People like to argue over fats and carbs, but just about everyone agrees that protein is essential. Protein is important for everything from healthy hair and nails to encouraging muscle growth and helping you to feel fuller longer by taking more time to digest than carbs. Multiple studies have shown that the three macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) affect our bodies in different ways, and that protein is by far the most filling of the three.
Protein helps you feel fuller with less food, partly because it helps reduce the level of a hormone in your body called ghrelin, which is responsible for hunger, and it also raises the level of the satiety hormone peptide YY, which makes you feel full. The effect is probably more powerful than you might think too – research involving overweight women who increased their intake of protein from 15 to 30 percent of total calories, ending up eating 441 fewer calories each day, though they hadn’t intentionally aimed to restrict them.
Those nagging hunger pangs are one of the primary reasons those who diet fall off track – it makes sense when you let yourself get too ravenous, decision making becomes more difficult. It’s hard to focus and you may even feel a little dizzy. When it gets to that point, all you want to do is feed that appetite, which means, you’ll most likely reach for any food that’s nearby, and often not the healthiest choice.
That’s why so many experts recommend increasing protein intake to help battle cravings and keep hunger pangs at bay. But how much protein should you eat? The Mayo Clinic recommends that about 20 percent of your daily calories come from protein, although there isn’t really just one ideal amount for all – if you work out longer and/or harder than most, such as training for a marathon, you’ll probably need to aim for a diet that’s made up of 25 percent protein.
For vegetarians, that can be a little more challenging. While just about everyone knows that foods like meat, poultry, and eggs are good sources of protein, there are lots of great vegetarian sources that will help you battle those hunger pangs, including the following.
Beans are probably one of the most commonly known vegetarian sources of protein. They’re one of the few plant sources that are considered to be a complete protein, which means they contain all essential amino acids. They are also high in fiber, which means you get a “double whammy” effect when it comes to staying fuller longer. And, not only are they high in protein, with 15 grams in one cup, but they digest more slowly than many other foods which also helps you stay feeling fuller longer. Plus, beans contain nutrients that support brain, muscle and heart health.
2. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are marijuana’s edible cousin – they don’t get you high, but they are considered a superfood, with the ability to help fight heart disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity, partly because they’re high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
These tiny seeds are also powerhouses of dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese and phosphorus – and, they contain 3.3 grams of protein in just one tablespoon. You can not only eat them as is for a filling snack, but you can toss them into a smoothie or sprinkle some onto a salad.
One of nature’s true wonder foods, chickpeas are high in protein with 16 grams per cup. They’re also an excellent source of fiber, essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system, and a good source of B vitamins, folate, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, zinc and phosphorous. They’re ideal to add to a meal to help you feeling full, you can put them into a salad or use them in a recipe for hummus.
4. Chia Seeds
If you still think chia seeds are only something that are used to make a Chia Pet, think again. They’re great for keeping you full and also aid the digestion process. While they aren’t especially high in protein, they do contain all nine essential amino acids as well as ALAs, a type of omega-3 that is known to lower the risk of heart disease. Due to their combination of satiating protein, healthy fats, and fiber, they’re also a powerful hunger-busting tool. They can be sprinkled onto just about any food, including a fruit salad or a homemade smoothie. Check out these 20 epic ways you can add chia seeds into your diet.
Although quinoa cooks like a grain, it’s actually an herbaceous plant and a gluten-free protein powerhouse that offers a delicious nutty taste. It offers 8 grams of protein per one cup cooked, and as quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, it provides a boost of energy and helps to satisfy hunger in the same way meat would.
Although it’s generally considered an ancient grain, it doesn’t grow from grasses like other cereal grains do, which is why it’s technically referred to as a “pseudocereal,” although it can be ground into a flour like more commonly known grains. Interestingly, quinoa is an especially good source of a specific amino acid known as L-arginine, which has been found in studies to promote muscle over fat gain in animal studies. Use it to make a veggie burger, in place of rice or oatmeal, or even toss it in with your salad greens.
Amaranth is another ancient grain like quinoa, which offers a ton of health benefits. It’s a naturally gluten-free seed and provides nearly 5 grams of protein per one-half up. It’s also packed with fiber and is considered a good source of iron and calcium. As it has a texture similar to porridge, it’s a popular breakfast food that can be topped like you would oatmeal or porridge, – a sprinkling of nuts and berries is ideal.
7. Nut butters
Speaking of nuts, nut butters are an excellent vegetarian protein source. Interesting, nut butters, peanut butter in particular, got their start when physician and creator of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Harvey Kellogg thought his patients need a protein substitute for meat, so he created his own version of peanut butter in 1895, less than a decade later at the St. Louis World’s Fair, it was commercially introduced to the world and ultimately played a key role in Armed Forces rations in both the First and Second World Wars.
Peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein per two tablespoons, and according to a 2014 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming peanuts can help prevent both coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease.
Sunflower seed butter is a great option if you’re allergic to nuts. It provides 9 grams of protein per two tablespoons and is richer in magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin E than peanut butter. No matter which type of nut or seed butter you buy, be sure to look for products that aren’t processed, they should contain just one or two ingredients at the most, and no added sugars, oils or preservatives.
Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse and offer 18 grams of protein per cooked cup – that’s the same amount of protein found in three eggs. They also contain a significant amount of slowly digested carbs, along with 50 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber. Plus, the type of fiber found in lentils has been shown in studies to feed the good bacteria in the colon, which promotes a healthy gut. They can also help lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and some types of cancer.
They can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups and fresh salads to veggie burgers, hummus and more.
9. Green peas
Green peas are an excellent protein source with 8 grams per cup. Plus they’re inexpensive and just as good frozen as fresh, so you can keep them around all the time for the ideal go-to protein-packed side dish or snack. A single cup also contains nearly 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, which helps to ensure your immune system is functioning at its best.
Like amaranth and quinoa, spelt is considered an ancient grain. It offers 10 grams of protein per cooked cup, which means it offers even more protein than those other ancient grains. It’s also an excellent source of many different nutrients, including iron, fiber, phosphorus, manganese and complex carbs, along with a good amount of zinc, selenium and B vitamins.
While spelt isn’t gluten-free, it is a popular, versatile alternative to common grains like wheat, and can be used in all sorts of recipes, from risotto to baked goods.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s considered a true superfood. It not only provides 8 grams of complete protein in just two tablespoons, but 80 percent of the daily recommended value for iron, most of your requirements for B vitamins, and, it’s loaded with vitamin A, with more than 800 percent of your daily needs. Spirulina is also one of the few foods with a natural GLA content. Gamma Linolenic Acid. GLA is difficult to find in a food source, and typically has to be created by the body.
Studies have linked spirulina in the diet to health benefits that range from lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels to a stronger immune system and better blood sugar levels. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties and has been found to help combat chronic inflammation, eczema, dermatitis, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
Some diet experts consider almonds one of the best natural weight loss pills around. One cup contains a whopping 30 grams, although if you want to lose weight, you probably want to keep that serving size limited to a handful – you’ll still get a protein punch, but without all of the calories.
A 2003 study out of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, revealed that overweight and obese participants who consumed more than a quarter-cup of nuts while following a calorie-restricted diet were able to lower their weight more effectively than a snack of complex carbs and safflower oil after only two weeks. After a 24-week period, those who ate nuts experienced a 62 percent greater reduction in weight as compared to those who didn’t. Why not even try almond milk – a great dairy free alternative packed full of incredible nutritional benefits!
Oats are nutritious as well as being an easy way to add protein to your diet. A half-cup of dry oats provides about 6 grams of protein along with 4 grams of fiber and a significant amount of folate, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. While oats aren’t a complete protein, experts say they offer higher quality protein, as compared to more commonly consumed grains such as wheat and rice. Plus they can not only be used to make oatmeal, but they’re great for making homemade veggie burgers and can even be ground into a flour to use for baking.
Like almonds and many other nuts, cashews are another great source of protein, with 5 grams per ounce, that you can throw into the mix. They’re a delicious snack to have on hand when hunger pangs hit, and they’re also rich in magnesium, to help support better digestion and relieve constipation, strengthen the immune system and support cognitive function. Plus they contain biotin, which helps maintain healthy hair and nails.
15. Wild rice
Wild rice is a delicious, nutrient-rich source of protein, and it contains about one-and-a-half-times as much protein as other long grain rice varieties such as basmati and brown rice. Once cooked contains 7 grams of protein, and is also packed with B vitamins, fiber, manganese, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. Unlike white rice, wild rice hasn’t been stripped of its bran, which is important as bran contains lots of vitamins and minerals along with healthy fiber.
With its nutty taste and slightly chewy texture, wild rice is a lot more satisfying, helping to keep those hunger pangs at bay much longer than its far less superior cousin, white rice.