Plant Based Proteins
The number one question that is asked about a plant-based diet is, "Where do you get your protein?". I'm always happy to answer this question. Truth is, many places! For starters, protein exists in everything and contrary to the Atkins indoctrination of the late 1990's and 2000's, you don't need nearly as much as you are led to believe. This was one of the hardest mindsets for me to shift, even though I personally knew many vegans who looked fantastic, felt fantastic and were fit as hell on a whole food, carbohydrate rich diet.
Whether you are looking to embark on that journey to plant-based living, a seasoned expert, or simply interested in mixing up your menu with an occasional alternative, I am here to show you there is much more on the green menu these days than tofu. Whole food, nourishing, energizing options where you don't have to think twice about whether you are receiving all the nutrients your body requires. I promise, you are.
Even so, it took me quite some time to let go of stale nutritional beliefs. I kept getting stuck on whether or not I was going to get enough protein, so the green vegan in me (pun intended), simply loaded up on tofu, "just in case". I am absolutely not knocking tofu, as a matter of fact I love it, but it was not necessary to consume it every single day. Upon further research, I found there to be a myriad of whole food staples that I could incorporate into my every day diet that are powerhouses of protein, healthy carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. This list includes the king of legumes, the lentil, but also split peas, teff, farro, chickpeas, and a dizzying variety of beans, just to name a few of my favorites. Notice I didn't mention quinoa. It is because I don't like it. That's right.
Using these staples as a foundation opened up a universe of new favorite recipes that made plant-based meal planning so much easier. Even so, lifestyle and diet transitions can be really challenging, because you are not just changing your diet, but shifting away from environmental conditioning, traditions, marketing, advertising, and honestly....cravings. It takes some time and patience is key. These days, there are so many outstanding alternative meat products out there that extend far beyond processed "frankenmeats", that can really ease that transition for many people. Field Roast and Beyond Meat are powerhouses in the plant-based community, and I very much appreciate the care they put into their ingredients that revolve around pea proteins, grains and potatoes. Plus, it will absolutely blow you away how delicious they are. While I aim to base my long term diet around whole foods, I absolutely welcome a regular indulgence with their out-of-this-world products. Having a struggle ditching dairy and cheese? Chao Creamery cheese will seal the deal for you. Simply decadent.
And let's not foresake the small, but mighty. Algae, seeds, nuts and the vegan favorite, nutritional yeast, are not only amazing protein additions, but many offer healthy fats as well. I had no idea I would love hemp seeds until I had some at the Vegan Street Fair in Los Angeles several years ago. These days, I wouldn't dream of having my morning oatmeal or my protein bars without hemp seeds sprinkled in them. Delicious. Experiment with flax or chia seeds, both of which, by the way, double as highly effective egg replacements. Spirulina is a wild green-blue algae powder, which is an absolute dream in smoothies, with its mesmerizing emerald color. Last, but not least, however, is the nutritional yeast. Oh, the nooch. Nutritional yeast makes all of my homemade cheeses and pestos pop with its naturally nutty and cheesy flavor, not to mention the final flourish to my coveted mac and cheese. All completely real on a plant based diet.
These days, I don't have to worry much about whether my meals are nutritionally sound or not. I know they are. Years of practice and intention have taught me much and made me a rather proficient whole living enthusiast. I will always be an eager student, though. Letting go of the shackles of "dieting" is the most liberating feeling ever and I have never felt stronger, more fit, empowered and whole. Below are just a sample of my favorite protein-rich, whole food, plant-based recipes. Simply click on the photo for the recipe or find them in the "In the Kitchen" section of the site.
To begin, how about we honor that incredibly versatile chickpea with my all-time favorite dish:
Not a fan of lentils? Neither was I for most of my life and now I cannot live without them. Try preparing them this way and you may see this superfood in a whole new light:
Cowboy caviar is such a mood lifter for me. The crisp freshness, vibrant colors and complex flavors make this an absolute hit for lunch, an appetizer, a party food, or lightning fast dinner. Plus, it gets better the longer it marinates:
Last, but certainly not least, is the soup I make more than anything in my recipe arsenal: Split pea soup. No, I don't cook every night, because I've typically made enough of this to last for days. This is not a fancy recipe, it is not complex, it will not win any awards. It is meant to be lightning fast to prepare, provide boatloads of energy, offer tons of leftovers and pack a powerful punch of guiltless nutrition during competition season (or any season, for that matter):
Wait, you forgot....Oh, I realize I have hardly scratched the surface of protein rich alternatives (can we talk about broccoli?), but hopefully this inspires and relieves some of the guess work out of plant based proteins. There is so much more to share as we glide through the seasons together. Stay tuned!