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With the new year just weeks away, the media is honing in on the top nutrition trends we can expect to see in 2021, and to no surprise increasing plant-protein remains at the top. Whether you’re eating more plant-based for sustainability, health, or just because, rest assured there are a variety of whole food options you can choose from to meet your protein needs. But, before you head straight into the freezer department at your local grocer to pick up the latest faux meat product, let’s take a look at 10 whole food sources of plant-based protein you may just want to toss into your cart instead! Reader beware, you may end up saving a few bucks once you realize how convenient and affordable many of these options are.
Just one cup of cooked lentils provides nearly 18 grams of plant-protein and 16 grams of fiber for just 225 calories. Lentils also contain many important nutrients, like iron, potassium, zinc and choline (a nutrient that 90% of Americans aren’t getting enough of!) Plus, they’re budget-friendly with a 16-ounce bag of dried lentils coming in at just $2.99.
Registered Dietitian Kim Rose of www.kimrosedietitian.com recommends making a pot of seasoned lentils on the weekends. “Divide them into individual 1 cup servings, and then add them to different meals throughout the week! You’ll find me turning lentils into meatballs, or for a really quick fix, adding a little bar-b-que sauce to them to make tasty, vegan sloppy joes.”
This plant-based spread can be made from a variety of beans and legumes, not just the traditional garbanzo bean you may think! Depending on the bean used, the protein content will vary slightly, but a standard ¼ cup serving (or about 70 grams by weight) has roughly 6 grams of protein for just 180 calories. Plus, it often packs heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids that help keep you fuller for longer too!
Brynn McDowell, Registered Dietitian and cookbook author of The Mediterranean Diet Made Easy recommends using hummus in place of mayo on sandwiches or spreading it on bagels or toast! She suggests thinning it out and using it as a creamy salad dressing to add more plant-based protein to meals.
Pistachios are a good source of plant-based protein with a 1-ounce serving of the nut (shelled) providing 6 grams of it! Plus, they pack dietary fiber, potassium, and antioxidants that help keep your body in tip-top shape. While the shelled variety tends to be a tad pricier, you can still pick up a 10-ounce in-shell bag for about $5.49 at most markets.
Lauren Manaker, Registered Dietitian, and author of Fueling Male Fertility, recommends to use shelled pistachios as a salad topped in place of grilled chicken or shrimp. “The plant-based protein boost that also gives you fiber and healthy fats for staying power. You can also toss pistachios in trail mixes and in oatmeal as a topping for added nutrition and crunch!”
Related: Healthy Late-Night Snacks
One of the most common forms of plant-based protein on the market is the good ole’ chickpea (aka, the garbanzo bean!) With nearly 7.5 grams of protein, 6.5 grams of fiber, and 3.7 mg of iron in just ½ cup serving of cooked chickpeas, it’s a great way to increase the total nutrient density of your diet. The best part: a pound of chickpeas (dried) often comes in at less than $3.00!
NYC-based Registered Dietitian, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, is a big fan of adding chickpeas to both meals and snacks! “From grain bowls to veggie burgers, or roasted as a protein-filled snack, chickpeas offer a convenient and affordable plant-based protein to nearly every diet.”
Edamame is the immature form of the soybean that is often eaten from the shell (or shelled) alongside traditional Asian dishes. Regardless of the form of soybean you eat, they can easily be incorporated into a balanced diet with two servings being a reasonable goal for adults. A half-cup of shelled edamame packs nearly 9.5 grams of plant-based protein and 4 grams of fiber, as well as iron, potassium, folate, and choline!
Sarah Koszyk, Sports Nutritionist and author of 25 Anti-Aging Smoothies for Revitalizing, Glowing Skin, recommends pureeing edamame in a hummus, dip, or pesto. “Spread the edamame purees on a sandwich or wrap, add it to a burrito, or toss it with a salad, pasta, or rice dish.”
If you’re looking to venture into the other forms of soybeans (like tofu), Registered Dietitian Sylvia Klinger of Hispanic Food Communications suggests blending silken tofu with oil, spices and herbs makes for a delicious high protein dressing, or adding a soy-based curd to pancakes to boost the protein there as well!
Tempeh is a fermented product made from soybeans in addition to some whole grains, seasonings and other flavorings. A 4-ounce serving of this soy-based protein packs nearly 20 grams of protein, in addition to a host of nutrition benefits. For starters, tempeh is filled with nutrients like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and B vitamins in addition to its role as a probiotic.
Jenna Braddock, Florida based at MakeHealthyEasy.com recommends spending a little bit of time prepping it to make the perfect dish! Braddock suggests crumbling the tempeh, then marinating it and finishing with a sear in a hot pan to add instant protein to salads, wraps, bowls and tacos.
Pronounced “peel-y”, this nut is native to the pili tree often found in Northern Australia and the Philippines. While lower in protein comparatively speaking per serving size (a ¼ cup serving provides 3 grams in comparison to some of the other nuts), it packs a nutritional punch in that it contains essential amino acids the human body needs. This nut is harder to find at local markets, and you will need to likely shop online and be willing to spend about $16.99 for a one-pound bag.
Maya Feller, nationally recognized nutrition expert and author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook, recommends enjoying this mildly flavored nut in yogurt form (yes, brands are now popping up incorporating this nut into their yogurts!) smothered over a stack of pancakes or in their raw form as a crunchy snack.
Three tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds provide nearly 10 grams of plant-based protein to your meal for just 170 calories. Plus, they’re full of iron and unsaturated fats while offering a great nut-free alternative for crunch. While a bit more pricey than other seeds (a 12-ounce bag is roughly $12.99), they’re an easy addition to boost plant-protein on simple foods.
Plant-based sports dietitian, Kelly Jones of kellyjonesnutrition.com recommends adding them to oatmeal, sprinkling them onto pancakes, using as a topper for soups and salads, and incorporating into homemade energy bites!
Lupini beans are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and making a name for themselves in the US due to their high protein content. In just a ½ cup cooked serving of the bean it packs nearly 13 grams of plant-based protein. But, where it packs in protein it lacks in fiber, with that same ½ cup serving providing only 2 grams. Found traditionally in the jarred food section of the market, there are a few ways you can cook with them!
Amy Gorin, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats recommends draining and rinsing the beans as you would do with any other canned beans. Then, use them in your favorite dishes, like her delicious plant-based lupini salad!
One of the only whole grains that is a complete source of protein (containing all 9 essential amino acids), this is an excellent (and affordable) gluten-free, plant-based protein addition to nearly any diet! One cup of cooked quinoa contains nearly 8 grams of protein for just 220 calories (plus nearly 5 grams of fiber.) Quinoa also contains many important B vitamins as well as potassium and antioxidants.
Registered Dietitian Tamara Hoffman of Unbeetable Nutrition and Wellness recommends adding quinoa to your taco Tuesday menus with a spicy Mexican seasoning or sauteing it into your stir-fry dishes with a soy sauce.