When I blogged about plant protein a while ago, I got a lot of interesting follow-up questions. One reader’s comment struck a chord with me and inspired me to write today’s follow-up post. (If you’re curious about protein basics like understanding what a complete protein is and can eat soy, check out my first protein blog & infographic.) Here’s what this inquiring reader had to say:
Reader Question: “If I have a soy allergy and can’t have grains, gluten, and legumes, can a plant-based diet still deliver the nutrients and protein I need?”
The answer? Thankfully, yes! There are still plenty of plant-based foods that taste great and pack a protein punch. But since I know how many of you live with food sensitivities, I want to give you some tips that’ll help you identify plant-based options that won’t aggravate these issues. (If you want to read more about food sensitivities, check out this blog.)
First, I’m going to share the soy-free, grain-free, gluten-free, and legume-free (whew!) foods that are highest in protein with this infographic (perfect for printing and posting on your fridge). Once you’re armed with that information, read up on the tips I’ve included to make meal prep easy, plus some tasty plant-based protein-packed recipes.
And for all my readers with nut allergies, seeds will become your new best friends. They can be made into “seed butters” and used in place of most tree nuts in recipes.
Pea protein powder is very easily digested and is appearing up and down the vegan food aisles (it’s a great alternative to whey protein). Toss a scoop into your green smoothie in the morning to keep you energized until lunch. Now, onto this lovely infographic!
15 Protein-Rich Plant Foods (Soy-Free, Gluten-Free, and Legume-Free)
Plant-based protein can be found in these amazing soy-free vegan foods:
Hemp Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Chia Seeds, and Pumpkin Seeds
3 tablespoons of hemp seeds pack 10 g of protein. Hemp is also high in fiber, iron, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s also an energy and mood booster because of its high magnesium content. Seeds from pumpkins contain 10 grams of protein per 1/4 cup (185 g) and 1/4 cup of raw sunflower seeds holds 6 grams. Two tbsp. of chia contains 6 grams. As you can see, these are all great sources of protein!
Pistachios, Walnuts, and Almonds
Pistachios contain 6 grams of protein per 1/4 cup and 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts have 4.5 grams. Almonds are another plant-based protein source! 1/4 of a cup has approximately 8 grams of protein. Almond butter is a great source of healthy fats and vitamin E.
Kale, Spinach, and Broccoli
These vegetables go to show that plant-based foods can be packed full of protein! Kale is a leafy green that holds 4 grams of protein per two cups. Spinach is another delicious green that is over 50% protein, with a high protein density of approximately 5 grams per one cup. This veggie is also a wonderful source of folate, iron, and vitamin C (and easy to add to a green smoothie!). Yet another super-green, one cup of broccoli contains 5 grams of protein per cup.
1 tbsp. of dried spirulina is another excellent source of complete protein, with a whopping 4 grams in a small serving. Spirulina also contains B vitamins, protein, iron, and other trace minerals. It can even help reduce inflammation (unlike animal-based proteins).
While it’s touted as a gluten-free grain, did you know that quinoa is actually a seed? 1 cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein.
Avocado isn’t just a great source of healthy fats but also a wonderful source of protein. 1 avocado packs 7 grams of protein. Adding avocado to your diet can even help lower cholesterol.
Nutritional yeast isn’t just a great cheese alternative but also a decent source of protein, containing approximately 4 grams of protein in two tablespoons.
Two tbsp. of Tahini has 5 grams of protein (and it’s great to eat with a middle eastern diet).
Other Soy-Free Protein Sources
These are all non-soy protein sources that may not be allergy-friendly but are completely fine on a vegan diet.
- Seitan: Seitan is soy-free, but contains wheat gluten. If you have Celiac Disease, this protein must be avoided.
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and kidney beans are all great protein options.
- Jackfruit: Jackfruit is a fruit whose texture is well-known for its ability to mimic meat and can be used in many recipes. It’s not an alternative that contains high protein content, but it contains some protein and is packed full of fiber.
If you’re looking for a great soy-free condiment to replace soy sauce, consider coconut aminos. They offer a similar umami taste and saltiness without the soy.
High-Protein, Allergen-Friendly Vegan Recipes
Here are six great soy-free recipes full of plant-based protein and completely void of animal products!
You can use quinoa instead of rice, pasta, and oatmeal. You can even form it into burgers. Yum! Try this high-protein recipe that tastes great: Sweet Potato and Quinoa Bowl With Walnuts
For milk alternatives, try hemp milk, flax milk, or almond milk. They can be homemade or found in your local natural foods store. You can try making my favorite Basic Nut/Seed Milk recipe!
Snack on nuts and dunk veggies in dips made out of avocados, nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters. Some of my favorites are in Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Or you can give my Artichoke Aioli recipe a try!
Start your day with a scrumptious protein-rich smoothie. You can blend almond milk, kale, frozen fruit, hemp hearts, and spirulina for a nice dose of protein in this Body Builder recipe. You can also add a plant-based protein powder for an extra kick.
Sprinkle pumpkin or sunflower seeds on salads and soups for extra crunch and protein pow or top your pasta or salad with a nut/seed-based sauce. Try out my Dill Hemp Seed Pesto!
Be a Chia Champ
Give my Strawberry Chia Pudding a try to take advantage of their protein power.
Sample Menu: How to Get Enough Protein in Your Day
I also want to show you an example menu for a soy-gluten-grain-legume sensitive guy or gal (that’s a mouthful!). This will help you start to see how it’s possible to avoid these foods and meet your protein needs without sacrificing variety and tastiness in your diet.
Here’s how a moderately active adult who weighs 140 pounds could meet their protein needs without soy, grains, gluten or legumes (50 grams per day):
Breakfast: Body Builder = 12 g protein
Morning Snack: 1 green apple (0.5 g) + 2 Tbsp almond butter (6.5 g) = 7 g protein
Lunch: Zucchini noodles (2 g) with Dill Hemp Seed Pesto (4 g) = 6 g protein
Afternoon Snack: ½ cup Artichoke Aioli w/ raw vegetables = 11 g protein
Dinner: Vegetable stir-fry (4 g) + 1 cup cooked quinoa (9 g) = 13 g protein
Dessert: Chia pudding = 6 g
TOTAL = 51 grams protein
Some Other Nutrients to Consider
Now that we’ve talked about meeting your protein requirements, let’s also address overall nutrient needs. Whenever you remove large food groups from your diet, it’s a good idea to look at your diet as a whole and identify anything that might need a boost.
Here are some things to be mindful of to make sure you’re still enjoying a nourishing plant-based menu:
- Lysine is one of the essential amino acids responsible for turning fat into energy. It’s the one amino acid that’s less easy to come by in a plant-based diet. But have no fear. Although many vegetarians get tons of lysine from legumes, it’s also found in quinoa, almonds, and pistachios. Plus, complete proteins like spirulina, hemp, chia, and flax seeds are also great sources of lysine. Make these a part of your everyday diet and your body will be super energized.
- Calcium is high in kale, chia seeds, collard greens, and tahini (more info in my blog here).
- Vitamin D is best from the sun and supplements (check my interview with Kenneth Bock, MD for details here).
- Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods and fortified foods. I recommend that vegans take a B-complex vitamin or multivitamin daily that includes B12.
- Zinc is found in pumpkin seeds and any common multivitamin. It’s another important one!
I know that navigating the grocery store and your kitchen can be tricky when you have food sensitivities, but I hope that these recipes, tips and info will remove the stress and replace it with mouth-watering, plant-based, nourishing vegan meals.Your turn: What are your plant-based suggestions and tips for navigating food sensitivities?
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