By far the most widely asked question that both my husband and I get is “But how can you get protein if you don’t eat meat?” I think the reason people ask this, is not to be annoying, but I truly don’t think people realize how many great plant sources of protein there are out there. Not only are there a wide array of choices, but the plant based choices are a much healthier way to pack your body with this essential building block of life. They don’t have the saturated fat animal protein does, nor do they have the cholesterol. Protein is an important part of your diet as it breaks down into amino acids which in turn help repair your cells and also helps them grow. However many people eat much more protein than is necessary, and also use meat as their primary source of protein, which I think leads to the “concern” they have about vegans and their “inability” to get protein into their diets. This article on Web MD is a good neutral article with info that includes all types of diets and other situations that have special dietary needs. The bottom line is that no matter what type of eater you are, having a diet that includes a wide variety of whole fresh foods is the key. Less processed foods and more whole foods is the way to go!
In order to help squash the myth about vegans and protein, I decided to get a list out there of our favorite protein sources for those of you looking to add more “Meatless Mondays” into your week. I’m sure there are other great sources out there, but this is just a list of our favorite and most used. I tried to include items that you can find at your local grocery store, along with those that are mostly found at health food stores. Any of these choices are a great addition to your diet, whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, or meat eater.
- Quinoa: this is one of the best and most versatile foods out there in my opinion. Not only is it a complete protein (contains all the essential amino acids), but it can be served hot, cold, savory, or sweet. I add it to so many types of dishes or throw in some veggies and make it a salad on its own. I also add it to soup because it absorbs the liquid and thickens it a bit so that my boys can eat it easier and without making a huge mess! And it is SUPER easy to make in a rice cooker. Added bonus is that Trader Joe’s has started carrying it in the freezer section all cooked and ready to go. It does not get any easier than that!
- Oatmeal: This is our breakfast about 75% of the time. It’s so versatile and you can add so many different things to it. Our favorite is frozen fruit, bananas and nut butter. We add other great protein sources like chia seeds and help seeds for an even healthier and filing meal. I am currently working on a dessert flavored series of “Overnight Breakfast Oats” for the blog so look out for those soon!
- Beans: Beans are a staple in our house. Full of protein, iron and fiber, they are amazing! From my awesome Veggie and Bean Burgers to throwing them into a salad or even pasta, these little guys are everywhere. There are so many varieties so it’s easy to change it up and not grow bored. Lentils are some of my favorite and the ones I think I use the most in my cooking. They have a sort of “meat” like texture if made correctly and keep you full for a long time. Highly recommend adding these into your diet whether or not you eat vegetarian or vegan!
- Hummus: Although this is an offshoot of number 2, I still thought it deserved a number of its own. Hummus is mostly made from chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, but it also can be found as a white bean variety. You can make it at home or buy it at the store for an easy addition to your weekly meals. My youngest literally eats it with a spoon! Sprouted Majestic Hummus is some of my absolute favorite. I buy it at Jimbo’s but look out for it at the places you usually shop.
- Chia Seeds: I buy these at Trader Joe’s and add them to so many things. My favorite ways to eat them are in my oatmeal, smoothies, and even as a pudding on their own. If you mix them with some almond milk (or milk of choice) along with other flavors, like berries or cocoa powder, and let it set in the fridge, they plump up and make a chia seed pudding that my boys love!
- Veggies: Most of you will be surprised that veggies actually contribute to your daily intake of protein. They aren’t as protein packed as some of the other sources listed, but leafy greens and other veggies like broccoli have a good amount of protein in them. Since veggies take center stage in our diet, this healthy food choice contributes well to our daily protein!
- Avocado: This is hands down one of my favorite foods. I can literally eat it with a spoon. Add a little Himalayan pink salt, some 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s and a squirt of lemon and I am set! I also have a simple but delicious Guacamole recipe that can be added to almost anything! I love this food and luckily so do my boys.
- Tempeh and/or Tofu: Even though there seems to be a “hate soy” aura out there these days, I still am not fully anti this addition to our diet. We don’t eat it often but there are times that tofu is part of our meal. I always buy organic (and therefore non GMO) so I believe that in small amounts it actually contributes to our health. Tempeh is another good protein source we add to our diet from time to time. Tempeh comes in both soy and non soy varieties so you have the choice there. Both of these can be found at many grocery stores. I usually buy mine at Jimbo’s as that is where I have found the organic versions I prefer, along with a wide variety of options.
- Nuts: These are another staple in our house. I use cashews and walnuts in my amazing Cashew Walnut Cream Sauce as a great cream alternative to my cooking. We also make our own trail mix using dried fruits and a variety of nuts and the boys love it as a snack! Nut butters are another good way to get protein in, especially for picky kids, but make sure you are looking at the ingredients and buying the kind with purely nuts in it, and maybe salt if you prefer the salted version.
- Sunflower Seeds: I love adding these to things as an extra punch of protein. My Veggie and Bean Burgers have them in the recipe and not only do they give a great touch of flavor but I love the texture they add too!
- Hemp Seeds: This is a new seed we are trying. Hemp seeds are a great source of protein and can easily be mixed into smoothies, oatmeal and baked goods. I want to play around more with this food and try it in a pesto or even another version of my veggie and bean burgers!
- Non-Dairy Milk: Depending on which version you drink, there can be a little bit of protein in there. Our milk of choice is Almond, which has about 1 gram of protein per cup but my boys drink about 3 cups a day so that gives them an extra 3 grams of protein! Remember that we don’t need as much protein as most people take in so a little bit here and a little bit there adds up fast and helps you easily meet your daily requirements.
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: Believe it or not, this little addition to my cooking adds some protein to our diet. I noticed this over the holidays when I was making my homemade hot cocoa mix for friends and family members. It isn’t much, but like I said before, a little bit adds up. I also use it in my baking and to make chia seed pudding or my chocolate avocado pudding. It’s awesome and delicious!
No matter what type of eater you are, adding variety into your diet is a healthy and great way to make sure you are getting everything you need. Hopefully you can try a few things on this list that may not already be in your daily routine. I’m hoping that this info has helped further educate those of you with protein questions when following a vegan or vegetarian diet. And always check back for more of my protein packed and healthy recipes!