Did you know that not all proteins are created equally?
There are complete proteins, i.e. proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids our bodies need but can’t produce, and incomplete proteins, those that lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids.
Quick Refresher on Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Meaning, our bodies need amino acids to create protein. They carry out numerous important bodily functions including building muscle, growing and repairing body tissue, making hormones, etc.
There are 20 different amino acids in our bodies. These amino acids can be classified into two groups–non-essential and essential.
What’s the difference?
Non-essential amino acids, also known as “dispensable amino acids,” are the amino acids that our bodies need and can produce on their own. Meaning, we don’t need to get them from diet.
Essential amino acids, also known as “indispensable amino acids,” are the amino acids our bodies need but can’t produce on their own. Meaning, we must get them from diet. The nine essential amino acids our bodies require to effectively function are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
How much protein do you need?
The amount of protein an individual requires on a daily basis varies from person to person. But, on average, the recommended intake of protein is about 0.36 grams per body weight pound.
Generally speaking, the average woman requires about 46 grams of protein per day while the average man requires about 56 grams of protein per day. This number will obviously vary depending on your weight, activity level, age, muscle mass, goals, etc.
Not sure how much protein should be included in your daily diet? Use the following equation to help you calculate your personal daily protein intake.
Your weight x .36 = grams of protein per day
10 Plant-Based Protein Sources
Lentils are one of my favorite sources of plant-based protein. They’re easy to cook, super versatile, and pretty inexpensive. I use these little legumes to make stews, salads, patties, curries, etc. While lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, they do happen to be low in the essential amino acid, methionine. This means, on their own, lentils aren’t actually a complete protein. However, when paired with a whole grain, like brown rice (which is rich in methionine), they can fulfill the role of complete plant-based protein.
One cup (198 g) of cooked lentils = 17.9 grams of protein (36% of DV)
1. Lentils are packed with B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and potassium and is a great source of fiber and iron!
2. Lentils are a great source of polyphenols, a category of health-promoting plant compounds, aka phytochemicals, that act as an antioxidant.
Phytochemicals, according to Harvard Health, ”are plant compounds in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes) that contribute to their color, taste, and smell…They’re found in the edible parts of a plant, especially the skin or peel.”
Phytochemicals may help fight and inhibit cancer growth, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. One study I came across even reported that consuming lentils may have the ability to improve blood glucose, lipid, and lipoprotein metabolism in diabetic and healthy human beings.
2. Beans + Rice
Beans and rice are a staple in our home. I use this combo in salads, soups, or just as a simple side. Similar to lentils, beans, on their own, aren’t a great source of complete plant-based protein. They too are low in methionine. But, when paired with brown or white rice, which is high methionine, beans become a complete protein.
One cup (239 g) of rice and beans = 12 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber
Beans are a great source of plant protein. Not to mention, they provide the fiber many of us are missing in our diets. “One cup of white rice and beans has 10 grams of fiber, mostly supplied by the beans,” shares Consumer Reports.
In addition to being a relatively inexpensive form of plant-based protein, beans are full of nutrients, including copper, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Plus, beans are also rich in polyphenols!
If you’re looking to keep your appetite under control, this may be a legume you want to start adding to your diet as the protein and fiber combination has been found to help to slow down digestion, which helps promote fullness. Similar to beans though, chickpeas are not a complete plant-based protein as they don’t contain methionine. So, best to pair this little legume with whole grains, quinoa, pita bread, etc.
One cup (240g) of canned chickpeas = 11.9 grams of protein (24% DV)
Chickpeas are rich in fiber, folate, manganese, zinc, and cooper. They’re also a great source of magnesium and potassium, both of which have been studied for their potential to boost heart health.
Rich in saponins: Chickpeas contain saponins, which are naturally occurring compounds widely distributed in all cells of legume plants. A study published in Journal of Medicinal Food, shared that “clinical studies have suggested that saponins, affect the immune system in ways that help to protect the human body against cancers and also lower cholesterol levels. Saponins decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks, and lower blood glucose response.”
Saponins have also been studied for their role in inhibiting tumor growth!
(NOTE: Saponins are also categorized as anti-nutrients, i.e. known to block the absorption of nutrients when ingested. You can read more about anti-nutrients here.)
Though technically a seed, quinoa is classified as a whole grain and is a good source of complete plant-based protein and fiber. Truth be told, I can’t tell you how many times this pseudo-cereal has been the foundation of my meals on busy days, or even breakfast. Quinoa is delicious, it’s gluten-free, and so simple to cook.
One cup (185 g) cooked quinoa = 8.1 grams of protein (16% DV)
One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. This little seed is also rich in manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, thiamin, (Vitamin B1), and Vitamin B6. Quinoa also contains large amounts of flavonoids, including quercetin and kaempferol, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Needless to say, quinoa is packed with numerous health benefits.
Fun fact: NASA scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space, mostly based on its high nutrient content, ease of use, and simplicity of growing it.
5. Chia Seeds
I wrote an entire post on the health benefits and nutritional value of chia seeds, check it out here!
Looking for a simple way to add more chia seeds in your diet? Check out my chia seed pudding recipe!
6. Ezekiel bread
Ezekiel bread is a type of sprouted grain bread that is prepared using traditional methods of soaking, sprouting and baking. Note: Sprouting a grain or legume means soaking them in water thus allowing seeds to germinate.
Made out of sprouted whole grains, legumes, and sometimes seeds, Ezekiel bread includes more protein, fiber, and absorbable vitamins and minerals than non-sprouted bread, i.e., it’s a healthier alternative to most whole wheat breads on the market. Note: Ezekiel bread is not gluten-free.
According to Food For Life, the makers of one of the most popular types of Ezekiel breads, one slice of Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread has about 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber (11% of DV).
Complete Protein: Not only is Ezekiel bread delicious, it’s also a great source of complete plant-based protein. Plus, Ezekiel Bread is easier for most people to digest as sprouted grains are, for the average person, more easily digestible. Additionally, the sprouting process makes some vitamins and minerals easier to absorb.
This unique nutty-tasting grain is a must for anyone looking to increase their intake of plant-based protein and fiber. Not to mention, this is a gluten-free grain, i.e., great for anyone with a gluten sensitivity.
One cup (246 g) cooked amaranth = 9.3 grams of protein (19% DV)
Amaranth is a great source of complete protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. It’s also a great source of antioxidants and rich in calcium. In fact, one cup of amaranth contains 12% of your DV of calcium (116 milligrams), which is great for anyone who needs to strengthen or repair bones.
Buckwheat has become popular as a health food due to its high mineral and antioxidant content. While it may not be the highest source of plant-based proteins — one cup of buckwheat yields about 5.68 grams of protein — this is one gluten-free pseudo-cereal you don’t want to overlook.
One cup (168 g) of cooked buckwheat groats = 5.7 grams of protein (11% DV)
Similar to most of the plants listed in this list, buckwheat is rich in fiber and healthy nutrients. It contains vitamins including: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin K, vitamin B6.
One cup of buckwheat contains 1.58 mg of the recommended 14 to 16 mg of niacin for adults. Niacin, or Vitamin B3, is essential for converting carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy for the body’s cells to use.
I’ll be the first to admit that tempeh is a bit of an acquired taste. But, when prepared correctly, it’s delicious and highly nutritious! This fermented soybean is a great source of complete plant-based protein and, in moderate quantities, really good for you.
1 cup (166gm) of Tempeh = 30.8g of protein (62% of Daily Value (DV))
1. Tempeh is packed with health benefits and nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.
2. Contains prebiotics: While tempeh is a fermented product, it doesn’t actually contain high levels of probiotics that other unpasteurized fermented foods such as kimchi may have. This is primarily because Tempeh, which is made from soaked and cooked soybeans inoculated with a mold (usually of the genus Rhizopus), is usually cooked and, when store bought, pasteurized. That said, tempeh is a great source of prebiotics – plant fiber that help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your digestive system.
Prebiotics have been found to help promote digestive health, support your immune system, increase production of good bacteria, and more.
3. Good source of calcium: Tempeh is also a great source of animal-free calcium. One cup (166 grams) of tempeh contains about 184 mg of calcium.
Tip: When buying tempeh, I recommend purchasing tempeh that has been minimally processed. Warning: If you’re allergic to soy or have thyroid issues, this might be a plant-based protein you want to avoid.
10. Peanut Butter Sandwich
Ah, the peanut butter and bread combo, my favorite snack of all time! So, you can imagine my excitement when I found out that this delicious combo was also a source of complete plant-based protein. But be warned, peanut butter does tend to be high in fat (a 100-gram portion contains 588 calories) so it is something you might want to consume in moderation. That said, the fats found in peanut butter are primarily healthy fats, so you shouldn’t completely avoid this plant-based protein spread. In fact, “half of the fat in peanut butter is made up of oleic acid, a healthy type of monounsaturated fat also found in high amounts in olive oil.”
While packed with nutrients, peanut butter is, like many other legumes, low in methionine, making it an incomplete protein. Which is why you’ll want to pair it with whole wheat bread (read more about methionine here).
Tip: Pair your peanut butter with Ezekiel Bread for a delicious plant-based protein snack!
- Healthy Baked Apples Stuffed with Sweet Potatoes - September 14, 2023
- 5 Dark Leafy Greens To Add To Your Diet & Their Health Benefits - September 6, 2023
- My top 12 favorite natural and planet-friendly baby essentials - August 30, 2023