Filed under: Protein
Lentils, peas, and beans can provide a protein-rich boost to your meal plan. They contain healthy carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and valuable minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, and folate. Also known as legumes or pulses, these foods can help balance your blood sugar and keep you fuller longer, which is especially helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Eating legumes also might lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and even some cancers.
Legumes are inexpensive too. At just pennies per serving, they’re cheaper than other forms of protein. What’s more, they’re delicious and can be eaten in different ways!
- Dried. These varieties always require cooking, but cooking times vary. For example, lentils and split peas cook in about 10 minutes. Tip: Avoid soaking legumes—and save more time—by cooking them in a crockpot instead.
- Canned. Keep low-sodium or sodium-free varieties on hand for salads and soups. Tip: Cook instant rice, mix with black or red beans (drained), and season with garlic for a quick meal.
- Specialty packs. In a hurry? Grab ready-made meals, pastas, and bean blends from your local grocer. Remember: Ready-made foods tend to cost more, and they’re typically higher in sodium. Tip: Add 1 cup of sodium-free beans to your specialty pack, which lowers the total amount of sodium per serving.
Legumes help keep you “regular” too. A ½ cup serving contains roughly 25% of your recommended daily fiber. One carbohydrate in legumes ferments in the gut, causing gas. However, this mostly diminishes as you eat them more frequently. If gas becomes problematic, cook legumes thoroughly, rinse them well, and gradually increase your fiber intake. And keep in mind the New Dietary Guidelines for Americans' recommendations for 1–3 cups per week, depending on your age. So, try to eat them more frequently. Make sure to check out the Bean Institute's easy recipes too.
Add protein-rich eggs to your meal plan! They contain amino acids—essential to performance because they build lean body mass—especially important for athletes, children, and the elderly. In addition, these nutrient powerhouses contain lutein for eye health, choline for brain function, B vitamins, zinc, and iron.
In the past, many avoided or limited their egg consumption, thinking of eggs only as a food that raises cholesterol rather than one packed with nutrients. However, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other evidence suggest including eggs as part of a healthy diet. Eating 1–2 eggs daily can increase your intake of important nutrients. Eating eggs doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of heart disease or type II diabetes, and it might even lower your risk of these illnesses. Scientific research also has shown that eating eggs at breakfast can help you “feel fuller” because of their high protein content. This might contribute to weight loss when combined with other dietary strategies too.
On average, an egg costs about $.20, which is a bargain compared to other proteins. Eggs also can be a satisfying meal anytime and extraordinarily easy to prepare, especially for breakfast.
- Vegetable omelet. Beat one egg with 1 Tbsp milk. Pour into a small, heated nonstick skillet. Using a spatula, gently push the cooked egg away from the pan’s edge to allow the liquid egg to run underneath until it’s no longer visible. Place ½ cup cooked vegetables and 1 Tbsp cheese on one half, and then fold over.
- French toast. In a shallow bowl, whip one egg with 1 Tbsp milk. Put one slice of whole-wheat bread in the mixture and then flip to coat both sides. Place in a heated nonstick skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides. Serve with fruit and syrup.
Enjoy eggs more frequently and remember to pair them with healthy sides!
What role does a smoothie play in your meal plan: meal, snack, or post-workout fuel? If it’s a meal-replacement, then choose one that includes dairy, some fruit, and maybe vegetables. Is it a snack? Then go lighter and pick one with fruits, vegetables, and ice. And if you’re replenishing fuel after your workout, then make sure your smoothie includes protein—and choose the protein source wisely.
Make them quickly: Just dump your ingredients into a blender, hit start, and blend to desired consistency. That’s it! They can include any combination of fruits—such as berries, cherries, apples, melons, bananas, and grapes—and vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and cucumbers). Try freezing some ingredients for an icier drink. You also can use frozen bags of smoothie ingredients, saving time and decision-making. But avoid adding juice because it contains little (or no) fiber and extra calories.
There are many protein options too. Milk (dairy or nondairy) and plain (or Greek) yogurt also provide calcium. Nut butters can be flavorful as well. But remember 2 tablespoons add an extra 200 calories.
Choosing ready-to-drink dairy or juice smoothies? Some contain added sugar, and others with mostly apple juice aren’t as nutrient-dense as ones made with other fruits and vegetables. And check the because some bottles contain two (or more) servings. This is especially important because you’ll want to get the proper nutrients without going over your daily calorie needs.
Tip: Try a refreshing blend that includes 1 cup watermelon, ½ cup strawberries, 4 ice cubes, and ½ tsp lemon juice. Make sure to experiment with multiple combinations and flavors, and include more fruits and vegetables! And read HPRC’s FAQ about juicing to learn more.
Whole foods, not dietary supplements, should be your first choice for protein. Protein supports muscle growth and repair. People often turn to protein supplements (such as whey, casein, and soy) to optimize those effects, especially after a workout. Whole food protein sources such as lean meats, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are just as effective (in some cases more effective) than protein supplements. Whey protein products can be an acceptable, convenient, and efficient way to deliver protein when your needs are greater or when normal dietary sources are not available. If you are using protein supplements, be sure to choose a product that has been third-party evaluated for its quality. Read more here.
Need a great post-workout beverage? Try drinking a glass of chocolate milk within 45 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles.
Why chocolate milk? One 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk provides about 200 calories and the right ratio of carbohydrate to protein. It also provides electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, along with essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium in an easily digestible liquid form. And even better, it’s inexpensive, readily available, and tastes good! But be sure to choose heart-healthy low-fat versions.
For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, or for those who simply prefer a plant-based diet, fortified chocolate soymilk is a great alternative (but note that almond, cashew, and rice milk are not as high in protein).