10 Plant-based protein sources for vegans and vegetarians

Finding the right sources of protein is a hot topic, especially for vegans and vegetarians. Protein is a crucial nutrient that plays a vital role in building muscle, repairing tissue, and producing enzymes and hormones.

Often, there’s a misconception that plant-based diets can’t provide enough protein. However, that’s far from the truth.

This guide is here to prove that plant-based diets can be as protein-rich as their animal-based counterparts. Plus, opting for plant-based proteins can have benefits for your health and the planet.

Whether you’re a seasoned vegan, a new vegetarian, or just curious about plant-based eating, this list will help you understand how easy and delicious it can be to get your protein from plants.

What are the vegetarian and vegan sources of protein?

Exploring plant-based protein sources is like opening up a treasure chest of nutritious and delicious options. Here’s a guide to the top 10 plant-based proteins that will keep your meals exciting and your body fueled.

1. Legumes

Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, are a cornerstone of plant-based nutrition [1], offering more than just a high protein content. They’re a versatile bunch that can jazz up your meals while keeping you nourished. 

Lentils are a protein powerhouse for vegetarians and vegans, with roughly 18 grams of protein per cup of cooked lentils.

Beyond protein, they’re loaded with fiber, iron, and folate, supporting overall health and well-being. Their high fiber content supports heart health by helping to lower cholesterol levels.

Legume can be used in so many different recipes, whether you prefer them in tacos, salads, or soups. Legumes are cost-effective, making them a staple for budget-friendly eating without compromising nutritional value. 

Adding legumes to your diet is a smart move for anyone looking to boost their protein intake the plant-based way.

2. Tofu and tempeh

Tofu and tempeh stand out as stellar sources of plant-based protein, each bringing its unique texture and flavor to the table. 

Tofu offers around 9 grams per 4-ounce serving, while tempeh provides up to 20 grams, making both excellent choices for meeting your daily protein needs. Besides protein, they’re good sources of iron and calcium, supporting bone health and more.

Both can be baked, grilled, sautéed, or added to soups, making them convenient for quick meals. Tofu’s mild flavor and tempeh’s nutty taste make them adaptable to a wide range of recipes, from stir-fries to sandwiches.

Soy products are more environmentally friendly protein sources compared to animal proteins, aligning with eco-conscious eating habits.

Incorporating tofu and tempeh into your diet is a delicious way to enjoy diverse textures and flavors while packing in the protein.

tofu

3. Seitan

Often known as “wheat meat,” is a standout in the world of plant-based proteins for its meat-like texture and versatility in recipes. 

Seitan is a great option for people trying to increase their protein consumption, as one 3-ounce meal contains approximately 21 grams of protein. Besides being a protein powerhouse, seitan also contains selenium and small amounts of iron and calcium.

Its chewy consistency makes it an ideal substitute in dishes traditionally made with meat, from stir-fries to sandwiches. It is simple to add to a wide range of recipes due to its capacity to absorb flavors.

Seitan is low in carbs and fats, making it suitable for those watching their macronutrient intake.

However, it’s important to note that seitan is made from gluten, so it’s not suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. For everyone else, it’s a fantastic way to diversify your plant-based meal plans.

4. Quinoa

It is not just any grain; it’s a nutritional powerhouse that’s become a favorite among those following plant-based diets. 

Unlike most plant foods, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, offering about 8 grams of protein per cup. It’s also rich in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin E.

Quinoa’s mildly nutty taste and fluffy texture makes it ideal for bowls, salads, and side dishes. Ready in about 15 minutes, quinoa is ideal for fast, nutritious meals.

Since quinoa is inherently gluten-free, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should consider it [2].

Quinoa’s combination of high protein content, essential nutrients, and versatility makes it an excellent staple in any diet, especially for those seeking plant-based options.

5. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are small but mighty sources of nutrition, making them an essential part of any diet, especially for those focusing on plant-based eating. 

They provide a good amount of protein, with almonds and peanuts offering about 6 grams per ounce and pumpkin seeds up to 7 grams. High in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats, they’re great for heart health. Loaded with essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, and iron.

Easy to add to any meal—sprinkle on salads, blend into smoothies, or just snack on them directly. Their mix of fats, proteins, and fibers provides sustained energy, making them a perfect snack.

Incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds into your daily routine can enhance your overall nutrient intake and add crunch and flavor to your meals.

6. Nutritional yeast

Often a favorite among vegans and vegetarians, is a deactivated yeast that’s not only tasty but also packed with nutrition. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, including B12, which is crucial for those on a plant-based diet.

Two tablespoons can provide up to 8 grams of complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.

With its cheesy and nutty taste, it’s perfect for sprinkling on popcorn, pasta, or salads. Use it as a thickener for soups and sauces or as a flavor enhancer in a variety of dishes.

Many brands fortify nutritional yeast with additional vitamins and minerals, making it an even better supplement to your diet.

Nutritional yeast is an easy way to boost the nutritional value of your meals, adding depth of flavor without added fats or sugars.

7. Spirulina

A type of blue-green algae, is celebrated for its impressive nutrient profile and health benefits [3]. Offers a high protein content, with about 4 grams per tablespoon, making it an excellent supplement for plant-based diets.

Packed with vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, along with minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron. Includes antioxidants that promote general health and act as a shield against oxidative stress.

Its nutrient density can help increase energy levels and improve endurance. Easily added to smoothies, juices, or sprinkled on salads for a nutritional boost without altering the taste significantly.

Incorporating spirulina into your daily routine is a simple way to enhance your nutrient intake and support your health with just a small addition to your meals.

8. Whole grains

Whole grains are a fundamental component of a nutritious diet, offering more than just fiber. They’re a wholesome source of protein and other key nutrients. 

Grains like quinoa, barley, and farro provide a good amount of protein, helping to meet daily needs. They help in digestion and keep you feeling full longer, aiding in weight management.

Loaded with B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, magnesium, and zinc, supporting overall health. Can be used in various dishes, from breakfast cereals to hearty dinners. Frequent ingestion is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.

Including a variety of whole grains in your diet is an easy way to boost nutritional intake and add diversity to your meals.

whole grains

9. Soy milk

A popular dairy-free alternative that’s both nutritious and versatile. One cup offers about 6 to 8 grams of protein, comparable to cow’s milk, making it a strong choice for plant-based diets.

Many brands enrich soy milk with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, enhancing its nutritional profile. It’s heart-healthy, with a lower saturated fat content than whole cow’s milk.

Perfect for cereals, smoothies, baking, or just enjoying by the glass. An excellent option for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies.

Switching to soy milk can be a smart move for anyone looking to maintain a balanced diet while avoiding dairy [4].

10. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are tiny nutritional powerhouses that offer a multitude of health benefits—essential for brain health and reducing inflammation, protect the body from aging and cancer-causing free radicals, and offer a good dose of calcium for bone health.

Two tablespoons contain about 4 grams of protein, making them a great plant-based protein source. Just a small serving can significantly boost your daily fiber intake, aiding digestion and satiety. Can be added to smoothies, yogurts, oatmeal, or used to make chia pudding.

Adding chia seeds to your meals is an easy way to enhance nutritional value without compromising taste or texture.

Final takeaways

Embracing a plant-based diet doesn’t mean compromising on protein intake. As we’ve explored, there are ample sources of plant-based proteins that are not only nutritious but also delicious and versatile in culinary applications.

From legumes and grains to nuts and seeds, each offers unique benefits and flavors to enrich your meals. We encourage you to share your experiences and favorite plant-based protein recipes.

Let’s create a community that supports and inspires each other to enjoy the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.

Whether you’re a seasoned vegan, a curious vegetarian, or just looking to diversify your protein sources, there’s a world of flavors and benefits waiting for you.

FAQs

Can I get enough protein from a plant-based diet?

Absolutely! A plant-based diet can provide all the protein you need through a variety of sources like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Are plant-based proteins complete proteins?

Some plant-based proteins, such as quinoa and soy products, are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Others can be combined (like rice and beans) to form a complete protein.

Is plant-based protein better for the environment?

Yes, producing plant-based protein generally requires less water, land, and energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to animal-based proteins, making it a more sustainable choice.

[1] https://ucfhealth.com/our-services/lifestyle-medicine/what-is-a-plant-based-diet/
[2] https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/is-it-gluten-free/quinoa/
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-benefits-of-spirulina
[4] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/pros-cons-soy-milk/

Photograph: Dream79/Envato
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