As we move into another year, much remains the same around us. Constants include our body’s need for certain nutrients. Our bodies need a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to get the energy they need to perform best – and for all of our systems, such as our immune system, digestive system, and cardiovascular system to function smoothly.
Protein is one of the necessary nutrients. Protein provides our body with the building blocks needed to build and maintain muscle. The protein also helps in the recovery and maintenance of cells and tissues throughout the body. The protein provides structure to the muscles and bones and helps fight inflammation and infections.
Protein can come from many foods, although most people think of protein from meat or eggs. Protein-rich foods such as meat can be expensive. Did you know that protein is available through many plant foods and can be cheaper? Lentils, nuts, seeds, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and other starchy beans are an excellent source of affordable protein. These proteins are usually also shelf life, meaning they do not need to be refrigerated or frozen. They also last a long time!
Foods like nuts, beans and seeds contain not only protein but also fiber. When protein is consumed with fiber, the body feels fuller for a longer period of time. Fiber can also help maintain a healthy digestive system and cardiovascular system. Plant-derived protein actually provides more nutrients with each fork.
If you’re not yet familiar with protein-rich plants, try this delicious recipe to get started. Lentil minestrone is a great, warm, hearty soup to satisfy on a cold winter day.
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 yellow onion (peeled and chopped)
2 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
3 carrots (rubbed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes)
1 celery stalk (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
1 sweet potato (rubbed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes)
1 zucchini (cut into 1/4 inch cubes or 1 cup frozen zucchini)
2 cups canned low-sodium diced tomatoes (including liquid or fresh tomatoes)
1/2 cup lentils (brown or red)
8 cups water
1 cube low sodium chicken broth
4 cups kale or spinach (washed and cut into 1 / 4-1 / 2 inch pieces)
Put a pot on the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil.
Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 7 minutes until golden brown.
Add the carrots, celery, sweet potatoes and zucchini and cook for about 10 minutes until slightly softened.
Add the tomatoes, lentils, water and chicken soup and bring to a boil over high heat. Bring the heat to a low, cover and cook for 40 minutes.
Add the kale and cook for another 20 minutes. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
This recipe offers six hearty bowls of soup. A serving provides 167 calories, 3 g of fat, 82 mg of sodium, 29 g of carbohydrate, 8 g of fiber, 3 g of total sugar (0 added sugar) and 8 g of protein.
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For more delicious recipes, visit snapedny.org or Facebook @cceniagaracounty.
SNAP-Ed is funded by the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides nutritional support to low-income people. Call 1-800-352-8401 for more information.
Justine Hays is a senior SNAP-Ed nutrition expert at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. Contact it at firstname.lastname@example.org.