3 Unexpected High-Protein Foods That Aren’t Meat
March 4, 2019
When you are working out hard, you are breaking down your muscle fibers and you need protein in order to rebuild and grow your muscles.
Protein also helps boost your metabolism. Your body burns 20% to 30% of calories from protein during digestion, as opposed to roughly 5% of calories from carbs and 3% of calories from fats. Ramping up your protein intake will also ramp up your daily calorie burn without any extra effort!
Eating more protein also causes your body to release more leptin, which is your hunger-suppressing hormone. This has been shown to reduce your appetite, cut your cravings and reduce your desire for late-night snacking.
While that all sounds great, I know adding more protein into your diet isn’t that easy and eating a bunch of chicken at each meal gets boring quickly! And for me personally, eating a lot of meat tends to make me feel weighed down and causes me digestive distress. So here are my top three favorite and unexpected ways to add high-protein foods that aren’t meat into my diet!
– Serving size: 3 tablespoons
– Protein per serving: 10g
There are a bunch of things I love about hemp seeds, but one of my favorite things is that it is a source of protein that doesn’t require any meal prep! On days I don’t have time cook, I never have to stress because I know I can sprinkle a few tablespoons of hemp seeds on my meal to ensure I am including protein.
Most nuts and seeds—and most plant-based protein sources, for that matter—are not considered complete proteins, as they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. These sources have to be combined with other foods to form a complete protein.
Hemp seeds, on the other hand, are special because they contain all nine essential amino acids and are considered to be a complete protein. What’s so special about having a complete essential amino acid profile? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is ultimately the building block of muscle. If you want to become leaner and stronger, your body requires amino acids.
Hemp seeds are also a great source of fat. For me, it’s important to always include a healthy source of fat into every meal I eat. It helps keep me satiated, my blood sugar levels in check and my cravings at bay. So with one serving of hemp seeds, I am not only getting a great source of protein but I am also getting a great source of fat.
Hemp seeds are especially a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in abundance in our diet, but omega-3s are more difficult to come across. When you consume way more omega-6s than omega-3s, you promote fat storing and not fat burning. Consuming too many omega-6-rich foods also triggers inflammation in your gut, joints and other parts of your body and can even be the cause of bloating. Incorporating more omega-3s into your diet with the help of hemp seeds can help you burn fat as fuel as well as keep your gut happy and healthy!
Hemp seeds add a great nutty flavor to any dish. I often incorporate them into salads, oatmeal, yogurt and even pasta. I actually haven’t come across a dish that I haven’t enjoyed with the addition of hemp seeds!
You can find my favorite hemp seeds here.
– Serving size: 3 tablespoons
– Protein per serving: 9g
Nutritional yeast is another high-protein staple in my kitchen. Like hemp seeds, it’s a source of protein that requires no time to prep and is a great addition to most meals.
You’re most likely thinking, what exactly is nutritional yeast? It is a deactivated yeast that provides an amazing nutty, cheesy and savory flavor. Nutritional yeast is extremely popular among vegans, as it’s a great replacement for cheese in many recipes. It’s also a complete protein, which as I mentioned earlier, many plant-based foods are not.
Another reason nutritional yeast is popular among vegans is because most brands fortify it with vitamin B12, which is a vitamin you miss out on when you cut animal foods out of your diet. When you become B12-deficient, serious and permanent damage can be done, such as irreversible anemia. So if you are eating a plant-based diet, nutritional yeast is not only a great source of complete protein but a great source of vitamin B12. (Side note: If you do eat a plant-based diet, I cannot stress enough how important it is to speak with your doctor about the right supplementation of B12.)
Apart from providing you with 9 grams of protein per serving, nutritional yeast also gives you a boost of fiber. Personally, I am just as aware of my fiber intake as I am of my protein, fat and carbohydrate intake. With bad gut health now being the known cause of so many health issues, I pay close attention to eating foods that fuel good gut health, and with that comes eating enough fiber each day. We can increase the good bacteria in our gut all day long through probiotics, but without providing them with anything to feed off of, that bacteria will quickly die off.
Eating enough fiber each day ensures your gut contains prebiotics for the good bacteria to live off of. Many health experts suggest a minimum of 30 grams of fiber each day, and most of us are not getting anywhere near that! Long story short, fiber is important for optimal health and nutritional yeast can help you reach your daily fiber goal.
I love getting creative with nutritional yeast in my diet. I often sprinkle a serving of it over a salad with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt to replace unhealthy salad dressings. I also love mixing one serving of nutritional yeast with ¼ cup full-fat coconut milk and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder. This creates a cheesy-like sauce that is perfect for pouring over rice, pasta, roasted veggies and salads. I would also suggest mixing it into marinara sauce, hummus and stir-fries.
It’s important to note that nutritional yeast is not for everyone. Researchers have recommended that people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), glaucoma and hypertension avoid it, as it may make their symptoms worsen.
You can find my favorite brand of nutritional yeast here.
– Serving size: 3 ounces
– Protein per serving: 16g
Out of the three, tempeh is by far my favorite. It may look a little intimidating and not sound very appetizing, but let me tell you, it can be delicious! Tempeh has a very neutral flavor on its own and really takes the flavor of whatever you cook it with.
Tempeh is yet another plant-based protein that is considered to be a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. Tempeh contains a higher amount of protein than both nutritional yeast and hemp seeds, with 16 grams per 3-ounce serving. It’s also a much better alternative if you are looking to replace meat on your plate, as it is has a similar texture to ground meat when crumbled.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans; unlike tofu, it is not highly processed and does not contain a long list of ingredients. Tempeh goes through a natural fermentation process, and generally soybeans are the only ingredient. It’s minimally processed and provides you with more benefits than just protein.
Since tempeh is fermented, it is a great source of prebiotics. As I mentioned before, prebiotics are essential for feeding the good bacteria in your gut and maintaining good gut health. And prebiotics provide more than just gut-healing properties—they are great for improving digestion, balancing hormones, increasing immunity, aiding in weight loss and decreasing inflammation.
Tempeh is also an amazing source of fiber, with an entire 7 grams per 3-ounce serving! If you are aiming for 30 grams of fiber a day, tempeh is a huge help for reaching that goal. Fiber is an essential part of your diet and, when included, you’ll notice you won’t need to eat as much to feel full and you’ll also feel fuller for longer between meals. Plus, if you struggle with digestive issues, incorporating more fiber into your diet can be extremely beneficial.
Tempeh doesn’t need to be cooked, and many times when I am on the go, I’ll quickly crumble it up into a salad and allow it to take the taste of my salad dressing. But there are many fun ways to cook tempeh, as it is interchangeable with ground meat and really embodies the flavor of whatever you cook it with. Take any recipe you would generally use ground meat in, toss in tempeh instead, and I promise you’ll love the flavor!