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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

Adding the Right Proteins - Part 2

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

There are additional protein contributions from plants that we did not discuss in the previous blog. For instance, the so-called “starchy” vegetables are wonderful sources of protein. This family includes everyday staples like yellow corn, green peas, lima beans and potatoes. One cup of green peas or lima beans yields eight grams of protein! An entire medium potato contains over four grams of protein, while one cup of corn contains three grams of protein. Starchy vegetables are also good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Many of the dark-green vegetables are valuable sources of protein. This group includes favorites like broccoli, spinach, kale, arugula, cabbage, bok choy, as well as collard, turnip and mustard greens. (No, you don’t have to eat all of these! I enjoy broccoli and spinach, but dislike greens!) One medium stalk of broccoli has about four grams of protein, while the other leafy greens typically have between two to five grams of protein per one cup serving. These green vegetables are great sources of fiber, minerals, and vitamins, like iron, folic acid, calcium, and vitamins A and C. They are also filled with antioxidants called phytonutrients that have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

There are many other vegetables that are useful sources of protein. Well-known vegetables that contain two to three grams of protein per serving include asparagus, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, okra, mushrooms and zucchini. The deep yellow vegetables are also helpful sources of protein. This family, rich in fiber and vitamin A, includes carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash. One cup of these vegetables yields one to two grams of protein. Most other common vegetables (like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions) contain about one gram of protein per serving.

Vegetables are not the only plant-based protein sources. The whole grain family includes many varieties that are protein-packed as well. Everyday grains include wheat, oats, brown rice and wild rice. Other common whole grains include quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and rye. One serving of whole grains provides between three to seven grams of protein! Whole grains are also excellent sources of fiber. One cup of oatmeal has six grams of protein and four grams of fiber. What a great way to stay full in the morning!

I regularly enjoy sandwiches made with whole wheat bread. Two slices of whole wheat bread contain six to eight grams of protein. If you add 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, you’ve created a sandwich with even more protein! I also enjoy eating whole wheat pasta and pita. A two-ounce serving of whole wheat pasta has about eight grams of protein, whereas an entire whole wheat pita has about six grams. Add vegetables to your pasta or hummus to your pita to boost your protein content even more!

Last, but not least, is our friend the soybean. Soybeans are loaded with protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron and potassium. Soybean products are ubiquitous. Edamame, or steamed soybeans, has become quite popular over the last few years, especially with the proliferation of Asian cuisine. Some eateries now offer edamame as a side item or substitute for chips or fries. One cup of edamame contains around 17 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber! Tofu, or soybean curd, is another product that is gaining in popularity. (Tofu is to soymilk as cheese is to dairy milk.) Tofu has no flavor, so it easily absorbs any flavor with which it is cooked. Some people claim an aversion to tofu, but how it prepared and seasoned makes all the difference. For example, I enjoy ordering spicy tofu dishes at certain Asian restaurants. There are other soybean options available, but let’s keep things simple today.

We have learned that there are many protein options that are far more beneficial than meat or chicken. We will review how much protein we need in the next blog!

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