Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a hardcore vegetarian. I’ll have the occasional steak or sushi roll when the mood strikes me – mostly when I’m dining out or back home in Michigan. But by and large, I eat a vegetarian diet. These choices are motivated by health concerns: many cuts of meat are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. And by lifestyle choices: meat based meals provide almost no immediate running fuel. Meat is also harder to digest than plant products and therefore consumes more energy to extract nutrients.

My muscles still need their protein though, and tofu can get to be pretty boring. Not to mention the fact that there is conflicting information about whether or not excessive amounts of soy protein are beneficial or harmful. Thankfully, there are so many other sources of protein available these days and the health food store around the block from my apartment carries many of these options. Here’s a list of my main sources of protein – supplemented with the weekend treat of a steak.

Quinoa-Oh, how I love thee. I’ve already waxed and waned poetic about my love for quinoa and even shared a recipe on it. 1 cup cooked quinoa has 254 calories, 4 grams of fat, 47 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber.

Tempeh-A protein made out of fermented vegetables or grains, it has a chewy, hearty texture and it tastes mild but a little nutty. It’s good in stir-fries, or toasted up in a pan with a little oil and salt. It’s nutrional profile is pretty awesome which I why I tolerate it. Half of a package has 240 calories, 11 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fiber.

Nuts-Walnuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews are my favorite and I get my fill by adding them to salads, pasta dishes or alone in trail mixes. One ounce of almonds (about 24 nuts) has 170 calories, 15 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbs, 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

Seeds-My favorites seeds are chia seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds. I eat them like nuts, except for chia seeds which I use in a whole different way. I add chia to smoothies, in baked good recipes, and I make chia gel and use it as a substitute for oil. One tablespoon of chia seeds has 69 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and 5.5 grams of fiber.

Peas-Cooked peas can only go so far in life. They taste delicious but with their distinct flavor cannot be used often. However, I am addicted to the Trader Joe’s Wasabi Peas. It’s a bit of a splurge, but the sharp wasabi flavor helps temper the appetite. One quarter cup of TJ’s Wasabi Peas has 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fiber.

Seitan-A vegetarian protein made out of the gluten of wheat, it has a meat like texture and taste. It’s hard to make and so I never make it, but once in a while I get it at a restaurant. Three ounces of seitan has 130 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and no fiber.

Ancient grains-Wheat berries, farro, and spelt are ancient grains served still in their husks. They have a chewy texture and nutty taste that complement salads. You can now buy pastas, crackers, cookies and more baked goods made from these flours and providing a more attractive nutrition profile. Half a cup of farro has 200 calories, 2 grams of fat, 52 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fiber.

Hemp seeds
-My current protein powder of choice, the taste of hemp is nutty but a little bit off. It also is bright green and imparts this color on everything. That being said, it’s has Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s and is a great source of protein. Four tablespoons of hemp protein powder has 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fiber.

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