The Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein
All the protein in meat comes from the plants that animals eat. So, why not cut out the middle critter and put those plant-based proteins into your belly right from the source?
Yes, humans need foods to deliver nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t make for themselves.
While you can get some of these proteins from meat, it’s just as easy to get them from plants! Going meatless lets you skip saturated fats and cholesterol plus any hormones, antibiotics, bacteria, parasites, or carcinogens associated with animal proteins. Sweet!
Plant-based protein is not only better for your body, it’s better for every body around you.
See, it takes a lot more resources to get our protein from animals – and it’s not so fun for the animals, either. Plants give us more of what we need with less impact.
Let’s take a look at which plant-based sources have the most protein.
Guess what? Soy has ALL nine essential amino acids plus a heaping helping of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals too! This makes soy one of the best available sources of plant-based protein. On top of that, soy also contains high calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D levels.
There are many different ways that you can incorporate soy into your diet. The most common foods derived from soy include:
For reference, 3.5 ounces of firm tofu contains a whopping 17g of protein, which is 34% of your daily value.
Soy is a highly versatile ingredient, making it easy to incorporate into just about anything from savory, hearty stews, cheeses and sauces to sweet, creamy desserts. Swap milk for soy milk in your coffee or when baking for an extra injection of ethical protein!
2. Beans & Legumes
There are more than 19,000 different species of legumes on the planet. While many of them are inedible, the ones that are edible pack a powerful protein punch. Legumes are also referred to as pulses, which is the specific edible component of the plant.
Pulses and beans are low in saturated fat, making them a healthy alternative to red meat, which is notoriously high in saturated fat. Legumes and beans are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which is considered the best overall diet, and it’s no secret why.
Legumes and beans are high in protein, antioxidants, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins. They help to improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This is especially true when you use beans and legumes as a replacement for meat.
Additionally, beans and legumes are inexpensive to buy, making them an accessible plant-based protein source for everyone and making them a staple of diets worldwide.
Here are some of the top protein-rich beans and legumes, based on protein per cup:
- Peanuts (76% DV)
- Soy beans (44% DV)
- Lentils (36% DV)
- White beans (35% DV)
- Split peas (33% DV)
- Pinto beans (31% DV)
- Kidney beans (31% DV)
- Black beans (30% DV)
- Lima beans (29% DV)
- Chickpeas (29% DV)
3. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are some of the easiest plant-based proteins to incorporate into your diet. You can munch them on the go, throw them into your cereal or smoothies, or blend them up into tasty nut/seed butter. Nuts and seeds tend to be high in calories and unsaturated fats, which help increase feelings of fullness and lower your overall cholesterol.
Seeds like flax seeds are also high in Omega-3, and you can even use them as a substitute for egg as a binder in your recipes. Chia seeds are full of nutrients like calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, thiamin, folate, and B vitamins.
Nuts and seeds can help regulate body weight since our bodies don’t entirely absorb their fats, but they still create a feeling of fullness, meaning you’ll eat less. Plus, the fiber is excellent for your digestion.
Here are some seeds and nuts that are the highest in protein, based on a serving size of 100g:
- Hemp seeds (63% DV)
- Almonds (42% DV)
- Pistachios (42% DV)
- Sunflower seeds (39% DV)
- Flax seeds (37% DV)
- Chia seeds (33% DV)
- Cashews (31% DV)
- Walnut (30% DV)
Quinoa is technically a seed, but we think it deserves its own mention on this list. Just like soy, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. One cup of quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein plus 5 grams of fiber, filling you up and supporting healthy digestion.
Quinoa is super versatile. You can use it in place of rice or noodles in your favorite dishes, include it in your breakfast cereal or add it to salads and soups. It cooks quickly and comes in lots of different varieties.
Besides protein and fiber, quinoa also has high thiamin, iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, lowering the risk of chronic disease.
5. Nutritional yeast
Last but not least, we have nutritional yeast. When you think of yeast, you might think of the substance that helps your bread rise or ferment beer. Nutritional yeast is of the same family, but the yeast has been deactivated using heat.
Nutritional yeast is also a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids that we humans need from food. It has a cheesy, nutty flavor, so it’s often used in recipes to replace cheese. It’s high in protein, containing about 8 grams per one-quarter cup. It’s also a great source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, and B vitamins (including B-12).
Incorporating nutritional yeast into your diet can help boost energy, promoting healthy skin, hair, and nails, and support your immune system.
The benefits of plant-based protein
Choosing to swap animal protein for plant-based protein can help to lower your risk of heart disease, protect against weight gain and type 2 diabetes, plus reduce your environmental impact on the earth. Start incorporating these delicious and nutritious plant-based protein options into your diet and see the benefits for yourself!