I wish that everyone screaming, “you can’t give up meat because your body needs protein!” would calm down and just look at the alternatives. There are a number of reasons why you may choose to eat meat-free meals- you may be vegetarian or vegan, and they are often cheaper and lower in calories. Despite what some skeptics may try to lead you to believe, you don’t have to trade in on protein when opting for a meat-free meal, and can still eat foods rich with complete proteins.
Now ‘complete proteins’, what are they?! This term relates to amino acids, which are the building block of protein. In total there are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein, but of these, nine are the essential amino acids which means we need to consume as food, because our body cannot make them on its own.
A plant-based diet offer s great variety of protein ‘building blocks’, as well as eggs and dairy, but there are plenty of different ways, some you may not expect, to obtain your fix of complete proteins. Here are some of my favourites:
1. Quinoa (8 grams of protein per 1 cup serving, cooked)
This food looks similar to couscous, but contains plenty more nutrition. Packed with fibre, iron, magnesium and manganese, it’s an incredibly versatile food that can be used in baked goods like muffins and biscuits, and is a great substitute for rice.
2. Buckwheat (6 grams per 1 cup, cooked)
With some studies showing that it may help with circulation, lower blood cholesterol and also in controlling bloody glucose levels. Most people eat these seeds by grinding them into flower or cooking them in similarly to oatmeal.
3. Chia (4 grams per 2 tablespoon serving)
Pronounced chee-ah, this food you’re sure to have heard of with all the cool and healthy kids munching on them for breakfast, soaking them overnight in milk or water. The highest plant source of mega-3 fatty acids, and with more fibre than flax seeds or nuts, they are a brilliant addition to healthy puddings, smoothies, or as eggs in vegan baking.
4. Soy (10 grams per ½ cup serving- firm tofu)
Truly earning its status as a substitute for the meat-free, there are so many different forms and combinations of Soy products. For many, it is an acquired taste, which is why I am loving Vitasoy’s new blended milks range with Soy & Almond Milk, which means I get the benefits of soy, with the great almond taste.
5. Mycoprotein / Quorn (13 grams per ½ cup serving)
Not familiar with this one? Developed to fight global food shortages, is grown from fungus, packed with complete protein, and is considered part of the mushroom family.
6. Brown Rice and Beans (7 grams per 1 cup serving)
Simple and easy. Most beans are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice is the opposite, so combining the two makes them a pretty powerful power combo. Substituting lentils or chickpeas in for beans is another option, and a great way to load up on protein and carbohydrates after high intensity exercise.
7. Hummus and Pita (7 grams per 1 whole-wheat pita and 2 tablespoons of hummus)
Similar to rice, the protein in wheat (pita) is only deficient in lysine, which chickpeas (hummus) makes up for. Chickpeas have quite similar amino acid characteristics to most legumes, so mix up your hummus recipe with cannellini, edamame, or other kids of beans.
8. Spirulina with Grains or Nuts (4 grams per 1 tablespoon)
While spirulina alone is not a complete protein, throw in some grains, oats, nuts or seeds and you are good to go! Include it in a smoothie, or some energy balls and bars.
9. Ezekiel Bread (8 grams per 2 slice serving)
This ridiculously nutritious load contains all of the essential amino acids, consisting of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt. A bread that is most commonly made using sprouted grains, this helps with its digestibility and it significantly increases the bread’s fiber and vitamin content.
10. Whey Protein
If you’re unable to work in any of the above into your recipes, whey protein is a really easy and effective way to boost your protein intake. There are a huge variety of flavours and forms of whey protein on the market with a particular favourite of mine being the wholefoods Organic Bio-fermented Pea + Brown Rice Protein Powder from IsoWhey.