Last month we talked about how to stock your cupboards with nutrient-dense essentials so you can quickly and easily build meals from whole foods that you'll love. I have achieved top-level athletic performance and sustained huge health gains by switching to a plant-based diet but still get asked frequently about plant-based proteins and how to get enough.
Here's why and how to consume more plant-based proteins, starting with the top three benefits of plant-based proteins:
1. They're alkaline-forming. The typical North American diet (meat, bread, etc.) is acid-forming in contrast to the body's naturally alkaline pH. Your body will always have an alkaline pH, but when inundated with acid-forming foods, it has to pull minerals from your bones to maintain an alkaline pH. Adding more alkaline-forming foods from a clean, plant-based diet can help you combat inflammation, reduce stress and protect bone health. A good indicator of whether a food is alkaline-forming is the presence of chlorophyll – the greener the food, the better.
[Watch: How to Plant-Based Diets Work?]
2. They're low in saturated fat.
High levels of saturated fat in your blood raise cholesterol and contribute to clogged arteries. If your diet is rich in saturated fats (found mostly in meat, dairy and eggs), you are more likely to suffer from heart disease in the years to come. Alternatively, unsaturated fats (found in nuts and seeds) help to keep your heart healthy. Note that the saturated fat in coconut oil is not metabolized like saturated fats from animal products, so it is fine to consume small amounts of coconut products.
3. They're better for the environment.
Did you know that diet affects the environment even more than your commute? Because it takes more water, energy and fuel to produce animal products, switching to plant-based foods saves water, reduces carbon emissions and protects arable land – all of which have a huge environmental impact.
Even if you don't adopt a 100-percent plant-based diet, everyone can benefit from adding even just one or two more servings of plant-based protein into their daily life. Variety is key to optimal health, so switch out several of your go-to proteins with one of the options below. You'll benefit from the addition of a variety of amino acids, vitamins and minerals – and they taste good, too. The following are top plant-based proteinis to add to your diet today:
While it tastes like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. This gluten-free alternative to couscous or bulgur is a complete plant-based protein. Quinoa only takes 15 to 20 minutes to prepare and actually freezes very well. Serve it hot or cold as a base for a stir-fry or salad or as a hot side to a meal.
• Sea vegetables
Seaweed, kelp and other algaes have been a source of complete protein for coastal civilizations for thousands of years. Try swapping kelp noodles for regular pasta and adding wakame to soups and salads. You can also add chlorella or spirulina to smoothies. If you're trying to cut down on your salt intake, swap dulse granules for salt in any savory recipe.
Red, green and yellow lentils are all excellent sources of protein, fiber and iron. Depending on how you choose to flavor them, they can transport your taste buds around the globe to the Middle East, India or the Mediterranean.
Nuts – almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans and a host of others – offer high amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and are easy to incorporate into a snack or meal. Grind into homemade nut butter, or toss them chopped or whole into your favorite salad.
• Hemp seeds
Though tiny, hemp seeds are a source of complete protein, containing all 10 essential amino acids. With a creamy, nutty taste, these seeds are also high in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Add hemp seeds to salads, smoothies or even to your favorite muffin recipe.
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Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. He is now a successful performance nutrition consultant, bestselling author of the Thrive book series, formulator of the award-winning line of plant-based Vega nutritional products and creator of Thrive Forward, an online video series designed to inspire and educate people about plant-based nutrition. For more information, please visit www.brendanbrazier.com and follow Brendan on Twitter.