Plant-Based Proteins

As mentioned, protein is something I worry about. Being gluten free, I no longer get benefit of the protein in whole wheat, though I have, as mentioned, added in other gluten-free whole grains. My tendency in the past was to head straight for the carbs. And while I *do* sometimes retreat to my comfort foods, I have become a voracious vegetable consumer (sorry mom!). In swapping one food for another, I find that I have to remember to add protein to my meals.

I’ve done a great job of this, in my (rarely) humble opinion, but realize that many people — at least based on my discussions with friends during Meatless Month — still have questions about vegetable-based protein. For the purposes of this, I’m going to include grains in the discussion.

So here’s a quick primer.

  • Beans / Legumes / Pulses. Every week, I make a huge batch of beans — rotating types, of course — in my pressure cooker. These beans form the basis of meals throughout the week. I freeze some for those nights when I, um, crave black bean soup but have more ingredients than time. Oh, and get your protein, carbs, and fiber all in one place!
  • Broccoli. Yes, broccoli! A cup of broccoli contains about 8.1 grams of protein. Who knew? And, thank you broccoli for helping me reach my protein count today.
  • Cacao. Or, as we know it, the basis of chocolate. Not a huge source of protein, but when you’re stress eating or craving chocolate, remember there is a bit of protein also with all the other goodness.
  • Leafy Greens. Okay, you’re not going to get *huge* quantities of protein from leafy greens, but spinach and its friends contain small amounts of protein. So, go ahead, eat that salad.
  • Lentils. Nobody is surprised that lentils are on my list (though, because I’m making this alphabetical, they’re not listed at number one). Carbs and protein in one tiny, quick-cooking package. Seriously, you can have lentils on the table in under half an hour.
  • Nutritional Yeast. I use nutritional yeast in a variety of recipes. It adds a, well, cheesy kind of flavor (see this recipe for Cheetos-style garbanzo beans), and it’s a great source of B vitamins and protein. Plus it’s a good gluten-free ingredient to keep on hand. If you’re looking at a vegan diet or cooking for a vegan guest, nutritional yeast is totally kosher for people following that approach.
  • Nuts. Confession: I have totally reignited my childhood love for peanut butter. And added cashew butter to my list of favorite foods. Actually, I’m a huge fan of nuts (as evidenced by the massive bag of walnuts in my kitchen). You get lots of protein and essential fat from nuts. If you’re avoiding nuts due to their calorie count, stop! They are a great addition to your diet plan.
  • Quinoa. While quinoa is *technically* a seed, it’s popularity as a gluten-free grain elevates it to a spot of its own. Quinoa is a complete protein, making a great source of this key macronutrient for people who follow a plant-based diet.
  • Seeds. Pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, squash, chia, flax. The list goes on and on. Protein and fats are key components of seeds. Chia and flax seeds get a special shout-out here because they also make great binders. Try chia seeds when making meatloaf or meatballs (or veggie balls). Seeds also help you up your fiber intake!
  • Spirulina. Yeah, it’s algae, and I totally make fun of my husband whenever he drinks his green juice (it’s the green-juice mustache that cracks me up). However, if you’re looking for a good source of plant-based protein, try spirulina in your smoothie.
  • Tofu / Tempeh. Tofu and tempeh are two soy-based foods that work really well in all kitchens. Tofu is versatile and a flavor chameleon. It absorbs lots of flavor, and I have been surprised to discover I prepare tofu dishes at least once a week. Tempeh, on the other hand, is a new flavor me. It’s a fermented soy product packed with nutritional. The texture makes it great as a meat substitute in chilies. Note: read ingredients carefully because not all tempeh products are gluten free.

What are your favorite kinds of plant-based proteins?

Tip of the Week

Looking for a simple “how much protein in that plant?” chart. The Holy Kale has put one together for you. Nice.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

I love this vegetarian chili, and, if you can find gluten-free tempeh, suggest you add it to your repertoire (otherwise, use baked tofu). It’s a good gateway into non-meat chili. The tempeh is very meaty, adding lots of chewy texture. And protein.

I’ve found that I use my InstaPot every week to cook beans, so while I’m doing the other prep for this chili, the (unsoaked) beans are cooking and ready to be tossed into the pot in about 25 minutes (counting time to get up to pressure, then about 20 minutes, max in my machine, to cook).

I will admit the Miso-Tempeh chili recipe I used was…unorthodox (and I added a bit more cumin, because chili needs cumin). The two kinds of beans are a nice touch, but not required. And, I’m going to be honest, the miso added a really nice flavor; if you’re not a fan, omit it. The base recipe makes an excellent chili on it’s own.

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