6 Plant-based protein snacks for Vegetarian Awareness Month

Oct 9, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: HandmadePictures/Getty Images

No matter what your preferred eating lifestyle, we all know that there are three macronutrients our body needs: protein, carbohydrates and fat. I grew up eating animal protein as well as vegetarian options like hummus, falafel, lentils, tabouli salads and other delicious Mediterranean-inspired meals.

October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. Awareness is the key word here, which essentially means increasing your consciousness. Look at your diet and see where you can optimize it. Maybe start with increasing your vegetables, swapping out meats for beans in a stir-fry or even think about enjoying one vegetarian meal each day.

When I was younger, snacks at the grocery store did not have food claims on them, and certainly did not incorporate super-foods or other healthy functional foods. Today, we do know that most snacks have fat and carbohydrates — and not always the healthy kind.

Consumers are demanding healthier food items, especially in their snacks, and companies are listening. Making a snack healthier by decreasing sugar, incorporating healthy fats and using natural ingredients as well as vegetable proteins not only makes the snack more desirable, but it is also a great way to get that bump in nutrients we all want.

So, here are six plant-based protein sources and snacks that you will want to incorporate on the regular!

Ancient grain, modern world

Image: i heart keenwah

Quinoa is the only completely plant-based protein — meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Packed with iron, fiber and magnesium, quinoa is a "slow-burning," complex carbohydrate. It also contains the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol, which act as anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Quinoa is considered a super-grain because it contains almost as much fiber as most other grains. The bonus is that it is also a gluten-free grain. Quinoa is the perfect substitute for rice in food bowls, and it is delicious served with beans and a pineapple-mango salsa

Food for thought: 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa delivers 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber in under 115 calories.

My snack recommendation: The Peanut Butter Cacao Quinoa Clusters from i heart keenwah. These crunchy clusters are made with cacao nibs and are full of anti-oxidants. One serving boasts 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. They are also gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and vegan.

Crunchy Chickpeas

Image: Saffron Road

There are over 1000 varieties of beans enjoyed by cultures around the world. In our western culture, we are most familiar with black beans, pinto beans, white beans, kidney beans or lima beans, but the most consumed bean in the world is the chickpea — also known as the garbanzo bean. Round and firm, with a nutty flavor, chickpeas are nutrient-rich beans that are both a vegetable and a legume. High in fiber and B vitamins, they are a good source of calcium. In addition, they are a natural source of zinc and copper, two minerals essential for the development, function and strengthening of our immune cells.

Food for thought: 1/2 cup delivers 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber and 110 calories.

My snack recommendation: While hummus seems to be the most common food made with chickpeas, they are actually showing up in snack categories all across the board. One of my favorite snacks, the Crunchy Chickpeas from Saffron Road are the perfect savory snack and make a great alternative to trail mix or chips. Each serving boasts 5 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and only 2.5 grams of fat.

Almonds take the lead

Image: Joel Natkin/Eat Wild Things

Almonds and other nuts are nutrition powerhouses. While peanuts had the reign for most-consumed nut, almonds have taken over according to this report featured in the Washington Post. Almonds contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for your brain health. Couple these healthy fats with the naturally occurring fiber, and nuts make for a great energy–boosting snack — not to mention, the crunch is very satisfying.

Food for thought:  1/4 cup delivers 6 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber all in under 170 calories.

My snack recommendation: I love the Skinny Dipped Almonds from Wild Things. A simple, delicious snack that is great any time of day — whole almonds skinny dipped in a thin layer of artisan dark chocolate and finished with a dash of dark cocoa, espresso or raspberry. This snack also delivers 5 grams of fiber, only 6 grams of sugar and 7 grams of protein in each package.

Peas, please!

Image: KIND Snacks

If your younger years left you hating peas, you may want to rethink incorporating them into your adult diet. Peas are chock-full of nutrients, and are a great source of vitamin B1, copper, vitamin C, phosphorus and folate. They are also a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, zinc, magnesium and iron. What does this all mean? Well, you get all of these vitamins and minerals from these peas in a pod that are cholesterol free, high in fiber and protein. The health benefits extend from promoting better heart health to increasing your anti-oxidant intake and decreasing inflammation in the body.

Food for thought: 1 cup delivers 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber all in 120 calories.

My snack recommendation: The STRONG & KIND bars from KIND Snacks. These bars use pea protein rather than soy or whey. In fact, each bar contains 10 grams of protein. With flavors like Honey Mustard or Thai Sweet Chili, this bar packs both a flavor and nutrition punch!

Seeds to sow

Image : Somersault Life Company

Seeds may be tiny, but they are packed with nutrients. With health benefits ranging from supporting a healthy mood to supporting healthy cholesterol levels, the magnesium found in sunflower seeds is just one of the nutrients that can optimize your diet. Sunflower seeds also contain vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin. When combined with naturally occurring folate found in the seeds, the protective benefits to your cardiovascular health work to keep your heart healthy. Sunflower seeds also contain selenium, an essential nutrient that plays a role in antioxidant functions and helps reduce redness and swelling in the body.

Food for thought: 1/4 cup delivers 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in under 200 calories.

My snack recommendation: Somersaults are crunchy sunflower seed bites packed with heart-healthy good fats, 5 to 6 grams of plant protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving! With sunflower seeds as the first ingredient, Somersaults are also a good source of vitamin E. These tasty crunchy bites are designed to help keep you fueled throughout the day. You can find them at Target, nationwide.

Lentil love

Image: Mediterranean Snacks

If you are looking for a food that can aid in controlling your blood sugar, is heart healthy and can improve your digestion, then lentils are the name of the game. Like other legumes, they are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Another bonus: Lentils contain high amounts of iron, so for women who have low iron stores, which can eventually lead to anemia, this is a simple way to incorporate iron from a meat-free food source. In fact, 1 cup of lentils per day provides the body with 36 percent of the daily recommended value of iron.

Like beans, lentils are rich in both fiber and protein. But unlike beans, they don’t need to be presoaked. You can simmer them with spices and vegetables for an aromatic soup or use pre-cooked lentils in salads and as a side dish. Lentils are rich in a variety of minerals, including potassium, iron and folate.

Food for thought: In a 1/2 cup serving, you will enjoy 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber in 160 calories.

My snack recommendation: Mediterranean Snacks Baked Lentil Chips. One serving boasts 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. With flavors like Sea Salt, Rosemary and Roasted Pepper, your taste buds will never get bored. They are also gluten-free!