Plant-based foods are free from cholesterol, tend to be high in fiber, and are often alkalizing to the body. All animal products, on the other hand, are devoid of fiber, and are acidifying to the body, which causes calcium to be leached from your bones, as well as decreasing oxygen levels in the blood, and negatively impacting the digestive/lymphatic system.
You may have heard the ongoing debate about “complete” or “incomplete” protein and “food combining”, but be wary; these topics are steeped in misinformation and myth. Here’s what I’ve discovered thus far:
The term “complete protein” refers to foods that have all nine essential amino acids present in the correct proportion for our bodies to build protein with. The term “incomplete protein” refers to foods which have all the essential amino acids, but are simply low in one or more of them. This is called the “limiting amino acid”. While it’s true that most whole plant foods have one or more limiting amino acids and are thus “incomplete”, this shouldn’t send you running for a steak. Our bodies are brilliant, and every food that goes into your system must be broken apart and its nutrients absorbed. During the digestion process, amino acid chains from all sources are broken down and made ready for our bodies to use. If you’re eating a good mix of fruits, veggies, grains and legumes, then your body simply collects what it needs from the “amino soup” that your digestion system has absorbed. There are a growing number of vegan bodybuilders, ultra marathon runners and award-winning athletes out there to prove that meeting your protein needs on a plant-based diet is simple and successful.
Since every whole food has protein in it, you have literally millions of great options to choose from when it comes to creating a balanced diet with the right percentage of protein for your body*. I’ve selected ten nutritious plants to get you started, for both their protein content and other health benefits. You may be surprised at some of the veggies, nuts and grains that made it onto my list.
*More is not necessarily better when it comes to protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the average, sedentary adult is only 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Some healthcare professionals argue that this level is too high. No matter whose recommendation you choose to follow, the fact is that each person’s protein needs are different, but all can be met with a plant-based diet.
If you’re like me, pumpkin is one of your favorite fall foods. The last time you steamed up some squash or pumpkin, did you have the seeds though? One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 9.35 grams of protein! That’s over two grams more than the same quantity of ground beef. Their high protein content and level of nutrients makes them a wonderful addition to any salad or snack.
Pumpkin seeds are also full of manganese, phosphorous, copper, vitamin K, vitamin E, B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), folates, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium and more!
If pumpkin seeds aren’t your thing, don’t worry – there are plenty of seed-based protein powerhouses out there.
Grilled asparagus with a balsamic vinegar drizzle is enough to make my mouth water. Eight spears of this delectable veggie has 3.08 grams of protein, which is pretty potent for such a slender fellow.
Asparagus is also a good source of potassium, glutathione, vitamin C, antioxidants (glumatic acid, glycine and cysteine) and more.
For years, I wasn’t a big fan of cauliflower. I mean, how healthy can an off-white vegetable be? But once I started learning about the health benefits of cauliflower and all its cruciferous plant family members, I started to give this veggie its due respect. One cup cooked = 2.28 grams of protein and a truckload of nutrients to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer!
Cauliflower is also a good source of vitamin C, manganese, glucosinolates (glucoraphin), vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folic acid), phosphorus and potassium, indole-3-carbinol (strong cancer fighting indications) and more.
If you grew up in America you’ve probably had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or two, but I doubt you knew how healthy this favorite snack really is. One ounce (approximately 28 peanuts dry roasted without salt) = 6.71 grams of protein.
Peanuts are also a good source of calcium, iron, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folates, copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, antioxidants (polyphenols p-coumaric acid) and more.
Oats have gotten a bad rap over the years as a breakfast moosh fit for little orphan Oliver or old school prison inmates, but truly they are a food fit for kings. One cooked cup has a whopping 6.08 grams of protein along with being a great source of fiber and helpful for stabilizing your blood sugar levels. I enjoy mine in the morning with a bit of banana and cinnamon mixed in – yummm.
Oatmeal is also a good source of tryptophan, Iron, calcium, B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin; vitamin E, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and more.
You may have seen this little bean hiding in your stir-fry (sprouted) or perhaps in a fresh wrap, but it hasn’t gotten much cred over the years. Most beans are a great source of protein and water soluble fiber, and while mung beans aren’t at the top of the bean protein list they make a good showing. With one cup containing 3.16 grams, it is low in calories, but high in content.
Mung bean sprouts are also a good source of vitamin A, many B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and more!
This is a wonderful snack to have around at all times, both for its protein content and nutrient density. Almonds are at the top of the nut chain when it comes to nutrient density, which means they will keep you full longer. With one ounce (approximately 24 nuts) containing 6.03 grams of protein they are a wonderful addition to any snack or meal.
Almonds are also a good source of calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, niacin, managese, riboflavin, folic acid and more.
We all know spinach is a special green. From Popeye to the posh salads you’ll find in fine dining restaurants, spinach has gotten some good press and with due reason. One cup cooked = 5.35 grams of protein. It is also filled with flavonoids (a phytonutrient with anti-cancer properties). Spinach is good for your skin, your eyes, your brain and your bones!
Neoxanthin and violaxanthin: Anti-inflammatory epoxyxanthophylls.
Spinach is also a good source of vitamin C and other antioxidants, flavonoids, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc and selenium and more.
Broccoli has many of the same amazing compounds as cauliflower, which is logical due to the fact that they are both in the cruciferous plant family. As a child I remember enjoying broccoli simply for the fact that the pieces looked like tiny trees. Now, as an adult, I enjoy their impressive nutritional profile AND the fact that they look like tiny trees. One cup of chopped broccoli = 5.7 grams of protein and a heap of child-like enjoyment.
Broccoli is also a good source of folic acid, vitamin C, calcium (more calcium in fact then most dairy products), lutein and zeaxanthin, B6, folates and more.
All of the plants on my list that have preceded this one fall short in comparison to quinoa’s potential. On its own it is a perfect protein and the king of all grains. It has the highest percentage of protein content at 16 percent per volume! This means that a measly ¼ cup (dry) quinoa has 6 grams* of protein. If you paired this grain with a couple of spears of asparagus and a beautiful cauliflower, broccoli and sprouted mung bean stir–fry, you would have an easy meal with 30 grams of protein or more!
Quinoa is also a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, manganese, tryptophan copper, phosphorus and more.
*This protein content information was obtained from a Quinoa distribution company.