When we go to build our plates at mealtime, we don’t often lump plants into the protein-rich category. While meat, fish and eggs are excellent, protein-dense foods, there are lots of plants out there packing a punch. The next time you’re wandering the farmers market or your grocery store, consider tossing these into your basket to bolster your protein intake.
Tofu is made of soybeans and therefore, plants! The beauty of tofu is it soaks up the flavors of whatever you add to it. Silken varieties are excellent for smoothie-blending or pudding, while firmer tofu is tasty baked, stir-fried or sliced into salads and sandwiches.
Protein: 10 grams per 4-ounce serving of firm tofu
All legumes add a boost of protein to your meals, but lentils are particularly excellent because they don’t require overnight soaking and cook in 20–30 minutes. Lentils are also high in soluble and insoluble fiber which means they help promote healthy digestion and lower cholesterol. When buying lentils, look for dried beans or canned beans in BPA-free cans, then spin them into hummus, serve in soups, top salads or stir-fry with eggs. Cooking tip: Add a strip of kombu seaweed to beans as they cook to make them more easily digestible.
Protein: 7 grams per 1/2-cup serving cooked
Just a handful of walnuts, almonds, cashews or peanuts gives you a quick-and-easy protein boost. Look for sprouted varieties when buying nuts, which have been soaked to eliminate phytic acid, making them easier to digest and absorb their vital nutrients. Eat nuts by the handful as snacks, sprinkle on salads, spread on toast, stir into stews or whirl into morning smoothies.
Protein: 7 grams per 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Surprise! Grains contain both carbohydrates and proteins. Steel-cut oats require overnight soaking in milk or water before eating, but they cook quickly once soaked. Steel-cut oats also have a lower glycemic index over rolled oats.
Protein: 5g in 1/4-cup dry serving
Potatoes mistakenly have a reputation for being devoid of nutrition, but a medium-sized spud contains nearly as much protein as a serving of tofu and about 20% of the recommended daily intake of heart-healthy potassium.
Protein: 4g in 1 medium white potato
The 3 grams of protein packed into a 1/2 cup of spinach may not sound like much, but for being a green vegetable it’s quite a punch. A great reason to sauté some leaves when you’re making frittata, scrambling eggs or stirring greens into soups. Cooking this green burns off its oxalic acid, making its protein content bioavailable.
Protein: 3g per 1/2-cup cooked serving
Similar to potatoes, we don’t often consider corn to be a super-charged nutrient powerhouse. But, when paired with protein-rich veggies and legumes, corn can nicely round out a protein-packed meal (burritos, tacos and Mexican-inspired salads). Pick organic or non-GMO fresh or frozen varieties, though, as most conventional corn has been genetically modified. Organic corn tortillas are also a great choice.
Protein: 2.5g per 1/2-cup serving
As if you needed another reason to spread avocado on your morning toast, avocado is creamy, dreamy and contains a nice little serving of protein. Add to salads, mash up as a spread and eat with a bit of salt for a filling snack.
Protein: 2g per 1/2 avocado
Similar to spinach, broccoli isn’t just a pretty, fiber-rich food — it also has a considerable amount of protein for a green vegetable. Saute it with eggs or place atop a legume-based soup and you’re packing a protein punch.
Protein: 2g per 1/2-cup cooked serving
Nutritional superstars, Brussel sprouts may get a bad rap for their flavor, but that’s just because they haven’t been prepared properly. Roast sprouts, stir-fry them or sauté them with flavor and they add a healthy 2g of protein to your meals.
Protein: 2g per 1/2-cup serving