Top 24 Vegetarian Protein Sources

The top 24 vegetarian protein sources, including a list of valuable complete proteins, and information on the unique health benefits each food provides to the human body.

The quest for vegetarian protein sources is an important one. Protein and amino acid deficiency can lead to muscle loss, delayed healing, difficulty concentrating, and increased levels of depression and anxiety. When your body’s lacking what it needs, you won’t feel right, and you’ll know it.

This is why it’s important to make sure you get the protein intake you need from a vegetarian diet. Incomplete proteins like whole grains, produce, and nuts can do the job in concert with one other, but there are some foods that contain all nine essential amino acids required for proper human functioning: complete proteins.

We’ve assembled a list of the best vegetarian proteins below. Any of these foods will help ward off the symptoms of protein deficiency, but the complete protein foods listed at the end are for those who want to do some one-stop shopping when it comes to their amino acids intake.

Top 24 vegetarian protein sources.

Nuts and Seeds

We’ve compiled some of the healthiest and handiest snacks around.

1. Hemp Seeds

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seeds are a protein source that can aid against obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Hemp seeds are small sources of fiber that can be easily added to just about any food—stirred into oatmeal, blended into a protein shake or smoothie, or even sprinkled onto a salad. With 3.3 grams of protein per tablespoon, this is an easy ingredient to include in the foods and meals you already eat.

2. Almonds

Full of the amino acid arginine, almonds as a snack can contribute to healthy weight loss and fat burning, reduce the risk of heart disease, and curb hunger. With 6 grams of protein per ounce, almonds are also a source of nutrients that contribute to brain health, like vitamin E, folate, and carnitine, known for its neuroprotective benefits.

3. Cashews

Another conveniently healthy snack, cashews are an excellent resource for minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. With a fair amount of vitamin K, cashews also contain biotin, which is used for hair and nail health, and they have 5 grams of protein per ounce.

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, antioxidants and 9 grams of protein per ounce. Containing the amino acid arginine, pumpkin seeds can help in situations of hair loss, and can be eaten raw or baked with added flavors like honey (for sweet) or garlic powder (for savory).

Beans and Legumes

Here are some hardy foods to add substantial protein to your diet.

5. Lentils

Lentils are a complete protein, but there’s a catch: they contain all nine essential amino acids, but they don’t contain sufficient methionine to meet ideal amino acid intake. Just 1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, the same amount as three eggs. With a high-fiber content, lentils are filling when eaten and slow down digestion in a way that could help blunt spikes in blood glucose (a contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes).

6. Black Beans

With 39 grams of protein per cup, black beans are a heavy hitter in the protein department and a terrific way to meet your copper, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron needs. Black beans are a great way to add valuable density to a pot.

7. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are legumes high in the amino acid lysine as well as fiber, iron, folate, zinc, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Just 1 cup of chickpeas has 39 grams of protein. Extremely popular in the form of hummus, when eaten with pita bread, that combined snack can become a complete protein.

Protein-Rich Grains

These modern and ancient grains are the staff of life.

8. Amaranth

An ancient grain that is naturally gluten free, amaranth offers up digestive fiber and calcium. Porridge-like when cooked, it is a particularly healthy replacement for or addition to morning cereal and oatmeal. It provides 9 grams of protein per cup.

9. Teff

A lesser-known ancient grain from the Ethiopian region, Teff is full of essential amino acids, vitamin C (quite unusual in a grain), and calcium. With 10 grams of protein per cup, again it could replace or enhance a bowl of oatmeal, a helping of grits, or a side of rice.

10. Triticale

Triticale is another whole grain (wheat-rye hybrid) with 24 grams of protein per cup and rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Triticale can be used instead of traditional baking flour in recipes.

Fruits and Veggies

Vitamin-rich vegetables and even some fruit can provide protein.

11. Spinach

With 5 grams of protein per cooked cup, spinach has almost the equivalent amount of protein as a hard-boiled egg (at half the calories). Eating spinach raw or steamed maintains the maximum amount of nutrients, namely high amounts of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium.

12. Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as your risk of coronary artery disease. With 6 grams of protein per cup, tomatoes provide fiber and calcium and make a refreshing addition to many salads, sandwiches, and salsas.

13. Guava

This high-protein fruit has more than 4 grams of protein per cup. Along with fiber, guava has over 600% of your daily recommended vitamin C (about seven oranges worth). A brightly colored and delightfully zesty treat to include in any diet.

14. Artichokes

Artichokes are a good source of niacin, magnesium, potassium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. With about 10 grams of plant protein per cup, it has one of the highest protein yields among vegetables, and the artichoke has nearly twice the fiber of kale.

15. Peas

A high-protein food with 8 grams of protein per cup and nearly 100% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, peas add a tantalizing texture to salads and mashed potatoes. Of course, they’re also enjoyed as a side dish all on its own. You can even mash them up for baby food, or flavor that mash and use it as a veggie spread for your morning toast.

Complete Proteins

Here’s the good stuff, the protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids needed in your diet.

16. Quinoa

With 8 grams of protein per cup, quinoa is an ancient grain with wide modern popularity, included in over 1,000 products on the market and regularly showing up in strange places (like wrapped around a sushi roll or pressed into a veggie burger). With a mild flavor, quinoa can be seasoned to a variety of taste preferences and is an excellent source of unsaturated fats and fiber. Along with the nine essential amino acids, quinoa also contains the amino acid L-arginine, shown to promote muscle over fat gain in animal studies (let’s hope that proves true for the most dangerous game animal of all: humans!). In fact, quinoa contains about a dozen amino acids, making it a wonderful alternative to carbs like couscous or rice.

17. Soybeans

Soybeans and soy products like tofu and soy milk all contain protein: steamed soybeans have 8 grams per cup, tofu 20 grams per cup, and soy milk 4 grams per cup. Soy foods offer cardiovascular benefits, help prevent prostate and colon cancer, decrease hot flashes for women in menopause, and guard against osteoporosis. Tofu particularly can be formed and flavored to fit a variety of recipes.

18. Buckwheat

With 6 grams of protein per cup, buckwheat is a gluten-free seed full of fiber (more than the amount found in oatmeal) and magnesium, a mineral that’s important to metabolism. Buckwheat is not a wheat but a versatile cousin of rhubarb that can nevertheless function as a pancake mix, be formed into Japanese soba noodles, or be eaten as porridge.

19. Ezekiel Bread

Sprouted bread or Ezekiel bread has 4 grams of protein per slice and is made with the sprouted grains and legumes wheat, barley, lentils, beans, spelt, and millet. It contains 18 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids, which is not even close to true for most bread products. With one sandwich on Ezekiel bread you can gain 8 grams of protein during lunch alone.

Fun fact: Ezekiel bread is named after this passage in the Bible from Ezekiel 4:9: “Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself.” Intended as a last resort to make bread when a besieged Jerusalem was running low on supplies, it turned out to be a fantastic recipe fit for modern times, and an extraordinarily nutritious food.

20. Spirulina

Used as a whole food or dietary supplement, the vibrantly green spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria that can be eaten by humans and other animals. With 4 grams of protein per powdered teaspoon, it also provides the B vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin), along with copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. An odd taste at first, spirulina can nevertheless be added to a variety of foods for the bevy of benefits it provides.

21. Quorn

Developed in the U.K. in the 1980s from a fungus relative of mushrooms and truffles, Quorn is often used as a faux meat in the form of tenders, burgers, and lasagna filling. With over 20 grams of fiber per cup, this product contains all nine essential amino acids.

22. Peanut Butter

With 65 grams of protein per cup, peanut butter is a tasty protein source that can be made into cookies, sandwiches, included in smoothies, and used as a spread on crackers or celery (add some raisins to make the classic “ants on a log” snack). Peanut butter also contains healthy fats and could prevent both cardiovascular and coronary artery disease. Choose the unsalted kind, with no hydrogenated oils or sugars added, and have a guilt-free treat!

23. Chia Seeds

With 2.5 grams of protein per tablespoon, chia seeds don’t contain that much protein, but they can easily make up for it by providing all nine essential amino acids. Chia seeds can absorb moisture and become gel-like, making them a fun addition to pudding and smoothies, and the omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce the risk of heart disease. They can be sprinkled over soups and salads, made into a chia seed pudding for dessert, and used as an egg replacement in vegan cooking recipes once they are fully hydrated.

24. Eggs

Speaking of eggs, this last item is for the ovo-vegetarians only, but too important to leave off the list entirely. Eggs are one of the most nutrient-filled protein sources around. With 6 grams of protein per egg, they contain the disease-fighting nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin and are a classic breakfast food whether they’re prepared scrambled, sunny side up, baked into a quiche, or separated to make an egg white omelet. Along with being versatile as their own main ingredient (egg salad, deviled eggs, etc.), eggs are also a great binding element for cauliflower pizza dough or egg-washing cookies before baking.

Plentiful Vegetarian Protein Sources

A protein deficiency doesn’t have to be a concern for those keeping to a vegetarian diet, and in fact, since plant-based sources of protein are so abundant, protein deficiency in vegetarian and vegan diets is actually quite rare. There are many ways to add enough protein to your diet that will support healthy weight loss, increase muscle mass, and improve your overall health and well-being.

On a deeper level, choosing complete proteins to include in one’s diet gets down to the cellular level of wellness, providing the nine essential amino acids that only come to humans via dietary intake. The more you know about what your food truly provides to the human body, the more precise your choices (and recipes) will become.

While animal proteins are higher quality in that they contain an adequate balance of the essential amino acids our bodies need, some plant proteins are low in essential amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, lysine, and isoleucine. If you’re adhering to a plant-based diet, it’s a good idea to supplement with an essential amino acid blend to improve the balance of essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids, especially if you don’t want to have to think so hard about mixing and matching plant-based proteins to make them more complete.

Top 16 Vegan Foods That Are High in Protein

Learn about 16 high-protein vegan foods, including their nutrient content, a few interesting facts about their origins and histories, plus some tasty recipe ideas.

One of the first struggles involved in maintaining a vegan diet is getting enough protein. Significant amounts of casual protein comes from animal sources, and so it takes a fair amount of effort to derive the body’s much-needed protein from plant-based foods. Below are 16 high-protein vegan foods, with their nutrient content, origins, and common recipe uses.

Top 16 vegan foods high in protein.

1. Tofu

One cup of the soy product tofu contains 10 grams of protein. A valuable resource for iron, calcium, the mineral manganese, and vitamin B1, tofu is what’s known as a whole protein, meaning that it contains an adequate amount of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet.

Where It Comes From

Made by pressing soymilk curds into a firm tofu slab, this high-protein source is invaluable. Tempeh and edamame also originate from soybeans, edamame from immature soybeans, which gives them a grassy taste, and tempeh from fermented soybeans, which has a more nutty flavor.

How to Eat It

Formed into cubes or balls, tofu can be grilled, fried, marinated, baked, or thrown into a vegetable stir fry. With a very light nutty flavor, tofu can be easily seasoned with a multitude of flavors, and because it’s such an especially pliable substance (tofu texture can span the range from silken to extra firm), it can be formed into mimicking types of meat like chicken strips, hamburgers, and meatballs.

2. Lentils

One of the great vegan protein sources, lentils are edible legumes, and 1 cup of lentils has approximately 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also high in fiber, folate, and iron.

Where It Comes From

Lentils are widely cultivated throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa but very little is grown in the Western Hemisphere. An annual plant, its seeds grow two to a pod.

How to Eat It

From soups to salads to a wide variety of side dishes, lentils promote gut health, provide a significant source of dietary fiber, and contain important antioxidants.

3. Seitan

Seitan is a high-protein food made from cooked wheat gluten and is a fantastic meat substitute. One cup has over 75 grams of protein, making it one of the richest plant protein sources, and also a good source for the minerals iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

Where It Comes From

Made from gluten, seitan is the main protein of wheat, which is why it’s sometimes called “wheat meat.” Seitan was coined in Japanese, and roughly translated means “made of proteins.”

How to Eat It

Unlike many soy-based products, seitan actually resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked, and makes for a fun pizza topping. It can be sautéed, pan-fried, and grilled, meaning it’s easy to include in a variety of recipes. Though not for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, this meat-like plant-based protein is a favorite of many vegetarians and vegans.

4. Wild Rice

An aquatic grass with edible grains, wild rice contains nearly 1.5 times the amount of protein of other long-grain rice varieties like basmati and brown rice. A cooked cup of wild rice contains 7 grams of protein, along with B vitamins, fiber, manganese, copper, and phosphorus. Wild rice is not stripped of its bran (unlike white rice).

Where It Comes From

Wild rice is one of only two cereal grains that are native to North America, and it happens to be the state grain of Minnesota.

How to Eat It

In a soup, as a side, or combined with any dish to add a healthy yet filling dimension to a meal. There are many vegan dishes that include a bed of wild rice as a base.

5. Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread can be made from wheat, barley, millet, spelt, soybeans, and lentils. A single slice of Ezekiel bread contains approximately 4 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes. Because it doesn’t contain added sugars, it is an organic, healthy alternative to other commercial breads. Sprouting also appears to increase the bread’s beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate content.

How to Eat It

You can eat Ezekiel bread the same as you would eat any other bread: toast, French toast, sandwiches, and so on. It’s easier to digest for people with a gluten sensitivity due to a slightly reduced gluten content, and sprouted grain breads have an enhanced protein and nutrient profile over traditional breads.

6. Hemp Seeds

One tablespoon of hemp seeds (approximately 30 grams) contains 9.47 grams of protein, 50% more than chia seeds and flax seeds. Hemp seeds also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. They’re even a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Where It Comes From

A variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp seeds do belong to the same family as the marijuana plant but contain only small trace amounts of THC. Hemp seeds may help reduce inflammation, and for women may diminish symptoms of PMS and menopause.

How to Eat It

Hemp seeds can be easily added to a diet by including them in smoothies, oatmeal cookies, homemade salad dressings, and protein bars. This valuable plant-based vegan protein is also highly digestible.

7. Chia Seeds

Speaking of chia seeds, though lower in protein than hemp seeds, chia seeds are quite high in fiber (28 grams of chia seeds delivers 11 grams of fiber). Chia seeds also contain iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.

Where It Comes From

An important food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds are an annual herb from the mint family and native to Mexico and Guatemala.

How to Eat It

Chia seeds have a bland taste and are able to absorb water until they reach a gel-like consistency. This makes them easy to include in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to smoothies to their own chia seed pudding.

8. Green Peas

A cup of cooked green peas contains 9 grams of protein (a little bit more than a full cup of milk), and provides more than 25% of your daily fiber requirements.

Where It Comes From

The pea is a small green seed eaten as a vegetable; the field pea was one of the very first crops cultivated by humankind.

How to Eat It

Often served as a side dish, sweet green peas can be stuffed in with ravioli filling, made into pea soup, or added to salads for delightful taste and texture. Mashed peas can be used even more creatively, as part of or an alternative to traditional avocado guacamole, as a spread for bread or crackers, or folded into other dishes for their valuable health content.

9. Pumpkin Seeds

A 100-gram serving of organic pumpkin seeds contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and 5 milligrams of protein.

Where It Comes From

From the pumpkin fruit (named after the Greek word pepon meaning “large melon”), pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to the period between 7000-5500 B.C.

How to Eat It

You can flavor and roast pumpkin seeds in your oven, and enjoy them as a quick snack between meals. Whether plain, sweet, or salty, they can help curb your hunger during the day while adding a little extra protein to your stores.

10. Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain, along with einkorn, barley, teff (also particularly high in fiber and gluten free), sorghum, and farro. One cup of raw spelt has 25 grams of protein and is an excellent source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Where It Comes From

Spelt is a type of wheat that contains gluten. A member of the farro family of grains, it was originally cultivated in what is now present-day Iran.

How to Eat It

Spelt can be prepared and eaten much like rice, but can also be included in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to pizza, from polenta to risotto.

11. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a legume that contain about 5 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also an excellent source of complex carbs, iron, fiber, folate, phosphorus, and potassium.

Where It Comes From

An annual plant of the pea family, chickpeas were likely domesticated as a crop in what is currently southeastern Turkey and Syria about 11,000 years ago.

How to Eat It

Chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern, African, and Indian cuisines. Often made into hummus, chickpeas can also be added to stews, mashed to form pancakes and fritters, or flavored for taste and eaten on their own.

12. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast. Fortified nutritional yeast is a great source for all the B vitamins, as well as the minerals zinc, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It also provides 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce.

Where It Comes From

Nutritional yeast is derived from the single-cell organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses before being harvested and heat-dried to deactivate it. Due to its being inactive, unlike baking yeast, nutritional yeast does not froth or grow, and thus has no leavening ability.

How to Eat It

Nutritional yeast can be enjoyed as a savory topping for popcorn thanks to its cheesy flavor, or sprinkled over pasta or pizza in lieu of Parmesan. It is also a popular ingredient for adding into dishes like mashed potatoes or scrambled tofu, both for its taste as well as its health benefits.

13. Quinoa

Another of the ancient grains, quinoa is gluten-free and considered a pseudocereal because it does not grow quite like other cereal grains do. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8.14 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

A member of the goosefoot family, quinoa was widely cultivated in the Andes for its edible starchy seeds.

How to Eat It

Quinoa can be used in a powder form for adding protein content to baked goods. Otherwise it can be treated much the same as a rice dish: used as a base, a side, or eaten on its own with whatever preferred seasoning you’ve got.

14. Oats

With a good amounts of folate, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, oats are a cereal plant cultivated in cool climates and used for animal feed as well as human consumption. Although not considered a complete protein, 1 cup of cooked steel-cut oats has 10 grams of plant protein.

Where It Comes From

Originally considered a weed that afflicted wheat and barley, oats have since become a staple food in Western diets.

How to Eat It

Oats can be eaten in oatmeal, of course, and oatmeal cookies, but oats can also be included in veggie burgers, homemade protein bars, and mixed with yogurt for a pleasing and nutritious texture.

15. Edamame

Edamame is a green soy bean, and has 18 grams of protein per cup (a significant amount of protein).

Where It Comes From

Translated from Japanese, edamame literally means “beans on a branch,” and appears regularly in and alongside Japanese cuisine (though edamame’s roots are actually in China).

How to Eat It

You’ll recognize edamame at sushi restaurants, but it doesn’t have to stay there. In their pods, edamame can be boiled or baked and eaten as a snack. Shelled edamame can be added to salads, stews, basically any dish you want.

16. Peanut Butter

There are 65 grams of protein in 1 cup of peanut butter. Nuts and nut butters are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Where It Comes From

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereal) patented a process for creating peanut butter in 1895. He noted that it was a healthy protein substitute for patients without teeth.

How to Eat It

Spread it, blend it, bake it into cookies, roll it into balls with other high-protein ingredients, literally go nuts!

High-Protein Vegan Foods

While it is important to be cognizant of the protein and amino acids often missing from a vegan diet, these vegan sources of protein show that removing animal products from your diet isn’t a loss. Instead, it’s a healthy alternative that leads to a rich variety of plant-based foods.

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein? It May Just Be the Missing Link in Your Diet!

It can be hard for vegans and vegetarians to find complete proteins that meat and fish eaters source with ease. Enter Quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein that some hail as a supergrain.

Vegetarians, vegans, and even the meatless Monday crowd crave the same quality nutrition that the carnivore next door gets without breaking a sweat. Which leaves many of us wondering, is quinoa a complete protein? While it’s not difficult to get garden-variety nutrients in a plant-based diet, it can be a challenge to source the complete proteins found in animal products. Enter quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein source that some hail as a supergrain.

We need 20 amino acids in different combinations to create the proteins that fuel our cells and power our lives. For instance, your heart is made of 95% amino acids. But our bodies alone can only create 11 of them. The other nine essential amino acids must come from what we eat, and quinoa is one of the plant sources that supplies each of these “building blocks of life.”

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, but a seed. Regardless of classification, it’s enjoyed much like other grain-based foods.

While most whole grains have some amino acids, they tend to lack the amino acid lysine or contain only trace amounts of it and don’t deliver enough protein to sustain our essential amino acid requirements. The amino acid profile of quinoa, however, can be considered complete.

Quinoa offers up a good amount of lysine and the other eight essential amino acids to help support our bodies’ amino acid needs. And research shows that the digestion of quinoa protein is comparable to that of other high-quality protein foods.

Here’s the possible catch: quinoa appears to be a high-quality protein, but that is in terms of quinoa protein isolate, which is actually of low quantity in quinoa seeds. The amino acid profile of quinoa is, for instance, significantly inferior to specially formulated essential amino acid mixtures. So, by all means, add quinoa to your diet to feed your body the essential amino acids it craves, but, if you are concerned that you aren’t meeting your protein needs, then consider supplementing with essential amino acids according to your nutritional needs.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

The protein in quinoa far surpasses the protein content of its grainy competitors. Take incomplete proteins such as rice and barley, for example. One cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, while brown rice has only 5 grams, and barley less than that at 3.5 grams.

Is quinoa a complete protein?

On par with rice and couscous, quinoa has a nutty taste with a slight toothsomeness. For a savory approach, some toss in bay leaves, thyme, garlic powder, and other herbs and spices, while the breakfast crowd might like it a bit sweeter, boiling it with milk, stirring in fruits and nuts with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. You can add quinoa to soups, salads, and stir-fries, or pop it like popcorn. Here are some recipes to try.

Harvest from an Ancient Table

A seed that comes to us courtesy of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, quinoa means “the mother grain” in its original South American tongue, and dates back thousands of years. It was also called  “The gold of the Incas” because, with a belly full, warriors as old as 50 had the fortitude to scale the Andes, fight amid the harsh terrain, and vanquish their enemies.

Though this superfood remained a secret tucked away in a distant land for millennia, word has gotten around. These days quinoa crops are sprouting up in North America, China, France, and India with production picking up in Africa and the Middle East. There are 1,800 types of quinoa in a rainbow of colors, but only a few made the leap to the U.S. The white variety is milder, while the red and black boast more nutrients. The harvested seeds of Chenopodium quinoa undergo processing to remove natural saponins, a bitter-tasting husk that acts as a natural pesticide to the maturing plant.

A Cornucopia of Nutritional Goodies

Apart from being one of the best sources of protein, quinoa has small amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, is non-GMO, and is usually organically grown, which makes it a good find. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took a selfie with her pouch of quinoa aboard the International Space Station. She chose this plant protein as one of her “bonus foods,” pairing it with mackerel. Quinoa’s also held in lofty esteem by NASA scientists, who’ve explored growing it in outer space, as it reproduces and stores well, while offering nutritional bang for the buck. Aside from protein, which supports muscle, hair, collagen, enzymes, and antibodies, and fiber that helps our bodies absorb nutrients, quinoa is a strong source of:

  • Manganese (58% of the RDA): A friend to the brain, nerves connective tissue, bones, blood, hormones, and metabolism.
  • Magnesium (30% of the RDA): Gets the biochemical party started and helps with energy production.
  • Phosphorous (28% of the RDA): Teams up with calcium to give strength and structure to bones and teeth.
  • Folate (19% of the RDA): A B vitamin that hooks up with your DNA chain and percolates other genetic material.
  • Copper (18% of the RDA): Links up with iron to help form red blood cells and keep blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones ticking like the Swiss.
  • Iron (15% of the RDA): Important for healthy blood and transfer of oxygen from lungs and tissues.
  • Zinc (13% of the RDA): Big on cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you can smell and taste, thank zinc.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 (more than 10% of the RDA): The Bs power energy level, brain function, and cell metabolism.
  • Potassium (9% of the RDA): Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals. A diet rich in potassium may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, and help prevent stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

 

Fighting Disease Like an Incan Warrior

There’s a saying: Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. And while quinoa is mainly known for the ways it supports body function, it’s increasingly becoming appreciated—in the never-say-die spirit of its Incan ancestry—for its warrior-like attributes and health benefits.

Antioxidants? Check!

Quinoa ranks high in antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are believed to contribute to aging and certain diseases. A study looked at antioxidant levels in five cereals, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes, and found quinoa to have the highest antioxidant content of them all. When added to gluten-free goods, quinoa enhanced their polyphenol content, helping to stave off certain cancers, osteoporosis, and other unwanted health effects.

Quinoa May Boost Metabolism

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels. And research with rats indicated that quinoa in a diet high in fructose almost completely inhibited the negative effects of the fructose.

Good for Low Glycemic Diets

The glycemic index measures how foods raise your blood-sugar levels. Foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and lead to overeating and obesity. Obesity can be a culprit in type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low and can be an ally in blood sugar control.

Feel Fuller, Eat Less

Quinoa has been associated with weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite, possibly because its high-fiber content may increase feelings of fullness, causing one to eat less, though more research is needed to help scientists better understand quinoa’s effects on metabolism.

A Hedge Against Diabetes

Studies of Peruvian grains and legumes found that quinoa, its cousin kañiwa, and other traditional crops from Peru’s Andes have the potential to manage type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.

Putting the Kibosh on Cholesterol

High in soluble fiber, quinoa can help bring down blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and increase a sense of fullness, which can, potentially, help with weight loss.

Highly Regarded, but No Halo

Quinoa attributes are undisputed, but even with a glycemic index of 53, it is somewhat high in carbs, and not as well-suited to a low-carb diet.

Another potential hitch is quinoa’s naturally occurring phytic acid, which can make it harder for the body to absorb all of its rich minerals. Soaking and/or sprouting the seed prior to cooking can reduce that effect. Other than that, though, it’s pretty hot stuff. In fact, leaders are looking at mass-produced quinoa as a way to feed the world as the effects of climate change take hold. Given its high level of genetic diversity, quinoa crops are highly resilient to extremes in soil, rainfall, temperature, and altitude, and tolerant to frost, drought, and salinity, according to a 2016 report.

So, if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to up your protein intake and add some quinoa to the menu.

Lentil Nutrition: Do Lentils Contain All 9 Essential Amino Acids?

Lentils are legumes—cousin to foods such as beans, peanuts, and peas. But how complete is lentil nutrition, especially when it comes to protein content? And do lentils contain all 9 essential amino acids. Let’s find out!

Lentils are legumes—cousin to foods such as beans, peanuts, and peas. These edible pulses come in many colors and sizes. Green lentils add a peppery punch to salads and red lentils provide a hearty bed for baked salmon or roasted chicken. They’re inexpensive and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration, two benefits that have made lentils a diet staple of many cultures around the world, and a go-to protein source of the vegan diet. But how complete is lentil nutrition, especially when it comes to its protein content? Let’s find out!

Lentil Nutrition

Lentils are an excellent source of protein for meat eaters, vegans, and vegetarians alike. One cup of lentils (about 200 grams) contains approximately 230 calories of carbohydrate and 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also high in iron, folate, and fiber (both soluble and insoluble). Today’s discussion, however, centers on lentils as a plant protein. So let’s find out: do lentils contain all nine essential amino acids or are they an incomplete protein source?

Are Lentils a Complete Protein?

Proteins in the body are composed of 20 different amino acids hooked together in a specific sequence and amount. There are two general types of dietary amino acids: those that can be produced in the body (called nonessential amino acids) and those that must be obtained through the diet (the essential amino acids). We’ll be referring to essential amino acids as EAAs.

Now, lentils are indeed a good source of EAAs, but there is debate as to whether lentils are a complete protein. A complete protein contains all nine EAAs.

Take a look at the figure below. It shows the profile of the EAAs in lentils compared to your daily EAA requirements. Notice how the methionine content of lentil protein is quite low relative to EAA requirements. Also, less than 50% of the methionine in lentils is actually absorbed by the body. We can surmise that, although lentil protein is theoretically a complete protein, in practice it is deficient in the essential amino acid methionine.

lentils essential amino acids

Health Benefits of Lentils

For a recent epidemiological study, researchers analyzed the diets of more than 3,000 subjects and concluded that older adults at risk for cardiovascular disease who frequently consumed legumes, particularly lentils, as part of a Mediterranean diet may be at lower risk for type 2 diabetes. This effect may be due to the beneficial impact lentils have on digestion. Lentils delay gastric emptying, which is a fancy way of saying that they slow the stomach’s emptying of solids. This could help blunt spikes in blood glucose that ultimately contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Lentils and Digestion

Lentils are not digested readily. Antiproteases in lentils reduce protein digestion.

Proteases are enzymes that are released from the pancreas after you eat food. They play an important role in digestion. Proteases break down ingested protein into amino acids for absorption. The antiproteases in lentils not only reduce the digestion of lentil protein but also reduce the digestion of other proteins in the meal, as well as the secreted proteases. For this reason, care must be taken in analyzing the protein quality of lentils to account for the negative impact of incomplete digestion. Poor protein digestion not only limits the nutritional value of the EAAs in lentils but can also lead to diarrhea.

Protein absorption is also limited by saponins in lentils. In addition to containing chemicals that impair protein digestion, lentils contain phytic acid, which is considered an “anti-nutrient” because it binds to minerals in the digestive system, thereby limiting their absorption.

Cook ‘em Up!

Cooking lentils properly can reduce their adverse digestive impact. Whether you’re making Indian Daal or warming up a vegan lentil soup, always rinse lentils before cooking and discard the foam that forms when boiling (the foam is the saponin). Keep in mind that even when you cook lentils correctly they still, to some extent, can impair digestion.

While impaired digestion may be a benefit in terms of minimizing peak levels of blood glucose after a meal, there are some disadvantages. Most prominently, the essential amino acids in lentils are incompletely digested and absorbed. Overall, only about 80% of the amino acids in lentils are absorbed, but the absorption of certain amino acids, including methionine, is as low as 40%. When the low digestibility of methionine is considered in the context of the exceptionally low amount of methionine to begin with, it is reasonable to consider lentils an incomplete protein, which is a protein that has low amounts of just some of the essential amino acids.

Digestion-Corrected Protein Content of Lentils

A cup (200 grams) of lentils has about 6.6 grams of EAAs and 11.4 grams of nonessential amino acids. About 80% of these amino acids are absorbed (less in the case of methionine). This means that about 5.2 grams of EAAs are absorbed from a cup of cooked lentils. While this remains a good source of EAAs, it comes at a caloric cost. Each gram of absorbed EAAs is 44 calories. To put it in perspective, this is about the same kcal/g of EAAs as is in an egg yolk.

The Need for Complementary Protein Consumption

The easiest way to make sure you’re meeting your daily EAA requirements is to eat lentils with animal proteins, such as eggs, meat, dairy products, or fish that have adequate methionine.

If you wish to stick to plant sources of protein, then balancing EAA profiles is more challenging. A variety of whole grains contain methionine, and while grains are deficient in lysine, lentils contain lysine. Therefore, serving lentils with rice or wheat products should, in theory, balance the combined EAA profile. However, grains, including whole grains, are poor sources of protein, and a lot of rice or wheat must be eaten with lentils to make up for the methionine deficiency in lentils. The result is that a high-caloric intake is required to achieve a balanced EAA profile.

EAA Supplements Are an Ideal “Complement” to Lentils

A viable alternative to complementary proteins is to supplement the diet with an appropriately balanced EAA supplement. This will amplify the beneficial effect of the eight essential amino acids in lentil protein and also provide the necessary methionine to make sure you’re getting enough protein on all counts. Also, free EAAs in a supplement do not require proteases to be digested, so the antiproteases in lentils will not negatively affect the nutritional value of the EAA supplement.

The Verdict

Lentils are a good source of eight of the nine essential amino acids. However, antiproteases in lentils limit the digestibility of lentil protein and other proteins in the meal. Complementing lentil consumption with animal protein or an EAA supplement will enhance the nutritional benefit of the EAAs in lentils.

What Is the Keto Diet—and Can Amino Acids and Other Supplements Really Improve Results?

Consistently following a ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Taking amino acids along with following a keto diet can expedite the metabolic processes responsible for ketogenic weight loss.

People diet for different reasons, such as preventing or treating infection, managing diabetes, gaining muscle mass, or maintaining a healthy weight. Weight loss is the most popular reason for dieting, but weight loss can be quite difficult to achieve depending on the type of diet you follow. If you’re interested in how the foods you eat can impact your weight and well-being, chances are, you’ve encountered the phrase “keto diet,” but you may still be wondering: “What is the keto diet?”

The ketogenic diet, often shortened to the keto diet, is an extremely low-carbohydrate diet approach (even sticter than the infamous Atkins diet) that proponents state can train your body to burn fat more efficiently. Many individuals have shared their experiences using the keto diet to lose weight, improve their overall health, and enhance physical and mental performance, leading to increased interest in the diet. Some of the benefits of the keto diet have been validated by scientific studies and a growing number of medical professionals recommend it as a means of addressing lifestyle-related chronic conditions.

As more and more people adopt a keto diet, often with the goal of losing weight and keeping it off, some have begun exploring whether certain supplements can improve their results. It appears that amino acids show particular promise as a means of enhancing metabolic processes responsible for ketogenic weight loss.

In this article, we’ll provide an introduction to the keto diet, cover some of the most common benefits associated with the keto diet, and then share the best keto diet supplements to take and how those supplements can help accelerate your keto diet results.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. Traditionally, it was used to treat children, but in recent years, it has been used to treat adults with epilepsy that does not respond to other interventions. And, of course, its use has expanded far beyond that initial medical context.

After the fat-free diet craze went bust, researchers turned their attention to carbohydrates. Ironically, diets that discourage fatty foods often encourage the consumption of low-fat, fat-free, or trans-fat options loaded with highly processed ingredients that the body stores as fat. Low-fat diets tend to place less emphasis on monitoring the intake of carbohydrates, which can greatly jeopardize calorie-burning processes at the cellular level.

Carbohydrates come in many food forms; sugars, complex carbohydrates (starches), and fiber are the three main types. Regularly consuming carbohydrates over time has been linked to higher risk of developing chronic illness, especially cardiovascular disease.

How the Keto Diet Encourages Your Body to Burn More Fat

The foundational principle of the keto diet is rigid carbohydrate restriction. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuels; however, your body can also run off of fat. When you keep your carb intake below a certain threshold while adhering to a high-fat diet, your body switches from burning carbs for fuel to burning fat.

The “keto” in ketogenic refers to small fuel molecules called ketones that your body runs off of when it does not have access to significant quantities of glucose (blood sugar) from carbohydrates.

When you eat carbohydrates, your body quickly converts them into glucose via a process called glucogenesis. Excess protein can also be converted to glucose. The glucose produced from carbohydrates and protein can be used to power your body, but any that’s not immediately needed gets stored as fat.

If your body does not have a ready supply of glucose, it switches over to a process called ketogenesis. The liver converts loose fatty acids into ketone bodies that cells use for energy while the body metabolizes fat and burns calories at a high rate. Ketosis, a term that pops up frequently in reference to the keto diet, describes the moment when the body enters the metabolic state in which it’s running off of fat rather than carbohydrates.

The quickest way to enter a state of ketosis is to fast, but that short-term approach has its limitations. Adopting the keto diet allows you to enter and stay in ketosis for a sustained period of time.

Consistently following a comprehensive ketogenic diet, otherwise known as the keto diet, is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Taking amino acids along with following a keto diet can expedite the metabolic processes responsible for ketogenic weight loss.

The Basics of the Keto Diet

Entering a state of ketosis does require some number crunching to track nutrient intake, something many other diets involve too. The basic ratios of the keto diet are:

  • 70% to 75% fat
  • 15% to 25% protein
  • 5% carbohydrates

The most crucial aspect of these ratios is carbohydrate intake. Most individuals will need to limit their carb intake to 50 grams or fewer of net carbs per day. Some experience even greater benefits with a daily carb intake below 20 grams.

For the best keto diet results, you will also need to pay attention to how much protein you consume. The bulk of your calories should come from high-fat, moderate-protein foods, since excess quantities of protein can be converted into glucose.

Athletes or individuals who engage in high-intensity activity should monitor their performance when on the keto diet and may require more protein and carbohydrates for peak metabolic function. One to two days of carbohydrate refueling followed by ketogenic dieting the remaining days of the week is a common dietary program for high-endurance performers.

But if you decrease the intensity of your workouts, plan accordingly. A more precision-based model for carbohydrate intake may work best in this instance. Eating easily digestible natural carbohydrates, like honey, 30 minutes prior to a moderate to vigorous workout can offset potential energy deficiencies created by a keto diet meal plan.

7 Health Benefits of the Keto Diet

The time that it takes for you to achieve ketosis depends on how well-adapted your body is to the ketogenic process. The most reliable way to determine whether you have entered a state of ketosis is to use a blood ketone meter, which can gauge ketone levels in your blood.

Optimal ketosis—the point at which you begin to experience the health benefits of the keto diet, such as weight loss—typically begins when blood ketone levels reach between 1.5 mmol/L and 3.0 mmol/L.

For most people, it takes 2 to 3 weeks to reach optimal ketosis. During this time, you may experience symptoms of “keto flu” as your body acclimates to this new metabolic state. Some common side effects people experience during this entry phase include:

  • Mood swings
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Intestinal discomfort

Once you reach ketosis, however, any initial unpleasantness you experienced will clear up and you will begin to reap the health benefits. Here are seven of the most common benefits associated with the keto diet.

1. Sustainable Weight Loss

The keto diet, in essence, turns your body into a fat-burning machine. As you might anticipate, this can have significant benefits when it comes to weight loss. Strong scientific evidence shows that the keto diet dramatically increases the body’s fat-burning capacity while decreasing levels of insulin, a hormone that encourages fat storage.

2. Decreased Hunger

Researchers have also found that the keto diet supports body fat loss while decreasing appetite, making it easier to stick to the meal plans you set up for yourself.

One reason for this is likely that when your body uses fat as its primary fuel source, it has round-the-clock access to weeks or months of stored energy. This eliminates the hunger attacks many experience when their blood sugar spikes and then plummets after a high-carb meal.

3. Balanced Blood Sugar Levels

Adopting a keto diet can help you gain control over your blood sugar levels. For this reason, medical practitioners may recommend the keto diet to patients with type 2 diabetes. The keto diet can not only lead to better management of this condition, but also, as studies have shown, to a reversal of the disease.

Though no randomized, controlled trials have examined whether the keto diet can help prevent or reverse pre-diabetes, its impressive effect as a treatment for full-blown type 2 diabetes along with anecdotal evidence makes a strong case for its likely success.

4. Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

Multiple studies have shown that adopting a low-carb diet, like the keto diet, can positively influence several key risk factors for the development of heart disease, including cholesterol levels. Levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides consistently drop while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels remain fairly stable.

It’s also common for people who switch from, for instance, the standard American diet (aptly abbreviated to SAD), to the keto diet to see decreases in blood pressure numbers.

5. Heightened Cognitive Skills and Mental Clarity

While weight loss and improved physical health rank high among the reasons people try the keto diet, some seek it out for its beneficial impact on cognition.

When the body enters ketosis, your brain activity no longer depends on glucose stores. Instead, it runs off a steady supply of ketones. This can eliminate frustrating issues related to blood sugar swings, such as brain fog and difficulty focusing.

6. Boosted Energy and Endurance

By allowing you to access the vast amounts of energy in your body’s fat stores, the keto diet can keep your vitality high.

While stores of glucose only contain enough energy to fuel you through a few hours of physical exertion, your fat stores could theoretically last for weeks.

7. Better Digestion and Nutrient Absorption

Many find that adopting the keto diet can relieve symptoms of digestive distress associated with IBS and other conditions.

This benefit often sets in rapidly. Within days of following a keto meal plan, individuals report improvements and fewer instances of bloating, gas, and stomach cramps and pain. Consistently following a comprehensive ketogenic diet, otherwise known as the keto diet, is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Taking amino acids along with following a keto diet can expedite the metabolic processes responsible for ketogenic weight loss.

It generally takes 3 to 6 months to train your body to reach optimal ketosis at a fast rate.

Once you reach that milestone, you can begin to gradually re-introduce plant-based carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables into your diet. At this stage, it’s particularly important to continue to monitor your protein intake. Protein surges can cause insulin levels to rise in the blood, which can hinder ketosis.

While transitioning into ketosis, it can be beneficial to engage in high-intensity workouts, as doing so will accelerate glycogen depletion. Many find that when they are in a state of ketosis, they feel best when participating in low-impact exercise, such as jogging or speed walking, yoga, swimming, or dancing.

Using Supplements to Improve Your Keto Results

Those who commit to a keto-friendly, low-carb foods centered approach to eating long term often find that adding specific supplements can maximize the benefits of the keto diet while minimizing any less-than-pleasant side effects.

Some supplements help fill in possible deficiencies that can result when personal preferences are overlaid on top of the restrictions built into the keto diet. Others help counteract symptoms of keto flu experienced while the body adapts to a state of ketosis, or enhance athletic performance.

Here are three supplements that can enhance the positive effects linked to the keto diet and offset any unwanted ones.

1. Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins consist of single- or long-chain amino acids and are necessary nutrients for most cell and organ functions. Consuming measured proteins in correct proportion to nutrient fat can facilitate ketosis. Ketogenic amino acids can convert to acetyl-CoA, a precursor of ketone bodies, whereas glucogenic amino acids degrade to glucose.

Lysine and leucine function exclusively as ketogenic amino acids. Isoleucine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and tyrosine function both as ketogenic and glucogenic amino acids.

Lysine, leucine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan are all considered essential amino acids—meaning the body cannot synthesize them on its own and they must be acquired through food or supplements. Leucine, for example, can be found in abundant quantities in cheese, soybeans, chicken, nuts, seeds, and seafood.

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—have particular relevance for keto dieters engaged in physical training, as they can help reduce exercise-related muscle damage, muscle soreness, and fatigue during exercise. However, many studies show that the most benefit can be derived from a well-formulated essential amino acid supplement rather than individual amino acid supplements.

For more information on the best amino acids to take to complement a keto diet, check out this article.

2. Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB)

Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) supplements, sometimes referred to as exogenous ketones, may be able to elevate ketone levels, among other desirable benefits.

As we’ve discussed, your body naturally produces ketone bodies through a process called ketogenesis. Some experts believe that exogenous ketones from an external source can increase your blood ketone levels, helping you reach a state of ketosis more quickly.

There’s also some evidence to show that BHB supplements can counteract the fatigue and mood swings that some experience when they start the keto diet. Once you’ve entered ketosis, studies show that these same supplements may help to enhance athletic performance, decrease recovery time between training sessions, and lower appetite levels.

Some general guidelines for a starting dosage for BHB supplements would be to take either 2 BHB oil capsules daily or 1 scoop of BHB oil powder on an empty stomach between meals with 16 ounces of water. You should limit yourself to three such doses per day.

Some individuals experience stomachaches when taking BHB supplements. If you experience digestive upset, try lowering your intake, then gradually increase to the ideal dose.

3. Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be an ideal tool for keto dieting. These fatty acids are used to form ketones in the liver, and supplementing with MCT oil can help you feel more satiated during the ketosis transition.

Keto-friendly coconut oil is a rich natural source of medium-chain triglycerides, although it provides a far less concentrated dose of MCTs than expressly manufactured MCT oils.

MCTs and amino acids work together synergistically. The presence of amino acids in the body supports the essential metabolic process by which the fatty acids are transformed into ketones, and a study published in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology determined that dietary fat, especially medium-chain fats, helps to regulate amino acid transport.

As researchers study these unique compounds found in healthy dietary fats, they continue to add to the long list of health benefits associated with an increased intake of MCTs, including:

  • Increased fat burning during athletic activity
  • Bolstered growth of good gut flora
  • Lowered cardiovascular risks
  • Protection against neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increased antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal activity

As with BHB supplements, MCT oil supplements, such as these softgels, should be taken with water—in this case, at least an 8-ounce glass. Only one daily dose is needed.

Consistently following a comprehensive ketogenic diet, otherwise known as the keto diet, is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Taking amino acids along with following a keto diet can expedite the metabolic processes responsible for ketogenic weight loss.