Eat more plants, eat the rainbow, eat your veggies. These terms might be the new green of the nutrition world, but there is good reason. Plants provide fibre, phytonutrients, phytosterols, decrease inflammation in the body, regulate blood sugar, increase immunity, do not clog arteries, lower cholesterol and provide a source of protein that is not a saturated fat that you would get from an animal source.
What does this mean? A plate that is filled with at least half (or more) of colourful veg means clearer skin, better gut health, less bloat, less blood sugar spikes and crashes, less illness, more energy and lowered risk of disease. Sounds like our parents weren’t just nagging us to eat up, they were on to something.
So, what are plant-based proteins and how do you get them in to your diet? You might already be incorporating plenty of plants into your meals and not even know it. The only catch with plant-based proteins is that most are not complete, meaning they do not contain all the amino acids that an animal protein would contain. The good news is that all you have to do is combine a few different plants throughout your day and you make yourself a complete protein. They each contain different amino acids so you are sure to cover them if you eat a variety each day.
Here is a list of some easy-to-find plant-based proteins that you can add into your meals to benefit from all the wholesome goodness that they have to offer us, naturally.
Oats: (26g protein/cup) A nutrient-rich cereal grain that is demulcent and soothing to the digestive system. Enjoy them as overnight oats, turn them in to a dairy-free oat milk, breakfast cooking, or add them into smoothies.
Hemp Hearts: (9g protein/oz) This is the nutritious heart of the hemp seed that has a nutty flavour and does not need to be cooked. These add a nice crunch to salads, granola or yogurt, or blend them up with almonds for a delicious non-diary milk.
Chia Seeds: (5g protein/oz) These tiny seeds are native to Mexico and have changed many lives in the plant-based community. They absorb 10 times their weight in water, so you will want to make sure they are either soaked first, or you eat them with a liquid. Because they grow in size, they keep you full longer and add great bulk to smoothies, granola and pudding. Our favourite way to enjoy them is with coconut milk in a chia pudding, either for breakfast or as a dessert.
Nuts: (7g protein/oz) Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are high in plant-based protein and high in fibre. Ground nuts make a wonderful pie crust, dairy-free milk, topping on salads or yogurt. It is really simple to add nuts in to your meals as they can be eaten raw. Also try nut butters and nut oils on salads. Aim for the raw or dry roasted, unsalted, varieties. Nuts should be stored in your freezer as they can go rancid easily.
Nutritional Yeast: (9g protein/2 Tblsp) aka, “nooch”, is a new fave in the plant-based world. If you are lucky, you can find a brand that is fortified with vitamin B12, which does not normally exist naturally in plant-based foods. These dry flakes give a cheesy, nutty flavour that is naturally low in sodium but still packs alot of flavour. Nutritional yeast can be turned into a dairy-free cheese sauce, a vegan “parmesan”, and crisps up nicely on roasted chick peas.
Quinoa: (8g protein/cup) Considered a superfood, this seed that is eaten like a grain and has more nutritional value and protein than other plants. It makes a great alternative to rice, when boiled, and can also be popped like popcorn, when dry. The seeds can also be soaked and sprouted for easier digestion. Once a week, make a big pot of cooked quinoa and add it to salads, stuff it into peppers for dinners, use it in wraps and homemade granola, to sneak in extra protein throughout your days.
Flax Seeds: (6g protein/oz) Most beneficial when ground, flax seeds contain the most omega 3, which is anti-inflammatory, skin, brain and heart healthy. It is a source of phytoestrogen and lignans for women’s health, and antioxidants for boosting the immune system. Flax naturally gels when mixed with water, so it is often used as an egg replacement in vegan baking. Add ground flax to granola, bliss balls, cereals, in baked goods, on yogurt and in smoothies. Also try flax oil in salad dressing or on its own for it’s blood sugar-regulating properties.
Pumpkin Seeds: (9g/oz) Rich in antioxidants and magnesium, these powerhouses are beneficial for men’s health, post-menopausal health, heart health and immunity. Enjoy them raw or roast them and add them to salads for a nutty crunch.
Spirulina: (39g protein/oz) A blue-green algae that packs nutritional value, protein and flavour. It is often used in detox programs and face maks!, as it pulls heavy metals from the body and is anti-microbial. It provides energy so avoid using at night. Add it into smoothies for a blood sugar-balancing, uplifting morning pick-me-up.
Beans: (15-17g protein/cup) Soybeans are complete, the other beans can be combined with other vegetables for the 9 amino acids to make them a complete protein. If you have trouble digesting beans, try soaking and sprouting them for a day or two to release the phytic acid that causes tummy troubles in some. Otherwise, steam them lightly and add them to salads and side dishes, roast them for a crunchy snack, turn them into heart-healthy hummus, or cook them with veggies for a delicious chili.
Now that you have the tools to increase your energy, reduce your risk of illness, improve your gut health, boost your immunity and give your skin a glow, what are you waiting for? Fill that plate up with a colourful array of veggies and sprinkle it all with some nuts and seeds. There you go, you are eating more plant-based protein.
Jen Casey is a Holistic Nutritionist with Next Bite Nutrition Coaching in Vancouver, BC. She focuses her practice on women’s wellness and building a solid foundation for the pillars of health. Learn more about Jen and her healthy meal plans on Instagram.