Getting enough protein while consuming the correct balance of carbs and fat can be challenging for a number of reasons. Do any of the following sound like you?
1. Carb loading: Remember the widest part of the now-defunct food pyramid most of us grew up with? Think bread, rice, pasta, potatoes! I, for one, ate carb-heavy meals for years. Plus, junk food and sugar addicts beware! You are filling up with empty carb calories leaving less room for nutrients.
2. Animal mindfulness: Fish and chicken are health conscious protein sources, especially wild-caught and organic/pastured, respectively. However, eating too much saturated animal fat is risky business so beef should be eaten judiciously. For the vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and minimal animal protein eaters among us, fueling up and filling up can mean carb-dependence.
3. Fat out of whack: While we now know that good fats are imperative for our health (think: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds), it's easy to overdo it and throw the macros ratio out of whack.
Recommended Macro Ranges
1. For a maintenance 2000 calorie diet, the Institute of Medicine established ranges for carbs and protein daily:
- Carbs: Between 45% and 65% of daily calories, or 225 to 325 grams of carbs
- Protein: 10% to 35% of daily calories, or 50 to 175 grams of protein
- Fat: The American Heart Association recommends limiting fat to 20-35%, keeping saturated fat at less than 10%, or 44 to 78 fat grams a day with just 22 grams of saturated fat. You can use apps like My Fitness Pal to track your macros and other nutrients if you're so inclined.
3. For weight loss, higher-protein, lower-carb diets are effective because you typically eat fewer calories this way, and your blood sugar stays lower, thus enabling fat loss.
Plants to the Rescue!
So, how do you eat to feel satisfied and stay in the recommended macro range all while optimizing health? Plants offer all three macros: complex carbs, protein and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals! Beans, nuts and seeds have some of the highest amount of protein. Here are some examples:
Edamame or soy beans: 18 g protein per cup (Be sure to eat only organic.)
Hemp seeds: 10 g protein per 3 Tbsp – contains all essential amino acids!
Lentils: 9 g protein per ½ cup
Peas: 7.9 g protein per cup
Black beans: 7.6 g protein per ½ cup
Peanut butter: 7 g per ¼ cup
Wild rice: 6.5 g protein per 1 cup cooked
Chia seeds: 6 g protein per 2 Tbsp
Almonds: 6 g protein per ¼ cup
Walnuts: 6 g protein per ½ cup
Chickpeas: 6 g protein per ½ cup
Steel cut oats: 5 g protein in ¼ cup uncooked
Pumpkin seeds: 5 g per ¼ cup
Portobella mushrooms: 4 g per cup cooked
Beet greens: 3.70 grams per cup cooked
Spinach: 3 g protein per ½ cup
Kale: 2.47 g protein per ½ cup cooked
Avocado: 2 g protein per ½
Broccoli: 2 g protein per ½ cup
Hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete source of protein just like chicken, fish or beef. Instead of typical bulgur wheat tabouli, this version is gluten-free, high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids and a rich source minerals; three tablespoons meets 50% of the RDA for magnesium and phosphorus, 25% of the RDA for zinc and 15% for iron.
2 c hemp seeds
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped into ½” dice (or 4 Persian cucumbers chopped into ½” dice)
2 large tomatoes, chopped into 1/2” dice
3/4 c mint leaves, finely chopped
1 c parsley leaves, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 T red wine vinegar
3 T olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 t salt or to taste