July 13, 2015
Everyone has a protein favorite and I am no exception. In reading for this blog, I came across several articles that were written by registered dietitians and I had to scrap each article as the suggestions all included whole grains. I admit I like meat, but I will keep this blog away from meat.
A big concern for me has always been; Are these meat-free protein sources complete? The term "complete protein" refers to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein, and nine that the body can’t produce on its own. These are called essential amino acids—we need to eat them because we can’t make them ourselves. In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine of these essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts.
Yes, meat and eggs are complete proteins, but beans and nuts aren’t. Humans don’t need every essential amino acid in every bite of food in every meal they eat; we only need a sufficient amount of each amino acid every day. Most dietitians believe that plant-based diets contain such a wide variety of amino acid profiles that vegans are virtually guaranteed to get all of their amino acids with very little effort.
Some people want complete proteins in all of their meals. No problem—meat’s not the only contender. Eggs and dairy also fit the bill, which is an easy get for the vegetarians, but there are plenty of other ways to get complete proteins on your next meatless day.
#1. Hempseed. This hemp won’t get anyone stoned. Protein is 10 grams in a 2-tablespoon serving. This relative of the popular drug contains significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids, as well as plenty of magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium. They’re also a rare vegan source of essential fatty acids, like omega-3s, which can help fight depression without the need to get high!
#2. Chia seeds. No longer used to grow fur on boring clay animals, chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain more fiber than flax seeds or nuts. With just 2 tablespoons of dried chia seeds, you can add up to about 3 grams of protein to any meal.
And they’re packed with fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6—essential fatty acids that we can get only from the foods we eat (the body can’t create them on its own). Some studies show that these beneficial fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and heart disease. Chia is also a powerhouse of iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants, but the best thing about these little seeds is that they form a goopy gel when combined with milk or water. This makes them fantastic for making healthy puddings, thickening smoothies, or replacing eggs in vegan baking.
#3. Mycoprotein (Quorn). Originally developed to combat global food shortages, mycoprotein is sold under the name “Quorn” and is made by growing a certain kind of fungus in vats and turning it into meat substitutes that are packed with complete protein. It has 13 grams of protein per ½ cup serving
Mycoprotein is sometimes considered part of the mushroom family, and while there are some allergen concerns, only one in 146,000 people experience adverse reactions. To the rest, it’s pretty darn tasty. Since it’s usually bound together with free-range egg whites, Quorn is not technically vegan-friendly.
#4. Rice and Beans. One of the simplest, cheapest, and vegan-est meals in existence is also one of the best sources of protein around. Most beans are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice is low in lysine and high in methionine. Put them together, and you have a protein content on par with that of meat. Subbing lentils or chickpeas for beans produces the same effect. These meals are a great way to load up on protein and carbohydrates after an intense workout.
#5. Asparagus. I bet you didn’t expect this delectable green to make the list! But a cup and a half of cooked asparagus has over 6 grams of protein – that’s about the same as a large egg. This versatile veggie also supplies folic acid (an important B vitamin, particularly for women of childbearing age) as well as vitamin C, iron, and more than 2 grams of fiber per cup. Grilled or steamed, asparagus make a wonderful side dish. Just season and drizzle with olive oil. Or for a lunch that will help you meet your daily veggie servings.
#6. Pistachios. You might think that all nuts are the same when it comes to protein, but they’re not. Pistachios have 6 grams of protein per serving, more than most other tree nuts. In addition to protein, pistachios have plenty of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, antioxidants and other nutrients. Plus, they won’t wreck your diet. Studies show that in-shell pistachios are great for waistline-watchers. Research conducted at Eastern Illinois University and published in the journal Appetite found that people who snacked on in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories compared to those who ate shelled pistachios. The researchers suggest that the empty shells may be a helpful visual cue to help you be a more “mindful” snacker.
The above foods did not have a carbohydrate listing, and number 4 above could be a problem for those of us with type 2 diabetes. I admit that this is one of my favorites, but I do limit the quantity I consume.