Articles, Nutrition

I’ve got a lovely bunch of… Coconut oil…

Coconut oil – it’s all the buzz right? Everyone is always saying how good it is…  there are articles all over the web

about it being a super food… but it’s a saturated fat… so how can that be? Is it really that good for you? Is it actually super? I thought I’d do a little investigation and see…


But saturated fats are evil…

Coconut oil is a saturated fat – which in general we’ve been told we need to avoid right? In fact coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fats, with almost 90% of the fatty acids in it being saturated. But recent studies have actually suggested that saturated fats aren’t as bad as they were once thought to be – a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which involved over 11,000 participants found no significant link between increased consumption of saturated fats and heart disease. More research is needed but that’s a good start. So you don’t need to be quite as scared of saturated fats as we once were.

At any rate coconut oil specifically is a pretty special kind of saturated fat because it contains medium chain triglycerides. Most fatty acids in foods high in saturated fats like cheese or steak etc are long-chain fatty acids. The medium-chain fatty acids are metabolised differently to long-chain ones. They are removed from the digestive tract and processed by the liver and used as a quick energy source, or converted into ketone bodies. This means there is less chance for them to be stored as fat in the body and are a great energy boost. There is also evidence that these ketone bodies may help in the treatment of epilepsy and Alzheimer’s (more on that later).

Anthropological studies of some populations of people who consume high quantities of coconut and coconut fat have found little or no evidence of heart disease and strokes e.g. South Pacific communities such as the Tokelauans and Kitavans (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Journal of International Medicine). These populations eat over 60% of their calories from coconuts and are the biggest consumers of saturated fats in the world, yet show very low rates of cardiovascular disease. That is further evidence that coconut oil isn’t all bad.

Energy Boost…

Medium-chain fatty acids are not only metabolised differently but can actually impact positively on energy expenditure. Studies have shown that medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil can increase energy expenditure compared to the same amount of calories from long-chain fatty acids (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). In one other study (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition) just 15 – 30g of medium-chain triglycerides per day increased overall energy expenditure by 5%.


Fifty percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil is a fatty acid called Lauric Acid. This gets broken down in to a monoglyceride called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi (journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy) and studies have shown in particular that they can kill Staphlococcus Aureus (a very serious pathogen for humans – Journal of Bacteriology) and Candida Albicans – a common source of yeast infections in humans (Journal of Medicinal Food). There’s also some evidence that they can help in the treatment of acne (Journal of Investigative Dermatology)– but so far these are only in-vitro experiments so more research is needed, so don’t go coating your face in it just yet!


Lauric acid does however increase the levels of cholesterol in the blood more than any other fatty acid.. oh oh… that doesn’t sound good though right?

Well luckily most of the increase is in high-density lipoprotein (HDL or the “good” blood cholesterol”) – which is what we want.  HDL’s are good because they remove excess cholesterol from the tissues and transport it to the liver. Here it’s converted in to bile salts which are then used by the digestive system to break down fats. LDL’s do the opposite – they transport cholesterol to tissues to be used to create cell membranes etc which is also great, until there are more LDL’s than the tissues need… which is when they start to dump cholesterol in the arteries resulting in reduced build up of fat in the artery walls. So HDL’s can prevent and even reduce atherosclerosis which means less risk of heart disease, strokes and other vascular diseases. Whoop whoop! As a result lauric acid has been characterised as having “a more favourable effect on total HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid, either saturated or unsaturated” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Much more research needs to be done but it’s certainly promising.

Feeling hungry?

Studies have also shown that coconut oil may reduce hunger, due to the medium-chain fatty acids it contains and the way they are metabolised (Journal of Obesity). Another study found that those eating more medium-chain fatty acids ate fewer calories overall each day, and those eating them for breakfast ate less at lunch (International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). These studies were short and with limited participants but if the effect were to last over the long term then it could have a significant influence on body weight and managing weight gain. So pop a little coconut oil in your morning smoothie to help curb those cravings.

Insides out…

It’s not just good for your insides, it’s good for your outsides too! It’s proven to help moisturise and increase the lipid content of dry skin (Journal of Dermatitis). It can also protect hair and skin from damage from the sun’s UV rays – blocking about 20% of the UV (Journal of Cosmetic Science). So do look out for skin and hair products which contain coconut oil. There’s also evidence that it can help prevent bad breath and improve dental health if used like a mouthwash (Indian Journal of Dental Research). Although swishing out your mouth with coconut oil doesn’t sound very pleasant, it could be used in addition to normal dental care routines.


Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s…

As I mentioned earlier, the ketone bodies produced from eating coconut oil might help in treating epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. For those with drug-resistant epilepsy a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet is often prescribed. This leads to high concentrations of ketone bodies in the blood which is linked to a vastly reduced rate of seizures in these patients. Because the fatty acids in coconut oil are rapidly turned into ketone bodies it is often used in such cases (Journal of Nutrition, and Journal of Epilepsia).

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain in which there appears to be a reduced ability for certain parts of the brain to use glucose for energy. There has been speculation that ketones might be able to be used as an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells, therefore reducing the symptoms (BMC Neuroscience). A study conducted in 2006 (Neurobiology of Ageing)  showed that consumption of medium-chain triglycerides immediately improved brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s. Other studies have supported these findings and there are many studies now looking in to medium-chain triglycerides as potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease (Nutrition and Metabolism, and Neurotherapeutics).

Waist shrinkage…

So coconut oil sounds pretty awesome so far right? but guess what – it gets better!

The fact that coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning means it can also help you lose weight. Specifically it seems like it may be effective at helping to reduce abdominal fat – fat which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs. Waist circumference has been used as a good general marker for the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity. Accumulation of this type of fat has been linked to heart disease and strokes.  A study in the journal Lipids studied obese women who had a predominance of fat in the abdomen. This was a blind study – half the group were given a placebo of bean oil, the other half were given 30ml of coconut oil a day, they all followed the same diet and walked 50 mins a day. All the participants lost weight and BMI over the 12 week study, but those taking the coconut oil showed a significantly larger reduction in weight and, specifically, their waist circumference dropped far more than the other group. In addition, those taking coconut oil showed reduced levels of blood cholesterol as well.  A similar study on men, found a reduction of an inch in waist circumference after only 4 weeks of supplementing with coconut oil (30ml per day) (ISRN Pharmacology). Only an inch I hear you cry? Well yes but… this was with no change in exercise or restriction of calories… just the addition of coconut oil!

Now don’t get too excited and think that this means you can skip your gym session, stuff your face with chocolate and have a spoonful of coconut oil and your waist will disappear… sadly that’s not the case. What this means is that it would be a great idea to switch your current cooking oil to coconut oil, or pop a little in your pre-workout shake  and continue with your workouts and sensible eating, and you will be simply boosting your efforts.

Super duper miracle food… or…

After reading all that, you could be forgiven for thinking – well Nancy you’ve just confirmed that coconut oil is indeed the super duper miracle food we’ve all read about on the internet… and well yes it is pretty cool… but it’s not perfect. When it comes to essential fatty acids coconut oil is pretty rubbish. It contains only small amounts of linoleic acid (omega-6) and zero linolenic acids (omega 3) – which we need! Of course no oil is perfect – olive oil also has little omega-3’s and is unstable at even moderate cooking temperatures, rapeseed (canola) oil is a partially oxidised oil (which means it’s rancid) which is linked to inflammation in the body. Palm oil isn’t great either – it’s a great vitamin A and other antioxidant source (but only in it’s natural unprocessed form), but it’s a highly saturated fat and is linked to insulin resistance and heart disease, and it’s production destroys thousands  of acres of rainforest every year – so that’s not good…

So what does this mean? It means that coconut oil is NOT a superfood, but it’s also not terrible either. It’s a great thing to include as part of a varied diet. If you’re going to use it go for the Virgin Coconut oil and have a teaspoon in your shake, use it to make some yummy brownies, use it when you do a stir fry etc.. but if you’re having a salad then use a little olive or macadamia oil, throw some nuts in or add some flax seed or avocado. And don’t just shove spoonfuls of coconut oil in because you think it will do you good – it’s still calories! So the take home message it – mix it up. Variety is the spice of life!

Nancy 🙂




(This article was originally published on

Articles, Nutrition

Cinnamon – Why we all need a bit more spice in our lives

You can’t open magazines, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at the moment without being told about how eating some wondrous superfood will be the cure to every health problem known to man. These headline grabbing stories claim that all you need to do is eat these every day foods, drinks and spices and you’ll live a disease-free, medical drug free life. At best these articles are interesting, but at worse they are misleading and can be dangerous. Claims that turmeric, coconut oil and hemp oil are cancer cures, cashew nuts are better than antidepressants, raisins will detox your liver – the list is endless.  There are many reports of people abandoning medical treatment in favour of some of these super-foods, often with tragic consequences. However there is often also a little truth behind these claims, so I thought I’d take a closer look at a common spice, which has been claimed to help treat cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, even HIV and delve a little in to the science behind it to provide you with some reliable information.

Cinnamon is a spice I absolutely adore – on my coffee, in my morning smoothie, sprinkled over stewed apple, in biscuits… any way at all! It’s been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years and there are also some really interesting scientific studies out there about its effects. So I thought I would share some pretty cool cinnamon facts with you.

What is Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is actually the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree which is a type of Laurel that grows in tropical regions of the world from South America to South-east Asia. The inner bark is harvested, allowed to dry and then sold as sticks or ground in to a powder. The majority of commercial cinnamon comes from Sri-Lanka and Indonesia.


Cinnamon has been traded around the world since as early as 2000 BC, when it was imported in to Egypt. It has been so highly prized that it was considered a gift fit for Kings, and even Gods. It is still prized today though it is decidedly more common!

There are many varieties of cinnamon but the two main types are Ceylon cinnamon or “true “ cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon which is the cinnamon you generally find in the shops. Both taste the same but the Ceylon cinnamon has a slightly more delicate flavour. It’s usually available in health food shops and if you have the choice it’s definitely worth buying.

The distinct smell and flavour of cinnamon is due to a compound which both varieties contain called cinnamaldehyde and it’s this compound that is also responsible for the medicinal effects of cinnamon.


Why is it so good?

Well firstly, cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, specifically polyphenols. Antioxidants are great as they protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage due to free radicals. In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon was found to have the greatest antioxidant capacity, even outranking so called “superfoods” like garlic and oregano (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry). Cinnamon has also been shown to be so powerful that it can be used as a natural food preservative.

Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the body isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s a protective mechanism which helps the body fight infection and repair tissue damage. But it can be a problem if it becomes long term (chronic) or if it is directed against the body’s own tissues. The antioxidants that are so prolific in cinnamon are extremely good anti-inflammatories and studies have shown it can help to reduce muscle soreness in female athletes so is a great option for including in your post-workout shake (find my favourite recipe here). It may also be helpful for those suffering from arthritis.

Heart Disease and Diabetes

Cinnamon has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, one of the world’s most common causes of premature death. A study of people with type-2 diabetes showed that 1g of cinnamon per day reduced levels of serum glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in the blood, whilst levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) remained the same and didn’t reduce. This suggests inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type-2 diabetes may reduce the risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease.  A large review study concluded that an even smaller dose of just 120 milligrams of cinnamon per day can have the same effects (Annals of Family Medicine). In this study cinnamon also increased levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol.  Studies in animals have also linked cinnamon consumption to a reduction in blood pressure, though this is yet to be tested in humans.  Overall though this suggests that adding cinnamon to your diet could cut some of the main risk factors for heart disease which is definitely a good thing.

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a key hormone for regulating the metabolism and for energy use in the body. Its main role is involved in the transfer of blood sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. Many people are, however, resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance is one of the symptoms of conditions such as type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  Studies have shown that consumption of cinnamon extract by people with metabolic syndrome improves fasting blood glucose, systolic blood pressure, percentage body fat and increased lean body mass compared with the placebo groups. This suggests (and test tube studies confirm this) that cinnamon can help insulin to do its job and reduce blood sugar levels.

As well as reducing blood sugar through affecting insulin resistance, cinnamon also affects blood sugar in other ways. It has been shown to decrease the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal. It does this by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates, through interfering with the digestive enzymes. In addition, a compound in cinnamon (a hydroxychalcone) acts as an insulin mimic and encourages cells to take up more glucose from the blood itself. Both these combined mean glucose uptake is improved and blood sugar levels are stabilised. Many human studies have demonstrated that cinnamon has anti-diabetic effects through lowering fasting blood sugar levels up to 29% (European Journal of Clinical Investigation). What’s great about cinnamon is that it is also generally very well tolerated and so is something that is easy, and pleasant to take. These data suggest that cinnamon could really help those with type 2 diabetes to assist in controlling blood sugar levels. It’s important though to realise that taking cinnamon doesn’t replace standard forms of management – such as insulin therapy, antidiabetic agents and lifestyle changes and the dose required is quite high, up to 6g per day (2 tsp), BUT what it can do is help and it certainly won’t do any harm.


What about other conditions?

Well cinnamon has been shown to have a beneficial effect on some neurological conditions. Diseases which cause progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells are known as neurodegenerative diseases.  Two of the most well-known are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although human studies have not been extensively trialled yet, studies in animals have shown that compounds in cinnamon seem to inhibit the build-up of a protein called “tau” in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s and can lead to an improvement of the symptoms associated with this build-up. In a study looking at Parkinson’s in mice, cinnamon helped to protect neurons, improve motor function and normalise neurotransmitter levels (Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology). These studies are very recent, only 2014, and much more investigation need to be done in humans, but it’s certainly promising.

Cinnamon and Cancer

One of the hallmarks of cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. One again studies are limited to in vitro (test tubes) and animal studies but they suggest that cinnamon extracts may protect against cancer.  These studies have shown that it reduces the growth of cancer cells, and the formation of blood vessels in tumours (which in turn inhibits growth). It also appears to be toxic to cancer cells, causing them to die. A study in mice with colon cancer specifically revealed that cinnamon (and cardamom) activated “detoxifying” enzymes in the colon (known as GST – glutathione S-transferase). These naturally occurring enzymes target and breakdown environmental and other toxins from outside the body including drugs, pesticides, carcinogens etc. By activating them in mice with colon cancer cinnamon protected against further growth of the cancer. This has been further supported by test tube experiments showing that cinnamon activated a protective antioxidant response in human colon cells.  This means there could be tremendous potential for cancer treatment and prevention with cinnamon and its extract. Of course whether it works in humans is another matter but it’s looking good so far and more studies are taking place all the time.

Cinnamon as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agent

Cinnamaldehyde has been shown to inhibit both bacterial infections and fungal infections. A study in the journal “Allergy” showed that cinnamon oil was very effective at treating respiratory tract fungal infections. It’s also been shown to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella (American Journal of Chinese Medicine).

Cinnamon oil has also been shown to be more effective than clove oil in inhibiting the pathogens (bacteria and yeast) involved in tooth decay (Journal of Pharmacy Research). It also helps to reduce bad breath by reducing the number of anaerobic bacteria in the mouth (which release sulphur compounds that produce the bad breath smell) (Journal of Clinical Dentistry).

There is also evidence in test tube trials of human cells that cinnamon can help to inhibit HIV infected cells. A study investigated 69 medicinal plants and cinnamon was found to be the most effective (Indian Journal of Medical Research and Current HIV Research). It was also shown to block entry of HIV into healthy cells (journal of Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy). Much more research needs to be done but once again cinnamon shows promise.

So there you go…

So there you go – that’s why we need a little more spice in our lives! It seems that some of those amazing claims about cinnamon may well be true – at least  on some level and all in all Cinnamon seems to be a pretty good thing to include in your diet. So load it up – add a tsp to your coffee, or sprinkle it on top of your cappuccino instead of chocolate, stir in to your porridge, add to your smoothies or include in your desserts and baking (it’s divine sprinkled on top of nut butter spread on toast!). You can even use it in savoury dishes like chilis. There’s a fab little infographic below with ideas for using the cinnamon sticks and  there are lots of recipes that use it, so do check them out some baked good recipes at Pure and Simple Bakes.  Enjoy!

Nancy 🙂


(This article was originally published on



Articles, Nutrition

The Low Down on Protein

Everyone always seems to go on and on about protein. .but what is it? How much should I have? What foods can I get it from?… are all questions I often get asked so I thought I’d give you the 101 on protein and give you a bit of info about where you can get your protein from.

Eating enough protein is important for everyone – whether you are trying to lose weight, just eat more healthily, put on muscle, recover from your workouts or just want to feel fuller after your meals. But it can be a bit confusing – especially if you’re trying to include more plant-based proteins, or are vegetarian/vegan. This article should help clear things up for you and give you a whole range of plant-based protein options to keep you happy and healthy.


So what is protein?

Protein is a critical component of the body and is often called the body’s building block. All the organs, including the skin, are built from proteins and it’s used to both build and repair tissues (like skeletal muscle, bone, hair, fingernails, cartilage, skin and blood). Many hormones are also proteins, as are the enzymes that digest our food. Every system in the body relies on proteins to enable it to work correctly. Like carbohydrates and fat protein does also provide energy, but it can’t be stored by the body (and has so many other important functions) so it’s used as a last resort source of fuel. If our diet contained no protein to use for repairing and building tissues then our bodies would start to breakdown muscle to get the protein it needs. It’s therefore vital to continually replace the protein that the body is using – and this is even more important if you’re physically active. Children, adolescents and pregnant women also require higher levels of protein as they are all producing new tissue.

After eating a meal, any proteins are broken down in to amino acids – the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids are absorbed in the small intestine and then distributed around the body. The cells use what they need to make new proteins, or repair older ones. Anything left over can either be used for energy. Now, although protein in itself can’t be stored, it can be converted to other storable components. If the body is short on carbohydrates and fat then the amino acids can be converted into glucose (and then glycogen), or into fatty acids and stored. So while it’s important to get enough protein, it’s also important not to go overboard – eating excess protein can lead to weight gain just as much as eating excess carbs and fat can.

Some of the amino acids we need can be produced by the body, while we must get others from the diet. The ones we cannot produce and must get from our foods are called the “essential” amino acids. So protein is not just about quantity, it’s also about quality, but I’ll talk more about that later.

How much protein do we need?

As I’ve already said certain people will need more protein than others. The amount you need depends on your age, weight and levels of activity. Children and adolescents who are still developing need proportionately more protein in their diets than adults. People with high activity levels also need more – as protein is essential in building and repairing muscle and other tissues. A good rough estimation of how much you need to consume is to take your weight in kg and multiply it by 0.8. This gives you the number of grams of protein you should consume every day e.g. if you weigh 100kg you should be consuming roughly 80g protein a day. But this is really only a minimum guideline and there’s lots of evidence to suggest we need more than this. If you are physically active or trying to lose weight then the body of evidence now suggests you need quite a bit more.

Protein and weight loss

Protein is incredibly important in weight loss. Weight loss ultimately comes down to one thing – in order to lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories than we burn. How can eating protein help with this? Studies have shown that eating sufficient protein not only boosts your metabolic rate (meaning you burn more calories) but also reduces your appetite (meaning you take fewer calories in). A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that eating around 25 – 30% of your daily calories as protein boosts metabolism by up to 80 – 100 calories per day. But most importantly, in terms of sustainable weight loss, is the fact that protein actually reduces appetite, because it’s more satiating (filling) than both carbs and fat (studies from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition). In one study women who increased their protein intake until it formed 30% of their daily calorie intake ended up consuming up to 441 fewer calories per day. They also lost weight, and the only change in their routine was increasing the proportion of protein in their diet! That sounds pretty cool to me!

What’s even better is it can also help you avoid gaining weight in the first place. In another study an increase of protein from 15% to 18% of calories (a very small increase) reduced the amount of fat that people regained after weight loss by up to 50%. And of course higher protein intake also helps with muscle building and repair which means increased muscle mass and increased calorie expenditure. So by eating more protein you will find it much easier to stick to whatever weight loss or healthy eating plan you happen to choose to follow.

So overall it looks like a protein intake of around 30% of your daily calories may be about optimal for weight loss. This is roughly 150g per day for someone on a 2000 calorie diet (just multiply you daily calorie intake by 0.075). If you’re not into counting calories then just aim for a quarter of your plate to be protein every time you eat!


Can you have too much protein?

Well yes, obviously, you can have too much of anything! But in general no, it’s hard to consume excessive amounts of protein precisely because of the effect it has on your appetite. There have been numerous reports over the years about the dangers of eating too much protein – that it damages your kidneys, or causes bone loss etc. Now although protein restriction is certainly recommended for people with pre-existing kidney problems, there is no evidence that it can cause kidney damage in otherwise healthy people (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition).  In actual fact, higher levels of protein have been shown to lower blood pressure and help against diabetes – which are two of the main risk factors for kidney disease. Studies have also shown that protein can help prevent osteoporosis too.

Overall, there is no evidence that a reasonably high protein intake has any adverse effects in healthy people trying to stay healthy.

Where do I get my protein?

Here’s the good bit – protein is found in a variety of foods: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soya and even grains.

Now as I mentioned before protein is not just about quantity but also quality. There are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein, and nine that the body can’t produce on its own. These are called essential amino acids—we need to eat them because we can’t make them ourselves. In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine of these essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts. So proteins that provide all the amino acids required by our body are called complete proteins – these include meats, poultry, fish, eggs and soya beans.

Other proteins don’t provide adequate amounts of all the 9 essential amino acids by themselves (but they can when combined with other foods, as part of a balanced diet). These are called incomplete proteins and include legumes (beans and pulses), some nuts and seeds, and grains

So yes, meat and eggs are complete proteins, and beans and nuts aren’t. But we don’t need every essential amino acid in every mouthful of food in every meal that we eat; we just need a sufficient amount of each amino acid every day. Most nutritionists now recognise that plant-based diets contain such a wide variety of amino acid profiles that vegetarians and vegans are virtually guaranteed to get all of their amino acids with very little effort. Variety is the key!

Still, some people want complete proteins in all of their meals. No problem—meat’s still not the only option.


So how do we make healthier choices when it comes to protein?

The best sources are those that provide all the essential amino acids your body needs. So if you do eat meat then obviously meat, fish and egg. But if you’re vegetarian or vegan then soya beans are an obvious choice, but there are also other plant based sources which are high in protein – like quinoa, legumes and nuts.

Vegetarian or not we can ALL benefit from eating more plant-based proteins. In addition to being great sources of protein, beans, peas, quinoa, lentils etc are also rich in other nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are also easier to digest, so they are kinder on the body, and on the planet.

Here are a few fantastic plant-based protein options:

  1. Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) – contains 8 grams protein per 1 cup cooked serving.  It looks like couscous but it is FAR better for you. It contains 8 of the essential amino acids, and is so good that in the USA it’s recognised as a “super crop” because of its health benefits. It’s full of protein, iron, magnesium and fibre and is a great rice substitute. It can also be used in baking (e.g. gluten free sticky toffee pudding) and for brekkie as porridge (check out this recipe for a quinoa and cinnamon comfort brekkie).


  1. Buckwheat – contains 6 grams per 1 cup cooked serving. Buckwheat isn’t a type of wheat at all – it’s actually a relative of rhubarb! Buckwheat can be found made in to the Japanese noodle – Soba, but more commonly it’s eaten by either grinding it into flour (making a great base for gluten-free pancakes or biscuits) or by cooking the hulled kernels like porridge. Studies have shown that buckwheat may improve circulation, lower blood cholesterol and control blood glucose levels.
  1. Chia – 4 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon serving. Chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain more fibre than flax seeds or nuts. Chia is also full of iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants. And even better about these delightful little seeds is that when soaked in water they form a gel which makes them a fantastic substitute for eggs in baking (check out a recipe for egg-free brownies) and for making healthy jam,  puddings, and for thickening smoothies.


  1. Soya – 10 grams per ½ cup serving (firm tofu) or 15 grams per ½ cup serving (tempeh). I just had to mention the king of plant-based proteins! Soya contains all 9 essential amino acids and is therefore very often the go-to substitute for those wanting to avoid meat. Tempeh is made by fermenting the beans and is a great option as a sandwich filler/burger substitute and is delicious in stir-fries, but tofu is probably the best known soya product. There are so many uses for Tofu – even sweet ones like this mousse. As a rule, the harder the tofu, the higher the protein content.
  1. Mycoprotein (also known as Quorn) – 13 grams of protein per ½ cup serving. Originally developed to combat global food shortages, mycoprotein is more commonly known as “Quorn” and is made from a type of fungus. It is a complete protein, like Soya. Many Quorn products include egg whites however, so are not vegan-friendly, but the company is about to release a vegan range in the UK very soon so watch this space! It’s a great option for quick mid-week meals and can also be used to make a lovely lasagne or chili.


  1. Beans and Rice – 7 grams protein per 1 cup serving. One of the simplest, cheapest, and vegan-est meals in existence is also one of the best sources of protein around. Most beans (as well as lentils and chickpeas) are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice is low in lysine and high in methionine. Put them together and you’ve got complete protein – on a par with meat! These meals are a great way to load up on protein and carbohydrates after an intense workout.
  1. Finally – Peanut Butter Sandwich! Yes the humble peanut butter sandwich contains 15 grams per 2-slice sandwich with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. How easy is that? Every time legumes like beans, lentils, and peanuts are combined with grains like rye, wheat, rice, and corn, a complete protein is born. Peanut butter on rye bread or wholewheat bread is an easy snack that, while pretty high in calories, provides a massive dose of all the essential amino acids and plenty of healthy fats too.

See, there are so many options for plant-based proteins in your diet! But if you are going to eat animal protein then try to limit it to one portion a day (and limit red meat to once a week), and go for the best meat you can afford – free range, grass fed, high quality meat. Always go for lean cuts of meat like chicken breast, pork loin etc. Avoid ground meat, burgers, sausages etc as they tend to be produced from the fattier cuts of meat and often include skin and fat.

If you eat fish then aim to have 100 – 125g a week and choose fish high in Omegas like salmon, mackerel or tuna.

All this having been said, don’t get too hung up on tracking your protein. If you’re just a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then simply eating high quality protein with most of your meals (the majority from  plant-based sources) will mean you’re getting plenty of protein in your diet.

Do let me know if you try any of the recipes mentioned here and see how you get on adding a little more protein to your day!

Nancy 🙂

(This article was originally published on