Often, the first question people ask when they learn I do not eat meat is, “How do you get your protein?”
Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition. I have them almost every day. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin, and vitamin K but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate, and iron. The article here will tell you how to cook them. They do not need to be soaked like dried beans, and they cook much faster. I always use them in my morning power porridge.
All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet. But because they are high in calories—almonds, cashews, and pistachios, for example, all contain 160 calories and 5 or 6 grams of protein per ounce—choose varieties that are raw or dry roasted. Nut butter should always be natural, not the type that has other ingredients and preservatives added.
Green peas and other organic fruits and vegetables are always in my freezer. I buy only organic and read the label to make sure nothing is added. In the winter months, fresh organic produce in my area is tasteless because it has traveled for many miles and was harvested too early. The frozen organic produce was picked at its peak and frozen right away, so it has better taste and more nutrients. Foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein, and peas are no exception: One cup contains 7.9 grams—about the same as a cup of milk. I still try to buy leafy organic greens even in the winter months. Two cups of raw spinach, for example, contain 2.1 grams of protein, and one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams.
I eat all varieties of dried beans; black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc. One thing all beans have in common is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams (almost the same as a Big Mac, which has 25 grams!).
White beans and farro grain are soaking in water above. Later today, I will drain them, add fresh water, and slowly simmer them on the stovetop for about two hours. I will add spices, dried onion, and blackstrap molasses in the last few minutes of cooking. Do not add salt to the water until the end. Salt makes the beans tough. I will eat them with other vegetables or soups or make them into hummus over the next few days. You can also use canned beans, but be sure to rinse them thoroughly and use fresh water to warm them on the stovetop. They usually have lots of salt added to them when they are canned.
Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are good tossed into salads, fried and salted as a crispy snack, or pureed into a hummus. They contain 7.3 grams of protein in just half a cup and are also high in fiber and low in calories. I use the dried ones, as shown above. You can use canned ones but wash and drain them well before using them.
Chia seeds are an easy way to add protein (4.7 grams per ounce, about two tablespoons) and fiber to almost any recipe. They can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, blended into smoothies. They plump up and take on a gelatinous texture when soaked in water or almond milk to form a rich and creamy pudding-like treat.
Regarding chia seeds in the diets of older women: A reader shared this warning with me. “My sister, who is the caregiver for my mother, who is 85, was making her smoothies with chia seeds and other nuts and fruits. She became severely constipated and had to go to the hospital. Granted, she did not get enough exercise at the time, which would have helped. Please ask your subscribers to be sure to soak the chia seeds before using them. The episode with my mother was traumatic.”
Hemp can be found in some cereals and trail mixes, or you can buy hemp seeds (10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons) and add them to smoothies, pestos, or baked goods. Hemp milk can also be a dairy-free way to add protein to your diet, and it’s even lower in calories than skim milk.
Sesame, sunflower, and poppy seeds are also high in protein and healthy fats. Sunflower seed kernels contain the most protein—7.3 grams per quarter cup—followed by sesame seeds and poppy seeds at 5.4 grams each. Add them to salads, breakfast porridge, or soups.
Nutritional Yeast is an excellent source of protein and many essential amino acids that complement proteins available from other sources. RED STAR Nutritional Yeast contains an average of 50% protein by weight. I sprinkle it into my breakfast porridge, in soups, and into beans in the final cooking stage. It is also a rich source of B-complex vitamins that are important for normal and healthy body functions.
My results are back from my doctor’s visit earlier this week. Bone density, good. My blood test results were all normal. Weight has stayed about the same for the past five years (first time in my adult life!). Blood Pressure 118 / 70. I still do not take any medications, supplements, or vitamins. I get everything I need to maintain my good health from the food I eat. I hope my example and explanations help you improve your food choices to enjoy your best health ever.