We know protein is not just healthy but essential for life. Many people are beginning to cut back on meat – or cut it out entirely – either for health or budget reasons. So, how can we make sure that we are still getting enough protein in our daily diets? Whether you have decided to try “Meatless Mondays”, are going full vegetarian, or are pregnant and just need some extra daily protein, there are TONS of protein sources in the real foods you are eating every day without having to resort to highly processed supplements that often contain fillers, preservatives, sweeteners and artificial flavors. Here are some of the best:
- Eggs – We’ll start with the obvious! Eggs are often the first thing people think of when they try to name non-meat protein sources. An average sized egg has 6 grams of protein that is almost equally divided between its white and its yolk. So, go boil it, fry it, scramble it, poach it, bake it, or salad it today! (By the way, I just learned a super cool trick from my new friend, Bonnie! Did you know that you can poach a whole bunch of eggs and store them in cold water in the fridge?!? Internet sources say they’ll keep anywhere from 2-5 days. I’ll leave that up to your discretion…)
- Beans – Boil up some shelled edamame beans, and in only a few minutes, you’ll have 8.5 grams of protein per half cup! Chickpeas can be served plain as a side dish or in a salad, pan fried and salted, or blended into a delicious hummus with 7.5 grams of protein per half cup. Kidney, lima, black and white beans also all have about 7-8 grams per half cup.
- Cottage Cheese – A well kept secret in the protein world! This humble dairy product contains 25 grams of protein per cup. That’s more than the average hamburger patty!!
- Nuts – A handful of raw or toasted almonds can be added to almost anything:
cereal, oatmeal, salad, cooked vegetables, pasta salad, and more! A good sized handful is about one ounce,which has 6 grams of protein! Nut butters are also an excellent option. In addition to peanut butter, alternatives like almond or sunflower butters are available in most grocery stores these days. Just be sure to look for ones that don’t have sugar and other unnecessary ingredients. Definitely avoid the ones with hydrogenated oils on their ingredient lists.
- Kale and spinach – Another add-to-anything option. From eggs to salad to pasta to smoothies, these leafy greens are uber-versatile and will give you up to 5 grams of protein per cup along with fiber, calcium, iron, and a slew of other nutrients without adding a lot of extra calories!
- Broccoli – cooked or raw, one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8 grams of protein! Broccoli goes great with the eggs we were talking about or can be dipped in the hummus mentioned above. When I was growing up, my mom used to chop it in tiny pieces and put it on pizza!
- Peas – Like broccoli, green peas have about 8 grams of protein per cup! They can be serve in or alongside most savory dishes. They can also be blended into a delicious, bright green pesto to serve on pasta, vegetables, eggs or to use as a sandwich spread.
- Sunflower or pumpkin seeds – these are the favorite snack of many pregnant women. Throw a small jar of seeds in your purse and you can grab a handful any time for a quick, healthy snack that’s high in protein. 7-8 grams per quarter cup (about 1 good sized handful).
- Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) – If you haven’t discovered this versatile food, now is the time! It has more than 8 grams of protein per cup, including all nine essential amino acids. This seed that functions as a grain can be added to soups, used as a hot breakfast cereal, or can be used to replace rice in many recipes. The trick is to cook it until the ‘curly-Qs’ have popped out and it is no longer crunchy. (You’ll know what I mean when you see it!)
- Greek Yogurt – This one comes in at a whopping 15g per 6-oz container. Greek yogurt is delicious on its own, and it also makes a great substitute for sour cream and even cream cheese in many recipes.
There are many more ‘exotic’ options such as chia seeds, hemp, and meat alternatives like seitan, tofu or tempeh. But even using everyday, easy to obtain ingredients with which you are already familiar, it is easy to get all the protein you need every day! Also, keep in mind that most vegetables and whole grains have at least a couple grams of protein in each serving. If you are tracking and charting your protein, be sure to include these. They add up! However, tracking is generally not necessary. As long as you are eating a variety of real foods at every meal, your body should be getting everything it needs!