One of the most common questions I hear toward people following a plant-based diet is “where do you get your protein?” I’ve already covered the basics of plant-based protein but today let’s talk more about which foods you can incorporate to meet your protein needs with plants.
Here are 8 essential plant-based protein sources
1/2 cup = 9 grams protein
Lentils contain a lot more than just protein. They’re rich in essential minerals and B-vitamins and also contain a ton of fiber. The fiber in lentils has been shown to help control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. It can also help with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
Use lentils in salads, soups, stews, dips, veggie ‘meatballs’ and even smoothies.
1/2 cup = 9 grams protein
Beans are nutritional powerhouses. Like lentils, beans are a member of the legume family and are a great source of fiber. Beans also contain iron and calcium, two nutrients of interest for anyone following a plant-based diet.
Use beans in salads, hummus and bean dips, tacos, chili/soups, and even desserts.
1/2 cup = 9-22 grams protein
Soy is rich in isoflavones, or plant estrogens. These phytoestrogens are similar to human estrogen but also different enough that it’s not associated with some of the negative effects of too much human estrogen. Eating soy has even been linked with better breast cancer outcomes. Young girls who eat soy are also less likely to get breast cancer later on in life. I love this tip sheet by the Vegetarian Nutrition DPG for more info on the safety of soy.
Use edamame in stir-fries and salads, bake tofu or use it in stews, and grill tempeh or crumble it into a taco filling.
Nuts + nut butters
1/4 cup = 7-13 grams protein
Thankfully, the days of low-fat diets are long behind us and we’re beginning to understand the crazy-good benefits of eating more nuts. Nuts also contain fiber, along with healthy fats like omega 3’s. (Especially walnuts!) Nuts are also good sources of antioxidants like vitamin E.
Use nuts in energy bites, spreads, granola, and sprinkled on top of salads. Learn how to make your own nut butter here.
1/4 cup = 7-9 grams protein
Seeds are similar to nuts and also great sources of healthy fats and fiber. Like walnuts, chia seeds and ground flax also contain heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of plant-based zinc and are rich in a variety of beneficial phytonutrients.
Use chia seeds in smoothies and chia puddings. Add ground flax to baked goods and smoothie bowls. Use tahini (sesame seed paste) in dressings and sauces.
1/4 cup = 8-10 grams protein
There are few flavors that I love more than nutritional yeast. “Nooch” is basically just inactive yeast. It has a strong flavor similar to cheddar cheese, which makes it a great substitute for creating a cheesy flavor in dairy-free dishes. Nutritional yeast is packed with nutrients like protein, B vitamins, and fiber.
Use it like you would cheese! Sprinkle it over baked dishes and add to soups and pasta. Mix it into salad dressings and dairy-free cheese sauces.
1/2 cup (cooked) = 4 grams protein
Quinoa is actually a pseudo-grain (it’s technically a seed!) and provides all of our essential amino acids. It also has complex carbohydrates/fiber, plant-based protein, and antioxidants like quercitin. I like to make a large pot of quinoa while batch cooking so I can use it throughout the week.
Use in grain-based salads, breakfast dishes (like oatmeal!) and soup. Use it as a base for stir-fry and macro bowls.
1/2 cup = 4-5 grams protein
Green peas are part of the “pulse” family – another type of legume. Peas contain both complex carbohydrates and protein, making them great for long-lasting energy and satiety.
Use in salads or puree in soups. Saute with a variety of veggies and serve over brown rice or another whole grain.