Updated: Jun 16
Protein gives us the energy to get through the day and keeps us strong and healthy. In fact, it is one of the most important parts of your diet. Protein is a vital macronutrient that aids in the healing of wounds, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, helps you maintain healthy organs, and works in tandem with fats and carbohydrates to provide energy to your body. Protein comes from many foods you eat every day, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and plant-based sources.
In the past, the most well-known sources of protein were animal-based products. But now plant-based protein is making headlines! Many people are quickly replacing animal protein with plant-based protein in favor of trying out a vegetarian lifestyle or to help reduce their carbon footprint.
Here are five surprising plant based protein sources you may not know about:
Edamame is touted for its high nutritional value and has become popular worldwide in recent years. While some people may know of edamame along with common beans or peas, this particular variety is an excellent source of protein; it contains 33 grams of protein in about a 2 cup serving.
Lentils are a good source of protein, fiber, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. I love cooking lentils because they can be eaten as a soup or as a side dish similar to how you would serve rice. They have a great flavor that can be easily enhanced with other ingredients & spices which makes lentils wonderful as the base of many meals. It is often included in most plant-based protein recipes because they contain about 18 grams of protein in a ¾ cup serving.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkins seeds might be small, but they pack a powerful nutrition punch —they contain 9 grams of protein. Pumpkin seeds can help keep your heart, bones, and prostate health and may even help reduce the risk of certain cancers. These seeds became popular when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it's an excellent source of magnesium and zinc.
Since quinoa contains such a high amount of protein, it is a popular item in the vegetarian and vegan communities. Quinoa provides around 8 grams of protein, making this superfood a muscle and food staple. This whole grain takes on the flavor of other items in your meal and is gluten-free.
Spinach is one of the most popular leafy vegetables in the world. It is a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants but did you know it also contains 5 grams of proteins. Versatile and easy to grow, spinach is produced worldwide in temperate climates and is a popular ingredient in American cuisine. Plant-based proteins like spinach make an excellent addition to any active lifestyle.
Every time you open your fridge, you are presented with choices on what you should eat next. The challenge with eating plant-based is that you're typically left scavenging
for ingredients to throw into a recipe especially if you are used to an animal protein-heavy diet. These plant based protein sources are all versatile, so if you are trying to incorporate more whole plant foods into your lifestyle start off by incorporating these five, one at a time to help you
create something new. Before you know it you’ll be eating more plant-based foods without second-guessing your meals!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
1. How much protein do you need a day?
If you work out often, then the amount of protein you need to consume per day will increase, and it will depend on the type of workout you're doing. According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, the recommended daily allowance for a sedentary individual is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight; 0.46-0.68 for recreationally active individuals, and 0.54-0.82 grams for competitive athletes.
2. Does plant-based protein build muscle?
Although there's a well-established link between protein and muscle, scientists don't have enough data to conclusively say if plant-based proteins are just as effective for muscle building.
3. Is whey protein better than plant protein?
Whey vs. plant-based protein has been the topic of many discussions in the vegetarian communities. The best plant-based proteins are essentially incomplete proteins. They don't contain all the amino acids your body needs to build muscle and keep it strong. When you eat animal- or plant-based proteins, your body pulls the amino acids it needs to make up the gaps in its own supply. Animal-based proteins like whey are considered more effective because they provide a more complete set of essential amino acids. However, you can build a complete amino acid protein with different plant-based proteins. So don’t write off plant-based proteins, you’ll just need to ensure you are getting your protein from different amino acid profiles (all of which can be found in a variety of plant-based proteins!
4. Why am I gaining weight on a plant-based diet?
While a plant-based diet can be healthier and help people lose weight, it isn’t guaranteed. There are several factors that go into weight loss & weight gain including the nutrient density of food, the amount of food you eat plus your individual genetic makeup. Plant-based foods come in a wide variety of options especially processed/ pre-packaged. If you shift to a plant-based diet but start to include highly processed foods (meat substitute products, mac, and cheese both are plant-based but definitely not healthy) or high saturated fat foods you may notice weight gain. Also when you shift your diet in any way drastically there is always a period of time when your body is trying to play catch-up with its new environment which can cause weight fluctuations. While studies have confirmed the health benefits of plant-based diets, you have to be careful with the type of food you are eating, the amount of food you are eating, and what works for your body!