Derived from Mother Nature’s bounty, legumes, nuts, seeds, and ancient grains are some of the main ingredients to satisfy a vegetarian or vegan palate and assist in achieving the daily protein requirements in a meat-free, strength-building meal.
While most plant protein sources do not contain all the essential amino acids that make up a complete protein as those found in animal sources, consuming an assortment of plant foods throughout the day will deliver the correct proportion of these fundamental amino acids—the “building blocks” of protein.
Legumes, aka soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, splitpeas, and kidney and lima beans are some primary protein sources in a vegan diet. Soybeans, for example, are a powerhouse in itself, as they are the only legume that provides a complete protein profile. Consumed whole or in soy-based products, they’re low in fat and cholesterol-free, making them effective for weight loss and inhibiting cancer developments.
They also provide a source of calcium which may aid in preventing osteoporosis, and isoflavones to help reduce post-menopausal symptoms. Additionally, beans, lentils and chickpeas offer a versatile addition for a hearty meal. With a wholesome amount of protein, high fibre, and low fat, legumes may also assist with digestion, weight management, as well as lowering glucose and cholesterol in the blood.
NUTS & SEEDS
A little crunch can go a long way when adding nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews to pump up your oh-so-boring meals or to munch on as a snack. Rich in flavour, they provide a source of protein and vitamins such as A, C, and E. A heart healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts help blood vessels function properly by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol,) which reduces the risk of heart disease.
Likewise, seeds such as chia, hemp, and pumpkin seeds, contain many of the same heart health properties. They are nutritious little gold mines as they’re con- sidered a superior plant source for iron and zinc. High in protein, seeds such as hemp are packed with an impressive 10g (three tablespoons), while the nutritional crunch of pumpkin seeds delivers 9g (two tablespoons).
For the carb lover in all of us, ancient grains add a hearty and unique addition to spice up a plant-based menu. The flavourful taste of grains such as spelt, quinoa and amaranth, contain high levels of protein with cooked spelt having 11g (one cup) and amaranth 9g (one cup). With a substantial amount of fibre in addition to vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc and B vitamins, these grains are easily digestible and may lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
As a highly nutritious, dairy- and gluten-free food product, nutritional yeast is prized for its savoury flavour, culinary uses, and impressive dietary value. As a deactivated form of yeast, it differs from baking yeast as it doesn’t froth or foam, so it won’t ferment or rise, like when baking bread.
Sold in powder, granules, and flakes, it’s a marvel ingredient that mimics a cheesy, nutty-like flavour, which is great for those with dairy and nut sensitivities. Fat-free, low in sodium and calories, with an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—nutritional yeast is a powerful seasoning, which also offers a remarkable complete-protein profile with 8g (1⁄2 cup). Purchase “fortified” nutritional yeast, as it contains an added boost of vitamins, like riboflavin and B12. Stir it into vegetables, pasta, soups, salads, or sprinkle over popcorn for a delicious snack. The tasteful, dynamic options are yours to discover.
There are many nourishing meat alternative products on the market to supplement a plant-based, protein-rich diet. Soy-based foods are a popular source, providing versatility, appetizing tastes and unique textures.
Tofu and tempeh, for example, are soybean foods that are commonly served in vegetarian or vegan dishes. Tofu is made from coagulated soymilk which has been pressed of its liquid and molded into blocks. High in protein containing 10g (1⁄2 cup), it has a neutral taste which can take on the flavour of many culinary ingredients. By contrast, tempeh is made from fermented whole soybeans which boasts a strong, nutty flavour. Delivering a substantial amount of protein at approximately 15g (1⁄2 cup), it’s a great meat-replacement for its savoury flavour and hearty texture.
For a soy and meat alternative, seitan, otherwise known as “wheat meat,” is an interesting addition to a plant-powered meal. Made from wheat gluten, it’s similar to meat in texture and appearance when cooked. Low in carbs and fat, and high in protein containing 20g (3oz), it’s also considered a low-energy dense food, as it has fewer calories compared to its serving size.
Lastly, what’s a meal without vegetables? Bursting with vital nutrients, they can help achieve the daily protein requirements, when combined with other plant-based foods. With a diverse assortment in all shades of the rainbow, vegetables can be enjoyed raw, roasted, sautéed, steamed or added to soups, stews, sauces, and even smoothies to amp up meals and satisfy protein intake.
Green peas, for example, are little powerhouse gems. Packed with the antioxidant lutein, they support heart health by fighting cholesterol and preventing plaque buildup, while supplying a decent amount of protein with 8.6g (one serving.)
More Insight: Check out this great article on 8 foods you should avoid at the supermarket.