Is it really possible to get most of your dietary protein from plant sources rather than from meat? The intriguing answer to that question is yes, and you won’t have to skimp on taste either.
Plant-based protein is all around us, and it has been popping up in restaurant menus and grocery product ingredients more frequently than ever. But what are the best, tastiest ways to get in on the plant protein trend without having to spend a fortune or lose out on flavor?
The list below contains some of the hottest plant-based protein sources on the market, many of which can be grown in a home garden or bought at a local farmers’ market. Most are relatively inexpensive and easy to find in stores. And even though some have been around for centuries, there are always new ways to use them as additives to modern recipes.
Here’s the quick rundown of the best of the best plant protein sources:
Lentils: Some people include split green peas along with lentils because they are closely related chemically and nutritionally. Lentils offer fiber, carbohydrates, and a healthy dose of protein. They are very starchy and many people add seasonings and spices, put them on salads, use them as a filling for tacos, or even combine them with quinoa and/or rice for a complete meal! And don’t forget lentil soup, one of the favorites in American kitchens for more than 100 years.
Nutritional yeast: Packed with B vitamins, nutritional yeast has a mild cheese flavor and plenty of protein. Because it has no yeast or dairy ingredients, it’s often used as an ingredient for sauces and dressings. One of the most popular ways NY is enjoyed is as a sauce when mixed with water or almond milk. Others like to include it in homemade dips or anything that could use a bit of a cheesy flavoring. Nutritional yeast is a key additive for vegans and anyone who wants to add a solid dose of protein to their food.
Quinoa: One of the “stars” of the culinary market for at least a decade, quinoa is a starchy seed (it’s actually not considered a grain) that contains fiber, carbohydrates and of course protein. Its uses are virtually endless. It works well as a cooked topping for greens, can be made into a cereal along with nut milk and your favorite fruit.
Quinoa is so popular that it is often used as a replacement for rice in all sorts of stir-fry recipes and even as a side dish all by itself. There are literally thousands of recipes that use quinoa alone or as a main ingredient. Some culinary writers call it the “most successful food” of the century, because it has caught on with professional chefs and consumers. And it’s a major seller in retail stores as well.
Spirulina: One of the most protein-rich plant foods, spirulina is a favorite of exercise enthusiasts and healthy-eating advocates for many reasons. By dry weight, it is 70 percent protein, which means you don’t need to consume much spirulina to get a generous dose of protein for the day. Because it is so dark greenish in hue, cooks like to add it to give color to just about any meal. Its flavor is intriguing, with some saying that it tastes like chocolate and/or vanilla with a hint of seaweed combined.
Spirulina is a popular smoothie additive, snack ingredient, and dessert addition. One of the most common ways that people eat it is as a tablet-form nutritional supplement. This power-packed, protein source is a favorite of vegetarians who want a dense, protein-rich food sources that tastes good and doesn’t cost too much.
Chia seeds: For centuries, people have eaten chia seeds. Their claim to fame is that they are ideal thickeners for just about any recipe, contain lots of fiber and healthy doses of carbohydrates and protein as well.
You can add chia seeds to oatmeal, cereal, and porridge for a thickening, crunch-laden quality. The seeds work perfectly when soaked in almond milk. The result is a super-nutritional pudding that tastes great hot or cold!
Hemp seeds: Hemp seeds are a good source of not only protein but omega-3 fats (the good kind of fat). For a nutty and sweet addition to just about any meal, adding hemp seeds will do the trick. They make a perfect salad topper, soup additive, smoothie ingredient, or can be made into a milk by adding several tablespoons to water or almond milk.
Hemp seeds have been a staple of kitchens for centuries. People sprinkle them on soups, oatmeal, all kinds of cereal, and bake them into breads, muffins and desserts. There’s really no end to the use of hemp seeds, and the best part is they taste great and supply plant-based protein to virtually any meal.
Nuts: Most people know that nuts are a good source of plant protein, but what’s not commonly known is how many other nutrients are in these small, natural wonder foods.
In addition to brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios and peanuts, there are at least 170 separately identified members of the “nut” family. But besides the well-known advantage of being a plant-based protein, nuts tend to have high doses of vitamin E, omega-3 fats, and many other minerals. While most nuts are crunchy, some are soft and are sweeter tasting than the common peanut. Cashews are both sweet and versatile on dozens of main dishes.
Nearly everyone has sprinkled nuts on cereal and salads, but they can also be added to muesli, granola and just about all forms of baked foods. You can even grind nuts and create your own high-protein flour for use in other recipes.
If you have a reliable blender, you can make delicious nut butter that can be used in a number of ways, primarily on breads and as a recipe ingredient.
Protein Reading for Hungry People
You need not be a vegan or vegetarian to take advantage of plant-based proteins. Many people who eat meat regularly enjoy supplementing their protein intake with nuts, quinoa, and other non-animal proteins. Here are two of the best books to get started preparing some healthful, tasty plant-protein recipes.
Author Carina Wolff serves up a mouth-watering collection of plant-protein meals, and even shows readers how to make their very own protein powder for better meal planning.
The recipes, more than 150 in all, are easy to create and, as Wolff points out, are more environmentally sound, more nutritious and healthful than meat-based proteins. All the meals are “budget friendly” and appeal to non-vegetarians as well as those who shun meat for whatever reason.
The strong point of the book is its simplicity and attention to cost. With one or two exceptions, all of the recipes feature ingredients that are inexpensive and easy to find in typical grocery stores or farmers’ markets. By avoiding the trap that many similar books fall into, with overly-complicated recipes and impossible to find ingredients, Wolff’s book is a solid choice for the everyday consumer who might or might not be handy in the kitchen.
This selection, compared to the book listed above, is primarily written for vegans but can make a good addition to anyone’s food/recipe library. There’s a ton of valuable information here; it’s not just a recipe listing.
Learn how to incorporate plant-based protein into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. There are more than 100 easy to follow recipes based on common ingredients found in most stores. The authors were careful to use simple guidelines and explain how each ingredient adds to the meal in question.
For vegans and vegetarians who are tired of stumbling when asked, “How do you get protein?” this book offers up plenty of simple explanations about how plant protein is actually cleaner, more environmentally sound, and tastes better than animal sources.
The Lowdown on Plant Protein
Most of the “trendy” plant protein sources have been with us for centuries. Human beings are now rediscovering some of these culinary gems as the national trend toward meatless meals continues. But even for people who do occasionally eat beef, chicken and other meats, adding some plant-based protein to a daily meal plan is one way to diversify the diet.
There are actually hundreds of plant proteins, though some of them don’t taste very good and are either hard to find or very expensive to purchase. Fortunately, the more common sources listed above are inexpensive enough and easy to locate.
Let us know what you think about the new plant-protein trend in the comments section below or by visiting our Facebook page. We’re especially interested to hear about plant protein sources that are not listed above, so feel free to add your own suggestions to the list.