Plant-Based Proteins Sources
Learn about my top plant-based proteins and how to incorporate them into your meals.
Curious about plant protein, how to use it and what are the best plant-based protein foods? I get more and more people are interested in reducing their use of animal products. A shift away from animal products is getting easier with more nutritious plant-based foods available.
“How can I get enough protein without eating meat?” I guarantee you, it’s easier than you think if you incorporate these sources of plant-based protein with a little planning.
Regardless of what lifestyle you practice, we all can benefit from a diet rich in plants, along with the fiber, minerals, phytonutrients, and health benefits that they provide.
TOP SOURCES OF PLANT-BASED PROTEIN
Lentils are a great source of carbohydrates and fiber as well as protein. In fact, they offer about 12 grams of muscle-building protein in a single serving (1/2 cup cooked). Lentils contain a mix of both essential and non-essential amino acids. Lentils promote health through their content of dietary fiber, prebiotics, iron, folic acid, and potassium. To top it off, lentils are very inexpensive, easy to prepare, and super filling.
How to Use Lentils:
Cook with your favorite spices and seasonings and enjoy plain
Top on salads, Lentil Patties recipe HERE
Simple Bolognese lentil recipe HERE
Try a simple meal of Lentils, Cauliflower rice, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, and Kale
Combine with rice or quinoa for a hearty meal
Use as a taco filling or meat sauce for spaghetti
2. Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes like chickpeas are an amazing source of plant protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Beans are a starchy protein, just like lentils. Magnesium is another key player in beans, which is an important mineral in our body that plays a key role in 300 cellular functions, including muscle function, protein synthesis, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation.
1 cup cooked beans is roughly 15 grams of protein
How to Use Beans:
Cooked with your favorite spices and seasonings and eat with a combo of complex grains (brown rice, bulgar wheat, couscous, barley, etc) for a hearty meal
Try as a sandwich: Arepa Sandwich with gaucamole, black beans, and plantains, see recipe HERE
Use to make vegetarian meatballs, loaves, or burgers
Use as a taco filling, recipe HERE
Try as a Chickpea Bowl, recipe HERE
Try Black Bean Falafel, recipe HERE
Try a chickpea pesto pasta, see recipe HERE
Use to make meatballs (see recipe, HERE, loaves, or burgers)
Try Combo of Sweet potato with garbanzo beans, see recipe HERE
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds not only contain protein but also supply plenty of heart-healthy fats, mainly omega-3 fatty acids. Though they don’t contain all amino acids they are still considered an excellent source of protein for vegans. Hemp seeds have a delicious, subtly sweet and nutty flavor and are so small that they can easily be used and added to any recipe to boost the plant protein content.
Hemp Seeds Nutrition:
3 tablespoons hemp = about 10 grams of protein
How to Use Hemp Seeds:
Sprinkle on top of salads
Stir or blend into soups or stews to slightly thicken
Add to smoothies for a creamy texture
Blend in to hummus, dips, or dressings
Sprinkle on top of oatmeal or other cereals
Add into baked goods and desserts for added protein
Try blueberry hemp seed pudding, see recipe HERE
· For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of hemp seeds, click HERE
4. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a seed that has been used for centuries for their amazing ability to absorb water and turn into a gel-like substance, which is thanks to the soluble fiber content in the seeds. Because of this unique characteristic, chia seeds are great to add to meals and foods to help thicken them naturally while also boosting the content of fiber, protein, and healthy fats (mainly omega-3’s).
The protein level can vary from batch to batch of these seeds depending on where they’re grown, they do contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. Chia seeds are also a naturally gluten-free protein, which is helpful for those with sensitivities.
Chia Seed Nutrition:
2 tablespoons = 4 grams of protein
How to Use Chia Seeds:
Sprinkle on top of oatmeal and cold cereals for an added crunch
Soak for at least 30 minutes in almond milk to make a basic chia seed pudding see HERE
Spirulina is incredibly protein rich. Plus, spirulina provides all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Research also shows that your body can use the protein from spirulina more efficiently, making it one of the best plant protein sources available.
It’s deep blue-green in color and will change anything you mix with it into that vibrant color. It tastes subtly sweet and nutty, but with a subtle seaweed flavor.
· 2 tablespoons spirulina = 8 grams of protein
How to Use Spirulina:
· Blend into smoothies, see recipe HERE
· For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of spirulina, click HERE
6. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is one of the top high-protein plant-based foods thanks to its cheesy flavor, versatility, and impressive nutrient content. Nutritional yeast contains no dairy or active yeast, and it’s found in a powder/flake form that creates a paste when mixed with liquid. It’s great for making dairy-free sauces, dressings, and more.
Another complete protein, you’ll get all amino acids in a serving of nutritional yeast.
Nutritional Yeast Nutrition:
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast = about 12 grams of protein
How to Use Nutritional Yeast:
· Add flaked nutritional yeast to almond milk or water to create a cheesy dressing or sauce
· Sprinkle on top of salads, quinoa, lentils, beans, and more for a cheesy flavor
· Incorporate into dips such as hummus
· Sprinkle it on popcorn for an added flavor boost
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and more are not only rich in minerals, vitamin E, and healthy fats but they’re also high in protein. Nuts vary by type, and some are nuttier in flavor whereas others are more sweet and neutral tasting. Cashews are one of my favorite nuts as they’re incredibly versatile to use in sweet and savory dishes. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium. In fact, eating just one serving a day makes up 100% of your DV for selenium.
People often add nuts to meals or as snacks for the strong mix of protein and fat—two nutrients that help to fill you up and keep you full. While nuts do provide a great source of plant protein, they don’t contain all the essential amino acids.
1/4 cup nuts = roughly 7-9 grams of protein
How to Use Nuts:
· Sprinkle nuts on top of salads or any meal to increase the healthy fat and protein content
· Grind and use as a “flour” in gluten-free baking
· Use in desserts, snacks for a nutritious boost
· Sprinkle on top of oatmeal, or cold cereals for added crunch and protein
8. Tempeh, Tofu, and Edamame
Soy-containing foods such as tempeh, tofu, and edamame all offer a complete plant protein containing all amino acids. They are one of the strongest, most animal-like protein in terms of chemical makeup.
Oftentimes, these soy-based sources of plant protein also contain fiber and healthy fats in addition to protein. Tempeh is the most nutritious out of this bunch, as it contains naturally-occurring healthy bacteria from the fermentation process.
1 serving of tempeh/tofu/edamame = roughlt 20 grams of protein
How to Use Tempeh, Tofu, and Edamame:
· Use as you would beans or lentils
· Swap in as a simple meat substitute since tofu and tempeh both can be marinated. Try crispy tofu HERE
· Use tempeh and tofu as toppings to salads
· Add to stir-fry meals
· Mix into plant-based sauces, such as “meat” spaghetti sauce
· Use as filling for tacos, burgers, or even shaped into “hot dogs”
· Shopping tip: always purchase organic and sprouted tofu if available, non-GMO if available
Going vegan or vegetarian requires some planning. With the right protein-based plant food, however, people who avoid animal products can eat balanced diets that support a healthy body and reduce the risks of some diseases.
It is important to discuss dietary portions with a doctor or nutritionist, since vegan or vegetarian diets may lack some vital nutrients, necessitating the use of dietary supplements or learning how to include certain foods that are high in these nutrients.
By: Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN