Beyond Tofu: 3 Smart Plant-Based Proteins
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Call it what you like: vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, plant-based, vegetable-forward cuisine. It all adds up to us gobbling more vegetables and less meat. "Once we hit 54% of Americans now looking to reduce or completely eliminate meat from their diet, that's not fringe anymore," says Karen Page, author of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. "That's mainstream, and chefs are changing in response to the customers."
There has never been a more delicious time for food lovers to focus on plants.
1. Go for Whole Grains
Grains are a great way to get protein—as long as you opt for whole varieties, since those refined to remove their bran and germ sacrifice up to 25% of their protein, along with a host of other nutrients. Quinoa and amaranth (known as pseudograins because they're technically seeds) are particular favorites because they're complete proteins that boast all nine essential amino acids. But other whole grains, from your morning oatmeal to your lunchtime bulgur salad, offer varying levels of protein as well, so enjoy a variety. There's also meaty-textured seitan, made from wheat gluten and nicknamed "wheat meat." It's best marinated, then baked, fried, grilled, sautéed, or stir-fried.
PROTEIN TALLY: 5 to 9 grams per cup, depending on the variety, for cooked whole grains; 21 grams per 3-ounce serving of seitan
2. Bean Cuisine
"There are far more beans and lentils than there are animal proteins," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Flexitarian Diet. "When I think of Italian food, I think of white beans. When I think of Mexican food, I think of pinto beans or black beans." Garbanzo beans are a natural in Greek and Middle Eastern fare, while edamame is right at home in an Asian stir-fry. Legumes are turning up everywhere—from variations on hummus to roasted chickpea snacks to pastas. And soybeans deserve a special mention, since they're the source of such versatile meatless standbys as tofu and tempeh. "Plants protect people," Blatner says. "And what are they protecting them from? Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer."
PROTEIN TALLY: 7 to 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
3. Add Nuts and Seeds
Whole nuts and seeds are two of the world's easiest and most satisfying snacks. Use toasted nuts as a garnish over salads and oatmeal or incorporated into a veggie burger mix. Nut and seed butters are tasty thickeners in soups and smoothies, and they add great flavor to sauces and dressings; try tahini (ground sesame seeds) as a base for salad dressing. Nut-based flours lend flavor—and protein—to baked goods.
PROTEIN TALLY: 4 to 7 grams per ounce of whole nuts and seeds or nut and seed butter, depending on the variety. They're calorically dense, too (about 170 calories per ounce), so enjoy them in moderation.