The continuing debate over how much protein the average person needs has done little to change our hunger for it. And who can blame us? Protein is one of the basic building blocks of life.
When most people think of protein though, images of cheese, eggs and a leg of lamb pop into their head. Did you know though that every—yes, every—whole food contains protein. From your morning banana to your evening salad, you’re getting protein. Finding plants packed with protein is easy to do and not only is it easy to do, it is easy for your body to use.
Plant-based foods are free from cholesterol, tend to be high in fiber and are often alkalizing to the body. All animal products, on the other hand, are devoid of fiber and are acidifying to the body, which causes calcium to be leached from your bones, as well as decreasing oxygen levels in the blood and negatively impacting the digestive/lymphatic system.
You may have heard the ongoing debate about “complete” or “incomplete” protein and “food combining,” but be wary; these topics are steeped in misinformation and myth. Here’s what I’ve discovered thus far:
The term “complete protein” refers to foods that have all nine essential amino acids present in the correct proportion for our bodies to build protein with. The term “incomplete protein” refers to foods that have all the essential amino acids, but are simply low in one or more of them. This is called the “limiting amino acid.” While it’s true that most whole plant foods have one or more limiting amino acids and are thus “incomplete,” this shouldn’t send you running for a steak.
Our bodies are brilliant and every food that goes into your system must be broken apart and its nutrients absorbed. During the digestion process, amino acid chains from all sources are broken down and made ready for our bodies to use. If you’re eating a good mix of fruits, veggies, grains and legumes, then your body simply collects what it needs from the “amino soup” that your digestion system has absorbed. There are a growing number of vegan bodybuilders, ultra marathon runners and award-winning athletes out there to prove that meeting your protein needs on a plant-based diet is simple and successful.
Since every whole food has protein in it, you have literally millions of great options to choose from when it comes to creating a balanced diet with the right percentage of protein for your body.* I’ve selected ten nutritious plants to get you started, for both their protein content and other health benefits. You may be surprised at some of the veggies, nuts and grains that made it onto my list.
*More is not necessarily better when it comes to protein. Many healthcare professionals are now arguing that recommended daily allowance for protein is too high. No matter whose recommendation you choose to follow, the fact is that each person’s protein needs are different, but all can be met with a plant-based diet.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
9 grams of protein in one ounce
If you’re like me, pumpkin is one of your favorite fall foods. The last time you steamed up some squash or pumpkin, did you have the seeds though? One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 9.35 grams* of protein. That’s more than two grams more protein then the same quantity of ground beef. Their high protein content and level of nutrients makes them a wonderful addition to any salad or snack.
Pumpkin Seed Nutrients and What They Do:
Tryptophan: Helps fight depression (converted into serotonin and niacin).
Glutamate (needed to create GABA): Anti-stress neorochemical, helps relieve anxiety and other related conditions.
Zinc: Boosts immune function and fights osteoporosis.
Phytosterols: Reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and up HDL (the good kind); may also be effective in the prevention of cancer.
Pumpkin seeds are also full of manganese, phosphorous, copper, vitamin K, vitamin E, B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), folates, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium and more.
If pumpkin seeds aren’t your thing, don’t worry—there are plenty of seed-based protein powerhouses out there.
*All protein content by gram is pulled from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18, unless otherwise noted.
3 grams of protein in 8 spears
Grilled asparagus with a balsamic vinegar drizzle is enough to make my mouth water. Eight spears of this delectable veggie has 3.08 grams of protein, which is pretty potent for such a slender fellow.
Asparagus Nutrients and What They Do:
Vitamin K: Asparagus is the number one plant-based source for Vitamin K, which is indicated in preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Vitamin A and Folate: Anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, heart healthy and indicated in the prevention of birth defects.
Diuretic: Reduce water retention.
Aphrodisiac: Oh la la!
Asparagus is also a good source of potassium, glutathione, vitamin C, antioxidants (glumatic acid, glycine and cysteine) and more.
2 grams of protein in one cup cooked
For years, I wasn’t a big fan of cauliflower. I mean, how healthy can an off-white vegetable be? But once I started learning about the health benefits of cauliflower and all its cruciferous plant family members, I started to give this veggie its due respect. One cup cooked = 2.28 grams of protein and a truckload of nutrients to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Cauliflower Nutrients and What They Do:
Carotenoids (beta-carotene and Phytonutrients): Including kaempferol, ferulic acid, cinnamic acid and caffeic acid. These nutrients help protect your body against free radical damage.
Sulforaphane: Strong indications as a cancer fighting agent.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Reduce inflammation.
Cauliflower is also a good source of vitamin C, manganese, glucosinolates (glucoraphin), vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folic acid), phosphorus and potassium, indole-3-carbinol (strong cancer fighting indications) and more.
6. 7 grams of protein in one ounce
If you grew up in America you’ve probably had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or two, but I doubt you knew how healthy this favorite snack really is. One ounce (approximately 28 peanuts dry roasted without salt) = 6.71 grams of protein.
Peanut Nutrients and What They Do:
Co-Enzyme Q10: Protects the heart during times of low oxygen.
Resveratrol: Bioflavonoid believed to improve blood flow in the brain and lower your LDL cholesterol.
Niacin: Assists in recovery of cell damage and protects against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive problems.
Peanuts are also a good source of calcium, iron, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folates, copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, antioxidants (polyphenols p-coumaric acid) and more.
6 grams of protein in one cup, cooked
Oats have gotten a bad rap over the years as a breakfast moosh fit for little orphan Oliver or old school prison inmates, but truly they are a food fit for kings. One cooked cup has a whopping 6.08 grams of protein along with being a great source of fiber and helpful for stabilizing your blood sugar levels. I enjoy mine in the morning with a bit of banana and cinnamon mixed in—yummm.
Oatmeal Nutrients and What They Do:
Selenium (antioxidant combined with vitamin E): Boosts immunity and mood, as well as having indications as a cancer-fighting agent.
Weight loss: Keeps blood sugar levels even. The high level of fiber keeps you full longer.
Magnesium: Helps with energy production, maintaining strong bones and possible relief of PMS.
Phosphorus: Assists with bone health, boosts energy and is important for healthy digestion.
Oatmeal is also a good source of tryptophan, Iron, calcium, B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin; vitamin E, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and more.
6. Mung Bean Sprouts
3.2 grams of protein in one cup
You may have seen this little bean hiding in your stir-fry (sprouted) or perhaps in a fresh wrap, but it hasn’t gotten much cred over the years. Most beans are a great source of protein and water soluble fiber and while mung beans aren’t at the top of the bean protein list they make a good showing. With one cup containing 3.16 grams, it is low in calories, but high in content.
Mung Bean Sprout Nutrients and What They Do:
Lecithin: Lowers blood cholesterol levels, reduces liver fat.
Zinc: Along with the protein and other vitamins in mung beans, zinc can help strengthen your nails.
Phytoestrogens: Contain many anti-aging components for the skin. These phytoestrogens act on estrogen-receptors found in the skin, stimulating the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin, which are all essential components of the skin’s structure.
Mung bean sprouts are also a good source of vitamin A, many B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and more.
6 grams of protein in one ounce
This is a wonderful snack to have around at all times, both for its protein content and nutrient density. Almonds are at the top of the nut chain when it comes to nutrient density, which means they will keep you full longer. With one ounce (approximately 24 nuts) containing 6.03 grams of protein they are a wonderful addition to any snack or meal.
Almond Nutrients and What They Do:
Phenylalanine: Aids in the development of cognitive function.
Nutrient Rich: Keeps you full longer which can aid in weight loss.
Vitamin E/Magnesium: Important for heart and muscle health.
Almonds are also a good source of calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, niacin, managese, riboflavin, folic acid and more.
5.3 grams of protein in one cup cooked
We all know spinach is a special green. From Popeye to the posh salads you’ll find in fine dining restaurants, spinach has gotten some good press and with due reason. One cup cooked = 5.35 grams of protein. It is also filled with flavonoids (a phytonutrient with anti-cancer properties). Spinach is good for your skin, your eyes, your brain and your bones.
Spinach Nutrients and What They Do:
Neoxanthin and violaxanthin: Anti-inflammatory epoxyxanthophylls.
Lutein and zeaxanthin: Protect the eyes against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Vitamin K: Ensures a healthy nervous system and brain function, healthy bones (1000 percent of the RDA of vitamin K in each full cup of spinach).
Vitamin A: Strengthens immunity and promotes healthy skin.
Spinach is also a good source of vitamin C and other antioxidants, flavonoids, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc and selenium and more.
5.7 grams of protein in one cup
Broccoli has many of the same amazing compounds as cauliflower, which is logical due to the fact that they are both in the cruciferous plant family. As a child I remember enjoying broccoli simply for the fact that the pieces looked like tiny trees. Now, as an adult, I enjoy their impressive nutritional profile and the fact that they look like tiny trees. One cup of chopped broccoli = 5.7 grams of protein and a heap of child-like enjoyment.
Broccoli Nutrients and What They Do:
Glucoraphanin (which the body processes into sulforaphane): Helps the skin to detoxify and repair itself, along with ridding the body of H. pylori which increases the risk of gastric cancer.
Beta-carotene, zinc and selenium: All work to strengthen the immune system.
Indole-3-carbinol: A powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogen, which may hinder the growth of breast, cervical and prostate cancer along with boosting liver function.
Broccoli is also a good source of folic acid, vitamin C, calcium (more calcium in fact then most dairy products), lutein and zeaxanthin, B6, folates and more.
12 grams of protein in 1/2 cup
All of the plants on my list that have preceded this one fall short in comparison to quinoa’s protein potential. On its own it is a perfect protein and the king of all grains. It has the highest percentage of protein content at 16 percent per volume. Meaning that a measly ¼ cup (dry) quinoa has 6 grams of protein. If you paired this grain with a couple of spears of asparagus and a beautiful cauliflower, broccoli and sprouted mung bean stir–fry, you would have an easy meal with 30 grams of protein or more.
Quinoa Nutrients and What They Do:
Magnesium: Relaxes muscles and blood vessels, which can help regulate blood pressure.
Manganese and copper: Both work as antioxidantsto protect the body from free radicals.
Lignans: A phytonutrient found to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as certain types of cancer.
Quinoa is also a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, manganese, tryptophan copper, phosphorus and more.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.