Protein is important to our health, our workouts and recovery, and our brain function; without it, we wouldn’t function at our best and our bodies wouldn’t be able to support us long-term. However, the problem with the view of protein in our country is where we’re getting the majority of our protein from: animals. Regardless of different opinions out there about including meat as a part of our regular diets, we can’t ignore the fact that meat consumption is causing our major environmental, health, and humanitarian problems. When you put all the pieces together, it is time we start looking for a real sustainable alternative. Say hello to plants!
The Myth About Protein in a Plant-Based Diet
There used to be a myth that we needed to consume different types of foods to form “complete proteins” in the body. While this shouldn’t necessarily be ignored completely, it’s also not as important as we once thought. There are plenty of complete sources of plant-based protein that we can eat. Our bodies can also make complete proteins when we eat a variety of higher protein foods, even if those foods aren’t necessarily eaten together (such as rice and beans, a classic example of protein pairings). One struggle, however, is that many people aren’t sure how to replace the meat on their plate with a plant-based protein they’ll love and enjoy as much as meat. So, the simple thing is to quit focusing on just what our plates look like at dinner.
How to Rethink Protein Once and For All
Get rid of the picture of a dinner dish in your mind that shows a piece of meat, veggies, and a whole grain. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with eating protein at a meal, it’s also not mandatory for getting what you need. You can incorporate protein all throughout the day on a plant-based diet, especially in snacks, where it’s most often overlooked, without really needing a massive source at every meal. You can also eat foods that contain smaller amounts of protein at each meal that the body can use efficiently to form proteins on its own, even if these foods aren’t as high as the proteins in meat. Remember, the body can only use so much protein at one time anyway. What it can’t digest the rest of during a meal can go to waste and even be harmful to the body. A little here and there throughout the day (especially focusing on protein at breakfast to regulate blood sugar) is ultimately best.
Try these 25 plant-based proteins and see just how satisfying they really can be!
Lentils are a protein favorite of many, especially those on vegetarian and vegan diets looking to pump up the protein fast. Lentils add 9 grams of protein to your meal per half cup, along with nearly 15 grams of fiber!
What used to be seen as a boring vegan protein source has now been transformed into everything from breakfast to entrees, and yes, even desserts too. This protein source’s main attractive nature is that it can be flavored however you want and adds a rich, creamy texture or chewy texture to your food depending on if you buy firm or soft tofu.
3. Black Beans
Black bean recipes
Black beans are one of the richest sources of antioxidants and one of the healthiest beans of all beans and legumes. Their dark color indicates their strong antioxidant content and they also have less starch than some other beans. One favorite way to enjoy them is to make black bean burritos, but that’s not the only way to use them.
With 8 grams per cup, this gluten-free seed-like grain is a fantastic source of protein, magnesium, antioxidants, and fiber. You can cook it, bake it, and even stir into stir-fry quinoa dishes and more.
Amaranth Burgers recipe
Amaranth is similar to quinoa and teff in its nutritional content, though much tinier in size. This ancient pseudo-grain (also a seed) adds 7 grams of protein to your meals in just one cup of cooked amaranth. It’s also a fantastic source of iron, B vitamins, and magnesium.
6. Soy Milk
Soy milk Recipes
Love soy or hate soy, it’s actually the controversial little legume, isn’t it? Soy milk, if bought organic, can be a part of a healthy diet. There is conflicting research regarding its effects on cancer, but many studies show it can help actually prevent cancer rather than causes it (unlike meat). The key is to buy non-GMO soy and not to buy it in the form of highly processed soy protein isolates. Try soy milk, which packs 8 grams of protein in just one cup, offers 4 grams of heart-healthy fats, and is rich in phytosterols that assist with good heart health. Buy organic, unsweetened as the healthiest option.
7. Green Peas
Packed with protein and fiber, peas are so yummy! They contain 8 grams of protein per cup, so add a little of these sweet treats throughout the day. Bonus … peas are also rich in leucine, an amino acid crucial to metabolism and weight loss that’s hard to find in most plant-based foods.
Containing 4 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup, artichoke hearts are a great way to boost fiber, protein, and they are filling but low in calories.
9. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a complete protein that are hard NOT to love. Packing 13 grams in just 3 tablespoons, these tiny seeds are easy to add anywhere.
Oatmeal has three times the protein of brown rice with less starch and more fiber. It’s also a great source of magnesium, calcium, and B vitamins.
11. Pumpkin Seeds
Why Everyone Should Add Pumpkin Seeds to Their Diet
Pumpkin seeds are one of the most overlooked sources of iron and protein out there, containing 8 gram of protein per 1/4 cup. They’re also an excellent source of magnesium as well, not to mention pretty tasty and oh so crunchy!
12. Chia Seeds
Chia, chia, chia … what can’t this super seed do? Chia has 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons and is also a complete protein source.
Tempeh is a fermented form of soy that’s high in protein, easy to digest, and rich in probiotics. A favorite among many people, it’s a meaty ingredients you should at least try. Tempeh it up with protein-rich recipes for 12 grams per cup!
14. Hemp Milk
The Amazing World of Plant-Based Milks: Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is becoming more and more popular just like other plant-based milks. You can make your own at home or try buying it at the store. Hemp milk packs 5 grams in one cup. You can make your own by blending 1/4 cup hemp seeds with 2 cups of water, straining, and using like you would almond milk. You don’t have to soak hemp seeds like you do almonds, and can adjust the ratio of seeds to water depending on how rich and creamy you’d like your milk.
Filled with antioxidants and fiber, not to mention protein, edamame is the young green soybean and so delicious! It’s filled with a nutty sweetness and packs in 8.5 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. Add to salads, soups, burgers, soba noodles, and more. You can even snack on it raw and roast it like chickpeas for a crunchy snack.
Vegan Spinach Recipes
Filled with 5 grams of protein per cup, spinach is a great leafy green to enjoy as much as you can. We don’t have to tell you how to use it though … we’re sure you’re already loving this green plenty.
17. Black Eyed Peas
Black Eyed Peas Recipes
Black eyed peas might seem boring, but they pack 8 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. Like most other beans, they’re also a great source of iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. You can use them in soup or anywhere else you’d normally use beans. Their mild and nutty flavor makes a great hearty dinner!
This lovely veggie contains 4 grams of protein in just 1 cup, which isn’t too bad considering that same cup also contains 30 percent of your daily calcium needs, along with vitamin C, fiber, and B vitamins for only 30 calories.
Filled with 4 grams per cup (about 4-6 stalks, chopped), asparagus is also a great source of B vitamins and folate.
20. Green Beans
Green Beans Recipes
Green beans pack 4 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup, along with vitamin B6, and they’re low in carbs but high in fiber.
How to Make Homemade Almond Butter
Almonds have 7 grams per cup of fresh nuts or in 2 tablespoons of almond butter. And what’s not to love about this healthy nut?
Reasons You Need More Spirulina in Your Life
This blue green algae may look a bit scary to newbies, but it’s so easy to use, especially if you add it to a smoothie with other ingredients like berries, cacao, or some banana. Spirulina adds 80 percent of your daily iron needs and 4 grams of protein in one tablespoon; it’s also a complete amino acid source … who knew!?
Tahini is AWESOME
This yummy spread that can be used anywhere nut butters can is just filled with filling protein. Containing 8 grams in two tablespoons, tahini is also a fantastic source of iron and B vitamins, along with magnesium and potassium.
24. Nutritional Yeast
Benefits of Nutritional Yeast for Your Blood Sugar
Who knew this cheesy ingredient was packed with so much nutrition? Nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons!
Ginger Garlic Chickpeas
Not just for hummus, a 1/2 cup of chickpeas will also give you a nice dose of protein (6-8 grams depending on the brand). You can also use hummus, though note that it’s not as high in servings as chickpeas since it contains other ingredients. Try incorporating chickpeas into meals more often when you can.
26. Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter Recipes
A favorite pre-workout food of many, peanut butter is a classic North American staple everyone loves. Thankfully, just 2 tablespoons also gives you 8 grams of pure, delicious protein too!