Protein Rich Grains
For those of you that still think protein only comes from eating a steak or a burger, it is time to see light :) Protein can come from a lot of non-meat sources, many of which are plant derived. The difference is that plant-derived protein, is generally not only better for the environment, but better for your body too. Plant-derive protein is lower in fat (particularly bad fats- remember not all fats are created equally) and much easier for your body to digest/absorb.
So, how much protein does your body actually need? You will be surprised to know, that as a society, we have been taught to consume, and believe we need to consume, a whole lot more protein than our bodies actually need. About 10%-30% of our daily calories should come from protein. The average adult male, needs about 56 grams of protein a day; a woman 46 grams a day; and a child (age 5-13) approximately 25 grams. These numbers are of course a benchmark, because it will very based on body type and activity level, but can serve as a good baseline for our discussion.
Protein Rich Grains
Many grains, particularly ancient grains (loosely defined as grains that haven't changed or evolved much over the last several hundreds of years) or super-grains (those packed with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals) have become very easily accessible a local supermarkets and even sold in bulk bins at stores such as Whole Foods, making them much less expensive. These grains, are packed with protein that your body needs for nourishment, regardless of whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, or choosing to clean out your diet by eliminating some of the meat that you consume. There are so many options, however, and it can be difficult to know which to use and when, therefore; I simplify my top 7 below.
Just to help us understand and put things into perspective:
- Sirloin steak: 4 ounces = 34.5 g protein
- Eggs: 1 large egg = 6g protein
- Lentils, cooked: ½ cup = 9g protein
- Tofu, firm: 4 ounces = 10g protein
- Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons = 7g protein
- Greek yogurt (2%): 6 ounces = 17g protein
Quinoa has obviously had its moment of glory, and for good reason, as quinoa is an excellent source of protein and a staple in most vegetarian's diet. Not only does it provide a protein punch (6g of protein in a ¼ cup of uncooked quinoa), but this seed (yeah, quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain) is also what is called a complete protein. A complete protein, means it contains all 9 essential amino acids- only found in plant-based foods. Additionally, quinoa is so widely available now (I remember when I had to import if form Peru not that long ago!) and is great in an almost unlimited number of hot and cold preparations.
But there are other great gains that have started to share the spotlight a bit, and you should be aware of them.
¼ cup uncooked = 6.5g protein
According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Amaranth contains a protein that may help fight cancer and combat inflammation. This "grain", much like quinoa it is technically a seed, and also contains all 9 essential amino acids. Amaranth has a malty flavor that works well for breakfast as porridge; or you can pop it in a pan and eat it like popcorn!
¼ cup uncooked = 7g protein
Not only is farro a great source of protein, this ancient grain packs 7g of fiber, which helps keep your heart healthy. Eating a diet rich in fiber will also cut your risk of diabetes and keep your digestive track in tune. Farro, a wheat variety, has a great earthy/nutty flavor and firmer texture, making it great for many types of preparations for any meal. I love farro in my oatmeal, because the toothy texture makes me feel like I have something to chew on. Look for whole-grain varieties, as the outer layer is totally edible and is packed with vitamins.
Khorasan Wheat (or Kamut)
¼ cup uncooked = 6.8g protein
This ancient wheat is more nutritious (30% more vitamin E) and flavorful that modern day wheat varieties. Kamut berries (the whole form of the grain) has a nuttier flavor but resembles brown rice. In fact, Kamut is a great substitute for rice in pilaf, stir-fry, or just as a gain on its own.
¼ cup uncooked = 6.3g protein
Spelt is beginning to get some notoriety because it is such a great source of manganese, which is important for healthy metabolism. Spelt is also a wheat relative, and is sweet and nutty, thus often found in salads or in oatmeal. Spelt is great with roasted root veggies, and lends itself well to fall flavors such as sage and nutmeg.
¼ cup uncooked = 6.4g protein
Teff is not only a great source of protein, but one serving packs in nearly 20% of a woman's iron need (and nearly half of a man's). Teff grains are teeny, tiny and traditionally used by Ethiopian cooks to make injera, the spongy sourdough bread used to scoop up hearty stews. Teff's mild sweet, yet earthy flavors work well in baking and especially in waffles, pancakes and banana bread.
¼ cup uncooked = 5g protein
Though Sorghum has a little less protein than its counterparts on this list, however, Sorghum is also a great source of policosanols, which are cholesterol-lowering compounds. Mild in flavor and circular in shape, makes sorghum a good substitute for Israeli couscous or orzo pastas.