10 Plant-Based Protein Sources
February 15, 2020
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, or simply don’t want meat at all your meals (for financial or health or convenience reasons), this list of alternative proteins will give you some ideas on how to substitute meat without depriving your body of necessary protein. I myself do not adhere to any labels but I do try to eat a variety of foods as well as incorporate plant-based/non-meat meals into my diet for all the above-mentioned reasons (financial, health, and convenience). So without further adieu, let’s talk about some nutrient-dense, plant-based protein sources.
1. Edamame* - about 17g protein per 1 cup
Edamame is a great source of protein that you can buy shelled or unshelled. I like adding it to a salad, grain bowl, or enjoying it as a snack on it's own!
2. Nutritional Yeast - about 3g per 1 Tbsp or 12g per 1/4 cup
Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, nutty flavor and can be sprinkled on pretty much anything you'd sprinkle cheese on.
3. Beans* - depending on the bean, about 7-20g protein per 1/2 cup
From kidney to black, beans are a nutritious food that have protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Adding them into your diet either as a side or within dishes is a great way to incorporate plant-based protein.
4. Lentils* - about 18g per 1 cup
Lentils remind me a lot of beans because of their flavor, texture, and high amount of fiber. They usually have more protein than beans though and are much smaller in size (think circular rice).
5. Nuts* - about 6-10g protein per 1/4 cup
(This includes nut butters). There are many different types of nuts, each with various nutrients. I like to buy them in bulk to save a little money and then have them as a snack. I also like to add nut butter to oatmeal, smoothies, toast, or fruit!
6. Seeds* - about 4-15g protein per 1/4 cup
Seeds can be eaten plain or in trail mix (mainly pumpkin and sunflower), sprinkled on yogurt, thrown in a smoothie, or tossed on a salad. Along with protein, they are usually rich in fiber, vitamins, and fats.
7. Tofu - about 10g per 1/2 cup
Tofu is a great meat alternative! It absorbs whatever type of flavor you cook it in so it's easy to change up. You can buy it silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm, or super firm. Most people, especially if they're new to eating tofu, prefer a firmer tofu so it doesn't feel mushy. There are many methods to cooking tofu that would be worth researching if you don't have much experience with it.
8. Pea Protein Powder - about 20-25g protein per 25-38g serving or one serving on package
There is some research showing that pea protein may be quicker to absorb than other plant protein powders such as hemp which can be important for those who consume protein powder after exercising. I buy plain pea protein powder so it has barely any flavor on its' own and instead picks up the flavors I combine it with in my smoothies or oatmeal. (I recommend buying protein powder that is NSF Certified to help avoid contaminants.)
9. Grains * - about 6-12g protein per serving
(Oats, quinoa, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, buckwheat, etc.) Whole grains can be a super nutritious way to get in some protein. Grains are usually on the lower side of protein though so I'll often combine them with some of the previously mentioned options above such as nut butter on toast or nutritional yeast on pasta or pea protein powder and seeds in my oatmeal.
*These proteins also have a good amount of fiber which will help boost your intake if you tend to be too low
As you can tell, protein levels vary greatly among sources which is why often times, I’ll combine a few protein sources to achieve a healthy amount for my body. This might look like a whole grain such as quinoa combined with beans or lentils or sprinkling seeds into my oatmeal or maybe adding some nutritional yeast over top of some tofu. If you’re going to make a plant-based meal, it’s usually easy to find sources of carbs, fat, and of course veggies but I find that people mostly have difficulty finding sources of protein.
To give you some an idea on how these numbers compare to animal protein, eggs, which are on the lower side compared to meat, have about 6g protein per egg, whole milk has about 8g protein per serving, greek yogurt has about 15-20g protein per serving, cheese has anywhere from 6-14g protein per serving (cheeses like mozzarella are usually lower and cheeses like ricotta and cottage are usually higher), fish usually has somewhere between 16 and 26g protein per serving, and lastly, meat usually has between 20 and 40g protein per serving.
The recommended daily intake of protein is debated by medical professionals as well as individuals who have formed their own opinions. Protein intake will also vary greatly depending on activity level, age, gender, health status, and more. This blog is not to tell you how much you should have but more so to show you ways that you can incorporate it to meet your specific needs. If you’re unsure of how much protein you should be getting, I would suggest contacting your doctor or a nutritionist/dietician to help you figure that out because neither me or Google will be able to accurately assess your individual needs.
I hope this list of plant-based proteins is helpful to you! To make it easier and more condensed for future reference, I’ve added a downloadable and printable pdf overview of the proteins I mentioned. It might be helpful to keep it accessible on you computer/phone or maybe print it out to keep it around the kitchen.
If you have any other ideas that I didn’t mention throughout this blog, leave them in the comments below! I’m always eager to learn more and gain new ideas.