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Not only do vegans and vegetarians ask me what my recommended plant-based proteins are, but meat eaters do as well just to add more variety to their nutrition plans. While I'm not a vegan, myself, I do believe that everyone should incorporate plant-based foods into their diets due to the essential vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. Even as a meat eater, I try to get protein from plants as well since they offer different nutritional profiles, and variety is key to living a healthy lifestyle.
For those who are vegan, finding enough protein can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. There are so many protein sources that don't necessarily come from animal products. And for those who do eat meat, fish, and poultry, adding some plant-based proteins can assist with overall well-being, variety, and sometimes even the wallet! Here are my top five vegan protein sources in terms of health and cost.
There are nine essential amino acids and these are the building blocks of protein. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Usually one has to select from animal products acquire all of these in one food, alone. Quinoa is one of the only plant-based proteins which boasts all nine, so it's considered a "perfect protein." If you're not familiar with it, quinoa is usually mistaken as a grain but it's actually a seed so it's gluten-free. One cup of cooked quinoa has five grams of protein and 21 grams of carbohydrates. Like rice, quinoa essentially absorbs whatever flavors you prepare it in, but it has less than half of the carbohydrates!
2. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is common in vegan circles but if you don't adhere to a plant-based diet then you may not have heard of it. This superfood is another protein which boasts all nine essential amino acids. And the most impressive aspect of this vegan food is that it's loaded with vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is usually only found in animal products and it's important for keeping the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 is one of the most common deficiencies found in vegans and vegetarians and nutritional yeast is an easy fix for this problem. If you're curious what it's like, it's light and flaky and tastes almost like parmesan cheese. In fact, you can whip up a delicious vegan cheese sauce using nutritional yeast and cashews!
3. Beans and Legumes
Many are aware that beans and legumes pack a protein-punch, however, the different types of legumes vary drastically with regard to their protein profiles. The two that are highest in protein are Great Northern Beans (otherwise known as white beans) and lentils. White beans have a whopping 10 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup and you can use them in so many ways--in chilis, salads, and even pureed for dip or soup thickeners. Lentils are a close second at nine grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. Lentils are also used in salads, soups, or just on their own as a side dish.
This is one of my personal favorites because it is so versatile and the added flavor is so mildly pleasant to sometimes non-existent. Hempseeds are pretty small and very tender and have a slightly nutty taste. Not only are they packed with protein, they boast an amazingly healthy fat profile with lots of hard-to-find Omega-3 fatty acids. You can use hempseeds in smoothies, as salad toppers, sprinkled on roasted veggies, or in soups and dips.
Another not-so-common protein, spirulina is a blue-green algae and calorie for calorie, it packs more protein than steak! Algae and plants from the sea are on another level for nutrients when compared to land vegetables. They are exponentially higher in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants when compared to common greens like spinach and kale. Two tablespoons of spirulina provides eight grams of complete protein (yep, this one has all nine essential amino acids too!), and it's a significant source of antioxidants.
Like I mentioned before, you don't have to be vegan to delve into different protein sources. The above-mentioned proteins offer a wide variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber so they make for beneficial additions to anyone's nutrition plan. If you're looking for vegan foods that are packed with protein, but are also convenient on-the-go, check out our plant-based products here!