Nutrition

How to get enough protein from plants

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Nutrition

How to get enough protein from plants

If you're trying to eat less meat—or go meatless altogether—getting enough protein might not be as hard as you think. In fact, though meat has traditionally been the cornerstone of Western-style meals, there are all kinds of plant-based protein sources that are just as (or even more) healthful. And as more of us begin to consider the health and environmental benefits of replacing meat and animal products with fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, it's good to know that we can get all of our protein needs from these plant-based foods.

Protein is not only important for building muscle and repairing tissues; it's also super-filling. According to Health Canada, the average adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of body weight. That means a 154-pound (70-kilogram) adult needs about 56 grams of protein a day. If you're very active or recovering from an illness or injury, you may need more.

When it comes to getting your protein needs from plants, variety is key, says Casey Berglund, Calgary-based registered dietitian and founder of wellness company Worthy and Well. "Throughout the course of the day and throughout the course of a week, you need a variety of foods that have a variety of amino acids. Your body will combine them to form complete proteins."

Here are some of the foods you should be eating to help meet your body's protein needs, and how much protein each contains.

Legumes
Legumes are some of the most healthful protein sources around. When combined with grains, they can make a complete protein, but you don't need to eat them at the same time to get the benefit. Legumes are great in soups, stews and salads.

Lentils (cooked, 1/2 cup): 9 grams
Black beans (cooked, 1/2 cup): 8 grams
Chickpeas (cooked, 1/2 cup): 8 grams
Kidney beans (cooked, 1/2 cup): 8 grams

Grains
"We classify grains as carbohydrate or starch, but grains in their whole form have a significant amount of protein," says Berglund. Check for "whole grain" on the label when you buy flours, and try these grains in salads or as the basis for protein-rich breakfasts.

Steel-cut oats (dry, 1/4 cup): 7 grams
Quinoa (cooked, 1/2 cup): 4 grams
Sprouted bread (1 slice): 4 grams
Buckwheat (cooked, 1/2 cup): 3 grams
Millet (cooked, 1/2 cup): 3 grams
Barley (cooked, 1/2 cup): 2 grams

Soy products
Long used by vegans and vegetarians as a meat alternative, soy products are loaded with protein. Marinating tofu or tempeh can offer flavours similar to meat, and you can toss them into stir-fries or soups.

Tofu (firm, 1/2 cup): 20 grams
Tempeh (1/2 cup): 16 grams
Edamame (1/2 cup): 9 grams
Soy milk (1/2 cup): 4 grams

Seeds
Seeds can serve as an easy and natural protein addition to just about any meal. Sprinkle them on a salad, over a stir-fry or into a smoothie. They also come with healthy fat and fibre.

Hemp hearts (3 tbsp): 10 grams
Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup): 7 grams
Chia seeds (1 tbsp): 3 grams
Tahini (1 tbsp): 3 grams
Flaxseed (1 tbsp): 2 grams

Nuts
Like seeds, nuts can be sprinkled on almost anything (think salads, noodle dishes, oatmeal—even desserts), but they can also be eaten plain as a snack. And don't forget about nut butters, which are delicious spread on crackers or used in sauces.

Peanuts (1/4 cup): 9 grams
Almonds (1/4 cup): 8 grams
Peanut butter (2 tbsp): 8 grams
Pistachios (1/4 cup): 7 grams
Almond butter (2 tbsp): 4 grams
Walnuts (1/4 cup): 4 grams

Vegetables
"You do get small amounts of protein from vegetables; it's just not as significant as some of those grains and legumes," says Berglund. But it all adds up—not to mention the other health benefits these foods offer.

Kale (1 cup): 2 grams
Broccoli (chopped, 1/2 cup): 1 gram
Spinach (1 cup): 1 gram
Mushroom (sliced, 1/2 cup): 1 gram

Get five high-protein vegetarian breakfast ideas.

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Nutrition

How to get enough protein from plants

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