By Jamie Vallone, RD, CDN
Protein is an important component of our diets as it provides the building blocks for muscle, cartilage, and tissue. It is important to eat enough protein as we age because it helps prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. It is especially vital when recovering from surgery or illness at it helps the body repair itself. People often think of animal foods like meat and eggs when considering protein sources, but many plants contain protein as well. This is important because some animal-based proteins such as red meat and whole fat dairy products contain a high amount of saturated fat. Plant-based proteins have become popular in recent years as a way to achieve adequate protein without as much saturated fat.
Here are some plant-based proteins you may consider adding into your diet:
- Beans: Also a good source of fiber, many beans including garbanzo beans, black beans, and kidney beans provide approximately seven to nine grams of protein per half cup. Add them to soups, salads, and other dishes. Soybeans provide 9 grams per half cup and can be enjoyed cooked as a snack (also called edamame). Soybeans are also used to make soymilk, which can then be used to make tofu.
- Nuts: Also a good source of healthy fats, nuts provide an average of six to seven grams of protein per quarter cup. Peanuts, pistachios, and almonds are amongst the highest in protein, and peanut butter provides nine grams of protein in a two tablespoon serving. Nuts are a great snack with dried fruit, and nut butters spread on whole grain toast for breakfast are a filling option.
- Peas: Along with beans and nuts, peas come from the legume family. Peas provide five grams of protein in a half cup. Peas are an excellent side dish but also make a great addition to most pasta dishes.
- Seeds: Another member of the legume family, seeds including pumpkin, sunflower and flax provide between seven and 11 grams of protein per quarter cup. Seeds make a great addition to trail mix, can be sprinkled on salads, oatmeal and yogurt. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a seed, although it is often considered a grain due to its grain-like texture and cooking procedure. Quinoa has approximately 12 grams of protein per half cup and is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Click here to find a recipe courtesy of Food Network for Quinoa and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers.
- Grains: Whole grains such as whole wheat are higher in protein and fiber than other grains, referred to as refined grains. One slice of whole wheat bread contains on average four grams of protein.
As you can see, there are many great plant-based protein sources to include in your diet. Experiment with these foods to increase your protein consumption and reduce your saturated fat intake.