Which plants give you the best weight-loss edge? We look beyond the T-bone to find the absolute best sources of additional protein for your weight-loss goals. (Photos: Shutterstock)
It burns fat. It builds muscle. And it tastes awesome.
It’s easy to love protein. All of our favorite foods — burgers, steaks, pork chops, bacon — are packed with it. And with the ever-growing popularity of whey-protein shakes, we’re taking in more of this essential muscle maker than ever before.
But are we eating the right kind? While that $9 whey smoothie might be helping your weight loss, there are far more effective — and less expensive — choices. In fact, new research indicates that if you want to lose weight, more of your protein should come not from meat and dairy, but from vegetables. In a study earlier this year in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation, researchers discovered that patients who ingested higher amounts of vegetable protein were far less susceptible to obesity, diabetes and heart disease than those who got most of their protein from animal sources. And a second study in Nutrition Journal found that “plant protein intakes may play a role in preventing obesity.”
Protein is found in almost all plants, especially nuts and whole grains. But not every plant protein is a “complete” protein, meaning one that builds muscle and burns fat just as effectively as meat. So which plants give you the best weight-loss edge? The staff of Eat This, Not That! looked beyond the T-bone to find the absolute best sources of additional protein for your weight-loss goals. Look to eat at least 0.4 grams of total protein per pound of body weight—that’s at least 60 grams a day if you weigh 150, at least 80 grams a day if you weigh 200.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #1: Chia Seeds
Protein in 2 tablespoons: 5 grams
Though chia seeds don’t contain that much protein, they do contain all nine essential amino acids, which means they’re easily converted by the body into muscle. Thanks to the seeds’ blood-sugar stabilizing ratio of satiating protein, fats and fiber, they’re the perfect hunger-busting addition to your diet, and can help you lose inches. But that’s not all: ALAs, the specific type of omega-3s found in chia seeds, can decrease the risk of heart disease, according to a Pennsylvania State University study.
Eat This! Add chia seeds to yogurt or a homemade vegan smoothie to keep your energy levels up all morning long. For 7 plant protein-based smoothies plus hundreds of instant weight loss tips, download the 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse now! (Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in just one week.)
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #2: Edamame
Protein per cup: 8 grams
“Steamed soybeans are rich in essential amino acids and fiber,” says nutritionist and trainer Jay Cardiello. And you no longer need to be a sushi devotee to get them; these little packets of nutrition are widely available in the frozen food aisle and make a super-convenient microwaveable snack. Soybeans also provide a solid hit of complete proteins and magnesium, a mineral that’s essential to muscle development, energy production and carb metabolism.
Eat This! Serve edamame as a side dish or late-night snack. Eat roasted soybeans solo as an on-the-go snack, or add them to homemade trail mixes. Slice and pan-fry tempeh and use it in lieu of meat on a sandwich.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #3: Hemp Seed
Protein in 2 tablespoons: 7 grams
You no longer need to move to Colorado to embrace the magic of hemp. The hemp seed — marijuana’s edible, non-intoxicating cousin — is gaining recognition as a nutritional rock star, for good reason. Studies suggest that hemp seeds can fight heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, likely because they’re rich in protein, fiber and omega-3s.
Eat This! Simply sprinkle the hemp seeds into salads and cereals, or add hemp protein powder to your post-workout shake. Or add them to one of the recipes in this Eat This, Not That! exclusive report: 7 Protein Shake Recipes Personal Trainers Swear By.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #4: Quinoa
Protein per cup: 8 grams
With more than 1,400 quinoa products currently on the market, it’s safe to say that the ancient grain is here to stay. Quinoa is higher in protein than most other grains, packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and is also a great source of fiber, a nutrient that can help you feel fuller, longer. It gets better: The mild-tasting grain is also a good source of the amino acid L-arginine, which has been shown to promote muscle over fat gain in animal studies, explains Gina Consalvo, RD, LDN, of Eat Well with Gina. Though we can’t be sure findings will hold true in people, it can’t hurt to add more of this healthy grain to your plate.
Eat This! Pair quinoa with veggie beans to create a well-balanced meal; mix it in with morning oatmeal; use it in place of other grains in cookie recipes; up the flavor and nutrient content of a green salad with a scoop.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #5: Ezekiel Bread
Protein in 2 slices: 8 grams
“Made with sprouted grains, wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, Ezekiel Bread contains 18 amino acids — including all of the nine essential amino acids,” says Consalvo. That’s something most other bread products can’t claim. Making this your go-to sandwich base ensures you get at least 8 grams of complete proteins every time you sit down to lunch.
Eat This! Use Ezekiel Bread any way you’d use traditional bread; it’s extremely versatile, which is why it earned a spot on this essential list of the 10 Best Brand Name Breads for Weight Loss.)
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #6: Amaranth
Protein per cup: 9.3 grams
Quinoa isn’t the only “ancient grain” that comes loaded with health perks. Amaranth, a naturally gluten-free seed, is a good source of digestion-aiding fiber, as well as calcium and biceps-building iron.
Eat This! Amaranth takes on a porridge-like texture when cooked, making it a great alternative breakfast option. Whip up a batch and be sure to top off your bowl with some tasty, nutrient-packed toppings, like these 7 Best Oatmeal Toppings That Burn Fat Fast.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN # 7: Eggs
Protein per egg: 6 grams
Okay, it’s not a vegetable, but eggs ought to be one of your most consistent protein options. With 6 grams of protein a pop, eggs are an ideal food for vegetarians and omnivores alike who want to stay swimsuit-ready all year round. Their protein fuels your muscles, boosts metabolism and keeps hunger under control, aiding weight loss. “Eggs contain a host of health-promoting and flat-belly nutrients including choline, a major fat-burning nutrient that also plays an important role in brain health,” says Consalvo.
Eat This! Eggs can anchor a breakfast, slide into a sandwich at lunch, beef up a dinnertime salad, or even serve as a protein-filled snack on their own.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #8: Hummus
Protein in 2 tablespoons: 2.2 grams
“Garbanzo beans are high in lysine, and tahini is a rich source of the amino acid methionine. Individually these foods are incomplete proteins, but when you combine the two together to make hummus, they create a complete protein,” explains Consalvo. Just be aware that not all store-bought hummus brands contain tahini. One that does: Pacific Foods Organic Classic Hummus. It’s not only tahini-infused, but also shelf-stable, making it ideal for on-the-go snacking.
Eat This! Spread hummus onto sandwiches in lieu of mustard, mayo and other spreads, or use it as a dip for raw veggies. Looking for more mid-afternoon fuel? Hummus is just one of our 25 Best High-Protein Snacks in America.
WEIGHT-LOSS PROTEIN #9: Buckwheat
Protein in ½ cup (cooked): 3 grams
Every half-cup serving of this gluten-free seed packs three grams of protein, two grams of belly-flattening fiber (more than you’ll find in oatmeal) and half the day’s magnesium, a mineral that’s essential to muscle development and carb metabolism. What’s more, a 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher magnesium intake was associated with lower levels of fasting glucose and insulin, markers related to fat and weight gain. Fill up your plate with the nutritional powerhouse to maintain your flat stomach.
Eat This! Add buckwheat-based Japanese soba noodles to stir-fries or whip up these savory buckwheat pancakes—the tomato avocado salsa with which it’s paired is overflowing with flavors you’re sure to love.