Plant-based eaters everywhere are familiar with the conversation—someone, whether a well-meaning grandma or even a stranger in the supermarket, challenging their diet and claiming that it must be lacking in protein. Luckily, there are a vast array of foods that the plant-based eater can add to their cart to ensure not only that they receive the protein they need to thrive but also all the other essential nutrients that make up a healthy diet.
What Is Plant-Based Protein?
To understand plant-based protein, first, we can dismiss the idea that protein only comes from animal products like eggs, milk, cheese, and meat. Protein can originate from a vast array of food products. Some examples of plant-based proteins are alternative meats, legumes, beans, leafy greens, and whole grains. Combining different sources of plant-based protein helps to ensure that you are benefiting from all of the essential amino acids that protein provides.
20 Best Plant-Based Proteins
A lot of people might be surprised by the vast array of plant-based foods that contain protein. Read below for just a sample of the options available to plant-based eaters.
1. Almonds and Other Nuts
Nuts are likely one of the first foods that come to mind as a plant-based source of protein. This is for good reason—not only are nuts rich in protein, but they are extremely versatile. They can be used to top salads and pasta, turned into butters and used on sandwiches, or thrown into smoothies. Almonds contain over 20 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving. Cashews contain 18 grams, peanuts 26 grams, and peanut butter 25 grams of protein per 100 grams.
When it comes to beans, one of the most protein-rich varieties is kidney beans, which feature 26 grams of protein in one 100-gram serving. Chickpeas are also rich in protein with 19 grams per 100 grams. Cannellini beans are another powerhouse option with over 23 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving. In addition to being so high in protein, beans can be used in a wide array of delicious recipes. Some great ways to eat beans are in tacos, chili, salsas, and dips, or simply in a bowl with rice.
If you’re looking for a delicious grain to pair with your meal, consider rice. There are 5 grams of protein in 1 cup of brown rice. For even more of a boost try wild rice, which has an unexpected 24 grams of protein in just 1 cup.
A popular choice for making homemade alternative bacon for sandwiches or breakfast, tempeh contains 19 grams of protein per 100 grams. It’s also possible to make tempeh at home with just three simple ingredients.
A highly versatile food with several different textures that can be added to smoothies, made into cheese, or added to any meal, 100 grams of tofu contains 8 grams of protein.
Seeds are great for snacking on or adding to a salad for a bit of crunch. They are also packed with protein. Sunflower seeds contain 15 grams of protein in half a cup. Another popular and protein-packed option is sesame seeds, which contain 13 grams of protein in half a cup.
7. Sprouted Breads
While knowing what’s in your sandwich is important, you should also check the protein and nutrition content of the bread, as some types can pack a protein-filled punch. Ezekiel bread, for example, contains all nine types of essential amino acids.
A delicious protein source that can be used to add some heartiness to soups and stews or to make delicious burgers, lentils contain about 12 grams of protein per half-cup serving.
9. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are a great way to boost the protein content of a meal, especially in salads. There is actually more protein in 100 calories of spinach than 100 calories of beef. This is due to the high nutritional value and low calories found in spinach. In order to eat 100 calories of spinach, you would need to consume 10 cups, making it a great base for a salad.
10. Plant-Based Milk
Another way to boost protein intake is by drinking plant-based milks. Check the back of the bottle when buying to ensure an option that is protein-rich. Plant-based milks are an awesome way of boosting the protein in a smoothie or bowl of cereal.
11. Nutritional Yeast
Plant-based eaters everywhere are familiar with nutritional yeast. It can be thrown into pastas for a cheesy taste, top a bowl of rice, or be eaten in vegan eggs. Regardless of how you choose to eat it, nutritional yeast is packed with a ton of nutrients. Only 2 tablespoons contain 8 grams of protein.
Spirulina is another great source of many nutrients, including protein. Just 1 tablespoon contains 4 grams. Though the taste may be unpleasant to some at first, adding it to a smoothie with your favorite fruits is a great way to soften the flavor.
Seaweed lovers rejoice! Great for snacking, adding to poke bowls, or making sushi rolls, seaweed also holds its own when it comes to nutritional content. In just one 100-gram serving of seaweed, there are 6 grams of protein.
14. Meat Substitutes
The rise in plant-based meat substitutes has brought with it an increase in meatless protein options, with some having almost 30 grams of protein in one burger patty. Not a fan of burgers? Some plant-based chicken substitutes contain a whopping 19 grams of protein in one serving.
Another delicious way to get more protein is to snack on fruit. Guava contains 4 grams of protein in a one-cup serving. Another delicious option is avocado which contains 3 grams of protein per cup.
You may have tried mycoprotein and never known—it’s marketed as Quorn. The mycoprotein is sourced from a specific type of fungus that is rich in nutrients, including protein. The brand’s meatless vegan pieces contain a whopping 17 grams of protein in one serving.
17. Whole Grains
Another excellent source of protein is whole grains. Barley, which can be added to stews, or eaten as a side dish instead of rice or pasta, contains 23 grams of protein in a 1 cup serving. Bulgur contains 17 grams of protein per cup.
The vegetables you eat can also serve as a protein source in meals. Consider adding soy sprouts—which contain 9 grams of protein per cup—to a sandwich or green peas—which contain 8 grams per cup—to a salad.
With pasta being made from so many different ingredients, including chickpeas, whole grains and lentils, there are plenty of options that can serve as a protein-rich base for your favorite sauce, with some offering as much as 25 grams in one serving.
Oats can be eaten for breakfast hot or cold or added to smoothies or breads. However you choose to eat them, they provide a healthy boost of protein. One cup of oats contains 26 grams.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Deciding the appropriate amount of protein you need for a healthy lifestyle depends on a range of factors such as your age, activity level, and other health markers. Discussing your individual dietary needs with your doctor is a great way of getting personalized recommendations. A general rule of thumb, as given by the Mayo Clinic is to eat 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for an average sedentary adult.
Benefits of Plant-Based Protein
There are several benefits—personal, environmental, and ethical-—of choosing to eat more plant-based proteins and to reduce or eliminate animal protein from your diet.
Eating a plant-based diet, specifically a whole-food plant-based diet, has been linked to better weight management and even weight loss. One contributing factor is that plant-based foods tend to have fewer calories by volume, meaning that eating 100 calories of vegetables is more filling than eating 100 calories of meat or dairy.
Help the Environment
There are significant environmental benefits to getting your protein from plant-based sources. Animal agriculture is a major driver behind greenhouse gas emissions, global water consumption, and deforestation. In fact, 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pasture.
Boost Your Health
Choosing protein sources that are plant-based can help you feel better for longer. The likely health benefits of plant-based eating likely include prevention of heart disease, reduction of the risk of hypertension, and an overall lessening of the risk of diseases including Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
Is Plant-Based Protein Powder Better?
Protein powder, whether derived from plants or animals, often has a variety of unhealthy additives. Because of this, choosing to get protein from other sources, such as tofu, whole grains, and vegetables is always going to be the best option. Consult with a dietitian or physician when selecting a protein powder or to determine if alternatives are more appropriate.
Next time you encounter your well-meaning grandma or that stranger in the supermarket who insists you could not possibly be getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, you can tell them about the vast array of plant-based protein options and the many other important nutrients they provide to your diet and assure them that you’re doing just fine.
Grace is an animal advocate with a passion for social justice within the animal protection movement.