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Shake Up Your Protein Intake With These Alternatives
Protein is an essential molecule needed for your body to function. Animal sources like meat, fish, and eggs, have the highest amount of protein. Limiting the intake of animal products is becoming more popular which may have a positive impact on your health. But it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients your body needs to perform at an optimal level.
Now we’re not saying don’t eat meat, but there are several plant-based options and meat alternatives that make for great sources of protein. Diversifying your diet will ultimately lead to better overall health and longevity.
Here are some ways you can get your fill of protein you may not have considered.
First, let’s break it down…
Understanding The Basics
Macros or “macronutrients are types of foods that your body needs in large quantities.” Macros that influence you the most are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. When the body is deficient in one or more of these, problems can arise. Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, hypoglycemia, and loss of muscle mass are a few.1 On the other hand, overconsumption of macronutrients like protein, can strain the kidneys and liver or result in calcium loss. Like anything, keeping things consistent is the trick.
Your body uses protein to repair muscles, tissue, bones, and cells. It aids in the health of skin, hair, and nails. There are two kinds of amino acids that make up protein. Essential, and non-essential. Essential amino acids can only be obtained through diet. Non-essential amino acids are naturally made by the body.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids in protein. The human body produces 11 of them. We get the other nine from food. They’re referred to as essential amino acids. Foods that contain all nine of these amino acids are called complete proteins. Complete proteins include…
- Soybeans–tempeh, edamame, tofu
- Hemp seeds
- Chia Seeds
As plant-based eating continues to gain popularity, meat and dairy alternatives that are rich in protein are everywhere, making it easier than ever to keep balanced levels in the body. They’re also a cost-effective option if you're on a budget.
With that said, don’t get too hung up about eating only complete proteins. Getting your protein from multiple sources may help regulate systems in the body and keep things running smoothly.
Aside from promoting gut health, reducing inflammation, and balancing the GI tract, bone broth can be a powerful source of protein. It's often easier on the stomach than beef, poultry, or pork, making it an appealing option for those looking to limit their meat consumption. Bone broth is made by cooking the bones of an animal on low heat to extract amino acids and collagen. This leaves you with a concentrated liquid that can help skin elasticity, hair growth, and hydration. However, not all broth is created equal. Avoid over-processed products that strip away the good stuff you need.
“A legume refers to any plant from the Fabaceae family that would include its leaves, stems, and pods.” A pulse is an edible seed from a legume plant. Pulses include beans, lentils, and peas. They are simple to prepare and contain complex carbohydrates which can keep you feeling full longer. They're also high in fiber and provide you with energy.
Easily confused with nuts, peanuts are actually legumes, and have the highest amount of protein. Lots of peanut butter brands contain sugar and are highly processed. Be sure to look at the label before buying.
Nuts may not have the highest amount of protein, but they’re still worth mentioning. People who are vegan and vegetarian can benefit from eating nuts because they also contain healthy fats, which can be challenging to get enough of without animal consumption. Slathering some almond, pistachio, or walnut butter onto some grain-free seeded bread, is a tasty breakfast with great health benefits.
High protein, low fat, and affordable, lentils are a top choice for digestive health. They promote a healthy microbiome, with high levels of prebiotics. Lentils are a legume and are one of the highest plant-based sources of protein out there. Mixing lentils with other legumes can give you a power-packed, fibrous meal.
Eggs are a great protein alternative to meat. They’re a go-to for anyone looking to scale back on eating animal products. Eggs are full of vitamins, fats, and micronutrients. Not to mention they’re quick to cook and can help you achieve a well-balanced diet.
Another high-protein vegetarian option is quinoa. Quinoa is a complete protein, with “8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber,” per serving. It’s technically a seed but is considered to be a whole grain. Quinoa is gluten-free, making it a healthy choice for anyone with sensitivities. Grain bowls, oatmeal, and salads are popular ways of preparing quinoa.
Have you ever seen buckwheat pancakes on a brunch menu? This seed is showing up in more places and boasts tons of health benefits. You can get 11% of your daily recommended protein with one cup of cooked buckwheat. Buckwheat has many essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B6, and iron.2 It’s commonly used in baking and noodles.
Hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. Not only that, but they’ve got omega-3’s which can be hard to get if you follow a plant-based diet. These tiny seeds give soybeans a run for their money, as they have nearly equal amounts of protein. They're a perfect alternative if you don’t eat soy and may also lead to improved skin and heart conditions.
Each of us will respond to alternative sources of protein in different ways. Changing your diet can be hard, but with so many protein-rich options, getting everything you need isn't so difficult. Consulting your doctor about what’s best for you can help you prevent any unwanted effects that may come with introducing new foods into your diet.
- Macronutrients: USDA National Agricultural Library
- Are Buckwheat Groats a Source of Complete Protein?
Lilith is originally from The Hudson Valley in New York. Growing up in this area made it easy to access the outdoors, and having a healthy, active lifestyle has always been natural to her. Her sense of adventure and curiosity has taken her around the globe, shaping her perspective on life and human connection.
After graduating from SUNY Purchase College in Westchester, NY, she moved to Brooklyn. From there, she got bit by the travel bug and spent three years traveling on and off all over the world, using NYC as her base. She backpacked solo through South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East. After returning from a year-long stint overseas, she moved to Aspen where she spent a winter season on the slopes.
Lilith sees the value of art and incorporates it into her life by doing or seeing at least one artistic thing a week. When she's not geeking out over health and wellness, she can be found checking out a new restaurant, seeing live music, and petting every dog she sees walk by.
She currently resides in beautiful, sunny Los Angeles.