The American Heart Association has often recommended that we consume more chicken, fish, and beans rather than red meat to protect our hearts, but the new President of the American College of Cardiology feels differently. Dr. Kim A. Williams, who now consumes a vegan diet, had concerns about his high cholesterol, even though he was eating a diet that would seemingly be approved by the AHA – “chicken, fish, no skin, no fried food, and no red meat.” While he acknowledges that the relationship between the consumption of dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels is very complicated and can very greatly from person to person, he decided to eliminate foods containing cholesterol – that is animal foods – from his diet, and his LDL cholesterol dropped from 170 to 90 in six weeks. Dr. Williams recommends a plant-based diet to his higher risk clients because he knows it will improve their heart health.
If you’re following a diet with little red meat and are still struggling to keep cholesterol levels down, you may want to follow in Dr. Williams’ footsteps and try a plant-based diet. Even if you’re unwilling to totally give up animal products, there’s no doubt that including more plant-based whole foods in your diet will be a positive for your health.
But, you may be wondering (most people do), where will you get your protein? It’s actually incredibly easy. Here are the five best ways to incorporate sources of plant-based protein into your diet.
- Leafy Greens and Non-Starchy Vegetables: You should be eating tons of these anyways, but did you know that greens like kale, broccoli, and spinach have upwards of 20% protein (and in the case of spinach, roughly 50%). Dr. Joel Fuhrman and others routinely state that our goals each day should be to eat one pound of raw vegetables and one pound of cooked vegetables. That’s a sizeable amount of protein.
- Beans, Lentils, and other Legumes: Beans contain between 13-22 grams of protein per cup (soybeans contain the most at 22 grams, black beans contain 15, and lentils contain almost 18 grams per cup. In addition to their protein content, beans have a number of health benefits that warrant their emphasis in a healthy diet. Put them on top of giant salads, make bean chilis and soups, blend them into sauces, or just eat some as snacks. Some plant-based bodybuilders even blend them into their smoothies when they’re trying to pack on more muscle.
- Seitan: If you’re gluten intolerant, ignore this one, but if you’re not, seitan is an excellent substitution for chicken or beef in just about any recipe, particularly stir fries. Long popular in Asian cultures, seitan is minimally processed (it’s made by washing wheat flour dough with water to remove the starch) and is about 75% protein!
- Raw Nuts and Seeds: Not only are nuts incredibly good for your heart, one cup of chopped walnuts contains 82 grams of protein. Seeds like hemp and chia, in addition to being great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, are rich sources of protein and have some of the most well-rounded amino acid profiles on the planet. Top your oatmeal with nuts and seeds (just pay attention to caloric density), or blend a tablespoon into your next smoothie.
- Plant-Based Protein Powders: Consuming a plant-sourced protein powder blend is a quick and easy way to help recover from a workout or to help with satiety over the course of a busy day in a healthy way. If you drink a whole-food blend that contains greens, superfoods, probiotics, and even nuts and seeds, you’ll be optimizing your health in a variety of powerful ways! Make sure you choose a 100% organic and pure blend with no fillers or “natural flavors.” We recommend our fuel and tru.meal, of course.
In order to truly achieve optimal health, it’s important to always think about the total package of the foods you’re eating … what is the total composition of nutrients in the food? Does it contain protein, fiber, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals? Or does it contain saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, traces of antibiotics and hormones? No matter how you slice it, the foods above are the cleanest and most health-promoting ways to get the protein you need in your diet. If you haven’t already, start prioritizing these foods as soon as you can!