Quinoa brings the protein in this delicious easy main meal or side dish recipe for stuffed quinoa spinach sweet potatoes. This recipe is super simple to make and also great for meal prep. Plus it’s packed for of tons of nutrition while tasting great!
I love eating plant-based meals but often get tired of relying on beans as a source of protein, so lately I have been cooking with quinoa much more often. I find that it has so much flexibility and since it doesn’t have ton of flavor on its own, you can use it in many different preparations.
The basics of protein
Protein is one of the three macronutrients our body needs to function. The other two macronutrients are fat and carbohydrates. The foods that we eat are made up of these three macronutrients in varying amounts. I hear lots of talk about concerns with not getting enough protein when meat isn’t part of the diet, but that’s a myth and actually it’s easy to get enough protein when eating strictly plant-based.
Amino acids, protein’s building blocks
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Our body is able to produce some of the amino acids the body needs, but there are nine that the body is unable to make, and so we must obtain these amino acids through our diet. Most animal protein including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy are considered complete proteins. A complete protein contains all these nine essential amino acids in amounts the body needs.
Many plant-based proteins are unfortunately not complete proteins, they are actually missing one or more of the essential amino acids that our body needs. Quinoa and soybeans are the ONLY plant-based proteins that are considered complete proteins.
Plant-based proteins that have missing amino acids are often combined with other foods that have the missing amino acids. An example of these complementary foods in action is eating rice with beans. Rice is short on the amino acid, lysine, but when eaten with beans the missing amino acid is provided making the meal now full of complete proteins. There’s no need to over think things, simply focus on eating a wide variety of plant-based foods including proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
Function of protein
Every single one of the cells in our body contains protein. Therefore, making sure we get protein in our diet is important for the growth and the repair of our cells. Proteins are hard at work in our cells whether they are repairing injuries such as cuts or burns, or simply maintaining the cycle of replacing worn out cells.
Proteins also control and manage many of the processes in the body and without them these processes would not be able to take place.
- Blood clotting proteins allow our body to stop the the loss of blood when we are injured.
- Proteins in the form of hormones and enzymes activate chemical reactions in the body.
- Proteins play a role in the contraction of muscles. Without enough protein, our heart, which is a muscle will not be able to pump blood to the body.
- Proteins work as transport in our body for essential substances such as carrying oxygen to the blood and carrying vitamins.
In addition, protein plays a role in providing the body with energy when enough carbohydrates or fats aren’t consumed.
How much protein is enough?
The amount of protein needed is individualized by your age, weight and activity level. Calculating your needs involves some math so the easiest way to determine your needs is to use an online calculator. After entering your information, it calculates the range of protein in grams you should be eating daily. These ranges are based on the amount of protein your body needs to replace the body’s proteins as they are used in various processes. However, in times of illness, disease or injury the body may need a higher amount of protein and you should consult with a doctor or dietitian about your protein needs.
In cases where the body doesn’t receive an adequate amount of protein, it is unable to perform the basic function of repairing the body’s cells. The body will begin to breakdown its protein stores in the muscle and tissue in order to perform these basic functions.
However, for most of us, especially those in developed countries, eating enough protein is easily achievable even when eating a mostly plant-based diet. That’s because there are many sources of plant-based protein available, and as long as you eat a wide variety of foods you likely will eat enough.
What are good plant-based sources of protein?
I have compiled a list of some sources of plant-based proteins. This list isn’t everything but I chose foods that are most widely available and popular. Proteins are also found in many foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains but in much smaller amounts. There are a few vegetables and grains however that do contain more protein than the others, and in such amounts that it is worth noting so I have included them in this list.
|Tempeh, 100 g||20 g|
|Seitan, 100 g||19 g|
|Edamame, 1 cup||13 g|
|Tofu, extra firm, 100 g||10 g|
|Soy milk, 1 cup||7 g|
|Tofu, silken 100 g||5 g|
Nuts and Seeds
|Raw pumpkin seeds, 1 oz||9 g|
|Dry roasted peanuts, 1 oz||7 g|
|Almonds, 1 oz||6 g|
|Sunflower seeds, 1 oz||5 g|
|Chia seeds, 1 oz||5 g|
|Walnuts, 1 oz||4 g|
|Cashews, 1 oz||4 g|
|Peanut/almond butter, 2 T||7 g|
|Lentils, 1 cup||18 g|
|Split peas, 1 cup||16 g|
|Black beans, 1 cup||15 g|
|Pinto beans, 1 cup||15 g|
|Red kidney beans, 1 cup||15 g|
|Chickpeas, 1 cup||15 g|
|Cooked corn grits, 1 cup||4 g|
|Cornmeal, 1/4 cup||3 g|
|Buckwheat flour, 1/4 cup||4 g|
|Almond flour, 1/4 cup||6 g|
|Whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup||4 g|
|Chickpea flour, 1/4 cup||5 g|
|Green peas, 1/2 cup||4 g|
|Baked sweet potato, 1 cup||4 g|
|Cooked kale, 1 cup||4 g|
|Cooked spinach, 1 cup||3 g|
|Whole avocado||3 g|
|Cooked broccoli, 1/2 cup||2 g|
|Brussel sprouts, 1/2 cup||2 g|
|Baked potato, 1 cup||2 g|
|Quinoa, 1 cup||8 g|
|Whole wheat pasta, 1 cup||7 g|
|Wild rice, 1 cup||7 g|
|Bulgur, 1 cup||6 g|
|Steel cut oats, 1 cup||5 g|
Now that you have a bit of background on protein, I want to share one of my favorite quick and easy recipes created with quinoa, a high quality plant-based protein. Stuffed quinoa spinach sweet potatoes are a great weeknight meal option and is super easy to prep ahead to make preparation even quicker.
Stuffed Quinoa Spinach Sweet Potatoes
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- ½ cup quinoa dry
- 1 T olive oil
- ½ cup yellow onion diced
- 2-4 cloves garlic finely minced
- 4 cups fresh spinach leaves chopped
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 T nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 T walnuts chopped and toasted
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Wash and scrub sweet potatoes. Wrap in aluminum foil. Place in hot oven for 30-45 minutes or until a fork enters easily into potato.
- Rinse quinoa if needed and drain well.
- Place quinoa and vegetable broth in a pan and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and allow to cook for 10-15 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender done. Set aside covered until potatoes are almost done.
- When potatoes are close to being ready, heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add onion. Cook five minutes or until onions are translucent and slightly golden. Add garlic and cook another 60 seconds. Next, add spinach and sauté until wilted. When ready, add quinoa and stir to mix ingredients.
- Combine white wine, soy sauce and nutritional yeast in a small bowl and mix to dissolve yeast. Add to quinoa and spinach mixture. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
Prepare potatoes for serving
- When potatoes are ready, remove from oven and unwrap. Cut in half. Use a fork break up the potato. Top each potato with half the quinoa mixture (about ¾ cup each) and then 1 T of toasted walnuts on each potato.
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