Want to eat more plant-based? Find out some of the best plant-based protein sources you should be eating regularly for good health.
One of the greatest misconceptions in the nutrition world is that plant-based diets do not provide enough protein. As an RD, I’ve heard this time and time again. But, a well-planned and thoughtful vegetarian or vegan diet can provide all the nutrients we need for good health, including protein from plant-based protein sources.
Benefits of A Plant-Based Diet
Nutrition research has consistently pointed to a plant-based diet to provide numerous health benefits. Whether you’re vegan or just experimenting with Meatless Monday, we can all benefit from eating more plants! Here are a few of the amazing health benefits of a plant-based diet:
- Decreased risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, and some cancers (1)
- Promotes weight management, prevention of overweight/obesity, and beneficial for weight loss (2)
- Lower environmental impact than a diet that includes lots of animal protein
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Protein is an important macronutrient, as it is the building block for body tissue. Our protein needs vary by individual based on age, activity level, health status, etc. Including a variety of the following foods in your diet daily will meet the protein needs of most people, with the added health benefits of these ingredients!
Beans of all kinds – black, kidney, chickpea, etc. – are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They are a starchy protein, as they also contain some carbohydrates. Because of this, beans are a great source of dietary fiber. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron!
Protein in Beans: 15 grams in 1 cup
How to Add Beans to Your Diet:
- Toss them into salads or grain bowls
- Blend into a hummus or dip
- Add them to zucchini enchiladas
- Roast chickpeas in the oven to make them crispy and crunchy (pictured above)
- Make these veggie mealballs from Minimalist Baker, or homemade veggie burgers from Cookie + Kate
Lentils are similar to beans, in that they are also a starchy protein source. One cup of lentils has a whopping 16 grams of dietary fiber! Lentils have a hearty texture that holds up well as a replacement for meat in dishes like stews and sauces.
Red lentils tend to break apart when cooked, so they are great in soups and stews. Green, black, and French lentils will hold their shape when cooked.
Protein in Lentils: 18 grams in 1 cup
How to Add Lentils to Your Diet:
- Make them into a simple side dish with lemon juice, olive, oil, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs
- Replace ground meat with lentils in this lentil bolognese pasta sauce by From My Bowl
- Add them to a salad
- Make this Coconut Curry Red Lentil Soup (pictured above)
Peas are a versatile ingredient that have plenty of plant-based protein. They are similar to beans and lentils in that they also contain carbohydrates, and therefore fiber. Also, peas contain good amounts of several vitamins and minerals, notably vitamins A, C, K, and B-vitamins.
Protein in Peas: 8 grams in 1 cup
How to Add Peas to Your Diet:
- Peas are a delicious addition to pasta, like this Spring Pasta with Lemon, Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Peas
- Keep it simple and serve green peas as a side with dinner
- Replace half the avocado in your guacamole recipe with mashed peas
- Add pea protein powder to a smoothie, or stir it into your oatmeal
Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all foods coming from the soybean. Edamame is immature soy bean, and tofu and tempeh are products made from soy. In many Asian cultures, soy is a staple protein source.
For years, there has been swirling controversy around the safety of soy in our diets, but the research has consistently shown that soy is safe and very healthy for us.
Protein in Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame: 20 grams in 1 cup
How to Add Tofu/Tempeh/Edamame to Your Diet:
- Top your salad or grain bowl with my favorite Crispy Baked Tofu (pictured above)
- Try tofu covered in peanut sauce, such as these Peanut Tofu Lettuce Wraps and Tofu Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
- Replace eggs in your morning scramble, by Nora Cooks
- Snack on steamed edamame with sea salt
- Try these Smoky Maple Tempeh Triangles by Happy Healthy Life
Quinoa is technically a seed, but it tastes, cooks and acts like a grain. Unlike other grains though, quinoa is a good source of protein. Not only that, quinoa has all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This sets quinoa apart from other plant-based protein sources!
Protein in Quinoa: 8 grams in 1 cup
How to Add Quinoa to Your Diet:
- Replace rice with quinoa in recipes calling for rice
- Make a grain salad with quinoa, like this Avocado Blueberry Quinoa Salad by Ambitious Kitchen
- Use quinoa as a base for stuffed peppers
- Make a copycat Chipotle burrito bowl with cilantro lime quinoa by Joyful Healthy Eats
Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pistachios, and more are nutrition powerhouses. They are rich in energy, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Nuts are one of my favorite on-the-go snacks to have on hand.
Protein in Nuts: 5 grams per 1/4th cup
How to Add Nuts to Your Diet:
- Make popcorn trail mix for a healthy and filling snack (pictured above)
- Add a dollop of nut butter to oatmeal or smoothie bowls
- Sprinkle nuts on top of salad for a crunchy addition
- Add nuts to homemade granola
- Make your own mixed nut butter
Like nuts, seeds contain an abundance of heart healthy fats. They’re also good sources of minerals, like calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper. Some seeds to add to your diet include sesame, pumpkin, and flax.
Protein in Seeds: 10 grams in 1/4th cup
How to Add Seeds to Your Diet:
- Sprinkle seeds on top of salads and grain bowls, such as on this Asian Cucumber Salad
- Try using tahini in baked goods: these Tahini Brownies and Tahini Cookies by Kale Junkie are delicious!
- If you bake your own bread, experiment with adding seeds to the dough for a hearty texture
- Top yogurt or oatmeal bowls with pumpkin seeds
Chia is a seed, but it gets its own category! Chia seeds are a good plant-based source of iron and calcium. What makes them extra special is they are a good plant-based source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. We can’t produce these on our own, so it is important we get adequate amounts in our diet. So, since omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in animal products, chia seeds are a great way to get these good fats if you are following a plant-based diet.
Protein in Chia Seeds: 5 grams in 1 ounce
How to Add Chia Seeds to Your Diet:
- Try chia pudding for breakfast
- Add a spoonful to your oatmeal
- Make easy two ingredient chia jam
- Bake some into homemade granola
Hemp hearts are another good source of plant-based protein. Just like chia, they are rich in heart healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Similar to quinoa, hemp is a complete protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Protein in Hemp: 6 grams in 2 tablespoons
How to Add Hemp to Your Diet:
- Sprinkle hemp hearts over your morning oatmeal or yogurt bowl. They have a mild, nutty flavor.
- Try hemp protein powder in your smoothies
- Make this hemp seed pesto by Walder Wellness
- Add hemp to cookies or baked goods
Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of yeast, and is sold in flaked form. It is full of nutrition benefits, including B-vitamins and protein. In fact, it’s one of the only plant-based sources of Vitamin B12. Like quinoa and hemp, nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids, making it another plant-based complete protein source.
Nutritional yeast has a savory, cheesy flavor that is delicious in pasta dishes!
Protein in Nutritional Yeast: 10 grams in 2 tablespoons
How to Add Nutritional Yeast to Your Diet:
- Sprinkle over popcorn for a cheesy flavor, from Nutrition Stripped
- Add to pasta dishes as a vegan replacement for parmesan cheese
- Make a vegan Butternut Squash Risotto from Simple Vegan Blog
There you have it! As you can see, these delicious plant-based protein sources are full of other amazing nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Have you tried them all?
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