A Guest Blog by Sharon Palmer, RD
The vegan diet has come a long way thanks to the growing list of celebrity supporters, ranging from Ellen Degeneres to Carrie Underwood. And while the old cliché that vegan eating is about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and granola is beginning to phase out, a few stigmas still hold true for a lot of people. The Internet and mainstream media is rife with misperceptions and inaccurate information surrounding vegetarian and vegan diets; one of the biggest sources of misinformation surrounds the topic of plant proteins. As a Registered Dietitian who has spent more than 30 years pouring over the latest scientific research when it comes to our health in relation to food, a consensus is growing among nutrition professionals that it’s completely doable to eat a healthy plant-based diet that meets your protein – as well as carbohydrate, fat, vitamin, and mineral – needs every day. In fact, research shows that vegetarian diets are even more nutrient dense and consistent with the government’s recommendations for nutritional needs than non-vegetarian ones. Plant-based proteins may be one of the main reasons that vegans s enjoy a longer lifespan, healthier weight, and lower risk of disease.
While it’s true that most plant proteins, with the exception of soy, quinoa, and spinach are low in one or two of the essential amino acids, dietitians now know that it’s very simple to achieve an adequate intake of all essential amino acids by including a variety of whole plant foods in the diet. Legumes, soy, nuts and seeds are your best bets for protein – but whole grains and veggies contain protein too! Some whole grains, including wheat varieties, such as emmer, farro, Kamut, spelt, and wheat berries provide up to 11 grams of protein per cup. Even some vegetables contain up to 6 grams per cup cooked.
Of course, when following a vegan diet, it takes some careful planning. It’s important to focus on minimally processed foods first and to diversify your diet. The “whole” point of a plant-based, vegan diet is to reap then nutritive benefits of whole foods, including legumes, soy foods, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. It’s possible to crowd out essential nutrients, such as protein, in a vegan diet to make room for junk foods, such as snacks, sweets, baked goods, and sweetened beverages.
Try one of these five easy ways to include more plant proteins in your diet:
1. Fall in Love with Legumes. Bring home a variety of dried legumes such as chickpeas, and adzuki, kidney, black, cannellini, and pinto beans from every shopping trip to star in chilies, stews, or casseroles that week.
2. Embrace Soy, the Superfood. Include up to three servings of soy per day by choosing soy products in their least processed forms such as whole soybeans, edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
3. Get a Little Nutty. Eat a handful of nuts – about 1 to 2 ounces – a day such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, macadamias, brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and peanuts to gain a plethora of health benefits.
4. Eat Like a Bird – Turn to Seeds. Include these crunchy gems – such as hemp, chia, sesame, pumpkin, flax, and sunflower – into your diet every day.
You can also try one of my delicious plant-powered and protein-packed recipes, such as my Spicy Bok Choy with Noodles and Peanuts or this popular recipe below from my book, The Plant-Powered Diet. To ensure you’re getting enough protein, include servings at every meal from my Plant-Powered Protein List.
The jewel-like black beans shine in this crunchy, zesty salad. Serve it with corn tortillas and vegetable soup for an easy, refreshing meal.
1 – 15 oz can black beans, no salt added, rinsed, drained
1 cup cooked quinoa (according to package directions)
1 cup frozen corn
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh mango
¼ cup chopped red onion
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or 2 tsp dried if not available)
1 small fresh jalepeno pepper, seeded, finely diced
1 lemon, juiced
1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp turmeric
1. Mix beans, quinoa, corn, pepper, mango, onion, cilantro and jalapeno together in a mixing bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, chili powder and turmeric together. Toss into salad mixture and chill until serving time.
Makes 6 servings (about 1 cup each)
Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, nationally recognized expert on plant-based nutrition, and writer. She has written more than 750 articles in a variety of publications. In addition, she is the author of The Plant-Powered Diet, editor of Environmental Nutrition, contributing editor of Today’s Dietitian, and writes her blog The Plant-Powered Dietitian. Sharon speaks around the world on the health benefits of plant-powered nutrition. She makes her home with her husband and two sons in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles.