Protein is possibly the most celebrated star in the constellation of nutritious eating. Protein-rich foods feed our muscles, bones and brains, help us regulate our hormones, oxygenate our blood, fuel our energy and give us a healthy fullness after eating. According to WebMD, our bodies contain more than 10,000 types of protein in our organs, tissues, skin and hair.
You may be nodding enthusiastically but wondering what this means for your grocery bill. After all, if you are a meat-eater, when you hear “protein,” you think “meat,” right?
Plant-based proteins can meet both your nutritional needs and your grocery budget.
Before you go shopping, here’s a quick education about protein. Protein is a chain of molecules called amino acids. There are hundreds of amino acids that combine in different ways in different foods, creating countless varieties of protein.
Nine of these “essential” amino acids are compounds the human body can’t make on its own—we need to get it through food.
And so, the best, most nutrient-dense foods are those that contain all 9 amino acids—“complete proteins.” Obviously, foods that contain some but not all of the essential amino acids are still healthy, tasty and protein-rich. And many of these foods are both plant-based and affordable. They include:
- Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)
- Whole wheat
- Vegetables (especially dark leafy greens like spinach, kale or collard)
But if you are looking to maximize your grocery dollars as well as your healthy eating plan, you’ll get more bang for your buck by selecting foods containing complete protein. There are many plant-based, protein-rich foods to choose from, without breaking the bank, including:
You can also complete your protein intake by pairing some classic, easy foods together for plant-based, low-cost goodness:
- Peanut butter on whole-wheat bread
- Hummus with whole-wheat pita
- Peas with whole-wheat pasta
Whatever you choose, know that you are investing in your healthy body, fueling an energetic, nourished lifestyle, and maximizing your grocery dollars in the process.
What are your favorite plant-based proteins?