Protein sources for meatless days
If you've chosen a vegetarian diet, enjoy vegan recipes, or you're just cutting back on meat and adding more plant-based foods to your day, you might be concerned that the lack of meat is making you protein deficient.
Different types of proteins carry out several important functions in our bodies, so it's important we get enough. Some drive the formation of antibodies to combat infection, others repair body tissue and can be used for energy or fat stores. Another type, enzymes, catalyse chemical reactions to allow processes like digestion, while others work with the nervous system to control muscle contraction.
Some give structure to cells and organs, hormones coordinate many bodily processes like the production of insulin and metabolic regulation, while hemoglobins transport oxygen through the blood.
So if you're looking for protein sources to include in plant-based meals, there are many options for this. Here are some foods you might want to add to your recipes each week:
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts are a good source of protein on their own, but can also be eaten in the form of nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter. Nuts also offer fibre, healthy fats and calories. Nutritionists often recommend raw nuts because roasting them can damage nutrients, and if you're buying nut butters, they commonly suggest avoiding the ones with higher levels of added sugar, salt and preservatives. Making your own nut butters is a good way to control the nutrients you're taking in - have a read of our blog if you want to give this a try. We often think of using nut butters as a toast or sandwich spread, but they can also be used in baking and smoothies. You might also want to try Zoe Salmen's delicious recipe for peanut butter fudge, which is gluten and refined sugar free.
Legumes like peas, different bean varieties, lentils and chickpeas are also valuable plant based protein sources. It's said that a cup of green peas offers the same amount of protein as a cup of milk (9g, according to Self Nutrition Data, and this vegetable also contains vitamins, minerals and fibre. Beans like kidney or black beans are also rich in protein and can be used in many dishes. Lentils and chickpeas are also common go to alternatives to meat when seeking protein. According to Nutrition Value, they yield 25g of protein per 100g serving, with chickpeas offering 20g for the same serving size.
Here's a vegetarian/vegan lentil potato curry from our blog to try: http://blog.ecostore.co.nz/2014/06/27/potato-lentil-curry/
Soybeans and soy milk are two forms of soy-based protein - however like store bought nut milks, it's important to check the added sugar levels of soy milk you buy. Another soy option is edamame, which can be boiled or steamed to make a nutritious snack. Tofu is another well known meat alternative that adds protein and texture to meals with stronger flavours that the tofu will absorb. And tempeh, made by fermenting soybeans, will also absorb flavours from other ingredients.
Grains and seeds
There are several seeds and grains that can give our protein levels a boost, including chia, quinoa and hemp. In 2013, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation promoted quinoa as a notable source of quality protein, and highlighted its level of all eight essential amino acids. And according to a Mayo Clinic article, chia seeds contain 6g of protein per two tablespoons. Because they're mildly flavoured, chia can be added to desserts, salads and smoothies, or mixed with liquid to form a gel base. Hemp seed, perhaps best known for belonging to the marijuana plant family, as another valuable protein source. You can either use it as a textural addition to various recipes, use it in powder form, or consume hemp milk. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can also offer a protein boost.
There are several other options to get protein from plant-based foods, so if you have favourites, why not leave a comment and tell us what they are?
This article is not intended to substitute for medical advice. For dietary or nutritional conditions, consult your health professional.