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The Best Sources of Plant-based Protein

One concern about switching to a plant-based diet that nearly everyone has is about getting enough protein. After all, it is an essential nutrient that is generally recognized as typically coming from meat. Protein is much more common than people think and comes from a variety of different sources.

While it is true that for most people animal products are the most consistent form of protein in their diet, it is not the only option. Protein can actually be found in many different plants and plant-based products that are easily accessible. Once you start to explore, you will realize there are plenty of sources of protein in places that you never thought to look. There are many different sources of plant-based protein, you will have plenty of room to get creative with your meals and try new things.

What Can Vegans Eat for Protein?

You can get just about every nutrient your body needs to live a healthy life from plants alone. It is simply a matter of educating yourself on the specific ingredients containing the nutrients you need. There are a few well-known options that will give you a high volume of protein but there are also many plant-based sources that have sufficient protein to provide more than enough to keep your body going.

Various nuts, seeds, and beans are known for their significant protein levels, but so are a variety of grains and vegetables. You’ll find there are plenty of excellent options for getting the protein you need every day that are also perfect for the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. If you are unsure of your dietary needs you can reference the USDA Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) calculator to give you an idea of where to start. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Nuts & Nut-Based Products

Almost every kind of nut you can think of has significant amounts of protein. On average, you can get between 5 – 6 grams of protein from a small handful of your favorite nuts, (that is about 20 – 24 grams per cup.) The best part is that most nuts are extremely easy to add to your daily routine. Not only are they delicious on their own as a snack, but there are also many dishes and recipes you can add them to. Nuts and seeds are easy to add to breakfast, salads, bowls, or curries, such as this recipe for Cashew Coconut Cauliflower Curry.

The other nice thing about nuts is that they are an excellent dairy alternative source. Dairy-free milks, dairy-free yogurts, and dairy-free cheeses are most often made from nuts and are easy swaps when transitioning to a plant-based diet. They can also add in the extra protein you are looking for with nothing more than a light snack or side dish.

Cashews, in particular, are a great nut because they offer a smooth, creamy and neutral base. Forager Project’s Cashewmilk Yogurts provide 3 grams of plant-based protein and have 1 billion live active probiotic CFUs in every serving.

Soy, Tofu, & Tempeh

Soy has been a consistent feature of plant-based diets for a long time thanks to its richness in protein, calcium, and iron. It is not only nutritious, but also quite versatile as a meat substitute. Soy-based products like tofu and tempeh are known to take on whatever flavor they are prepared with, making them ideal for recreating meatless versions of your favorite meals and are easy to integrate in any recipe. On average, tofu contains about 10 grams of protein per half a cup, whereas tempeh contains about 15 grams per half a cup. This makes either choice ideal as a centerpiece to an entree alongside plenty of vegetables for a perfectly balanced meal. Panang Thai Curry is a classic and flavorful curry recipe that tastes great with tofu.

Lentils, Chickpeas, & Black Beans

Most plants belonging to the legume family produce a significant variety of nutrients including a decent amount of protein. Of particular note are lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Not only do they provide about 7 – 8 grams of protein per half a cup, they are also great sources of potassium, fiber, and iron. Lentils and black beans are both popular sides and are easy additions to any salad, but they also work great as a main dish combined with rice, veggies, or any other suitable base (try this Lentil Daal recipe). This is also true of chickpeas, which are used to make well-known foods such as falafel or hummus. (They’re also great in this recipe for vegan Chickpea Shakshuka!)

Protein Shakes

Shakes are another great option for both convenience and efficiency. They can vary considerably from one brand to another, meaning their ingredients may include a range of protein sources. Forager Project’s plant-based protein shakes are made purely from organic plant-based ingredients, and unlike other vegan protein shakes – the protein comes from nuts and brown rice rather than peas. They are available in two flavors, Vanilla and Cocoa, and both pack in 12g of protein.

Other Plant-Based Protein Sources

As mentioned above, you can find protein in a lot of places you may not have ever expected to find it. For example, certain vegetables, algae, and even mushrooms are known to be decent sources of protein. You could create a complete balanced meal featuring an entree and several sides, all of which contain some protein with all the options there are. If you’re ever looking for something to add a little extra protein into a meal, here are a few more foods to look for:

  • Spirulina – An edible algae that contains about 4 grams of protein per tablespoon. Usually sold as a supplement that can be added to smoothies or other liquids. Also a good source of B vitamins.
  • Quinoa – A grain that contains about 8 grams of pure protein per cup. Also a significant source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and fiber. Adding Quinoa to your favorite salad is an easy way to include more protein.
  • Chia Seeds – These contain about 2 grams of pure protein per tablespoon as well as a decent amount of fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. Adding chia seeds to overnight oats is a great way to add more protein and omegas. Try this chia pudding recipe for a delicious way to start your morning.
  • Kale – Not to be overlooked, kale contains about 2 grams of protein per cup plus many other nutrients. Kale can be used in a variety of different ways. Adding it to your salad is the most popular way but kale chips are another snack that is crunchy and delicious.
  • Mushrooms – Five medium-sized mushrooms contain about 3 grams of protein. The world of mushrooms is vast, you can easily make burgers with portobellos or add mushrooms to soups, pasta or pizza.
  • Broccoli – Broccoli contains about 4 grams of protein per stalk. Broccoli is very easy to incorporate as a side dish or on top of salad but we also like it as the base of a meal. Check out this broccoli salad recipe.
  • (Green) Jackfruit – This fruit has become a popular meat substitute in the plant-based community. Rich in several vital nutrients, it also packs 3 grams of protein per cup. We recommend trying it in tacos!
  • Potatoes – Potatoes contain about 8 grams of protein per serving. This doesn’t mean loading up on fries. Potatoes can make a great base for your meals. Try vegan loaded baked potatoes with broccoli, garbanzo beans, vegan bacon bits, cheese, and non-dairy sour cream.
  • Seitan – Seitan is made with vital wheat gluten, and it is a very high protein source – ⅓ of a cup of Seitan has 21g of protein. Seitan is a great direct protein replacement, you can make it at home or find it in most grocery stores. Due to its base of gluten, seitan is not gluten free.
  • Alternative Meats – There are many new and exciting products becoming available at local grocery stores around the country. These are a great option for those who still want something that resembles meat.

Photo by Yulia Khlebnikova on Unsplash