Protein is an important macronutrient found within every cell in the body. When we consume it in food, it is utilised by our bodies to repair and rebuild the tissues of our muscles, skin and organs. Yet despite the popular idea that “we always need more protein”, protein is actually very misunderstood. Unfortunately, society has been conditioned to view plant protein as inferior to meat protein. Further, many believe more is a case of better when it comes to protein intake. These notions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Firstly, plant proteins are easier and more efficiently digested than animal-derived sources. What’s more, plants do indeed contain all essential amino acids and are therefore themselves “complete proteins” and do not require specific combinations to be adequate. Secondly, whilst plants are naturally rich in fibre, minerals and antioxidants to keep the digestive system healthy, gut flora happy, and our cells performing optimally, animal protein has absolutely zero fibre and less of these micronutrients. It is therefore less of a “package deal”. Lastly, when we consume protein in excess, particularly from animal-sources, it goes to waste, as we can only utilise a certain amount at a time. This means it can be stored as fat causing weight gain, as well as placing undue stress on our liver and kidneys to excrete it, and increasing our bodies acidity as it tries to break down more than it can handle (cue bad breath and “meat sweats”). Not a pretty picture!
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With all this in mind, you must be eager to find out which plant-based foods are good sources of protein? By now most of us know that tempeh and tofu can often be equal in protein content to chicken or beef, and that pea, rice or hemp protein powders can have just as much protein as dairy-based options. So let’s look at the lesser known sources that are provided for us, as nature intended them…
4.5g protein per cup
Greens as a category are the most valuable sources of nutrition, brimming with vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Just think of all the leafy greens the mighty gorilla’s eat and you will see that muscle mass can certainly be built by plants! Protein requirements can easily be contributed to by a few servings a day of kale, broccoli and other greens. Power-up all your meals with both raw and cooked greens in everything from smoothies to mains!
4.5g protein in 1 tbsp
Nutritional yeast is the deactivated form of a strain of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is wonderful for our microbiome. It is grown on molasses before being washed, dried and processed into the nutritious yellow stuff we sprinkle on our meals! Rich in fibre and B vitamins, it is also extremely high in protein making it a wonderful hair, fat-metabolism, brain function and energy support. Scatter it on top of a salad or pasta dish, or whisk together to make a creamy, cheese-like dressing.
18g of protein per cup
Legumes such as lentils and beans are truly the most underrated food. They are exceptionally rich in fibre, which helps control blood sugar and appetite, as well as being full of protein. Whilst lentils are a little ahead of the pack, most beans contain around 12-15g protein per cup, and all provide the added benefits of iron, calcium and magnesium. Add them to your next salad, stir-fry, curry, casserole or soup as the star of the show!
4.5g protein in 1 tbsp
With around 58g protein per 100g, Spirulina contains close to 60% protein by weight and all the essential amino acids your body needs! Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s found in pristine fresh water such as lakes and rivers and offers a host of benefits, aside from protein, for our bodies to thrive. Note, quality is very important when choosing a spirulina, so be sure to look into where it is harvested from. Enjoy 1-2 tsp in a green smoothie with a little fruit to soften the taste.
5g protein in 1 tbsp
Hemp seeds are definitely the latest plant-based hero, being the most protein-rich seed whilst also containing beautifying omega-3, antioxidants, and a variety of minerals such as magnesium and zinc. Try them sprinkled on a salad or smoothie bowl, or blend together in dips such as hummus!
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