We’re all aware that protein is a crucial nutrient for our diet (it’s one of the three broad categories of nutrients, along with carbohydrates and fats), and for generations we’ve been conditioned to look to meat and dairy products to get it into our systems.
While most of us have discovered its existence elsewhere by now, particularly from protein powders, some good go-to plant-based foods are still not as well-known as they should be for ratcheting up energy and building muscles, bones, tissues and organs.
This is an ancient term for the dry seeds of legume plants including beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas that appears to have entered general dietary discourse when the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulses — a good enough reason!
Pulses all happen to stand out as powerhouse wellsprings of protein, which is why the UN chose to promote them as a primary source of the nutrient. Lentils are the king of protein-rich pulses, with the humble black lentil carrying the most per cup at 24 grams. Also hovering near the top are split peas and chickpeas (16 grams) and black beans (14 grams).
About 97% of the soybeans grown for food in the U.S. are used to produce animal feed, but the other 3% still manages to provide a lot of protein for humans through products such as milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy nuts, miso, natto and soy sauce.
One cup of soybeans can provide up to 70 grams of high-quality protein. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that adults who consume 25 grams of soy protein daily as a replacement for animal protein can reduce their levels of LDL cholesterol by up to 5%, having the biggest effect on those who start out with high levels of the “bad” cholesterol.
There are a few veggies and even fruits out there that can compete with meat on protein content, including broccoli, kale, spinach, artichokes, guava, avocado, jackfruit, blackberries and apricots.