Asian quinoa edamame salad for a double dose of plant-based protein!

So, now that you’re an expert on protein sources, you may be wondering how much protein you need. The average protein requirements of a healthy adult are between 46-56 grams per day (or 0.8g/kg body weight).3 However, protein needs depend on age, gender, and activity level, so consider working with a Registered Dietitian (like DishWithDina) to learn more.

What are your go-to protein sources? Has the list above given you any creative ideas on how to incorporate vegetarian protein options into your usual meals or recipes? Comment below!

References:

  1.  Strom, Stephanie. Americans Ate 19% Less Beef From ’05 to ’14, Report SaysThe New York Times, 21 Mar 2017.
  2. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Eat Right.org website.12 Dec 2016.
  3. National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. 2 Jan 2018.

bertolami

Guest post by Isabelle Bertolami, MS, Dietetic Intern

Lettuce Turnip the Beet: Veggies (and More) for Heart Health

NNM imageDid you know February was American Heart Health Month and March is National Nutrition Month? With cardiovascular disease continuing to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important to continue spreading awareness and staying mindful of the steps we can take to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, not just during official awareness months, but year-round. Some of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing your risk involve dietary and other lifestyle changes. These don’t need to be extreme, nor immediate; every small step counts towards keeping your heart healthy and strong!

Keeping your heart healthy starts with maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Many people find consuming enough fruits and vegetables in a day to be expensive and time consuming. It doesn’t have to be! Below are some easy tips to include plant-based foods in your diet no matter how hectic your lifestyle.

1. Keep It Simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype to create the most visually stunning, balanced plate out there, but when it comes time to make your meals, it might not be feasible to create picture-perfect dishes. That’s okay! Instead of striving to live up to unrealistic standards of eating a beautiful, colorful salad for every meal, try to stick to the basic guidelines of overall healthy eating (like those found at MyPlate.gov) and slowly work your way towards your goals!

2. Know What’s in Season

One of the easiest ways to keep your fruit and vegetable budget down is to shop for in-season products. Not only will these items be freshest and tastiest, but they usually don’t have to be transported for long journeys to your supermarket, allowing the prices to remain affordable. As an added bonus, since these products are usually fresher, they will last longer in your fridge. This can also help cut your food budget by reducing food waste!

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(image credit: Produce for Kids)

3. Frozen Is Your Friend

Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables convenient, but they are generally more cost-effective than fresh, out-of-season products. Also, fresh produce is not necessarily healthier than frozen! Evidence suggests that in some cases, frozen foods have even more nutrients than fresh ones do.1 That’s because most frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at peak times during the season in which they grow best. Additionally, they are most likely to be frozen within the first 24 hours after picking, before the nutrients have a chance to start breaking down. As long as you are buying high-quality vegetables with minimal additives like salt, sugar, or preservatives, you can always have fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick smoothie or side dish. How’s that for heart healthy?

4. Snack Smart

When reaching for a snack, many of us are in the habit of grabbing a bag of chips or chocolate bar. While these high-calorie foods can curb hunger fast, they are mostly devoid of beneficial nutrients and contain large amounts of sugar and fat. Opting for some fruit or vegetable-based snacks––like an apple and peanut butter or a handful of carrots and hummus––can easily increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of processed, high-sugar, high-fat foods, killing two birds with one stone!

5. Any Amount Is Beneficial

Of course, the more fruits and vegetables you have, the better. However, sometimes it can be discouraging to hear recommendations that seem unattainable. The current recommendations by the USDA call for 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, depending on age and gender. While this may seem like a lot, these amounts can be consumed in any sized portions you like. For some people, it is easier to consume 4-5 small handfuls of fruit and veggies periodically throughout the day. For others, having a large bowl of fruit for breakfast and a large salad for lunch is easiest. Find what works for you, and keep in mind that any amount counts. Being mindful of your intake is the first step!

6. Find Fun Variations to Classic Dishes

Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to mean giving up your favorite dishes. If you cook at home, changing up a recipe to incorporate more nutritious vegetables is a breeze! For example, when making lasagna, you can blend sautéed vegetables into the sauce for a heartier taste and texture. Rice dishes can be replaced with riced cauliflower, which really does mimic white rice well and provides more than triple the amount of fiber and a fraction of the calories! Additionally, adding some vegetables like artichokes or peppers to a baking dish while cooking your protein is a quick and easy way to have a serving of vegetables incorporated into your meal.

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(image credit: Feeding Your Beauty)

7. Embrace the Three S’s: Soups, Smoothies, and Salads

If you would prefer to pack in as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible during one sitting, a good strategy is to choose one of the Three S’s: soups, smoothies, or salads. You can have one of these during each meal––like a smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, and soup for dinner. This way you can choose a combination that best fits your taste or choose one to pack in a majority of your servings of vegetables for the day. These foods are great in that they can allow you to cover many servings of fruit and vegetables all on one plate. Additionally, they can be made ahead and stored in portable containers for easy transport. Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to be expensive or inconvenient; it just takes some creativity!

One-week challenge

With these tips in mind, you might be up for a challenge since reading about some tips won’t do you any good until you get started on seeing what works for you:

  • For one week, try to follow one or more of the above tips each day, to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine.
  • Post your experiences in the comments below and get a discussion going about how easy (or difficult) making these changes has been for you.
  • With the right strategies in place, you can reach your health goals. Your heart and body will thank you!

References:

  1. Miller, SR, Knudson, WA. (2014). Nutrition and Cost Comparisons of Select Canned, Frozen, and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Sage Journals.

Rosy Husni headshot

Guest post by Rosy Husni, MS, Dietetic Intern

A Garden of Eating

There’s no escaping the “New Year, New You” phenomenon that happens every January. From productivity gurus talking about resolutions and goals to the onslaught of health and wellness professionals (present company included) telling you what to eat, what not to eat, how to diet, how not to diet, and why you need to start working out right now.

It can be overwhelming.

But new habits don’t have to start on the first of the year, or on a Monday, or as soon as you perfect the last new habit. They can start any time and they can be flexible.

Case in point: If you’ve been wanting to learn more about plant-based foods and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and/or grains into your weekly meals, you can start small and make changes as you determine your taste preferences, learn about the availability of seasonal and local produce, or experiment with flavors and cooking methods.

(image credit: D. Leonis)

It’s no secret that plants benefit our health. The phytonutrients found in vibrant fruits and veggies help keep our body functions working and disease at bay in a way that animal foods don’t; but that doesn’t mean both categories can’t find harmony on your plate.

One-week challenge

At your next meal or snack, count up the colors or the food groups in front of you to get a feel for what your normal eating patterns are like and if you think there might be room for improvement or variety. If so, for one week only, add some plants to your plate. That’s right. I said “add.” No need to get rid of anything you’re already eating; just start including some new items off the “plant” list below.

Food Groups

Pick a few of your favorites and toss them into as many of your meals or snacks as possible for one week. Depending on your location and what’s in season, you might be able to find fresh citrus fruits or berries (or use frozen, if preferred), packaged, pre-washed veggies like baby spinach or mesclun mixes are convenient and usually available year-round, and you can always find bagged or canned plant-based proteins like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds in the grocery store. At the end of the week, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Was this easy?
  2. Did I enjoy this?
  3. Could I do this again?

If yes to all three, then keep going! If no, then decide if you want to try a different item, method, or stop altogether and re-assess at a later date.

If you’re not sure where to begin, click here or here to learn more about adding plants to your meals, or follow me on Instagram for some easy-to-make, colorful and flavorful dishes that revolve around plants.

After your challenge is over, stop back here and leave a comment to let us know what worked or what didn’t work, and drop a line at any time if you need help moving forward.