Protein Alternatives

When we consider a healthy diet, we tend to be obsessed with protein.  Those of us who listen to our doctors here at Ommani are learning that a plant-based diet is optimal for good health. So a new year is upon us and we’re ready to make the transition, not necessarily to become vegetarian but to make plants the basis of our diet.  What’s a healthy plant-based, protein substitute that tastes good and is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood while providing the wide variety of nutrients so many of us expect from the meat we eat? I’m not talking about the most common protein substitute, tofu—I’m talking about nuts.

According to an article by Jamie Ducharme in the January 28, 2019 issue of Time Magazine, swapping beef for protein-rich plants like beans, peas, and nuts has big health benefits (turns out, both for us and the planet).  With regard to nuts, benefits vary by nut, but they all have protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. In general, nut consumption is linked to lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels, smaller waist circumference, better blood pressure levels, and less insulin resistance.

A Food & Dining, JournalSentinel article by Jill Weisenberger dated January 23, 2019, and the US Dept of Agriculture Nutrient Data Lab provides basic information about five of the most common types of nuts:

  • Almonds:  Ten almonds provide 2.5 grams of protein.  Almonds are very beneficial for the heart; lower bad cholesterol and appear to improve good cholesterol.
  • Peanuts:  Remember they are not truly nuts—they are legumes.  A handful of peanuts provides 7 grams of protein. Peanuts are affordable and at least half of the fat in peanuts is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil and avocados. And over 30% is polyunsaturated fat; another good fat that is important in a healthy diet.
  • Pecans and walnuts:  The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to America. An ounce of walnuts contains slightly more protein than an ounce of pecans – 4.3 vs 2.69 grams of protein.  Both nuts contain a high amount of fiber and have trace minerals manganese and copper, minerals important for brain and nervous system function. Studies have shown both nuts to be helpful for improved insulin sensitivity and reduction of Type 2 diabetes. The phytonutrients in pecans and walnuts can also help with general gut biome health.
  • Pistachios:  Nuts are generally high in calories, but these nuts are the lowest; weighing in at 156 calories per ounce and containing 6 grams of protein. They are also high in antioxidants and one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods.  Vitamin B6 is important for several bodily functions especially blood sugar regulation.

The World Economic Forum has much to say about nuts as the best protein alternative to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions because they release virtually none – not true of animal-based proteins.  So, add nuts to your diet and reduce your meat consumption – your body and the planet will love you for it.



February 2019 – Genevie Kocourek, M.D. is Board Certified in Family Medicine and practices at The Ommani Center. She is the founder of Trinity Integrative Family Medicine and focuses her practice on integrative care and prevention of disease for the entire family.  Schedule an appointment by calling 262.695.5311