Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian, or full-on vegan, increasing the amount of plant proteins in your diet can have major health benefits.
Along with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent report that links processed meat to a higher risk of cancer, numerous studies have shown a diet higher in plants — and lower in animal products like meat, poultry, and dairy — may improve cholesterol, as well as reduce risk of heart disease and cancer.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that high plant protein intake was inversely associated with mortality, even after adjusting for other dietary and lifestyle factors such as physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Consumers are catching on, too. According to “Food Formulation and Ingredient Trends: Plant Proteins,” a report compiled by the consumer research firm Packaged Facts, more Americans are demanding quality sources of plant-based proteins. And a separate report released by Mintel found consumers were eating more alternatives to meat products, with at least 70 percent choosing them a few times per week. In Europe, where meat often reigns, meat consumption has decreased by 9 percent in the last 20 years.
In the past, soymilk and tofu were the obvious choices for plant-based proteins. But below are six whole, unprocessed foods growing in demand — and they’re just as good for you.
Pea protein is rich in all nine amino acids, including the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine — compounds that may aid in post-exercise recovery. Compared to whey protein, which is often chosen for its high leucine content and ability to speed up digestion, pea protein has been found to promote similar gains in muscle growth, making it an ideal choice for athletes. Good old frozen peas can do the trick, but there are also plenty of pea protein powders on the market to choose from as well.
Beans, unlike meat, boast both high amounts of protein and fiber, making them extra filling. In fact, in a study investigating the satiating effects of the same amount of calories of beef versus beans, ratings for hunger, satisfaction, fullness, and later food consumption were better for those who ate beans. Choose beans as your main protein source for a meal in stews or curries, or sub in mashed beans to burger patties or meatballs to add some filling fiber to traditionally meat-packed meals.
Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain — which is why unlike other grains it packs all essential amino acids into 1 cup, plus 8 grams (g) of protein. Like beans, it’s also rich in fiber, meaning it’ll help you feel fuller longer.