7 Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

By: Joe Martinez, RPh, PDE, CMS, Founder and CCO, HMS 

Contributor: Stephanie Wu

Need more protein? Just eat more meat. Right? Maybe not necessarily right and here’s why…

Studies, like this found in NIH and published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association argue that you can get most, if not all the nutrients you need from a vegetarian or plant-based diet.

Eating a healthy vegetarian/plant-based diet requires some planning and the understanding of what foods provide enough protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and vitamin B-12.

So here we go on our tour of the plant-based protein foods that are high in protein per serving:

  1.   Tofu

Tofu is a soybean product packed with protein. It is relatively neutral in flavor, acting as a sponge that easily absorbs the flavors of your favorite sauces, marinades, and rubs. The possibilities of using tofu are endless including burgers, soups, homemade mayonnaise and even vegan bacon!  Yes, you read that correctly – there is such a thing as vegan bacon and it’s even delicious – who knew?!

Tofu is also wonderful over salads both hot and cold! Tofu contains iron, calcium, and 10-19 grams of protein per 100 grams.

  1.   Chia seeds

Chia seeds are native to Mexico and Guatemala, and contain iron, calcium, selenium, and magnesium. They also have great antioxidant properties.  With just one teaspoon of these little seeds, you can get about 2 grams of protein.  In fact, they are a ‘complete’ protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body. Also, they are a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids.

With Chia seeds, it’s not about their taste but rather their texture. Plainly put: they are practically ‘tasteless’.  HOWEVER, they have great texture, which makes them perfect to sprinkle on plant-based yogurt, almond milk, or puddings, and are great egg replacers in baked goods. Speaking of texture, when Chia seeds absorb liquid, whether it’s water or my personal favorite, coconut milk, they take on a gel-like texture.  This also makes them fun to add to smoothies and puddings as either the main ingredient or an ‘add-in’.

  1. Protein-rich vegetables

Believe it or not, there are a number of vegetables that are rich in protein. For example: dark-colored, leafy greens contain the most protein. Think spinach, collards, kale, and broccoli, just to name a few.  One cup of kale contains about 2 grams.  A single, medium stalk of broccoli contains about 4 grams of protein and one cup of broccoli has almost 2 grams of protein.  In fact, broccoli has more protein per calorie than some types of beef.  And be sure to remember your mushrooms.  Five medium-sized mushrooms have 3 grams of protein.

  1.  Quinoa

Quinoa is considered an ancient grain, which is one that has been around for centuries.  Quinoa makes a fantastic rice substitute and is full of protein per cup! With 8 grams of protein, this grain is also rich in magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese. Quinoa is a popular ingredient in soups, salads, burgers or just eaten as the main dish with other sides. It comes in all sorts of colors such as white, red, black, and even tri-color. The more color in your diet, the more nutrients you’ll receive and the more visually appealing your plate will be.

  1. Peanut butter

Peanut butter is very rich in protein (20.5 grams per ½ cup!) and peanuts are a fantastic source of healthy fats to maintain good heart health.  A tablespoon of peanut butter (8 grams of protein) makes a rich addition to your oatmeal breakfast, slice of bread or apple. Peanut butter powder also makes a great addition to protein shakes or smoothies.

Can’t have peanuts? No worries!  Almond butter, walnut butter and sun-butter are just a few delicious and healthy alternatives. When searching for your nut/seed butters though, be sure to read the labels and avoid any that have any added sugars and other additives.

  1. Oats

A half cup of oats has a whopping 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. While oats are not considered a complete source of protein, replacing rice or wheat with a cup of oats is a better “eat this, not that” option.  This is because of its greater protein content as well as its containing magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and folate. Enjoy oatmeal at breakfast or incorporate oats into veggie burgers and other baked goods. It’s a great gluten free substitute in many baking recipes.

  1. Lentils, chickpeas, most beans

Lentils top the list of beans with 18 grams of protein per cup. They make great additions to salads, soups and lasagnas.  They also work wonders in a lentil meatloaf. Fun fact: they come in many colors and are perfect to brighten up any meal.

That said, if you’re looking for variety – kidney, black, and pinto beans also contain high amounts of protein in each serving. In addition, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are a popular bean found in salads and the predominant ingredient used in hummus.  Beans provide an excellent source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese. This ingredient also helps to decrease cholesterol, help blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure.

No matter the reason, eating more plants and less meat can do some good for your body and even the environment. Not only have we mentioned some great protein options but all of these foods contain lots of fiber as well. Double Health Score! You just need to know the right places in the grocery store to look.

Quick Tip: Most ingredients will be found in the fresh produce section or without labels. Get creative with the way you use these ingredients!  Being vegetarian or vegan and only eating salads are a thing of the past. Your everyday market is stocked with more plant-based options than ever before.

So, don’t be shy…just go for it! And if you don’t feel like cooking, here are two delicious meals that will enable you to enjoy the benefits of plant-based proteins without all the work.

* Always check with your doctor or healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.

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