Anyone who’s ever flirted with the idea of eating less meat–or even no meat–gets the same question: where are you gonna get your protein? Put aside the fact that if you’re an American the chances are low you’ve ever met anyone with protein deficiency. (Most Americans get much more protein than we need.) And put aside the fact that the one thing most Americans are actually deficient in–fiber–is absent in animal products and plentiful in the plant kingdom. Even when you take those into consideration, the fact is that you don’t need beef to get beefy: protein abounds in the plant world.
Here are seven plant-based foods that are loaded with protein.
One cup of quinoa has eight grams of protein and nine essential amino acids for tissue growth and repair. It’s an excellent source of magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese. Quinoa is versatile and also very easy to cook, and seriously: it tastes awesome. Similar to rice, you can add beans and nuts to the dish if you want even more protein.
Just a half a cup of lentils provides nine grams of protein when cooked. That’s nearly twice as much as a hot dog! Simply add three cups of water to every 1 cup of lentils and boil for 20-30 minutes, or use a pressure cooker if you want a cook-time of only five minutes (I do the latter). You can make lentil stew, lentil soup, salads, and side dishes, so get creative with how you serve this healthy food.
- Garbanzo Beans (aka Chickpeas)
A lot of vegetarian diets emphasize lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans as sources of protein. Chickpeas (their more common name) have a mild flavor that works well in many dishes. They can be cooked or bought ready to eat, and contain a whopping 12 grams of protein per serving.
- Kidney Beans
Cooked kidney beans pack 15 grams of protein for every 1 cup serving. They’re a great daily source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You can add them to a salad, or in a meatless chili. These beans are incredibly comforting, and when mixed with healthy fats (think salad with kidney beans and avocado slices), they make for quite the well-rounded meal.
If you don’t eat seitan (pronounced say-tan, not satan, though that would be funny), it’s time to change your game. Seitan is an excellent alternative to meat and tofu and has been eaten for many centuries, going all the way back to 6th century China. It’s made from wheat protein and has a chewier consistency than tofu, allowing for braising, broiling, or grilling, much like meat. Seitan can be found in your local natural food grocer (i.e. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, among many others).
- Seeds (Especially Pumpkin)
Chia and hemp seeds are a good source of fiber and are protein-dense. You can add them to practically anything including salad, oatmeal, yogurt, or even blend them into smoothies. But when it comes to protein powerhouses, it’s hard to beat pumpkin seeds. They’re protein-packed, high in iron, zinc, and fiber, and taste awesome. How much protein do they have? Five grams in just one measly ounce!
- Nuts and Nut Butters
Next time you make a PB&J, think about how much PB you’re using. Probably more than two tablespoons, right? Well, even if you’re using only two tablespoons, you’re still getting eight grams of protein right there! But seriously, use more. You’ll be better off for it. Tip: get the kind that has only peanuts as an ingredient. Who needs all the extra sugar and oil?