Eating enough protein is vital to staying healthy and independent in the long run. But there’s new evidence that piling protein-packed plants onto your plate can come with extra health benefits, too.
A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that replacing just 3 percent of calories from animal protein (think red meat or eggs) with a plant protein (like nuts or beans) lowered the people’s risk of early death by 10 percent. Other research has found that plant-based diets can protect you against heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Plants also deliver nutrients such as fiber and phytonutrients that you won’t get from animal proteins. These can help stave off disease and keep gut health on point. Plus, plant-based proteins tend to be low in saturated fat, which is good for heart health.
Even if you don’t want to go completely vegetarian or vegan, plant-based proteins deserve to be a bigger part of your diet. And these picks can give you the most protein bang for your buck — and can be easily worked into the meals you’re already making.
Plant-Protein Powerhouse #1: Split Peas
These humble legumes are far from a one-hit wonder. Sure, they pack 8 grams of protein per half cup. But they also give you about 8 grams of dietary fiber in that serving, too.
Fiber helps reduce cholesterol and improves blood sugar management, which can impact heart and metabolic health. Men and women over the age of 50 should aim to consume 30 and 21 grams of fiber daily, respectively.
Another nutritional highlight of green and yellow split peas is lofty amounts of folate, This is vital for our DNA synthesis and metabolism.
In the Kitchen: Since the peas are split, they cook faster. (Plus, it eliminates the need for a pre-soak that’s needed to cook dried beans.) To get started, simmer one cup of split peas in two cups of water for about 25 minutes. Split peas can also be cooked in a slow cooker. Besides split pea soup and aromatic Indian dal dishes, use the peas to:
- Make dips like hummus
- Provide bulk to casseroles and veggie burgers
- Add protein to vegetable salads
Plant-Protein Powerhouse #2: Tempeh
While tofu is made from soymilk, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. This gives it about double the protein (about 16 grams per half cup) and more flavor. Tempeh has a mild, nutty, tangy taste, and a firm, ‘meaty’ texture that holds up well as a meat alternative.
Tempeh is also rich in other nutrients (B vitamins, iron, and fiber, to name a few). Plus, since it’s fermented, it tends to be easier to digest than beans. Translation: less gas.
In the Kitchen: Tempeh soaks up flavors from sauces and spices very well. So, try marinating plain tempeh patties just as you would steak or chicken. Then you can grill, bake, or pan-fry to cook. Add your tempeh to salads, sandwiches and tacos. Or you can make ground tempeh using the large holes of a box grater and create meat-free versions of these dishes:
- Bolognese sauce
Plant-Protein Powerhouse #3: Peanut Butter
Peanuts are legumes just like split peas and beans. This means they boast a little more protein than other nut butters made with tree nuts (like almonds). In fact, they have about 7 grams of protein per 2-tablespoon serving.
Peanut butter is also a perfect mix of protein and healthy fats, which helps you stay fuller longer. Combined, these two nutrients can help you avoid spikes in blood sugar after a meal. This helps reduce your risk of diabetes — and the sugar crash that can bring on hunger pangs.
To get the most benefit, select a peanut butter that doesn’t include any added sugar or added fats, such as palm oil.
In the Kitchen: Peanut butter is a perfect grab-and-go protein source. Put some on toast with sliced bananas for a quick snack, use it as a dip for apple slices, or add a dollop to your morning yogurt. It also makes a great add-on to smoothies, oatmeal, and creamy sauces for stir-frys.
Plant-Protein Powerhouse #4: Hemp Seeds
Tiny but mighty, hemp seeds have nearly 10 grams of protein in a 3-tablespoon serving. They also contain all nine essential amino acids that your body can only get from food (a key part of keeping muscle mass as we age). And they’re a good source of the healthy fats called omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
ALA has been linked to lowering inflammation which can have heart health benefits.
In the Kitchen: Hemp seeds taste like a cross between pint nuts and sunflower seeds. (No— they won’t get you high like a marijuana plant.) For a boost of nutrition and flavor, you can blend hemp seeds into dips and smoothies, or sprinkle them on:
- Roasted vegetables
Plant-Protein Powerhouse #5: Chickpea Pasta
No shade to regular pasta, but noodles made from chickpeas and other legumes can give you a notable protein and fiber boost. A 2-ounce serving of chickpea-based pasta supplies about 11 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. That’s nearly twice as much protein and three times as much fiber as traditional pasta made from wheat flour.
Boil up a pot of chickpea penne or rotini and you’ll also get more of several vital nutrients such as magnesium, iron, and potassium.
In the Kitchen: These new-generation noodles have definitely improved in flavor and texture over the years. But there are a couple of important things to keep in mind when preparing any legume-based pasta.
- These pastas can go from perfectly al dente to soggy in a matter of moments. So, taste test often as you near the recommended cooking time.
- The noodles also foam quite a bit when in boiling water, so skim it off as needed with a spoon.
- Unlike wheat-based noodles, the legume variety should be rinsed with cold water after draining to remove the starch
Get Your Natural Vitamins A & D from the Sea!
As a person with various ailments, I’d like to add some precautions.
1. If you are on certain Anticoagulants, and I’m sure other medications, be careful when changing the diet. I have to avoid excess Vitamin K, since it promotes clotting, and works against the Coumadin that I take. Excess Vitamin K is the watchword. Technically, with Coumadin, if you routinely eat something with Vitamin K, and you eat the same amount per week, your blood work will reflect that (and dosage adjustments made if needed). Adding more Vitamin K will make Coumadin less effective, but eating less means that you may bleed more than desirable. Grapefruit (not mentioned in the article), seems to interfere with Coumadin in a way not related to Vitamin K.
My point is Food can effect the levels of certain medications, and when changing your diet, be aware this can occur. Ask a Doctor or Pharmacist for guidance.
2. I have long been a proponent of Textured Vegetable Protein used in Hamburgers, Breakfast Sausage Patties / Links, Hot Dogs, etc., and I have consumed many and continue to do so. My objection to meat was originally being grossed out by bone and gristle in poorly prepared Ground Meat (from the store), but my wife now buys cuts of meat, cleans it of excess fat, connective tissue, etc, and grinds it into ground meat. So I am now able to eat more meat that way. But I still like the Meat Substitutes.
Split Pea Soup, I have had flaming heartburn after eating it. Protein is hard to digest. And the other day, my wife and I had Soy Based Pizza Rolls at Lunch, and a Vegetable Burger that evening, we both were in digestive distress.
I think it varies by Product, some are spicier than others. For the largest part we’ve eaten Vegetable Based Hamburgers with no issue, some look like hamburger meat in a general way, some are simply Hamburger Patty shaped pressed vegetables. We’d also buy food, prepared, from a Middle Eastern Food Store (no seating inside, just a counter with a display). Oh, the Spinach Pies (I can’t eat anymore because of Coumadin), but they are available Meat Filled or Feta Cheese as well, they have Hummus (Chick-Peas), I have to limit that due to Coumadin, and they had Baklava and other Desserts. Now I’ll be going back over there soon, LOL.
Peanut Butter……..mmmmm, still a staple after decades and decades. But I have a Twist, I eat Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise Sandwiches, very good, though get the Peanut Butter First, don’t contaminate the Peanut Butter Jar with Mayonnaise. The more Natural Peanut Butters are fine, the oil separates, it just needs to be mixed back in prior to use.
Someone told me they eat peanut butter, mayonnaise and pickle sandwiches. I’m actually thinking about trying one but can’t decide what kind of bread & if I should toast it.
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Start with Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise, not Salad Dressing. I prefer Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise to Peanut Butter and Jelly. Peanut Butter and Honey works nicely. I like Grainy Breads with Butter, but not with Peanut Butter. Basic Whole Wheat is all we buy, never White Bread except for Italian Bread. Oh, our Idea of French Toast is Italian Bread, dipped into Eggs mixed with a little Milk, but once lightly browned, we only use Butter and Salt, never (seldom) Syrup.
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Good to know. Will likely try this weekend or early next week. Right now all we have is sourdough brea6. LOL
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