If you were asked which has a higher serving of protein, a cup of milk or half a cup of oats, you’d probably say milk. But oats actually have 13g of protein per ½ cup, and milk, surprising enough, only has 8g per cup. I follow predominantly a plant-based diet, but I sometimes wondered if I was getting enough protein, until I started researching sources of protein for this article.
Protein is an important building block for new cells and helps you to feel fuller for longer, but recently the focus on protein intake has escalated to the point where other food groups have been forgotten, or come second place. As a result of this protein frenzy, there’s been a surge in protein supplement drinks and powders on the market. The recommended daily amount of protein depends on your age and activity, but on average it is 55g for men and 45g for women. If you are eating a balanced diet you are most likely reaching your daily requirement.
If you are particularly active or are using smoothies as your meal, a natural source protein powder can keep your energy levels up and satiate you till your next meal. When picking a protein powder check the ingredients, and make sure they are from a natural source like hemp, rice or pea protein, with nothing else! If the ingredients have long unpronounceable names, the protein is not from a natural source and will be harder for your body to utilise. So when you compare a gym protein powder with a health shop equivalent, the health shop version may be a little lower, but it is a readily available source of protein which is absorbed by the body more efficiently, as nature intended!
During the winter months I crave warm comforting foods, but during summer I sometimes make green smoothies for my breakfast or a lunch on the go. Smoothies use the ‘whole' veg or fruit including all the fibre which keeps you fuller for longer than a juice. I make my smoothies predominantly out of veg, with a small amount of fruit, and I sometimes use a natural protein powder to make them more filling. The brands I use are Nua Naturals Hemp Protein Powder, Pulsin Hemp Protein Powder or for an all round superfood with lots of other benefits Superlife, Superfood Mix.
Protein powders may have their uses but proteins found in whole foods are a far superior and natural choice. We all know that meat, fish, dairy and eggs are good sources of protein; but where else is it found? Whether you follow a plant-based diet or not, it is always good to add variety. Meat and fish are a good source of protein, but these days the quality of meat on offer and the methods of production are questionable. Eat good quality meat (which can be expensive!) once or twice a week. This gives you the chance to explore different sources of protein and add more nutritionally dense food to your plate at the same time!
Print out the charts above and use them to occasionally check your meal for protein content. You'd be surprised how it naturally adds up throughout your day, reaching your daily requirement without having to worry about adding powders and supplements. We all survived before we could scientifically quantify the amount of protein in a pea. Nature is clever that way!
Here are some great, and some surprising, sources of protein, with suggestions on how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Protein Content: 11g per 1/2 cup
Uses: swap rice with quinoa in rice dishes for some extra protein or use it in risottos. Cook up a batch and add to salads throughout the week. It can also be used instead of oats as a quinoa porridge. I’ve even come across it used in raw peanut and date flapjacks or as the flour substitute in pizzas!
Protein Content: 6g per 1 cup
Uses: try replacing some of your oats in your morning porridge with buckwheat groats to add a bit of texture. Buckwheat flakes or groats can be used in bircher muesli and granola too. They also do the same job as oats and lentils in falafel and veggie burgers.
Protein Content: 15g per 1 cup
Uses: like quinoa, amaranth is actually a seed. Add a handful into your morning porridge for a nutty sweetness. Pop it like you would popcorn for a healthy snack or use it to thicken soups and stews.
Protein Content: 18g per 1 cup
Uses: add into soups, curries and stews to make them more filling. Cook up a batch and use them in salads, falafel and veggie burgers throughout the week. For a quick cupboard dinner cook up a pot of lentils and add a lovely runny poached egg, a handful of fresh herbs and a dollop or hummus if you have some.
Protein Content: 13g per ½ cup
Uses: oats have so many uses! Start your day with a hot bowl of porridge, make an overnight bircher muesli or a batch of granola to sprinkle on top. Add to your smoothies to thicken it and make it more filling. Make a batch of flapjacks to snack on, sweet or even better savoury! Use them to replace breadcrumbs in recipes for falafels or veggie burgers. Oats can also be used as a substitute for flour in baking. Make some oat flour in your food processor and experiment with your next bake, start with a half and half substitution until you get the feel for how it behaves in baking.
Protein Content: 4g per 2 tbsp
Uses: try making chia pudding as a change from your morning porridge. Add to your morning porridge or smoothies to add texture and make them more filling. Chia seeds can also be used as an egg substitute in baking for vegans or if you've just run out of eggs! For each ‘egg’ required mix 1 tbsp seeds with 2 tbsp water and let it sit for 10 mins.
SUNFLOWER, SESAME & PUMPKIN SEEDS
Protein Content: 7g per ¼ cup
Uses: sprinkle on morning porridge, salads, soups, stews, curries, or just about anything to add a bit of crunchy texture and some protein. They are also the main ingredient in lots of energy balls recipes. I make my own tahini by lightly toasting the sesame seeds in the oven at 180oC for 10min and blending in a high powered blender until they become a creamy liquid. I use it as a base for salad dressings, hummus, dips and even add a dessert spoon to bircher muesli before soaking.
ALMONDS, CASHEWS, HAZELNUTS WALNUTS & BRAZIL NUTS
Protein Content: 7g per ¼ cup
Uses: sprinkle on morning porridge, salads, soups, stews, curries and roast veg. Add to flapjacks and energy balls. Pick up a nut butter at your health food store or better still make your own batch. All it needs is a packet of your favourite nuts and a high power blender using the same method as my homemade tahini above. Add to morning porridge, smoothies, spread on sourdough toast, or add to salad dressings for an extra nutty flavour. Cashew butter is my favourite at the moment. It has a natural sweetness that taste like cookie dough! I use it in baking too, it adds a natural sweetness and moisture to bakes like brownies or banana bread.
CHICKPEAS, KIDNEY BEANS, BUTTER BEANS, CANNELLINI BEANS, BLACK BEANS, HARICOT BEANS & MUNG BEANS
Protein Content: 15g per 1 cup
Uses: to mix it up you can make hummus out of any of the above legume. Legume are the main source of protein in plant-based soups, stews and curries. Make a big hotpot for the weekend with a mix of different legume, a tin of tomatoes, some chopped veg and your favourite herbs and spices. You can also add them to salads and Buddha Bowls. Roasted chickpeas with a sprinkle of cumin make a great lunchbox snack too. I also use chickpea flour, often called gram flour, to make socca pancakes or pizzas.
Protein Content: 13g per 1 cup
Uses: add to salads, stir fries, stews, curries and Buddha Bowls. Or simply lightly steam and have them as a side veg with your dinner.
Protein Content: 9g per 1 cup
Uses: I use peas a lot, I find they’re one of the best freezer friendly veg and are handy to instantly increase the veg volume of any dinner plate! Try blending them into your hummus to add a slightly sweet kick. Add to salads, stir-fries, soups and Buddha Bowls. They can also be used blended into falafel and veggie burgers.
Protein Content: 7g per 1 cup
Uses: fresh spinach works best in smoothies, you can freeze fresh spinach to use throughout the week. When it freezes it breaks up into little shards which makes it easier to store in your freezer and easier to fit in your blender! I also keep a bag of frozen spinach cubes to add to Buddha Bowls, stir-fries, soups, stews, curries or just about anything that needs an added bit of a green benefits.
Protein Content: 8g per 1 cup
Uses: broccoli is jam packed with nutritional benefits and can be found on all the ‘Top 10 Superfood’ lists. Add to Buddha Bowls, salads, stir fries, soups, stews, curries or lightly steam and serve on the side of your dinner.
Protein Content: 16g per 1 cup
Uses: these little fellas can be a very handy way to get some protein into your dinner. I keep a bag of them in the freezer and add them to Buddha Bowls, salads, stir fries, soups, stews and curries. I’ve even started adding them to lunchboxes along with some carrot sticks and have had empty lunchboxes every time!
Protein Content: 8g per 1 cup
Uses: avocados are having a major comeback, and for very good reasons. For lots of ways to use avocado have a look at Benefits of Avocado.
Protein Content: 12g per 3 tbsp
Uses: nutritional yeast may resemble fish food but if you can forgive it its appearance it adds a delicious cheesy flavour to risottos, pestos, hummus, dips. Sprinkle on salads or soups and stews or add to roast or mashed veg. Roast a big bag of kale for a healthy snack - removing the centre stem, wash, dry, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with nutritional yeast and roast at 180oC for about 20min, checking and turning over after 10min.
Protein Content: 15g per 1/2 cup
Uses: tofu certainly has a high protein content but I tend to not use it too often. It gets mixed reviews on the production from soya bean to tofu. If you are using tofu make sure you buy good-quality, without a huge list of additives, from your health store or Asian supermarket. Tofu is a flavour carrier so when I do use it I marinade it in a little bit of tamari sauce for a few hours, then coat it in sesame seeds and fry it up. You can also chop it up into cubes, add it to a big vegetable curry and let it soak up the flavours.
Protein Content: 6g per egg
Uses: like oats, there are so many ways you can use eggs from omelettes, poached, scrambled to frittata. They are one of the main ingredients I use to make a dinner more filling, increase the protein content and, when cooked for just 7 min, even comes with a sauce! Add them to a roast veg tray bake or a risotto for the last 10 min. Poach for 3 min and serve on top of a warming bowl of lentil, cauliflower rice or kitchari. Or simply hard boil for 10 min and add to a salad. You can also try cracking an egg into your morning porridge and let it poach for 3 min or till the whites are cooked through for a savoury breakfast. We have become accustomed to starting our day with a sweet breakfast but savoury keeps energy levels more even throughout the morning.