‘So, where d’you get your protein then from, huh?’
Oh, that question.
Well, contrary to popular belief, protein is abundant in plants. What’s more, plant protein is actually more bio-available than animal protein, which means it’s less taxing for the body to digest and assimilate. Clean, healthy protein that leaves you energised – what’s not to love?
So, what are the best sources? And how can you get them into your diet today?
Here are my top 15 plus a few easy peasy recipes:
1. Beans, beans and more beans!
Beans are yummy, wallet-friendly, filling, full of B vitamins, and packed with healthy protein.
If you’re worried about any – ahem – digestive issues with beans, try this: when boiling up your beans, scoop off the froth that appears as the beans cook, about three or four times during the cooking process. You can also add a one-inch piece of seaweed to the cooking water. This will magically make your beans more digestible. For extra brownie points, sprout your beans and eat them raw!
Eat them whole, cut up into salads, or made into homemade milk, like so:
Soak a cup of almonds overnight, then rinse and drain them and blend them up with a litre of water. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag, and voilà! You can pep it up with some honey and vanilla if you like.
Quinoa is a protein VIP -or ‘perfect protein-, since it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and repair. It’s also packed with manganese, fibre, iron and magnesium.
Make up a big batch at the beginning of the week so you have some on hand for use in quinoa ‘porridge’, soups, or as a base for salads.
4. All types of nuts
Nuts are very rich in protein. But always soak them for at least eight hours – this breaks down their in-built enzyme inhibitors, making them easier to digest.
You can make homemade nut butter by whizzing one cup of unsoaked nuts in a food processor until they turn into a paste.
5. Chick peas
Chick peas are part of the legume family, a great family to get to know if you’re looking to boost protein intake.
Make your own delicious houmous by combining a can of/cup of cooked chickpeas, a tablespoon of tahini, a clove of garlic, and the juice of half a lemon in a food processor.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product and is a delicious source of protein and a good meat replacement. You can substitute tempeh for any type of meat in your favourite carnivorous recipe.
7. Leafy greens
Greens are surprisingly high in protein. You can’t go wrong with leafy greens!
For a burst of energy in the morning, make a delicious green smoothie by blending:
Hemp seeds are absolutely packed with protein, good fats, zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium. Add them to smoothies, sprinkle them on salads, or nibble on them on the go. Hemp powder is an excellent non-dairy replacement for whey protein powders.
You can even make milk from hemp seeds, using the same method as for the almond milk, but this milk is even easier because the seeds don’t need to be soaked in advance.
9. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are an incredibly healthy source of protein. They are also packed with calcium, antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids.
For a nutritious version of tapioca pudding, soak two tablespoons of chia seeds in four tablespoons of water and leave for 15 minutes. Mix in a mashed banana, a pinch of cinnamon and a splash of almond milk and you’ve got yourself the perfect, protein-rich breakfast or pudding.
10. Sesame seeds
These little protein powerhouses are so yummy, and perfect sprinkled on breakfast cereal, dips, salads or soups.
Also, try incorporating tahini (sesame seed purée) into your diet. It makes a great salad dressing whisked up with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt.
Seitan is a great meat substitute. It can be used as a healthy replacement for any recipe that calls for poultry.
Yes, chocolate has protein! And it’s even better if you use the raw version, called cacao, in powder, paste, or bean form. Not only is it full of protein, but it also contains a healthy dose of magnesium, antioxidants, and dopamine – the happy hormone.
Munch on delicious cacao beans as a snack, or make chocolate ‘nice’ cream by placing two frozen bananas in a food processor with three tablespoons of cacao powder, and process for about two minutes.
Confusingly, buckwheat is not a type of wheat, but a seed, and a relative of rhubarb (who’d have thought it). So those with a gluten intolerance will digest this plant no problem. Buckwheat kernels, or ‘groats’ are great as a base for porridge if you’re bored with oats. Even better, they sprout beautifully. Watch this space for a sprouted buckwheat breakfast recipe.
This blue-green algae is an acquired taste to put it mildly, but if you manage to get at least a teaspoon a day into your diet by sneaking it into highly flavoursome smoothies, soups and even salad dressings, you are giving your body a turbo-charged nutritional boost. Spirulina is a powerful antioxidant, and is full of minerals and amino acids. As a comparison, Spirulina is between 60 and 70 percent protein, whereas beef is only 22 percent. Just saying.
Lentils are brilliantly versatile, filling, cheap, and, what’s more, bursting with protein. Try making up a big batch of red split lentils for the week and using them as a base for soups, salads, casseroles etc.
Lentils are also excellent sprouters – more on this soon.
So there you have it. 15 easy but powerful ways to boost your protein using only delicious and healthy plant foods.
Artwork by Chloe Dunn