IN THE NEWS: On APR 24, 2017
Meatless doesn't necessarily mean protein-free.
Do you whip up vegan smoothies for breakfast and hummus six ways for lunch, only to lose your love of plants when dinnertime rolls around? Understandably, it can be harder to get excited about another pasta or rice bowl. Not only does the idea of eating all those carbs after 3 p.m. fly against well-worn diet advice, you might worry that you’re not getting enough protein to fuel your body, especially after a long evening run.
Fear not! That’s the advice of Joel Kahn, M.D., a Detroit cardiologist who’s been vegan for the last 40 years. He tells his patients that they can get plenty of protein from plants. “If you eat the colors of the rainbow, there’s no need to monitor protein grams,” says Kahn, who’s also the clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “But I’m talking about whole plant-based foods, not Skittles or Pringles.”
For the record, the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance for protein intake is your weight multiplied by 0.36, which comes out to 54 grams for a 150-pound person. (You can calculate your own on their website.)While a cooked boneless skinless chicken breast has about 24 grams of protein, many vegan staples will help you meet your daily totals pretty quickly. “Just eating nuts, seeds, beans, and greens provide more than enough protein for you to flourish,” says Kahn. “And you don’t need to add protein powders to your diet, unless you’re an endurance athlete burning 6,000 calories a day.” Some examples: A cup of cannellini beans has 15 grams of protein. A serving of tempeh (fermented soy) adds 19 grams. Even a sprinkling of some chopped almonds and roasted hemp seeds on your salads or quinoa can add 10 more grams. Don’t forget soy milk and vegan yogurt.
Check out these nutritionists’ go-to ideas for dinners bursting with flavor and protein:
1. DIY VEGGIE BURGERS
All veggie burgers don't come frozen in a box. In fact, dietitcian Jessica Spiro's favorite recipe includes cooked lentils mixed with mashed butternut squash and onions and spices. "This is where you can get creative," says Spiro. "One of my favorite things is to form patties and pan-fry them in avocado or olive oil." Instead of using traditional raw eggs to bind the mixture, try her vegan chia seed trick. Soaking a tablespoon of chia (or ground flax) seeds in three tablespoons of water for five minutes creates a gel-like substance that keeps your burgers from falling apart on the grill. A cup of lentils packs on 22 grams of protein. A tablespoon of chia seeds add three more.
Protein count: 25 grams
2. GRILLED TOFU AND VEGGIES
Just because you're grilling tofu instead of tri-tip doesn't mean you have to lose your grilling cred. "If you eat tofu out of the block, it's not tasty. No one boils a chicken breast and then complains that it doesn't taste good," says Las Vegas-based dietician Andy Bellatti. "Tofu is a sponge. It soaks up other flavors. You have to know how to boost the flavor." Dazzle your guests with tasty marinades or sauces, such as peanut lime sauce for a Thai kick. A half-cup tofu has 10 grams of protein. Add broccoli, Portobello mushrooms, and a tablespoon of peanut butter in your sauce to bring up your total.
Protein count: 23 grams
3. VEGAN VEGETABLE LASAGNAS OR ENCHILADAS
The vegetable spiralizer has become a vegan chef's essential tool. However, there are many ways to slice and dice a zucchini to add variety to your dinners. Spiro recommends slicing zukes or yellow squash in thin layers and topping them with tomatoes and onions—and protein-packed vegan cheese, beans, or tofu—in lasagna or enchiladas. A serving of Trader Joe's soy cheese has six grams of protein. Add a half-cup of black beans for eight more and a cup of brown rice for five more.
Protein count: 21 grams
4. VEGAN TACOS WITH MOCK MEAT
Those vegan chicken nuggets look like chicken and taste like chicken, and they're a great substitute for times when you're craving chicken. "These days, if you go to most grocery stores, you can find a vegan version of everything from crab cakes to fajita steak strips," says Bellatti. So-called "mock meats" can be a godsend when you want to make your favorite tacos with vegan ground beef. Although they add a protein punch of soy, consider them a treat. They're still processed and tend to be high in sodium. A serving of soy crumbles like Gardein's has 18 grams of protein. Add some soy cheese for another six grams, and black beans for eight more grams, and you've got some seriously protein-powered vegan tacos.
Protein count: 26 grams
5. CHICKPEA AND GRAIN BOWLS
There are other ways to eat beans other than your beloved chickpea hummus. You can mix and match these protein powerhouses in three-bean chili or a more innovative version of those three-bean salads from your college salad bar with a sprinkle of olive tapenade, for example. Mix up your texture by tossing roasted chickpeas into salads. Bellatti suggests draining the water from the canned beans, tossing them with olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and your favorite spices. Roast them at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. "Now you have a delicious high-fiber snack ready to go." he says. A half-can of chickpeas has nine grams of protein. Sautee your roasted batch with spinach and add to your quinoa to pack on 10 grams. Drizzle a tablespoon of tahini for three more.
Protein count: 22 grams