Eating and finding yourself hungry an hour later can really be a pain, especially if you’re at the office or in the midst of a busy day elsewhere. While we all love to eat, a nagging and gurgling hunger can interfere with our ability to focus on anything except getting food and getting it pronto! Hunger after a meal can be a sign of many things, some of which include: problems with digestion that isn’t allowing your body to absorb the nutrients, consuming too many high glycemic foods that cause your blood sugar to spike after meals giving you a false sense of hunger, eating processed foods over whole foods, eating too little, or not eating enough protein.
Now, before you think “It’s not hard to get enough protein,” know that it’s not always about not getting enough protein, but choosing the best sources and implementing them at meal time. All foods technically have traces of protein, but some have a greater ability to satisfy us and turn off those hunger signals in the brain than others do. Foods are like messengers once they are in the bloodstream; they all tell our brain many different things. For instance, fats tell our brains to stop eating and that we’re full very quickly, which is why we don’t need a huge amount of them to get enough but why we do need some. Carbohydrates tell our bodies to produce more insulin, which isn’t bad in small amounts, but in excess can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels or overeating, and proteins, they simply provide a nice balance between fats and carbs. Proteins allow our bodies to utilize insulin efficiently without spiking our blood sugar, and they signal satiety to let us know we’re full. They also take longer to digest and burn more calories doing so.
When choosing plant-based proteins, be sure you choose options that are complete proteins when possible, but also don’t neglect others that are known for their high protein content.
Here are some of the best protein-rich, nutritious foods with other benefits to put on your plate:
Hemp seeds are one of the densest source of proteins you can eat that are also the easiest to digest. They’re also a complete protein source unlike many other seeds that are high protein but don’t offer all the essential amino acids your body needs like hemp seeds do. Hemp seeds are also quite satiating due to their large amounts of magnesium which further lowers blood sugar levels. They’re also wonderful sources of iron for a healthy metabolism and omega-3 fats that also help quell the appetite.
Chickpeas, lentils, peas, and edamame are excellent choices of protein. Though most of these are not complete proteins (except edamame), all of them are lower in starch than beans, which makes their protein a bit easier to digest for many people. The body absorbs typically digest protein faster and easier when nothing else is competing with digestion (such as fat and starch) in heavier amounts. Legumes are also lower on the glycemic index than beans (or grains), and extremely rich in fiber. Chickpeas has 8 grams of protein in 1/2 cup, lentils have 9 grams in 1/2 cup, peas have 8 grams in 1/2 cup, and edamame offers 12 grams in 1/2 cup. Cook these as a side dish with some non-starchy veggies and greens, or use them as the base for a vegetable soup. Aside from edamame, other whole food sources of non-GMO soy, such as tofu or tempeh, are also good choices if you enjoy them.
One of everyone’s favorite pseudo-grains, quinoa is packed with all essential amino acids and high amounts of magnesium to satisfy your appetite. It’s also a great source of B vitamins that give you energy. This prevents your body from turning to sugary foods because it needs a quick sugar high for energy (that goes away shortly after), and instead receives nourishment from real food to give you longer amounts of sustained energy and satisfaction. Quinoa is also easy to prepare in multiple ways, whether on the stove top as a side dish, in a soup, as a pilaf, or tossed on top of some leafy greens with veggies as a salad.
Not many greens have the ability to satisfy your appetite quite like spinach (kale is a close second with a bit less protein). Though spinach isn’t a complete protein source, it still packs 5 grams of protein in one cup, making it easy to add 10 grams of protein to any meal with a couple cups. A green smoothie, salad, steamed greens, or added to a whole grain or grain-free wrap are all great ideas. Since it has a lovely flavor that’s slightly sweet, it’s also one of the most enjoyable greens to add to any meal. Spinach is also a great source of iron, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A and C.
Not many nuts offer a large amount of protein in small amounts like almonds do. Containing 7 grams in just 1/4 cup (and the same amount in 2 tbsp. of almond butter), these nuts are truly powerhouses of nutrition. Their healthy fats, magnesium, and protein content combined make for a truly satisfying addition to any meal or snack. Since they’re also sweet and nutty, they pair wonderfully with a variety of foods or on their own.
Plant-Based Protein Powders
Whole-food based, plant-based protein powders are some of the best, easiest to use foods to get in more protein in a small, easy-to-use serving. Many options are the market contain nothing more than raw seeds, such as hemp, sacha inchi, flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds. Many other plant-based proteins and blends are now being made with yellow pea protein that offers one of the best, easiest to absorb ratios of amino acids of all protein powder options. Whichever option you choose, do your best to purchase one that’s certified non-GMO and free of additives and sugar when possible. Add these to a smoothie; mix them with some almond milk, chia seeds, and coconut flour to make a yummy protein pudding; mix them with water or almond milk with ice as a quick post-workout shake; or bake with them and put them an energy bite or bar recipes as another option. If you choose a good brand, these are really just as beneficial as grinding your own seeds at home. Sprouted grain protein powders are also available if that’s something you’re interested in too.
Don’t Forget About Other Seeds Too…
Aside from hemp seeds, tahini (sesame seeds), pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are also good sources of protein (chia is even a complete source). Add more seeds to your diet and you’ll likely feel more satisfied thanks to their high amounts of protein, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Others such as sunflower and flax seeds are also good options, though not quite as high in protein as these other options.
Remember that aside from protein, getting in enough high-quality vegetables is essential to keeping you full. Leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and root vegetables are all excellent choices to add to your meals to nourish your cravings, keep you full, and balance your blood sugar.
What’s your favorite source of protein to keep you satisfied?
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