As the shift away from animal products becomes easier, with the recent increase in availability of fortified and nutritious plant-based foods, an increasing number of consumers are keen on following vegetarian or vegan diets, or at least reducing their use of animal products.
Vegan diets are attractive for health, animal welfare, or religious reasons, and in 2016 the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics updated their report that a vegetarian or vegan diet is able to provide all of the nutritional requirements for adults, children, and those who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Even so, getting enough protein and essential vitamins and minerals can be harder for people who do not eat meat or animal products, with some planning ahead required to ensure enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12 is available.
Fifteen of the best plant-based proteins
Many plant products, such as soy beans and quinoa, are complete proteins, which means that they contain all of the nine essential amino acids that we need. Others miss some of these essential amino acids, meaning eating a varied diet is important.
The following healthy, plant-based foods have high-protein contents per serving:
1. Tofu, tempeh and edamame
Soy products are among the richest sources of protein in a plant-based diet. The protein content varies depending on how the soy is prepared:
- Firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10 g of protein for every ½ cup
- Edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup
- Tempeh contains about 15 g of protein in each ½ cup
Since tofu takes on the flavor of the dish it is prepared in, it is a versatile addition to any meal. One can try tofu as a meat substitute in a favorite sandwich or soup. It is also a popular meat substitute in dishes such as kung pao chicken or sweet and sour chicken.
Most soy products also contain good levels of calcium and iron, making them healthy substitutes for dairy products.
Red or green lentils contain good amounts of protein, fiber, and key nutrients including iron and potassium. Cooked, lentils contain 8.84 g of protein for every ½ cup.
Not only are they a great source of protein to add to a lunch or dinner routine, lentils can be added to stews, curries, salads or rice to give an extra portion of protein; not to mention oodles of flavour!
Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup. They can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes available, including stews or curries, or spiced and lightly roasted in the oven.
One can add hummus, which is made from chickpea paste, to a sandwich for a healthy and tasty, protein-rich alternative to butter.
Peanuts are rich in protein, full of healthy fats, and have been reported to improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
Peanut butter, with 8 g of protein per tablespoon, makes a super addition to sandwiches, as we all know.
With 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup, almonds provide good amounts of vitamin E, which is good for the skin and eyes.
Spirulina is blue or green algae that contain roughly 8 g of protein in 2 tablespoons. Being rich in nutrients such as iron, B vitamins — although not vitamin B-12 — and manganese, spirulina is available online, as a powder or a supplement and can be added to water, smoothies, or fruit juice. It can also be sprinkled over salads or snacks to increase their protein content.
As a complete protein, Quinoa is a grain containing 8 g of protein per cup. It is also rich in nutrients including magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese.
Highly versatile, Quinoa can be used to fill in for pasta in soups and stews, or sprinkled on a salad or eaten as a main course.
Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein containing about 13 g of protein per ½ cup. Products containing mycoprotein are usually advertised as meat substitutes and are available in forms such as “chicken” nuggets or cutlets. Many of these products do contain egg white however, so one should always to check the ingredients.
Those with a history of mushroom allergies or with many food allergies might be advised to consider another protein source.
9. Chia seeds
Seeds are low-calorie foods rich in fibers and Omega-3 fatty acids. As a complete source of protein, Chia seeds have 2 g of protein per tablespoon.
These seeds can be added to a smoothie, sprinkling on top of a plant-based yogurt, or soaked in water or almond milk for a delicious pudding.
10. Hemp seeds
Like chia seeds, hemp seeds are a complete protein, offering 5 g of protein per tablespoon. They can be used in a similar way to chia seeds.
11. Beans with rice
Separately, rice and beans are incomplete protein sources. However, eaten together, this classic meal can provide 7 g of protein per cup.
Rice and beans make a superb side dish. Mixing rice, beans and hummus together on Ezekiel bread, which is made from sprouted grains, makes for a savoury protein-packed meal.
A large baked potato offers up to 8 g of protein per serving, and is also high in other nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C.
Adding 2 tablespoons of hummus creates a flavourful snack that is healthier than butter-covered potatoes, and increases protein content.
13. Protein-rich vegetables
Many dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables actually contain quite a bit of protein. Eaten alone, these foods do not meet daily protein requirements, but a few vegetable snacks do naturally increase protein intake, particularly when combined with other protein-rich foods.
- A medium stalk of broccoli contains about 4 g of protein
- Kale provides 2 g of protein per cup
- 5 medium mushrooms have 3 g of protein
Looking for a protein-rich meal? Mix up a salad of baby greens with sprinkled quinoa.
Seitan is a complete protein made from mixing wheat gluten with various spices. Recommended to be avoided by people with celiac or gluten intolerance, for others it can be a protein-rich healthy meat substitute.
When cooked in soy sauce, which is rich in the amino acid lysine, seitan becomes a complete protein source providing 21 g per 1/3 cup.
15. Ezekiel bread
A nutrient-dense alternative to traditional bread, Ezekiel bread is made from barley, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt. An excellent choice for bread lovers who want a more nutritious way to eat toast or sandwiches, it offers 4 g of protein per slice. For even more protein, toasted Ezekiel bread with peanut or almond butter is a super snack.