By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD
When you hear “protein,” you probably think of beef, chicken or fish (if you’re a meat-eater). But you might want to consider replacing some of that meat with vegetarian protein sources: foods like soy, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and certain veggies can be lower in saturated fat and contain phytonutrients that may help fend off disease.
Here are five of my favorite plant-based foods that offer at least 5 grams of protein:
1. Asparagus: I bet you didn’t expect this delectable green to make the list! But a cup and a half of cooked asparagus has over 6 grams of protein – that’s about the same as a large egg. This versatile veggie also supplies folic acid (an important B vitamin, particularly for women of childbearing age) as well as vitamin C, iron, and more than 2 grams of fiber per cup.
How to get more in your diet: Grilled or steamed, asparagus make a wonderful side dish. Just season and drizzle with olive oil. Or for a lunch that will help you meet your daily veggie servings, try this delicious
2. Oats: Whole-grain oats pack a serious protein punch, with about 5-6 grams per cup of cooked oats. They also provide beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower blood cholesterol and keeps you fuller longer. Oats’ complex carbs combined with protein and fiber will help keep you satisfied all morning long.
How to get more in your diet: Oats are one of my go-to breakfast foods. I love Modern Oats Nuts & Seeds because it has even more protein than traditional oatmeal due to the 8 different nuts and seeds combined with the oats. One (2.3 oz) serving is loaded with 8 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, making this my favorite filling breakfast. I also use oats to make muffins, cookies, and even “
3. Pistachios: You might think that all nuts are the same when it comes to protein, but they’re not. Pistachios have 6 grams of protein per serving, more than most other tree nuts. In addition to protein, pistachios have plenty of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, antioxidants and other nutrients. Plus, they won’t wreck your diet. Studies show that in-shell pistachios are great for waistline-watchers. Research conducted at Eastern Illinois University and published in the journal Appetite found that people who snacked on in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories compared to those who ate shelled pistachios. The researchers suggest that the empty shells may be a helpful visual cue to help you be a more “mindful” snacker.
How to get more in your diet: Snacking on a handful of nuts is one of the best ways to satisfy a craving for something savory and crunchy. When I’m having an afternoon snack attack, I’ll have in-shell Wonderful Pistachios sweet chili flavor. I also use pistachios as an ingredient when cooking, like in this Pistachio-Crusted Salmon.
4. Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are a great source of protein. With just 2 tablespoons of dried chia seeds, you can add up to about 3 grams of protein to any meal. And they’re packed with fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6—essential fatty acids that we can get only from the foods we eat (the body can’t create them on its own). Some studies show that these beneficial fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and heart disease.
How to get more in your diet: Their mild, nutty flavor makes them a perfect addition to many dishes (including oatmeal and muffins) and even beverages such as smoothies. Toss chia seeds into smoothies, over salads, cereal and yogurt, or even use them as an all-natural gelling agent to help make puddings and jams.
5. Whole Grain Cereals: Whole grain cereals, including those made from whole wheat, buckwheat, barley, KAMUT®, millet, and amaranth can boost your daily protein intake while providing an array of vitamins and minerals. For instance, 1 cup of cooked buckwheat has more than 5.5 grams of protein and 1 cup of cooked millet has over 6 grams of protein. Studies show that adding whole grains to your diet can lower the risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
How to get more in your diet: Getting more whole grains in your diet is simple. Having a sandwich? Swap out white bread for 100% whole wheat and you’ll get nearly 8 grams of protein with 2 slices. For a protein boost at breakfast, look for whole grain cereals that will provide at least 6 grams of protein per serving. One of my favorites is Post Great Grains Protein Blends– Honey, Oats & Seeds. A cup has 8 grams of protein and 6 grams of filling fiber. It has a little sweetness but is still just 8 grams of sugar per serving (about 2 teaspoons). If you’re feeling adventurous, give beef the boot and try a buckwheat burger.
Small changes can lead to big results. What healthy step can you take today?