Because you can only eat so many hard-boiled eggs.
If there is one health trend I keep hearing about in 2020, it’s the move towards a plant-based diet. From the “Veganuary” campaign to a growing interest in the environmental and health impacts of meat production and consumption, there is a palpable rise in the popularity of plant-based eating across the country. If you’re among those who have decided to cut back on meat, you might be wondering how you will get enough protein in your diet, and how to adjust your cooking to accommodate the gaping hole that now exists in your shopping list.
An important place to start might be the question, what exactly is “enough” when it comes to protein? The answer depends on who you ask. According to Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, if you’re getting enough calories, you’re likely getting enough protein. Many nutritionists and scientists say that there has been too much of an emphasis on the importance of protein in the diet, while others argue that a higher protein diet is beneficial, especially if weight loss is one of your goals.
The information overload can be a bit confusing to the average eater. But one guideline I try to follow is to always listen to my body and see how it responds when I add more protein in or take some out. When I don’t eat enough protein, I am constantly hungry and find it hard to push myself in the gym.
Regardless of your personal ideal protein intake, the macronutrient is a core part of most recipes and meals. If you’ve decided to get more protein from plant-based sources, the hardest part can be knowing what to substitute when cooking, eating out, and snacking. So whether you’re going full-on vegan, dabbling in vegetarianism, or just cutting back on the steak and chicken breast every once in a while, here is how you can stay satiated, satisfied, and ready to take on life. Or at least survive your commute home without gnawing off an arm.
Legumes and Grains
For home cooks, adding more beans, lentils, and grains to your weekly menu is both an easy and inexpensive way to pack in the protein. To keep things from getting boring, branch out beyond just black beans and chickpeas and try varieties like limas, navy beans, and lentils. A hearty lentil stew or three-bean chilli is hearty and packed with protein.
Quinoa is sometimes thought of as the only high-protein grain, but there are many whole grains that are rich in protein (and super yummy to boot). Get creative with grains like amaranth, kamut, and buckwheat, and by making different varieties of grain bowls. I like to keep a big batch of grains in the fridge and mix them up with whatever roasted veggies I have on hand, some pickled or fermented veggies, and top it all off with a fried egg.
I know it might sound strange, but there are certain veggies that have that delicious umami, meaty taste and texture, and make an excellent stand-in for animal protein in recipes. Try an eggplant “meatball” sub or a grilled portobello mushroom in place of a burger with all your favorite fixings and satisfy all your cravings.
Moderation is key here, but products like Beyond Meat, the Impossible Burger, and other alternative meats, can really hit the spot when a craving strikes. The OG of vegan proteins, soy products (think tofu, tempeh, and edamame) can be excellent options. I like tempeh because it’s fermented and less processed than tofu, with a chewy texture that soaks up marinades and sauces.
Smoothies are an excellent (and obvious) way to pack plenty of fresh produce into your diet, but they also give you endless opportunity in the protein department. Nuts and nut butters, seeds, Greek yogurt, milk, and even certain fruits (like guavas, avocados, and apricots) contain protein. And while it’s always best to get your protein from natural sources, protein powder as an occasional supplement can help with protein intake, especially on those days when you’re running short on time and don’t have anything prepped in the fridge. I especially like these after I work out to make sure I give my hard-working muscles the support they need to recover and grow. My current favorite is KOS chocolate protein, because who doesn’t want to feel like they’re drinking a milkshake for breakfast?
Sometimes you’re on the run and just need something easy to grab and go. Some of my favorite DIY protein-packed snacks are roasted chickpeas, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and apples or celery with nut butter.
For packaged snacks you can buy on the go, you can’t beat the convenience of a protein bar. My recent obsession is Barebells bars, which pack 20 grams of protein and only 1 gram of sugar into a protein bar that tastes just like a Snickers. It’s my go-to for an on-the-run breakfast or to beat the 3 p.m. slump. Companies are also now coming out with innovative snacks like plant-based jerky and protein cookies to give you a convenient and portable way to meet your daily protein goals.