I’ve written on this before, somewhere, so I probably will end up repeating myself.
Seitan is my favorite source of vegetarian protein. Invented by Chinese monks, the modern recipe is flour with all the carbohydrates rinsed out of it, leaving just protein. The Japanese recipe, hence the Japanese name, has some soy sauce added to it. It pretty much works as a substitute for chicken and shredded beef. It barbeques and bakes a lot like the real thing. It is low fat, almost entirely protein. It costs $6 a pound which is about the same price as the better cuts of chicken at Whole Foods. Considering that meat is up to 80% fat by calories and Seitan is almost all protein by calories, I think seitan is the cheaper source of protein gram for gram.
The next best way to get more protein in the diet is by comparing and picking the higher of the two. I’m calling these secondary protein sources. You are going to be eating a variety of foods including some foods that are not exactly high protein foods, like say soup. When you have the choice between split pea or tomato soup, check the grams of protein per 100 and pick the higher. Same for potato chips, bread, etc. This is an effortless way to pickup a dozen grams of protein without resorting to the beans.
I recently tried this and discovered that in the chips aisle, most chips are 2 grams of protein per 30, and the most was 3 per 30, in a corn and black bean chip. Salsa has zero protein, bean dip had 3 per 30. Cereals with wheat gluten powder or soy flour had the most protein, cereal with peanut butter themes came in second. Lentil and split pea soup had the most protein, the rest of soups had much less.
Just getting enough calories helps. If you don’t get a full 2000+ calories a day, the protein you eat will probably be burn as fuel.
Protein is most useful just before and just after going to a gym when doing strength training. If there isn’t any protein in your blood stream, the protein will be burned as fuel. The most practical way to get a measured amount of protein in your blood stream just before a workout is to use powders. In no particular order:
Rice. Taste good, also vegan.
Soy. Vegan, but probably causes gas.
Egg White. Can’t remember if I’ve tried it before, but some professional vegetarian body builders make egg white their primary source of protein. I make my scrambled eggs with egg whites in any case.
Spirulina. The brand I tried was ok, although many other spirulina containing products can be down right inedible. It may be a few years before the world learns how to cook with single cell seaweed.
Whey. The Whole Foods Brand 365 I’m choking down right now is pretty disgustipating, but it is vegetarian.
Dairy works great as long as you have European ancestry and aren’t lactose intollerant. Fat free milk and yogurt are cool because both can be eaten straight or mixed with protein powders. Fat free dairy, on a gram per gram basis is one of the cheapest sources of vegetarian protein, at least at Whole Foods in Clarendon.
Almonds are the best source of protein among the nuts. Peanuts are technically a bean, but I’ll lump ‘em with the nuts. Peanuts definately are a cheaper source of protein than tree nuts.
Pumpkin seeds are the highest protein seeds.
Bottom on my list are the beans. There is lots of protein to be had, but eat enough beans and you’ll get gas. Chickpeas are one of the best non-soy beans, although the difference is more pronounced when looking at chickpea flour than comparing two cans of cooked beans. I’ve never seen Lupine or Chana Dal in a store, but both are top of the bean category for protein.
Soy is controversial. They science isn’t good enough to convince me to stop eating soybeans all together, after all, I suspect that house paint, house hold cleaning agents and other chemicals are probably doing me more harm than phytoestrogens. When there is a measurable epidemic among tofu eaters, I’ll start to worry. When I do buy soy products, like soy milk or tempeh (compressed soy cakes), I try to get the multigrain version when it exists. Likewise, fake meats, like fake
Still further down the list are mycoproteins (controversial and seems like they are only sold by one brand and whole foods)
Note on chart reading: You can arrive at very different opinions by how you read a chart. Peanuts are high in protein, but are also so rich, you’re unlikely to eat more than a serving, so the grams of protein in a serving can be more important than the grams of protein per 100, per cup, or per some other arbitrary measure. Eggs whites are another good example, liquid egg whites are much lower in protein than dried, but once the water is added back and the egg whites are used in a recipe, the statistics are the same again. Compare like to like and you can’t go too far wrong in picking the higher protein food.
I think an even better statistic would be calories of protein per 100. If you ate only one food, you’d get more protein by eating foods of a high protein percentage because we can only eat so many calories. In otherwords, if a hypothetical food was 20 grams of protein and 80 grams of water, and another was 20 grams of protein and 80 grams of fat and carbohydrates, you’d be able to eat more of the former before hitting your budgeted number of calories for the day.