Ask the Coaches: What Are the Healthiest Plant Protein Sources?

Q. I’m vegan and prediabetic. What are the healthiest plant protein sources for me to eat?

A.  Getting enough protein without loading up on too many carbs can be a challenge for anyone who eats a vegan diet–and this can be especially tricky for a prediabetic person. Higher-protein diets promote healthy brain function, muscle strength, faster recovery from injury and weight loss (partly because protein helps keep us feeing fuller longer). But all plant plant protein sources are not created equal. Here’s a list of our favorites:

  1. LentilsAt 18 grams of protein per cooked cup, lentils are an excellent source of plant protein. Use them in soups and salads, or pair them with sautéd greens for a hearty meal. Lentils contain slowly digested carbs and can help promote a healthy gut. 
  2. Tempeh: Tempeh is a fermented form of soy that’s high in protein (12 grams per cup!), easy to digest (easier than tofu) and rich in probiotics. 
  3. Edamame: These immature soybeans are delicious steamed or boiled. Eat them on their own or in soups and salads and get 8-9 grams of protein in every cooked half cup.
  4. Black beans: Their dark color indicates their strong antioxidant content, plus they have less starch than other beans. A half cup adds 8 grams of protein to your plate. (Just remember, if you’re having beans and grains as your meal, be sure to skip bread or other carbs.)
  5. Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans): Theses little guys are an excellent source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium and manganese and they pack 8 grams of protein in a cooked half cup. 
  6. Nuts, nut butters and seeds: One ounce contains 5–7 grams of protein, depending on the variety. (Almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds are all great choices.) Since blanching and roasting may reduce their nutrients, choosing raw versions (or better yet, making your own at home!) are your best bet. Be sure to check the labels to make sure there’s no added sugar or salt. 
  7. Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, green beans, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts all deliver 4–5 grams of protein in each cup. Peas have an impressive 8 grams of protein per cup and are also rich in leucine, an amino acid crucial to metabolism and weight loss that’s tough to find in most plant-based foods. 
  8. Nutritional yeast: Sold as a yellow powder or flakes, nutritional yeast has a rich, cheesy flavor, which makes it a popular ingredient in mashed potatoes and sprinkled on salads and popcorn. It has an impressive 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber in every ounce.
  9. Spirulina: Two tablespoons contain a whopping 8 grams of protein, in addition to giving you 22% of your daily iron and thiamin. Phycocyanin, a natural pigment found in spirulina, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Want more information about plant-based proteins? Check out a favorite read of Coach Chloe’s, Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck.

 


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