Protein, one of the nutrients that make up the trifecta of macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates and fat, is the building block of the body. This fundamental structure of amino acids facilitates vital cell formation and function as well as regulates the body’s organs and tissues. That’s why it’s so important you get enough of it.
You may be wondering, what protein sources there are available to you? Red meat is generally the first source that comes to mind, followed by other animal products. But when it comes to plant-based foods, most of us may struggle to know or recall which ones are protein-rich. Along with legumes such as beans, peas, soy and nuts, high-protein grains are a superb spring of plant-based protein.
9 High-protein grains to add to your diet
Packed with nutrient-dense goodness such as B vitamins and protein, grains are a staple in most diets. One reason why it’s best to eat unrefined whole grains is that the bran and germ in the grain are what contain the most protein.
So which specific grains are the highest in protein? Take a look at our high-protein grains list to get even more insight. Remember, we’re meant to consume a bare minimum of 11 percent of our total daily calories from protein. So whether you’re following a plant-based diet or not, these nine grains will enrich your diet and add a whole lot of protein options to your cooking repertoire.
First on our high-protein grains list is amaranth. This Peruvian grain is a protein powerhouse, with nine grams per cooked cup, making it a staple in some parts of the world. It happens to also be distant relative to spinach and Swiss chard as it’s actually a seed, meaning it’s a pseudo-cereal. Aside from being high in protein and fiber, amaranth is a good source of minerals like iron, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. Finally, it’s praised for its ability to reduce inflammation and may help with conditions like arthritis.
What can I add it to?
Mix amaranth flour with other flours to make bread, pancakes or muffins. You can also use it to thicken soups and sauces. If using it whole, combine it with oats to make a nutrient-dense porridge, or pop them and sprinkle them onto your breakfast cereal.
Quinoa originates in South America, where it was called the “mother of all grains” by the Incas – and for good reason. The high-protein grain is not only gluten-free, but it’s also loaded with minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fatty acids such as omega 3. On top of that, it’s got a surprising amount of protein in it. In fact, 1 cup of boiled quinoa contains around 8 grams of protein. And unlike rice or wheat, quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
How should I eat it?
Quinoa can be used as an alternative to rice or couscous. It’s also great as a stuffing or breakfast porridge — we have a recipe in the 8fit Pro app recipe book.
The difference between whole wheat pasta and its white counterpart lies in its processing. The “whole” type contains the three essential parts of the grain – the bran (outer layer), the germ (sprouting section), and the endosperm (the large starchy center). Together, these three components deliver a decent amount of protein, carbs, iron, and B vitamins. Stripped of the bran the white, highly processed pasta has lost most of its nutritional value. A one cup serving of wholegrain pasta contains around seven grams of protein.
How versatile is it?
Whether you eat it boiled or add it to an oven bake, wholegrain pasta is just as versatile as the regular white kind. You can use in the same way, just be aware that it tends to become dry, so you might need to use a bit more sauce.
Wild rice is entirely different from traditional rice, be it white or brown. In fact, wild rice isn’t even rice – it’s a “water grass” that grows in wild rivers and lakes. That’s not the only difference. One cup of cooked wild rice has around six grams of protein, compared with the five grams in brown rice. It also contains fewer calories and more lysine than brown rice. An excellent choice for vegans, as the amino acid lysine, tends to be lacking in a plant-based diet.
Can I use it like rice?
Swap out standard white rice with wild rice and pair it with meat or fish. You can also add it to soups, casseroles, salads or even homemade veggie burgers!
Widely referred to as a grain, millet is actually a seed and gluten-free. This is helpful if you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Plus, it’s low on the glycemic index, meaning it won’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike. As if that wasn’t enough, millet is a good source of dietary fiber and minerals like zinc, phosphorus, and copper. Millet contains around six grams per cooked cup, making it another fab high-protein grain on our list.
How do incorporate millet?
It’s super versatile and can be used to substitute oats, couscous or quinoa in both sweet and savory dishes. You can make a veggie stuffing with it or add it to cakes, unleavened bread as well as pop it as a snack.
Speaking of couscous, the tiny granules of durum wheat also deliver around six grams of protein per cup. The grain is also rich in selenium, which helps boost your immune system; making it a beneficial source of lean, vegetarian and vegan protein. Couscous has become a popular alternative to rice and pasta due to its light and fluffy texture and also because it readily absorbs flavors and liquids added to it.
How do I cook it?
Eat couscous as a side to slow-cooked meat and veggies, or in fresh salads with crunchy greens, herbs, and feta. You can also use this high-protein grain as a stuffing or enjoy it as a North African breakfast with fruit and nuts (surprise — we have a yummy recipe in the app).
Even though oats aren’t a complete protein, meaning they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids, they’re a higher quality protein than other kinds of grains like rice or wheat cereal. One cooked cup contains about six grams of protein. To increase protein content, combine your oats with milk or yogurt. Oats also carry a decent amount of fiber, including soluble fiber strongly linked to improved cholesterol levels and a healthy heart.
How are they best eaten?
Whether you eat them raw or cooked; this high-protein grain can be eaten sweet or savory with any topping like fruit or dairy. Our favorite way to eat them is preparing overnight oats, since soaking raw oats makes them more digestible, plus it makes a great breakfast or snack on the go.
Buckwheat is technically a seed but is usually cooked and consumed as a grain. Despite its name, the seed doesn’t actually contain wheat so it’s another low allergenic food. Buckwheat comes with a whopping 12 different amino acids and can be considered to be a gluten-free version of barley. Paired with its high content fiber and 6 grams of protein per cup, buckwheat is a high-protein grain that’s definitely earned its place on our list.
What’s it used for?
Add it to breakfasts, soups, salads and burger mixtures; buckwheat is another versatile grain. Buck flour is also used to make Japanese soba noodles, French galettes, and Dutch poffertjes.
One cup of cornmeal contains around five grams of protein. Though the protein in cornmeal is incomplete, it’s still a good high-protein grain to stock up on as long as you’re planning on eating it for breakfast or accompanied by other proteins. It’s high in fiber, low in calories and full of vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, zinc, niacin and potassium.
What can I make with it?
You can use cornmeal to make grits for breakfast, bread, biscuits, polenta and the South American classics: arepas, tamales, and tortillas.
A grain of truth
It’s important to highlight that our bodies need a variety of protein sources to stay healthy, so make sure you eat a diverse diet that will fulfill your body’s needs. Use the high-protein grains list above as a reference to keep you on the right track. Additionally, soaking some of the grains helps reduce anti-nutrients, which can interfere with mineral absorption. Finally, try to purchase organic grains, as you’ll be guaranteed pesticide-free food.
For a wide variety of recipes that include the grains we just mentioned, sign up to 8fit and upgrade to Pro. We’ve got dishes like Vegetarian Millet Stir Fry, Tangerine & Honey Couscous, Quinoa Burgers and Maple-Chia Overnight Oats. You won’t be disappointed!