Whether you’ve followed a plant-based lifestyle for a day or a decade, or even if you are just contemplating whether it could be right for you, you’ve likely had to confront the question of whether or not it’s possible to get enough protein without eating animal products. It’s true that consuming too little protein is a common reason some folks who try out a plant-based diet find themselves feeling sluggish and hungry all the time.
Luckily, you need not depend on animal sources or overly processed faux meats to get your protein fix. The plant kingdom offers endless sources of easily digested, complete protein. These five unexpected tricks will help you bolster your daily protein intake easily (and deliciously) with whole, natural foods.
You know how some cooks like to finish a dish with a pat of butter or splash of cream to round out the flavor? Well, you can do the same thing with a tablespoon or two of nut cream or nut butter. This trick will not only bump up the protein content of your meal by as much as 8 grams, but it will also add an unexpected layer of richness and an extra serving of cholesterol-reducing, healthy fats. You can use either a commercial, natural style peanut, cashew or almond butter, or make your own cream by soaking any kind of nut you like overnight and blending with water until smooth. For a neutral but creamy, rich flavor reminiscent of heavy cream, use cashews or raw almonds. For a nutty flavor, use pistachios or toasted nuts of any kind. With their deep flavor, almond and peanut butters are a great secret addition to any heavily spiced sauce, like a curry or barbecue sauce.
bread crumbs can lend a wonderful nuttiness and texture to a dish. Unfortunately, they can also be a relatively empty source of nutrition and add little more than extra calories to your meal. Nuts, on the other hand, can be used to create an almost identical effect, while providing a few extra grams of protein and countless other nutrients. They’re also a great substitution for those following a gluten-free diet.
Simply pulse lightly toasted nuts in the food processor and use them exactly as you would bread crumbs to make a crust for your favorite casserole, to “bread” a protein cutlet before baking or pan-frying, or even to top roasted veggies or a light pasta.
If you’re not familiar with it, nutritional yeast, often affectionately called “nooch” by the vegan community, is a vitamin-packed flaky condiment with an unexpectedly deep, cheesy, umami-packed flavor reminiscent of Parmesan cheese. Because it tastes so good, many don’t realize that it is, true to its name, a nutritional powerhouse boasting a whopping 8 grams of protein in a serving, not to mention high levels of B12 and other nutrients not easily found in a vegan diet. (Don’t let the word yeast in the name scare you: nutritional yeast has been dried and toasted to render it inactive, so it will not unintentionally leaven your food or cause candida-related health issues.)
Stir copious amounts of nutritional yeast into nut creams to make a cheesy sauce, use it to season and thicken a gravy, or simply shake onto everything, from mashed potatoes to pasta to soup to cooked veggies. It can also be mixed with the nut crumbs described above to make a delicious breading.
4. Add legumes to any dish
While many are aware that legumes are an excellent source of protein, it can be difficult to think outside the box and figure out how to incorporate them into your diet beyond the obvious vegetarian chili, black bean burgers, or lentil soup.
Beans and lentils are hearty enough to be the centerpiece of meal, but their mild, yet complex flavor can also work incredibly well as an add-in to any existing dish that would not normally call for them. On its own, a dinner consisting of pasta with marinara sauce, for example, likely would not satiate the appetite or protein needs of an active person. A can of white beans, though, adds much-needed heft and has as much protein as a chicken breast (list your source for this). Similarly, throwing in a can of lentils is a great way to fortify an otherwise-wimpy vegetable soup or stew. Add the legumes at the end of cooking to keep them whole and toothsome, or simmer, blend, or mash them to make a creamy gravy.
Chickpea flour, also known as gram or garbanzo flour, is a common ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking that can be partially or fully substituted for all-purpose flour in most preparations, yet packs at least twice the protein. When baking, swap up to a quarter of the gram flour for all-purpose. For other cooking preparations, use as a 1:1 replacement. Though bitter when raw, this flour has a sweet, almost eggy taste when cooked or toasted. Try dredging pieces of plant-based protein in it before pan-frying to produce a crisp crust, or mix with a fat to create a roux to thicken a sauce or gravy. Chickpea flour also makes a great batter or even egg replacement (think vegan French toast!) when mixed with a non-dairy milk or water
Try out these five small, but powerful ways to add more protein to your meals, and don’t forget that all plants contain protein your body can use to form complete proteins to help keep you feeling well. Obtaining a variety of nutrients from multiple plant-based foods is a great way to achieve overall protein efficiency. See all of our posts on protein and also check out some tips to see if you’re getting enough protein in your current diet.
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Lead Image Source: Quinoa Sweet Potato Noodle Bolognese With Toasted Crushed Almonds