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

Ding! Dong! Dieting Is Dead

The field of dietetics is either getting trickier or simpler by the minute, depending on how you look at it. The profession itself includes the word “diet,” but many Registered Dietitians are trying to promote overall health versus a focus on the number on a scale, taking into account the true definition of diet is merely the types of food that an individual regularly consumes and not meant to denote a restriction of calories.

Yes, there are benefits of managing one’s weight. During my schooling, we learned of certain increased risks for people with a high body mass index (BMI) and/or a specific waist-to-hip circumference; but, we also learned that every body is different and many people can be healthy at any size.

When meeting with clients looking to lose weight, the first thing I ask is, “Why?” Sometimes, it’s about body image, sometimes, it’s about managing a health condition where weight loss may benefit them; but, more often than not, it’s about establishing healthier eating and other lifestyle habits, like home-cooking or exercising or wanting to include vegetables in as many meals as possible. In my practice, when I work with clients like this, I always encourage them to continue eating whatever makes them happy and to also focus on foods that will give them the most nutrient-dense, health-supportive bang for their buck.

While some of my clients enjoy tracking food and calories to be sure they’re getting an overall variety of foods throughout the day and adhering to a specific daily caloric requirement (based on their height, weight, and physical activity level), they know there’s no pressure to be “perfect” in their eating habits. We discuss moving away from depriving themselves of foods they enjoy and stop using words like “good/bad” or “clean/dirty” regardless of what they’re eating. In fact, in a recent study, it was found that all foods serve a purpose, be it providing enjoyment, energy, or something in between.1 On a related note, we continue to gain more information of the relationships between certain foods and their health benefits, like dietary fats, which help migrate us into realizing that all foods really do fit.

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What a Registered Dietitian eats.

Unless there is a clinical condition where certain foods may exacerbate certain symptoms or do further harm (e.g., diabetes, kidney diseases), we should ease off restricting our diets; that is, the foods we eat regularly. If you find yourself in a rut or obsessing about being “perfect” in your eating habits or otherwise, or generally want to incorporate healthier habits in your lifestyle, I encourage you to work with a Registered Dietitian and other health provider or counselor, if needed, to help rearrange—not change—your habits in a way that supports your overall health and wellbeing.

Consider the following:

  • The scale is one of many numbers. Depending on fluid shifts (water retention after eating an overly salty meal, for example), body fat percentage, and muscle mass, that number you see in front of you can vary greatly day by day. There can be two people with the same weight whose overall body composition is much different from each other, so try not to be too influenced by your scale.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. If you’re starting out learning new habits of any kind, be patient with yourself. Set small daily or weekly goals and celebrate the little victories to keep you motivated. The overall balance and variety of your habits have to be realistic for you in order to lead to long-term results.
  • Dig deep or learn to let go. What’s really motivating you? If that number on the scale elates or depresses you, find out why. Same thing with calorie counting. Specific numbers can sometimes feel restrictive whereas healthy behaviors can be liberating.

References:

  1. Linardon, J. & Mitchell, S. (2017). Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns. Eating Behaviors, 26: 16–22.

Don’t Worry, Eat Happy!

With the summer heat coming to a close and the cool autumn breeze fast approaching, it is important for us not to become stagnant in our healthful habits. It might seem desirable to cuddle up on the couch with some comfort food once the temperatures drop, but don’t forget to get in your servings of fruits and vegetables as well. In the U.S., farmers’ markets are still chock full of colorful produce, so be sure to take advantage of the bounty while it’s still there. Besides, September just happens to be “Fruits & Veggies––More Matters” month.

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(image credit: WPR.org)

On average, New Yorkers eat less fresh produce in the fall and even less in the winter, than they do during the summer months, regardless of the fact that NYC has over 139 greenmarket locations within its five boroughs, most of which operate year-round.1 Many of us may feel too overwhelmed by work, bills, and family life, that making sufficient time in our busy schedules to browse through farmers’ markets for fresh produce with limited shelf life feels akin to an unnecessary chore than anything particularly beneficial.

What may limit Americans in creating habits concerning weekly farmers’ markets, and/or grocery shopping in general, is not only a lack of information about how to shop, but also a lack of information regarding what to shop for.2 The abundance of food options may cause a great hindrance to shoppers’ abilities to make significant changes to their food shopping habits. Though the great increase of selections concerning produce is appealing mentally, in practice, however, it may often debilitate shoppers.

In addition, market patrons, who may live with tight financial constraints and are unsure about proper food storage and efficient meal planning may make dietary and food purchasing decisions that are more unhealthy than not. For those that struggle with cooking time/skills or eating similar meals frequently, the added fact that farmers’ market fruits and vegetables have a very limited lifespan may also increase stress around the immediacy of consumption.

In order for food shoppers to develop weekly habits for farmers’ market shopping, and prevent market attendance from waning during the fall and winter months, taking the necessary steps will prevent stress overload and make fresh produce shopping less complicated and more exciting!

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(image credit: Cynthia Moon)

Step 1: Budgeting: How much are you willing to spend?
Buying fresh produce seems very expensive when, in actuality, it is cheaper in the long run. First, determine how much money you’re willing to spend, then calculate how much you normally spend both weekly and monthly, making sure to include how often you dine out or purchase lunch outside instead of taking leftovers to work. Make sure the market you attend receives currency in the form of Health Bucks and/or food stamps if your budget is very tight. Your shopping list must be based on your budget, along with recipe adjustments that will most likely incorporate rotating certain veggies into different dishes.

Step 2: Recipes: Find recipes that you can rotate and use your staples as a base!
What do you cook often? What are your staple foods? Do you like brown rice? Does your breakfast always include bananas because you think they’re the cheapest fruit you can find? Farmers’ market vendors can often suggest simple recipes relating to the types of produce they provide. Allow yourself the possibility of varying your fruits and vegetables. For example, if you are left with a large amount of spinach at the end of the week, you can quickly use it up as a base for a salad instead of your old standby romaine lettuce. Leftover onions and broccoli would be a great addition to your morning omelet or scrambled eggs. If blueberries happen to be the right price and are in-season, buy extra and freeze them to use in desserts or breakfast smoothies at a later date.

Step 3: Meal plan: Start weekly, then make necessary adjustments.
It is important to first calculate your daily energy needs in order to be certain of how much food you need to eat weekly and how much to buy in the first place. Your weekly meals can easily be rotations or variations of your go-to recipes and your produce shopping should be nutritious additions to your staple foods. For example, if you made split pea soup for dinner Monday evening you can use the leftover celery, carrots, and onions from that meal in a tuna sandwich for lunch the next day. Meal plans should incorporate an adequate balance of your essential nutrients according to your specific energy needs and physical lifestyle––such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats––through a varied diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, lean meats, and/or fish.

[Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about meal- and menu-planning and here for some smoothie mix-and-match suggestions (over 3,000 combinations to make sure you get your fruits and veggies on).]

Step 4: Shop!
Find farmers’ markets that you know will provide the necessary foods you need for your meal plans, are budget-friendly (like the Fresh Food Box offerings in most NYC neighborhoods), and are closest to you. Take hold of the wonderful abundance of food options we have in our city during the cold season to come. As a result, not only will your health benefit from a nutritious and varied diet, but you will be contributing to a greater, environmentally sustainable cause, and without breaking the bank.3

[Editor’s note: Click here to find a farmers’ market in or near your zip code and here for more tips on shopping at your local farmers’ market.]

References:

  1. NYC.gov. (2017). Farmers Markets in New York State.
  2. Graffagna, S. (2014). “10 Healthy Habits for Fall.” Superhero You website.
  3. Tufts University. Health & Nutrition Letter. (2016). “Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables to Help Fight Frailty.” Tufts.edu website.
Abigail Ortiz Author Pic

Guest post by Abigail Ortiz, nutrition student

Fending off the “Freshman Fifteen”

For most Americans, this week (or next) marks the beginning of a new school year even though TV commercials for sales on notebooks, backpacks, and other school supplies started airing months ago. If you’re an adult returning to school, like I was back in 2013, there could be a whole slew of emotions about re-integrating into that lifestyle, both academically and otherwise; but, there’s something about setting foot on campus that puts students of any age in a whole different frame of mind. Homework deadlines seem to pile up before the first week has even begun, sleep becomes non-existent leading up to midterms and finals, and healthful eating habits go right out the window before the first semester is over.

During my dietetic internship at Lehman College two years ago, I was assigned a group presentation where we reported on research findings about how college students tend to gain weight over the 6- to 8-week span of the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year). Interestingly, though, the study participants weren’t “traditional” college students, i.e., 18- to 22-year-olds. In fact, the age span included grad students, some well into their 30s.

The study showed that, as seasons change and colder weather approaches, students are more likely to change their food, mood, and physical activity for the worse. Ongoing indulgences over the fall semester and into the holiday season can cause a significant increase in the percentage of body fat and fat mass, leaving students vulnerable to obesity development from those unhealthful holiday habits that may carry on further into their adulthood and passed onto their children or other family members. Increases in body fat are a major factor in morbidity and mortality which is why it is important to strategize ways to maintain healthful eating and other lifestyle habits during stressful times.

If you start paying attention to your habits at the beginning of the school year, committing to choosing a lifestyle that supports healthy eating and physical activity, and recruiting your friends and classmates to get on board with you, you may find it easier to carry that mindset over through the semester, the holidays, into the next year, and every year after that.

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Consider the following:

  • Head to class prepared. To avoid excess hunger and grabbing something not-so-great at the campus cafeteria or out of one of the many vending machines outside your classroom, pack yourself a bunch of healthy, satisfying snacks (e.g., apple with peanut butter or veggies with hummus) at the beginning of each week, then take one or a few of them with you when you head to campus for the day.
  • Cut out sweetened beverages. Added sugar and calories will do you no favors in keeping you fit, healthy, and energized. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink from it regularly. Take advantage of getting free refills from campus water fountains.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts Label. If you do ending up grabbing a packaged food or snack, be a savvy consumer and compare the sodium, calories, fats, and sugars in these items. Some vending machines have started incorporating a grading system to help you make healthier choices.
  • Go play outside. Even if you’re cramming in a study session on your own or with some classmates, you deserve to take a break. Go for walk or toss a frisbee to each other for at least 10 minutes. Spending time away from the books and engaged in physical activity is a great way to give your tired brain and eyeballs a break and quality time with your friends.
  • Join your campus’ nutrition club. A great way to stay committed to health and eating well during the school year is to get involved in activities that will guide those habits by default. Don’t have a nutrition club at your school? Start one!
  • Be compassionate with yourself. If you do overindulge, try to keep your focus on the goal of long-term wellness. Remember your health is determined more by what you do on average most days than what you eat during any one meal.

References:

  1. Díaz-Zavala, R., Castro-Cantú, M., Valencia, M., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M., & Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity, 2017:1-13.
  2. Hull, H.R., Hester, C.N., & Fields, D.A. (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & Metabolism, 3:44-61.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition on Policy and Promotion. (2013). MyPlate On Campus Toolkit. USDA: Alexandria, VA.

[A version of this article appeared on this blog on December 9, 2015.]