We all know that protein is one of the basic building blocks of life and plays a big role in your fitness and nutrition program. But when most people think about protein, things like meat, eggs and powders are what usually pops into their minds first.
What many people don’t know, however, is that plant-based proteins can be just as good AND easy to find. Yep, veggies with protein . . . it’s true!
And, not only are protein-based plants quite abundant, they’re often times easier and better for your body. Let’s take a look . . .
Plant-based foods are high in fiber, have little to no cholesterol, and are alkalizing to the body. Animal proteins, however, lack fiber and are acidifying to the body. This acidic effect can cause calcium to be pulled from your bones, have decreased oxygen levels in the blood, and have a negative impact on the digestive system.
Alkalizing proteins can lead to less aches and pains in the body, aid in fighting off diseases, help with digestion, better sleep and better moods, and improve memory and concentration.
Incomplete Proteins vs. Complete Proteins
One thing that often scares people away from focusing on plant-based proteins is that most are considered an “incomplete” protein, while animal-based proteins are classified as “complete” proteins.
These classifications can be a bit misleading, however . . . here’s why:
“Complete” proteins refer to foods that have all nine essential amino acids for our bodies to utilize and build protein with. “Incomplete” proteins, on the other hand, have the essential amino acids but are simply low in one or more of them.
But don’t let that deter you, our bodies are amazing in breaking down foods and absorbing the nutrients. During the digestion process, amino acids are broken down and made available for our bodies to use. If you eat a good variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, etc., your body collects what it needs from the available amino acids.
The key in assuring you get the most out of your plant-based proteins is to enjoy a wide variety of them.
Plant Based Proteins
Let’s take a look at some of the best options:
Peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc. not only make for a great snack, but they can also be used on salads, in foods, and as a spread (nut butters). In fact, almonds are among the most nutrient dense foods with 6+ grams of protein per ounce – allowing them to help keep you full longer.
These cruciferous plants have an impressive nutritional profile with a load of health benefits that include reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. One cup of chopped broccoli has 6 grams of protein, while 1 cup of cauliflower has 3 grams.
Popeye taught us all at a young age that spinach was a powerful food! One cup of cooked spinach has 6 grams of protein and is filled with nutrients that are good for your skin, eyes, brain and bones! It’s also a very versatile food that can be added to foods, served as a salad, or thrown-into your favorite smoothie.
This is the king of grains when it comes to protein with a whopping 6 grams in only ¼ cup. It’s also a great addition to other veggies like asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower for a protein-packed side dish!
Pumpkin Seeds/Sunflower Seeds
The next time you carve a pumpkin, be sure to save the seeds! One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains an impressive 10 games of protein. That’s 2 grams more than the same quantity of ground beef! Have them or some equally impressive sunflower seeds as a snack or on your next salad.
Understand that it’s very important that we get enough protein each and every day. While many people may believe that it’s difficult to get enough quality protein (especially from plants), it’s actually quite easy.
As part of your daily protein planning, be sure to focus on proper pre and post workout nutrition (here’s a simple guide).
Regardless of your preferred protein choices, keep in mind that true health comes from a variety of whole foods. If Mother Nature designed it, you should try it!
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.