Today I’m examining a post written on Draxe.com – basically I’ll look at various premises they have introduced, and explore it to a deeper level.
For a number of reasons, plant-based diets have become increasingly popular in developing countries. Whether for ethical or health-conscious reasons, people are increasingly hungry for high-quality plant-based protein foods. (1)
Quality protein foods are essential for a healthy and balanced diet, and it’s a common misunderstanding that people following plant-based diets are unable to consume “enough” protein. (2) In fact, in a recent study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology that studied over 200,000 people over a 25-year span, “Higher intake of a plant-based diet index rich in healthier plant foods is associated with substantially lower coronary heart disease risk.” (3)
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian looking to bump your protein intake, or just curious how to eat sufficient levels of protein on a mostly meat-free, vegan diet, let me help separate the fact from myth and share with you some of the best plant-based protein foods on the planet.
Plant-Based Protein vs. Other Protein Foods
Plant-based is a little less digestible for the human body. (4a) Sources of protein from plants also rarely contain a “complete” amino acid profile, meaning that they contain all 20 necessary amino acids including the 9 (10 for children) that are “essential.” (4b) Fundamentally this also means that your body will burn more calories processing plant food – and that’s always a good thing!
Plant foods also have a huge number of other benefits, which is why good veggies should make up a large part of your plate at each meal.
Since plant protein shows up in smaller quantities than animal protein, choosing to eat a plant-based diet requires intentionality. It is definitely possible to get all the nutrients you need from only plant foods, as long as you put thought into your meal planning. (5)
The list I’m providing isn’t necessarily comprised of the highest protein counts in plant-based protein foods, but rather foods that are valuable for the quality of their protein and availability of amino acids.
Natto is a type of fermented soybean consumed most often in Japan. At 31 grams of protein in one cup, you can probably see why it ranked No. 1 on my list. It’s also a complete protein.
While I don’t recommend most soy products to my readers (due to the high prevalence of GMO options and phytoestrogen complications), natto is a fermented soy product that I think is worth the hype.
The smell and texture of natto often turn off people to trying it, but I enjoy the taste and don’t mind using it as a side dish — especially with all the benefits it provides.
This algae superfood looks a little bizarre, but this plant protein powerhouse has some unbelievable benefits, like heavy metal detox, HIV/AIDS improvement and cancer prevention.
While not a complete protein on its own, spirulina has a whopping 39 grams of protein in just a serving (part of why it’s a delicious part of a morning green smoothie). To supplement the methionine and cysteine it’s missing, just pair it with a whole grain or some nuts.
Spirulina also includes the highest amount of glutamine found in a plant food. Glutamine is an amino acid that is called “conditionally essential,” because the body is able to create it on its own, but it’s used in such large amounts that you also need to consume it through foods. (8)
Another one of the world’s best plant-based protein sources is tempeh, an Indonesian soybean. Like natto, this probiotic-rich bean is fermented to eliminate the common issues soy often provides.
You’ll get 18 grams of protein in a serving of this complete protein. Some people boil and eat it with soy sauce or coconut aminos, and since it absorbs neighboring flavors, you can use it with almost any recipe. Try it in chilis, salads and stews for a start.
4. Nutritional Yeast
Don’t let the name fool you — this yeast isn’t the same stuff that helps to bake bread. Nutritional yeast only contains about 9 grams of protein per serving; however, unlike almost any other plant food, it usually includes fortified Vitamin B-12.
Generally, you should treat nutritional yeast like a condiment or an ingredient in cheesy dishes or as a shake ingredient.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
A cup of pumpkin seeds contains 12 grams of protein. (9) Another complete protein source, pumpkin seeds are high in healthy fats, magnesium, lysine and zinc (the latter two of which are often limited on plant-based diets).
However, a word of caution: if you are counting calories (which I don’t often deem necessary), you should know that a cup of pumpkin seeds contains 264 calories.
6. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds have 9 grams of protein per serving, and are also complete in their amino acid profile. They contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is probably one reason they have so many health benefits, like reducing inflammation and helping with multiple sclerosis.
A gluten-free “ancient-grain” cultivated first in history by the Aztecs, amaranth grains are an excellent source of nutrition. Amaranth is a complete protein, offering 9 grams per serving, and also contains over 100 percent of your daily recommended manganese intake.
Quinoa is another one of those incredible “ancient grains,” although it’s technically not a grain at all, but a “pseudocereal,” a seed that you use similarly to barley.
Due to its 8 grams of protein per serving, complete inclusion of amino acids and relative ease of access, quinoa is one of my favorite plant-based protein foods to eat often.
9. Black Beans
Although black beans are short just one amino acid (hydroxyproline) of being called “complete,” they still offer an awesome source of protein at 15 grams per serving.
They also contain a large amount of lysine and leucine, two of the amino acids rarely found in plant-based protein foods. (10) Leucine is the primary of three branched-chain amino acids, which is extremely significant for weight loss and metabolism management.
10. Green Peas
Apparently, your mom was right when she said eating your peas was important — green peas have 9 grams of protein per serving and include significant amounts of leucine, lysine and glutamine. (11)
They’re also one of those high-fiber foods that help decrease your risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Referred to nutritionally as an “edible pulse,” lentils are part of the legume family and provide a great nutritional profile including 18 grams of protein.
They do technically contain all 20 amino acids, but the amounts of cysteine and methionine in lentils are negligible, so if you’re watching protein macros, try adding almonds or another healthy nut to even out the numbers.
Other “complete” plant-based proteins include buckwheat, chia seeds and Ezekiel bread. Chickpeas and lima beans are also great sources of protein.
High-protein diets have been known for a long time to help reduce weight, and this is true for both omnivores and people who eat strictly plant-based protein. (32)
However, it’s also true that vegetarians have a lower BMI, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, reduced death rates from heart disease, lowered risk of stroke, less instances of type II diabetes and cancer than meat-eaters overall. (33)
Why? It seems likely that this reduced weight correlation probably has something to do with the health-conscious nature of vegetarians, vegans and others who eat mostly plant-based foods. (34)
Increasing your protein intake (especially in the form of plant foods) is one way to lose weight fast.
My conclusion from this is rather simple:
- Protein is good
- Protein from plant sources need more processing – and give less fat/carb calories
So try some of our raw food recipes or you’ll regret it!