"but where do you get your protein?"
The age-old question asked by many, to those who have chosen to limit animal products either as a vegetarian, vegan, or "flexitarian". Responses to this inquiry can range from a well-rounded response of protein-rich plants to a sigh and an eye roll. The reality is, meat isn't the only place to get protein. Oftentimes, it may not even the best place to get it.
While plant-based diets grow in popularity, many are starting to see that living a healthy life without animal products--or minimal animal products--is not only possible but enjoyable. The benefits of eating more plants (no matter what side of the fence you land on) extend beyond personal health. Studies show that reducing dependency on animal products greatly impacts the environment for the better.
As makers of a plant-based, complete protein energy bite, we understand that the topic of protein sources can be a tricky one. We hope the following information can be of service for both omnivores and herbivores alike--and we recognize each person needs to hone in on the diet that works best for him/her--so we're not here to pass judgment, just provide some recommendations on plant-based proteins!
What is protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (fats and carbs being the other two) our bodies need for proper function. Protein's job is mainly to build and repair tissue (get swole, yo!), though it serves other important functions as well. Protein is a molecule chained together by a combination of up to 20 different amino acids. Eleven of these our body is able to manufacture on its own, and nine of them we need to ingest. Those nine amino acids are called essential.
There are many sources for those nine essential amino acids, but not all are created equal. We will break down the difference between the most common sources of protein so you can have a better idea of where your protein is coming from, and where you might be able to make small changes, if desired.
ANIMAL PROTEIN (INCLUDES WHEY)
Over the years, meat has been the protein king followed by dairy products. Animal proteins like meat, eggs, and milk, are complete proteins, meaning they provide all of the essential amino acids our body needs. They often contain large amounts of protein and have a high-calorie count. Whey is also an animal product as it is a by-product of milk processing or making cheese. It is dense in all nine essential aminos and is widely used to amp up the protein count in many supplements, bars, and shakes.
Animal proteins are high quality, but they do come at a cost. They are more calorie-dense, and can have negative long term health effects such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.1 The environmental impact of animal protein also greatly surpasses that of plant-based protein.2
PLANT PROTEIN (INCLUDES SOY)
You've probably heard the term "plant based" before and often associated it with "Vegan." While this is not an incorrect correlation to make, it should be noted that one doesn't have to be a vegan to enjoy the benefits that come from consuming healthier sources for protein!
Many plants contain essential amino acids. Some have a lot, others have little, but they all have fewer potential negative health considerations than animal-based proteins. They also offer the amino acids we need on a reduced calorie intake compared to animal proteins. A hundred calories of steak, for example, has 8 grams of protein vs. 11 grams in the same serving of broccoli. (For those of you who love broccoli, rejoice! For those who can't stomach it, don't worry because there are plenty of options out there.)
Not all protein-rich plants contain the nine essential amino acids. If you want to adopt a plant-based diet, it is important to diversify your protein sources. There are a few foods that will give you everything you need, like quinoa, soy, buckwheat, and chia seeds, but you don't need to stress about all nine essentials in every meal to be healthy.3
Combining plant-based protein sources allows you to stay on top of your protein game without extensive effort. Everyday items like a peanut butter sandwich or a helping of rice and beans combine into a complete protein. Plant-based diets encompass such a wide array of amino acid profiles that those who follow a varied, healthful plant-based diet are sure to get all their amino acids with very little effort. 4
When it comes to nutrition and protein sources, it is important to look at what else is included; the complete "nutritional package" if you will. Plants bring with them other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber! Here are some of our favorite plant-based protein sources, and how to use them.
PLANT PROTEIN SOURCES
- 21 g of protein per 1/3 cup
Seitan has been used for centuries by Buddhist monks as a meat substitute.5 It is made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. Seitan should be avoided by those with gluten allergies or celiac, but for everyone else, it's a protein powerhouse. Seitan is not a complete protein alone, but with the addition of soy sauce, which contains the missing amino acid Lysine, it becomes a high-quality protein.
Try it out!
- We love it with bell peppers and onions to make tasty Plant based fajita's!
- ALMONDS: about 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup
- CASHEWS: about 12 g of protein per ½ cup
- PEANUTS (yes we know it's not technically a nut): 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup
Nuts are a well-known source of plant-based protein. Eating any variety of nuts as a snack is a great way to up your protein intake. Many plant-based milk and cheese alternatives are made from nuts too! Making a tasty mozzarella substitute from cashews is not only delicious but perfectly simple!
Peanut Butter itself has 8 g of protein per tablespoon, but if you combine that with some bread it makes a complete protein. Slather some on a piece of protein-rich Ezekiel bread and you have yourself one of the easiest, fastest ways to get a hefty serving of plant-based protein!
- TOFU (The firmer the higher the protein content): about 10 g of protein per ½ cup
- EDAMAME: about 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup
- TEMPEH: about 15 g of protein per ½ cup
Tofu gets a bad rap, but it is incredibly versatile and takes on the flavor of anything you cook it with! If the spongy texture is a problem slice it up and pan-fry it for a more pleasant experience. Tempeh is our go-to. It contains more protein than soy, and has a great meaty texture. Soy and tempeh are both fantastic additives to Asian style dishes, salads, pizzas, and more!
Try it out!
This Tempeh Broccoli bowl pictured above is plant protein perfection
About 9 g of protein per ½ cup.
Lentils come in a variety of colors and flavors. Aside from protein, lentils contain fiber, iron, and potassium.
Lentils are small so they make great additions to many dishes. They can be added to stews, curries, salads, or rice for a protein pump. We like to add them to our home-made veggie burgers.
- About 8 grams per cup, cooked.
Quinoa might not be as protein-dense as others, but it is by itself a complete protein. It is also a fantastic side dish and mixes well into many entrees.
Full of nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese, quinoa does great as a rice substitute and can even be used to make muffins, cookies, casseroles and more. We enjoy it at the bottom of our teriyaki and burrito bowls in place of rice!
- Around 7.25 g per ½ cup.
Chickpeas are the star ingredient in hummus. A protein-rich dip that can make for a complete protein snack when combined with some pita bread. Chickpeas can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes. They can be added to stews and curries, or spiced with paprika and roasted in the oven.
Chickpeas tacos are fantastic and one of our go-to's. (as with tacos of any variety). Fry up some chickpeas with some Mexican style spices and top with a sweet salsa like mango or pineapple for a sweet and savory meatless taco!
- Varies on type. 7 grams per 1/2 cup (black beans
- Check out this list of the healthiest beans out there if you want more!
They might not be fruit but they sure are magic, at least when it comes to plant-based protein. They are full of fiber and variety, but they are not a complete protein. Combined with rice and you get all 9 essential amino acids. A simple bowl of rice and beans with the addition of some salsa and you have yourself a cheap meal that is nutrition-packed.
We love adding black beans to a tofu scramble for breakfast or making some savory Black bean burgers for lunch or dinner!
Try it out!
Black bean burgers are here to stay. Image and recipe at https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12221-black-bean-burgers
- About 4 grams per 2 tablespoons
One of the best plant sources for not just protein, but also omega-3 fatty acids. Chia is also dense in fiber, and you don't need to grow them on a clay head to make your meal. Chia seeds are small and versatile. You can mix them into baked goods, toss them into a salad, or use them to top a spicy veggie dish.
Chia seeds are loaded with nutrients, but what they do best is desert. Chia seeds form a gel when mixed into a liquid and make delicious vegan puddings. They can also be used to replace eggs!Try it out!
- Check out the Chia pudding recipe from our blog on healthy snacks for kids!
PROTEIN RICH VEGGIES
- KALE: About 2 g of protein per cup
- BROCCOLI: About 4 g of protein for 1 medium stalk
- MUSHROOMS: Varies by type, but about 4 g per cup
These are the real veggies in the mix. Overlooked by many, these are unsung heroes. Alone they aren't enough to meet daily protein needs but eaten as a healthy snack or as a side dish, veggies can add up to help you meet your body's protein demands.
Try a salad made from greens with sliced mushrooms topped with quinoa for a protein-packed meal. You can also slice up some veggies to dip in hummus for a healthy protein snack.
Where we stand-
Each individual will need to find his/her optimal mix of plant and animal proteins to live a healthy lifestyle, but we believe that the more plants you can incorporate into your diet, the better!
Trail Truffles has a focus on healthy living and sustainability for our products and we hope to contribute to better outcomes for our customers (and the planet). We are proud to offer a delicious energy bite that has all 9 essential amino acids using our proprietary blend of pea and rice proteins. Our truffles were consciously crafted to not just be decadent, but healthful.
If you want to know more ways you can include protein-rich plants in your diet for any reason, let us know in the comments! Whether you want to try Plant-based proteins for health, environment, or just plain want to switch things up, we want to help!
See you on the trail!
- https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/htcs-shp040919.php, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170419091654.htm
- McDougall J. (2002). Plant foods have a complete amino acid composition. DOI: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000018905.97677.1F
- Do I need to worry about eating ‘complete’ proteins? (2019).
- Tessari P, et al. (2016). Essential amino acids: Master regulators of nutrition and environmental impact? DOI: