When it comes to getting enough protein, there’s an abundance of plant foods that deliver a protein punch.
Protein is important for growth, tissue repair and recovery from exercise. It’s made up of smaller parts called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that we need for good health—known as “essential” amino acids. Our bodies can make 11 and the other nine need to come from our food. Some foods provide a few essential amino acids; others provide them all. If you eat a wide variety of food you’ll be sure to get the protein you need. The average man and woman needs about 64 grams or 46 grams per day respectively, but most people exceed their daily protein target. Here are three surprising sources of protein:
1. Pistachios – 30g handful = 6g
These tasty little morsels are the perfect package, providing the awesome combination of plant protein, iron and zinc—important nutrients if you are on a vegetarian diet. Pistachios and almonds have the most protein of all nuts, with just one handful containing 6 grams.
2. Soy beans – 150g (1 cup) (cooked) = 20.2g
Soy beans knock it out of the park when it comes to protein. They contain all nine essential amino acids and the amount of protein they provide per serve is almost as much as meat. What’s even better, you’ll gain the benefits no matter whether you eat soy beans in their pod or in the foods made from soy beans, such as tofu, tempeh and many meat alternatives. (170g of tofu provides 20.4g of protein and 100g of tempeh provides 23.2g.)
3. Chia seeds – 2 tablespoons = 6g
These tiny seeds have a long list of nutrition credentials, including an unusually high amount of omega 3—an essential fatty acid for brain function and heart health—plenty of calcium, loads of fibre and a generous protein load. They are also incredibly versatile, which is why they are added to many recipes and packaged products. Try sprinkling chia on salads or cereal, add to bliss balls or smoothies, or even soak overnight ready to start the day with a chia pudding. Now that’s a super food!
Handy Hidden Protein
Cereal. Two wheat biscuits = 3.63g. Aiming for 20g of protein at breakfast may help regulate your appetite and keep you full for longer. Something as quick and easy as two wholegrain breakfast biscuits (eg, Weet-Bix) contains 3.63g of protein. Add ⅔ cup of soy milk to get to 9g.
Potato. One medium-sized potato = 4g. The humble spud often gets a bad rap in the nutrition stakes, but a tasty potato should not be dismissed. A medium-sized potato will provide around 4g of protein and is also a good source of potassium. Try baking them whole and enjoy, skin and all, for extra fibre and B group vitamins.
Amaranth. Half a cup (cooked) = 4.7g. Amaranth is the cousin to the “on trend” quinoa and is rising in popularity because of its high protein content. This ancient pseudo-grain (it’s actually a seed) is gluten-free and contains all the essential amino acids. Great cooked into porridge.