When the grocery budget gets tight and we have to bunker down yet want to stay healthy, plant-based protein sources such as dried beans that store well are an inexpensive protein source in comparison to animal protein…. Unless your hunting for your food which is not very likely these days.
Protein is an essential part of a nutritious diet, for staying healthy and can be found in more budget-friendly foods such as lentils, beans, peas and frozen or fresh vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.
Some key benefits of protein include the following:
-Protein is required to maintain and grow body tissues
-Protein is a primary component of our muscles, hair, nails, skin, eyes, and internal organs such as our heart which is a muscle that pumps blood day in and day out to keep you alive
-Protein makes up hemoglobin which is our oxygen-carrying red blood cell
-Protein also makes up hormones such as the thyroid hormone which regulates our metabolism and the hormone insulin which transports glucose to maintain blood sugar balance.
-Enzymes in the body are made up of protein and are responsible for catalyzing chemical reactions in the body such as the MTHFR gene which is responsible for converting folate into methyl folate which is then passed along the enzymatic chain of additional reactions.
As you can see protein plays a vital role in maintaining optimal health and the function of various systems which is why we need to obtain protein through the diet.
Often when people think of protein the first things that come to mind are animal protein such as meat, cheese, and eggs. It may come as a surprise that there are many vegetables high in protein along with grains, legumes, and beans.
So, what are proteins exactly and what are the essential amino acids?
Proteins are complex molecules made up of a combination of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein.
The essential amino acids are:
The non-essential amino acids are:
The conditionally essential amino acids are:
An essential amino acid means the body cannot make that amino acid whereas the non-essential and conditionally can be made by the body.
The essential amino acids must be supplied by the diet but it is still important to get the non-essential amino acids through the diet as well as the body may not be able to make a non-essential amino acid due to another deficiency in the body.
Complete protein sources containing all the essential amino acids include beef, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt which is why we always think of these as high protein foods.
Vegetables, beans, and some grains also contain many of the essential amino acids but may be low in some in a couple so a wide variety and plant-based protein foods need to be consumed for a vegan or vegetarian looking for plant-based protein sources.
Vegetables high in protein include:
Sprouted alfalfa seeds – 42% protein
White mushrooms – 37% protein
Chinese Cabbage – 32% protein
Asparagus – 27% protein
Broccoli – 26% protein
Cauliflower – 20 % protein
Brussel Sprouts – 19% protein
Spinach – 26% protein
Grains high in protein include:
Quinoa – 15% protein
Spelt – 15%
Buckwheat – 13%
Legumes, beans, and peas high in protein include:
Lentils – 29%
Broadbeans – 27%
Peanuts – 16%
Soybeans – 30%
Kidney Beans – 27%
Pinto Beans – 25%
Black Beans – 22%
Chickpeas – 19%
(pretty much beans of any type are a great source of protein)
Green peas – 23%
Additional plant-based protein sources include:
These homemade veggie burgers are made with black beans, quinoa and mushrooms as the primary protein source and have been a staple in my life for years now. Make a big batch and freeze the remainder for quick and easy dinners on follow up nights.
This nutritious creamy broccoli salad is another great recipe high in plant-based protein.
Making a homemade chili with beans is a great protein source and will go a long way in times of budgeting.
Adding a tbsp of pea protein powder which is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids into a smoothie in the morning is another great way to ensure you are getting adequate protein in your diet.