Whether you're a vegetarian or just looking to mix up your protein intake with a healthy variety of plant protein, soy is no longer one of the healthiest choices. In fact, most of the soy on the market comes from genetically modified seeds, which have been designed to resist chemical pesticides—and kill the pests themselves, making the plants technically pesticides. Not exactly appetizing! Beyond that, soy can alter your hormone levels, which can lead to a number of health risks. But still, soy dominates our food choices, and particularly in the plant protein category—from high performance protein powders and energy bars to veggie burgers, dogs, and other mock meats. So how do you still get the benefits of a plant protein while also avoiding soy? Try these 5 alternatives:
- Hemp: The hemp seed is getting a lot of notoriety lately because of its incredible health benefits. It's loaded with an especially beneficial ratio of the essential fatty acids Omega 3 to 6; it also contains a good chunk of plant fiber, which is an important part of every diet. But it's the incredibly digestible protein that makes hemp so loved by athletes, vegetarians, and everyone in between. Along with a wallop of amino acids and antioxidants, hemp is one of the highest protein plant foods available. A couple spoonfuls of hemp seeds will do the trick, or if you’re a smoothie lover, mix in a high quality hemp protein powder to up your daily protein intake.
- Chia: A tiny, unassuming seed, the chia is actually quite a nutritious powerhouse! Like the hemp seed, chia contain lots of healthy omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber, along with a complete and highly digestible protein. It also absorbs a lot of liquid—as much as 12 times its weight—making it an excellent choice in hydration and helping you to feel full longer.
- The bean: Take your pick from the legume and bean family and you're making a healthy choice: black beans, kidneys, lentils, chickpeas—they all taste great, are incredibly versatile, and pack a protein punch. You also get important vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fiber in beans, making them an excellent choice in supporting your overall health. Worried about gas? Don't be. The more you eat beans, the less gas you'll have, and you can avert it by rinsing off the cooking water before eating. Note: Avoid pre-cooked canned beans as the cans often contain the harmful chemical BPA (bisphenol-A). Soaking and cooking dried beans instead is a healthy and inexpensive, too!
- Quinoa: Technically a seed, quinoa has earned a spot in the grain category as it cooks up fluffy and tender like rice. It’s got a wonderfully delicious, nutty flavor and boasts a 16.2 percent protein profile—more than any other grain. Use it in place of rice, and mix with beans for a completely delicious high protein meal.
- Greens: While you may think of spinach, kale, and broccoli as side dishes or ingredients in meals, they actually stand out on their own as powerfully dense superfoods. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they support a healthy immune system and fight damage from free radicals. They're also an excellent source of dietary fiber, and here's something else you might not have known about these veggies: they also contain a good bit of protein. You'd have to eat more than might be doable in any one sitting to satisfy your RDA of protein (40-60 grams per day for adults), but adding greens to a well-balanced diet can boost your daily protein intake while also providing you with plenty more healthy benefits.