Have you been considering reducing animal protein in your diet? Research shows there are benefits of doing so, such as fighting diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and combating inflammation. But many people wonder, will eating less meat mean not getting enough protein? The answer is it does not have to.
If you are a “meat and potatoes” kind of person, it can be very scary to think about cutting back on meat. If you are not ready to jump into a vegetarian eating style immediately, try eating meatless on Mondays or make three dinner meals this week vegetarian.
Here are some foods that can help you maximize your protein intake on a plant-based meal plan:
- Beans, peas and lentils—These foods are high in protein, as well as fiber, and are low in unhealthy saturated fats. Use beans in place of meat in chilis, soups and tacos. Have a black bean burger or lentil shepherd’s pie for a meal, or reach for hummus with whole grain crackers or veggies for a snack.
- Nuts—All nuts contain protein and healthy fats. Walnuts particularly are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to help many body systems function optimally and may help reduce inflammation. A small handful of walnuts in your oatmeal or on a salad adds a delicious and nutritious crunch to your meal.
- Seeds—Flax, hemp and chia seeds are other popular sources of protein. Grind these whole seeds or purchase already ground to access the omega-3 oils, vitamins, minerals and protein they contain, as whole seeds will pass through the body undigested. Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds also make great additions to rice and vegetable dishes or baked in breads.
- Tempeh, tofu, edamame—These high protein, high fiber soy foods may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Try tempeh on a sandwich, or cook some soft tofu in a pan with peanut sauce and stir fry vegetables for a quick dinner.
- Quinoa—This protein-packed, versatile whole grain can be eaten in place of rice, or as a breakfast cereal (check out a recipe on page 10 of the Yummy Benefits Cookbook, Volume II). Try white, red and black quinoa to see which is your favorite.
- Other whole grains—Whole grains can be another good source of protein. Including choices like whole oats, bulger, amaranth, corn or wheat in meals will provide protein as well as vitamins, minerals, iron, and fiber.
- Vegetables—Peas, broccoli, mushrooms, kale, collards and a host of other vegetables can also add a little protein to your daily intake, though these foods are not considered high in protein. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables to pack your plate with disease-fighting antioxidants for good health.
When choosing plant-based eating, it is important to note that not all foods that are labeled as vegan or vegetarian are healthy. Limit your intake of processed meat substitutes such as soy burgers or sausages as these likely contain added sodium. Instead, choose from whole plant-based foods like those listed above.
For more information on increasing your intake of plant-based foods, contact your VA registered dietitian.
Franella Smith Obi is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist with nearly 20 years of clinical nutrition experience. She obtained her master’s degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University in 2015, and has written two novels to date. Currently, Franella provides nutrition and health counseling to veterans at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Greenville, South Carolina and is working on her third novel.