Meat gets all the credit when it comes to ideal protein sources, but nutritionists now know that you don't need to pound cheeseburgers to make sure you get enough of this essential nutrient. And since the old all-burger diet might lead to several health problems, it's useful to familiarize yourself with the foods nutritionists consider underrated protein powerhouses.
No, you're not going to get high by consuming hemp seeds (sorry). They're packed with protein, though -- Dr. Kelly Pritchett, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University, says they offer 10g of protein per 3-tablespoon serving. They're also rich in fiber and have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, so you can munch to your heart's content (sorry again).
Dairy is delicious, possibly to the point of irresistibility, but some dairy is more nutritionally dense than others. For Pritchett, Greek yogurt wins the day, containing as much as 15g of protein, whereas "regular" yogurt will give you about 6g.
Spirulina is basically algae, and while that sounds gross, it's actually pretty damn good for you. About 60% of spirulina's nutritional content is straight-up protein. In fact, Stella Metsovas of The Village Way wishes that spirulina were more of a superstar in the protein world because it's so nutritionally dense. If you're bold, you can drink powdered spirulina mixed into plain water, but it's probably best to mask it in a smoothie if you're not used to algal flavors.
Quinoa is well known as a trendy health food, but what's surprising is how few people eat it for its protein. Rene Ficek, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, says that it's super rich in the amino acid lysine, which helps tissue growth and repair, and the nutritional balance it affords is unique in non-meat sources -- quinoa is a complete protein, which you won't find in most grains.
You won't find a ton of starch in the lupin bean, which is unusual for legumes. Instead, once its thick seed coat has been chucked in the garbage during processing, you have a gorgeous kernel that's swimming in protein. Tom Irving, nutritionist for Discount Supplements, notes that modern production of this delectable muscle builder has rendered its formerly bitter taste into something much sweeter. Thanks, modern times!
Paneer, an Indian cheese, is another quality source of protein, offering up to seven grams per serving. Tehzeeb Lalani, Mumbai-based nutritionist and proprietor of Scale Beyond Scale, says this South Asian delicacy is basically strained milk curd that's been heated with some sort of acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar. It's good stuff, and yet another delicious way to get a heap of protein.
Beans might be a pretty obvious source of protein, but black beans are still a great way to hop into a new bean-eating habit if you've avoided them before. They're not only chock full of protein and fiber -- Carly Tierney, nutritionist and fitness expert at DW Fitness Clubs, likes them because they're cheap and adaptable, making them suitable for a ton of different dishes. As a milder bean, they complement spicier pairings, so dump some into your next Mexican meal.
Sure, a slab of tempeh might feel a little twee, trendy, and insufficient if you're expecting a chicken sandwish. But meat subs are meat subs for a reason: they're protein rich. Amy Klassman, registered dietitian and staff nutritionist at The Clare, recommends tofu, tempeh, and seitan for those who are either avoiding animal products on a regular basis, or for those who are looking for something different to try.
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Monica Beyer is a health writer who should probably start eating algae, just because. Follow her examples of intestinal fortitude @monicabeyer.