21 Amazing Protein Sources That Aren’t Meat (And Taste Great)
If you’ve been part of the #fitsquad for a while, you know all about protein. You’ve seen the buff guys and girls with their protein shakes, those trying to lose weight are munching on protein bars and chicken breasts – it seems like everyone is loading up on muscle-building stuff.
And for good reason… Protein is important for every cell in the body. Your body uses protein to build and repair muscles, and it’s vital for our bones, cartilage, skin, nails, hair and blood. So, looking to up the protein in your diet? The good news is there’s no need to stock up on chicken breasts and steaks – you can get it all from plants.
That’s right, even if you’re a vegan or vegetarian you can get enough protein. According to registered dietician and Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson Alex Royal, to get all the essential amino acids, you need to eat a combo of foods, including both grains (barley, whole grain wheat, corn, buckwheat, amaranth and rice) and legumes (beans, peas, peanuts, chickpeas and lentils). If both of these are eaten daily, there shouldn’t be a protein deficiency. So, which are the best sources?
While oats are not seen as a complete protein, they still contain higher-quality protein than wheat and rice. Around 120ml of dry oats give you approximately 4g of fibre and 6g of protein. Bonus: This portion also contains good amounts of magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and folate. The cherry on top? Oats are just so versatile, you can eat them every day.
The little green balls so often relegated to side-dish status contain 9g per cooked cup (240ml). What’s more, a serving of green peas covers more than 25% of your daily fibre, vitamin A, C, K, thiamine, folate and manganese requirements. Plus, peas are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and several other B vitamins. So get creative. Think: pea and basil stuffed ravioli, Thai-inspired pea soup or pea and avo guacamole.
Lentils are a great source, with a 240ml cup providing 18g. Lentils also contain good amounts of slowly digested carbs, and a single cup provides 50% of your recommended daily fibre intake! More good news? Lentils may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, excess body weight and some types of cancer.
Like quinoa, amaranth is a pseudo-cereal, meaning it’s not technically a cereal grain like wheat or oats. The main thing, though, is that this good-for-you stuff contains 9.3g and is a good source of manganese, iron and copper.
Soybeans are considered a whole source. This means that they provide the body with all the essential amino acids it needs. Boom. Add them to your trolley.
And then there’s soy milk – made from soybeans and fortified with vitamins and minerals. Why it’s great? Around 240ml contains 7g. Plus, it’s an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. Note: Soy milk and soybeans don’t contain vitamin B12, so pick a fortified variety.
Tofu is a good source and contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a valuable plant source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese, selenium and phosphorous. Let’s not forget magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Protein bomb edamame is also rich in folate, vitamin K and fibre. Tempeh contains a good amount of probiotics, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus.
Protein and antioxidant-rich nuts are packed with good-for-you fats and are a good source of fibre, iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin E and certain B vitamins.
Fruit and vegetables
Which veggies rock the most? Watercress, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, potatoes and sweet potatoes (about 4 to 5g). Stock up.
Forget white rice. A 240ml cup of the wild kind contains 7g. Other bonuses: wild rice offers up a considerable amount of magnesium, fibre, copper and B vitamins.
Popular among vegetarians and vegans, seitan is made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. (It contains about 25g per 100g.) Note: seitan should be avoided by those who suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Beans contain 15g per 250ml. They’re also an excellent source of carbs, folate, phosphorus and iron. Need more persuading? A bean- and legume-rich diet can decrease cholesterol, help control blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure and reduce belly fat.
Ezekiel bread is made from organic, sprouted whole grains and legumes. These include wheat, millet, soybeans, barley, spelt, lentils and barley. Two slices contain almost 8g, which is slightly more than the average bread.
Oh hey hummus. Chickpeas contain about 15g per 240ml and they’re a great source of fibre, folate, phosphorus and carbs.
Hempseed, from the Cannabis sativa plant, contains 10g of complete, easily digestible protein per 28g. It’s a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, plus it delivers a good amount of magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc and selenium.
Chia seed contains 6g, plus 23g of fibre per 35g. Sprinkle them on your oats for an extra dose of magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Around 185g of cooked quinoa contains 8g. It’s also rich in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron and zinc. Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free and usually grown organically.
Two tablespoons provide you with 8g, 22% of your daily requirements of iron and thiamin and 42% of your daily copper needs. Spirulina is also a good source of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and potassium.
Nutritional yeast’s cheesy flavour goes well with mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu. It contains 14g, plus 7g of fibre per 28g. Definitely worth a try – if you haven’t already…