The Best 15 Sources of Plant-Based Protein
When you think protein, you usually think meat. But these plant-based proteins are fantastic sources just waiting to nourish your body.
The smart way to eat less meat
You’ve no doubt heard that cutting back on beef, pork, and poultry can be good for your heart, as the Mayo Clinic points out. But your body still needs protein, right? No worries—you can get what you need from healthy veggie sources, says Seattle-based registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition. Here are the vegetarian protein sources she prefers.
Lentils (1 cup of cooked lentil = 18 grams of protein)
Lentils could be the new red meat. One cup has almost 37 percent of your daily value of iron, according to the USDA’s Food Data Central. Not to mention the almost 16 grams of fiber it has to fill you up (and stop you from reaching for that mid-afternoon doughnut). “There is evidence that plant-based diets, likely due to their high fiber content, support a diverse microbiome in the human gut so the high fiber content of lentils could have systemic benefits,” says Hultin. (You’ll want to know how a healthy gut can save your life.)
Edamame (1 cup of edamame = 18.5 grams of protein)
Along with protein, edamame is another rich source of fiber. One cup provides 8 grams, the amount you would find in a few slices of bread. Ditch the bread with that salad, and instead add a heaping cup of edamame. Like all soy foods, edamame contains antioxidants known as isoflavones, which may account for their many health benefits, including protecting you against heart disease, notes Hultin. Check out these edamame recipes you’ll enjoy.
Almonds (1 ounce = 6 grams of protein)
Almonds are the perfect snack to bring with you anywhere you go. Just one ounce, or 23 almonds, contains a massive amount of nutrients including fiber, protein, vitamin E, and much more. And thanks to the fiber and fat, almonds are also very filling, so they can satisfy your hunger between meals. (The health benefits of almonds don’t stop there either!)
Seitan (3 ounces = 15 grams of protein)
Seitan is a protein source made from wheat gluten. When cooked it looks similar to meat and even has a meat-like texture. This source of plant-based protein also contains small amounts of iron and calcium, minus the saturated fat that meat has. Seitan can be grilled, sauteed, and pan-fried to easily be incorporated into a variety of recipes. Try out these ways that nutritionists sneak more protein into their diets.
Hemp seeds (3 tablespoons = 9 grams of protein)
“Hemp seeds are high in protein, and can be added into a variety of foods,” says Hultin, like baked goods, soups, pancakes, yogurt, and salads. They also contain potassium (good for your heart and blood pressure) as well as iron. (Learn more ways to eat a whole food plant-based diet.)
Quinoa (1 cup of quinoa = 8 grams of protein)
Quinoa is packed with protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin, and vitamin B6. No wonder it’s called a super grain! Quinoa also helps you get to your daily dose of calcium, magnesium, and manganese, essential nutrients for bone health. Replace rice with quinoa at your next meal—then try these other healthy ways to load up on protein.
Nutritional yeast (1/4 cup = 5 grams of protein)
“People often use nutritional yeast in dairy replacement sauces, including cheese sauces, because of its savory, salty flavor,” says Hultin, who’s also made the swap and says it tastes great. Nutritional yeast is sold in the form of yellow powder or flakes. Besides the protein boost, you’ll also get 2 grams of fiber.
Peanut butter (2 tablespoons = 7 grams of protein)
Did you know peanut butter is a diet food? It has the perfect combination of protein, healthy fat, and fiber to keep you satisfied. Additionally, one serving, or two tablespoons, of this rich-tasting goodness has tons of vitamin E, vitamin B6, and potassium. Buy a brand with no added sugar and salt. The good news is you don’t necessarily have to stir natural peanut butter.
Peas (1 cup of green peas = 8 grams of protein)
“Peas are a wonderful vegetable,” says Hultin: “They are a low glycemic food, and among their many benefits, they are high in vitamin K, B vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber.” Vitamin K has been linked to bone health, according to the National Institutes of Health—the higher your intake, the denser your bones are. So pile them on top of a salad or serve a side of these green goodies with dinner! Then see how these everyday habits could be bad for your bones. (Not a fan of whole peas? Try vegan pea powder or one of these other vegan protein powders to get all the protein you need.)
Sun-dried tomatoes (1 cup of dried tomatoes = 7.6 grams of protein)
Sun-dried tomatoes are a very underrated vegetable. They contain almost 30 percent of your recommended daily value of magnesium. Additionally, these tomatoes provide a good amount of vitamin K, something many plant-based foods lack. Add these tasty tomatoes to your next pizza for a nutrient boost!
Chia seeds (2 tablespoons = 5 grams of protein)
The little chia seed is not only packed with protein, but a serving provides 15 percent of your daily calcium needs. Plus, it contains health-boosting omega-3s, too, which are good for your heart. When you make your next yogurt parfait be sure to sprinkle a serving of chia seeds—or add them to salads, puddings, or smoothies. They’re also a popular ingredient in vegan protein bars.
Tofu (1/3 cup = 8 grams of protein)
Tofu, made from soybeans, is the perfect source of plant-based protein because it takes on the flavor of whatever dish you cook it in. “Soy foods are linked to many benefits, including bone and heart health and some anti-cancer effects,” says Hultin. It can serve as a meat substitute for anyone on a vegetarian or vegan diet as well. (Don’t miss these high-protein plant-based meals you’ll love.)
Tempeh (100 grams = 19.9 grams of protein)
Just like tofu, tempeh is also made from soybeans, so it contains the same health-boosting antioxidants as well as protein. Besides the good amounts of calcium and magnesium, tempeh also contains phosphorus, another mineral which is important for bone health, says Hultin. (Tempeh vs. tofu: here’s how these two stack up.)
Ezekiel bread (2 slices = 8 grams of protein)
If you’re trying to get more protein in your diet, try substituting out your regular sandwich bread for Ezekiel bread. It’s made from organic sprouted whole grains and legumes so it’s a great source of plant-based protein. Plus, two slices will give you 6 grams of fiber, which should keep you full. If you still are lacking, here are 30 other ways to get more fiber into your diet.
Soy milk (1 cup = 7 grams of protein)
Switch out your milk with soy milk to get more protein in your diet, as well as the benefits of soy. You can swap in soy milk in coffee or when you’re baking, and you probably won’t even taste the difference. It’s also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. It even has some fiber! Now that you know these plant-based proteins are so good for you, read about these healthy foods that are even more nutritious than you thought.