There is a lot of debate about whether or not an individual can get complete protein sources without eating meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. The most important component is getting the right amount of amino acids according to just about any nutritionist who talks on the subject, and they rarely agree completely. So what’s a vegetarian or vegan to do? Combining seems to be the right answer!
Plant foods contain varying amounts of amino acids, and you can manage to get enough of each essential amino acid throughout the day by eating a varied diet and combining complementary plant proteins.
For example, grains like rice are too low in lysine to be considered a complete source of protein. Yet, by also eating lentils or beans, which are higher in lysine, throughout the day, you can be sure to obtain all nine essential amino acids.
Want to get those coveted amino acids in one meal? Here are some foods you can add or combine to help you accomplish the protein levels you feel necessary for radiant health.
We have tried and loved the following foodstuffs. If you don’t want to cook with them, most can be added to your morning smoothie or sprinkled on your cereal.
You will be seeing this term a lot coming up.
Pseudocereal (def.) — A pseudocereal is one of any non-grasses that are used in much the same way as cereals. Their seed can be ground into flour and otherwise used as cereals. Examples of pseudocereals are amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that looks similar to couscous but has a crunchy texture and nutty flavor. As it doesn’t grow from grasses like other cereals and grains, it’s technically considered a pseudocereal and naturally gluten-free. One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides approximately 8 grams of protein. We love this recipe for Mediterranean Quinoa Salad at Runtastic.com (none of are runners!).
Summary: Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that contains 8 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (185 grams). It’s also a good source of several minerals, including magnesium, iron, and zinc.
2. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all made from soybeans and make for excellent plant-based protein sources.
Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk that’s pressed into white blocks and comes in a variety of textures, including silken, firm, and extra-firm. As it’s quite bland, tofu tends to take on the flavor of the foods with which it’s cooked.
A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of tofu provides approximately 8 grams of protein. It also offers 15% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium, as well as smaller amounts of potassium and iron.
Tempeh is much chewier and nuttier than tofu and made from fermented soybeans, which are often combined with other seeds and grains to form a firm, dense cake.
Meanwhile, edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans that are green and have a slightly sweet, grassy flavor. They’re usually steamed or boiled and can be enjoyed on their own as a snack. Alternatively, they can be added to salads, soups, or grain bowls.
Three ounces (85 grams) of tempeh contain 11 grams of protein. This serving is also a good source of fiber and iron and contains potassium and calcium.
A 1/2 cup (85 grams) of whole edamame provides 8 grams of protein along with a good amount of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
Summary: Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all derived from whole soybeans and excellent sources of complete protein. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of edamame or tofu provides 8 grams of protein, while the same serving of tempeh has 11 grams.
Amaranth is another pseudocereal that’s a complete source of protein.
Once considered a staple food in Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, it has become a popular gluten-free grain alternative.
Amaranth is a versatile grain that can be boiled for a side dish or porridge, or popped in a skillet to add texture to granola bars or salads. Similarly to quinoa, it has a delicate, nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked.
When ground into a flour, amaranth can also be used in gluten-free baking.
One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides approximately 9 grams of protein. It’s also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium phosphorus, and iron.
In fact, 1 cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides more than 100% of the DV for manganese, an essential mineral that’s important for brain health.
If you can’t find amaranth locally, you can buy it online.
Amaranth is a gluten-free pseudocereal that provides 9 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (246 grams). It also provides more than 100% of the DV for manganese.
While it’s not as high in protein as quinoa or amaranth, buckwheat is another pseudocereal that’s a plant-based source of complete protein.
Nutty in flavor, the hulled kernels, or groats, can be cooked similarly to oatmeal or ground into a flour and used in baking. In Japanese cooking, buckwheat is most commonly consumed in the form of noodles, which are called soba.
One cup (168 grams) of cooked buckwheat groats provides approximately 6 grams of protein.
This pseudocereal is also a good source of many essential minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.
You can buy buckwheat in specialty stores or online.
Summary: Buckwheat is another gluten-free grain that’s a source of complete protein, with 6 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup (168 grams).
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that’s a popular supplement among those on vegan and vegetarian diets.
While it can be purchased as tablets, the powdered form of spirulina can be easily added to smoothies, granola bars, soups, and salads for a boost of nutrition.
Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina provides 4 grams of protein.
In addition to being a source of complete protein, spirulina is rich in antioxidants and a good source of several B vitamins, copper, and iron.
If you would like to give spirulina a try, you can find it in specialty stores or online.
Summary: Spirulina, a supplement made from blue-green algae, is a source of complete protein. One tablespoon (7 grams) provides 4 grams of protein, as well as good amounts of B vitamins, copper, and iron.
6. Hemp Seeds (or Hearts)
Coming from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, hemp seeds are members of the same species as marijuana, but they contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana.
As a result, hemp seeds are unlikely to contain enough THC to cause a high feeling or any of the other psychoactive effects that are associated with marijuana.
However, there is concern that hemp seeds could become contaminated with TCH from other parts of the plant during harvesting or storing. Therefore, it’s important to purchase seeds from trusted brands that test for THC.
Technically a nut, the edible whites inside of hemp seeds are referred to as hemp hearts and incredibly nutritious.
In addition to being a source of complete protein, hemp hearts are particularly rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).
Three tablespoons (30 grams) of raw, hulled hemp seeds boast an impressive 10 grams of protein and 15% of the DV for iron. They’re also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.
Hemp hearts have a mild nutty flavor and can be sprinkled over yogurt or salads, added to smoothies, or included in homemade granola and energy bars.
These tasty seeds are widely available in stores and online.
Summary: Hemp seeds are often sold as hemp hearts and incredibly nutritious. In addition to providing 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons (30 grams), they’re a good source of essential fatty acids, iron, potassium, and several other essential minerals.
7. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are tiny round seeds that are often black or white.
They’re unique in that they can absorb liquid and form a gel-like substance. As a result, they can be used to make puddings and pectin-free jams. They’re also commonly used as an egg substitute in vegan baking.
However, chia seeds can also be used raw as a topping for oatmeal or salads, mixed into baked goods, or added to smoothies.
Two tablespoons (28 grams) of chia seeds provide 4 grams of protein. They’re also a good source of omega-3s, iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.
If you would like to give chia seeds a try, stock up at your local supermarket or online.
Trust us. You will want to make this Vanilla Chia Pudding (pictured above). Easy +4 ingredients! Sooooooo good for you.
Summary: Chia seeds are tiny round seeds that contain all nine essential amino acids. Two tablespoons (28 grams) contain 4 grams of protein, as well as good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and several essential minerals.
8. Rice and Beans
Rice and beans are a classic pairing that’s a source of complete protein.
Both brown and white rice are low in lysine but high in methionine. In contrast, beans are high in lysine but low in methionine. As such, combining them allows you to get enough of each, as well as the remaining seven essential amino acids, to count as a complete protein. Hooray!