As many people are recognizing the troubles with today’s factory farms, they are moving closer to vegetarian diets. Eliminating tainted animal products from one’s diet is essential in regaining, or maintaining, one’s health.

This article was prompted by the weight loss that people often experience hand-in-hand with intentional healing and cleansing. Some of us can’t afford to lose much, and when sickness takes a toll on your weight, a subsequent detoxification can too—but with good reason! Some things need to be shed.

In order to gain some healthful pounds—even muscles—one doesn’t need the exorbitant amounts of protein that most physical trainers and bodybuilders promote. What the body prefers is a highly bioavailable protein that’s nutrient rich. Therefore, choosing mostly plant-based protein is wise.

If you’re favoring a plant-strong, vegetarian, or vegan diet, integrating the protein-rich foods below will help you maintain a healthful weight while delivering high levels of crucial minerals, vitamins, EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids), and fiber. 

Tempeh (1 cup = 40g)

A highly nutritious fermented soybean food originating from Indonesia, tempeh is one of the few vegetarian foods comparable to meat in its protein content. It even supersedes the protein of milk and dairy. Every 4oz offers 20.6g of protein.

A huge benefit of tempeh is that it’s fermented, which boosts its nutrition levels and digestibility because the fermentation process converts some of the protein into amino acids. This makes it a superior ‘complete’ protein choice not only for vegetarians and vegans but also for meat eaters. (Soy unfermented is not recommended.)

Tempeh is also high in fiber (aids in digestion and detoxification), EFAs (Omega 3 & 6—which the body cannot produce itself), B vitamins, and manganese.

Legumes—Peas, Lentils, and Beans (1cup = 9g, 18g, 14-17g respectively)

Legumes are all sufficiently high in nutrients—particularly protein—but are also equally difficult to digest. Soaking is essential to increase digestibility, which also increases the nutritional makeup, making it a worthwhile endeavor.

Lentils and peas are your best choice as they are more easily digested. Peas score the highest in nutritional value of all the legumes.

Hemp Seeds (3 Tbsp = 10g)

One of the earliest domesticated plants, hemp, was cultivated for millennia by many civilizations. Hemp won the attention of the health food industry due to its impressive nutritional profile, containing an abundance of protein, EFA’s, vitamins A, B, D, E, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, and dietary fiber.

It is one of the few foods in nature that has a perfect ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (again, which the body does not produce). The common food choices today have created a society consuming far too many omega 6’s (“bad fats”) and insufficient levels of omega 3’s (“good fats”), causing inflammation in the body which leads to a whole host of diseases. Hemp seeds are a superfood skilled in balancing these vital EFA’s.

Just 3 tablespoons offer the full daily required 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 and 10g protein (20% of the RDA). 

Nutritional Yeast (2 Tbsp = 9g)

Easy to sprinkle on any food, nutritional yeast delivers 9g of protein in just two tablespoons. That’s amazingly more than you can get from a single egg (6g), a glass of milk (8g), or an ounce of meat (7g). It has a nutty, cheesy flavor and is therefore a great cheese substitute.

Its high fiber content assists in creating a healthy gut by aiding in digestion. It helps regulate blood sugar, helping the body to maintain steady energy levels throughout the day. It also has notable amounts of B12 and folic acid. Getting sufficient B12 outside of animal products can prove challenging, so here nutritional yeast triumphs by providing a full days supply of B12 in just one tablespoon.

The Ancient Grains

Carb loading is another way fitness gurus pack on mass, but the wrong kinds of carbs will do nothing but cause damage. Ancient grains are the superior choice as they offer valuable nutrition along with impressive amounts of highly bioavailable protein. These ancient grains are wheat- and gluten-free, and when soaked, their nutritional density and digestibility increase.

– Amaranth (1 cup = 26g raw, 9g cooked)

Amaranth is over 700 years old and possibly the highest protein count of all grains. It is a complete protein (containing all nine essential amino acids) jam-packed with potent vitamins and minerals.

One cup of cooked amaranth supplies 9g protein, 5g fiber, and these RDI (recommended daily intake) percentages of the following minerals: iron (29%), magnesium (40%), phosphorous (36%) and manganese (105%). It also contains respectable amounts of calcium, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium.

Manganese is an important and often overlooked mineral responsible for promoting cartilage formation, bone growth (thus preventing bone diseases, i.e. osteoporosis), and converting protein and fat into energy. All the ancient grains discussed here contain 58% to over 100% of the RDI of manganese.

– Quinoa (1 cup = 24g raw, 8g cooked)

Another power-packed ancient grain, quinoa, offers up to 24g of protein (raw). One cooked cup delivers 8g of protein and 5g of fiber, along with marked levels of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, copper, zinc, and vitamins B6, E, folate, thiamin, and riboflavin.

Notably, it offers high levels of magnesium, great because many people unknowingly suffer from magnesium deficiencies. It also occurs in a ratio of 3:1 opposite its calcium levels. This is key due to the fact that most people get too much calcium and not enough magnesium. This mineral imbalance is the hidden culprit behind many joint issues and kidney stones. With each boasting noteworthy magnesium levels, the ancient grains discussed here all help to restore magnesium balance.

– Buckwheat (1cup = 23g raw, 6g cooked)

Buckwheat, a seed-like grain, delivers up to 23g of protein (raw). One cup cooked contains 6g of protein and is also a good source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, and phosphorous. It also contains two significant bioflavonoids that promote strong immunity: rutin and quercetin. These antioxidants increase the effectiveness of the all-powerful vitamin C as well as promote cardiovascular health.

Other plant-based protein-rich options: Spirulina, chlorella, chia seeds, nuts and nut butters (preferably sprouted & raw; almond & cashew have highest protein – 6g per ounce). Nuts and nut butters should be eaten in moderation, as even when soaked they can be difficult to digest. 

Protein Powders

Protein powders are not necessary for weight gain, and most contain poor-quality ingredients difficult for the body to break down and utilize. If you’re set on using a protein powder, make sure to choose one that sources high-quality raw and sprouted ancient grains, nuts, seeds, and superfoods.  Raw and sprouted ancient grains allow their highest protein content to be maximized (as listed above 23-26g per cup).

Whey and soy powders, in general, are not recommended. If you do choose whey, make certain it’s sourced from grass-fed cows. Pea and brown rice powders may be okay for some people if the source is of true quality.

Healthiest animal proteins: If you decide to add animal proteins to your game, stick with grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken and eggs (preferably local), and wild-caught salmon.

I wish you success with all your health and fitness goals, whatever they may be. And now that you know what protein to eat, you’re halfway there! So next time someone asks: “Where do you get your protein?”… I hope this article helps you answer with strength, confidence, and grace!