Let's set the record straight away- I'm not proposing everyone should be vegans or vegetarians, nor am I going to suggest you all need to eat meat. I believe we are all different and need to do what feels best to us.
Our bodies need protein for growth and repair as it's vital for our skin, hair, nails, blood, connective tissue and more. But it's believed that often Americans eat more protein than we actually need, perhaps perpetuated (in part) by body builders and the onslaught of low carb diets, while many of us could do better just focusing on a balanced diet, eating more fiber and drink more water.
Plant-based proteins are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, high in fiber and offer great vitamins and minerals that our bodies need anyway. And we find some amount of protein in pretty much everything we eat, from beans to seeds to leafy greens.
It is important to note that there is difference in plant-based proteins versus meat protein. While meat does offer a complete set of amino acids (the building blocks of muscles and cells) our bodies can synthesize protein from a spectrum of sources to answer our needs; meaning we need to be sure to eat a wide range of plant-based foods.
Here are a few of my top plant-based protein favorites:
1. Lentils - Great for stew, dahl, stuffings, mixed in a salad or fried for a crunchy addition to everything.
*1 cup of lentils has nearly the same amount of protein as 3 oz ground beef plus more iron, potassium, fiber and magnesium.
2. Pumpkin Seeds - Top salads, blend into a creamy sauce or toast and eat straight up.
* 12 grams in 1 cup.
3. Kidney Beans - Beans work well in any soup, stew, blended into a dip or hummus or warmed with an egg over the top.
*A whooping 15g per cup!
4. Hemp Seeds- Toss these into a smoothie, blend into a milk, dip or sauce, top salads or dessert.
*6 grams per ounce!
*An easy 5 grams in 1 tablespoon; sprinkle on everything!
5. Almonds - Toast and use in granola or as a snack, blend into a milk, almond butter or sauce, top on salads or use in desserts.
*15 grams in 1/2 cup of whole almonds.
6. Spirulina - Blend into a smoothie, stir into soups or oatmeal.
*While spirulina can be an acquired taste, it delivers 4 grams in 1 tablespoon.
Notice how all of these sources listed above can be combined, mixed and matched? And these are just my favorite ones.
Bottom line is this- we need a combination of protein, carbohydrates and good fat to thrive. Balancing these out with a wide range of plant foods is going to get you farther than one hunk of meat ever will. If/when you do decide to eat meat - be sure to spend your money on grass-fed varieties, choose leaner cuts to avoid excess saturated fat and avoid eating meat every day.
What is your favorite plant-base protein is? Need help? Try my recipe for Sundried Tomato Pesto - it's packed with almonds and dark leafy kale.