5 Ways to Increase Quality Plant-Based Protein
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just looking to incorporate some plant-based food into your diet, there are numerous benefits to swapping out animal proteins for plant-based varieties. In recent years, processed food consumption has largely increased and nutritional research has demonstrated the consequences that these overly-processed foods can have on our long-term health (2,4).
In fact, the World Health Organization has classified processed meat (including hot dogs, ham, and sausages) as a ‘Group 1 carcinogen,’ which means there is sufficient evidence that it can cause cancer. The WHO has recommended that we start incorporating more plant-based proteins into our diet to benefit not only our long-term health, but world sustainability. Swapping animal-based proteins with plant varieties throughout the week has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and better overall weight management.
What are the best sources of plant-based protein?
While all whole plant foods contain some amount of protein, the most protein-packed sources are legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans), nuts, and seeds. One of the top benefits of plant protein is the added fiber, which is essential for weight loss/maintenance, gut health, and blood sugar regulation. Plant-based foods also contain a number of essential nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It’s important to differentiate between whole food sources of plant-based proteins and processed plant-based products, though. Not only do plant-based meat products have less fiber, but they are known to contain large amounts of sodium, processed soy, and heavily processed oils (i.e. canola oil), which are known to contribute to inflammation in the body over time.
Animal versus plant protein
Animal proteins are considered complete proteins because they have all nine of the essential amino acids that your body needs, whereas plant proteins are lacking in one or more of these essential amino acids. Therefore, the best way to provide your body with a broad range of amino acids—as well as vitamins and minerals—is through variety. By mixing up your meals and snacks and including plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, it’s easy to obtain all daily required essential amino acids.
F45 Nutritionist Kim Bowman has some simple tips to start incorporating more of these whole food, plant-based proteins into your weekly eating routine:
1. Replace half of a meat portion in a meal with beans and lentils.
If you’re new to plant-based proteins, this is a great way to slowly start incorporating more plant protein into your diet. In recipes that utilize lean meat, swap out a half portion of meat with a plant protein like pinto beans, black beans, or lentils. Lentils are highly nutritious and contain generous amounts of protein and slow-digesting carbohydrates and fiber, which are ideal for stabilizing blood sugar. Black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and cannellini beans are extremely high in fiber and provide a modest amount of protein.
2. Eat plant-based protein snacks.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate more plant protein is to eat primarily plant-based snacks. Incorporating snacks like fruit, veggies, hummus, edamame, nut butters, nuts and seeds is a great way to nourish your body and cut cravings throughout the day. A nut and seed-packed protein smoothie is a great option for a midday snack, or you can opt for rice cakes topped with hummus or unsweetened nut butter with sliced fruit.
3. Add nuts and seeds to smoothies and salads.
By simply adding some chia seeds to a morning smoothie or almonds or cashews to a salad, you are incorporating more plant-based protein. Nuts and seeds are a great way to up protein and fiber intake. Together, these increase feelings of fullness and help us avoid snacking throughout the day.
4. Swap out dairy products for plant-based alternatives.
For those who are new to plant proteins, another simple swap is to trade cow’s milk for a nut milk alternative, like almond or cashew milk. Additionally, dairy-based yogurt can be substituted with a vegan yogurt. Be sure to check nutrition labels when browsing plant-based milk and yogurt products to avoid added sugar or highly processed ingredients.
5. Incorporate plant-based recipes throughout the week.
Instead of thinking about what meat product you’re planning to use for dinner, focus on a plant-based source like tempeh, tofu, black beans, or chickpeas. Here’s a few of our favorite quick and easy F45 Challenge-approved dinner recipes to add to your weekly meal plan.
Tempeh Cashew Stir-Fry
Prep time: 15 minutes
Plant-based proteins: tempeh, chickpeas, cashews
Mexican Tofu Burrito Bowl
Prep time: 30 minutes
Plant-based proteins: tofu, black beans
Lentil Alla Norma Zoodles
Prep time: 20 minutes
Plant-based proteins: lentils
Bouvard V., Loomis D., Guyton K.Z., Grosse Y., Ghissassi F.E., Benbrahim-Tallaa L., Guha N., Mattock H., Straif K. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 2015;16:1599–1600.
International Agency for Research on Cancer . Consumption of red Meat and Processed Meat. IARC Working Group; Lyon, France: 2015.
Larsson S.C., Wolk A. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: Meta-analysis of prospective studies. Br. J. Cancer. 2012;106:603–607.
World Health Organization. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. 26 October 2015. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-the-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat