16 Powerhouse Sources of Plant-based Protein
Where do you get your protein? I get mine from plants.
We need far less protein than we might expect. And there are many vegan iron sources to dive into too. That said, I also find that plant-based advocates can underplay the necessity of making good protein choices, if only because we get asked about it SO much.
What’s the daily recommended intake of protein?
The basic requirement for protein is 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight. So a 150-pound person would need roughly 54 grams of protein to live. That’s the bare minimum…but I don’t advocate for the bare minimum. Why?
- Eating the minimum requirement doesn’t allow you to take advantage of the naturally satisfying and appetite-balancing nature of protein
- Eating protein at this level usually means you are eating way more starchy carbohydrates, which isn’t great for blood sugar, energy levels or appetite
- Protein supports your immune system and gut health, two things my clients typically need
I typically recommend that clients get 0.5g of protein per pound of body weight, up to a maximum of 100 grams a day (unless you’re an athlete or doing intense exercise). So this looks like 75 grams of protein for that same 150lb person. This number is the same for regardless of gender or whether you’re vegan or still eat animal products.
It’s easy to get all the protein you need from a plant-based diet…but you still have to consciously put some protein on your plate. And don’t forget the fibre! Fibre keeps you full, longer—so check out this high fibre food list to compliment your proteins!
Do you need to combine plant proteins to make them ‘complete’?
It wasn’t that long ago that we thought that you needed to combine plant proteins because plants tend to have lower amounts of one or two essential amino acids, with a couple notable exceptions. However, this viewpoint has changed as our knowledge improved. We now know that as long as you eat a variety of plant foods over the course of the day, and you’re eating enough, your body will use the amino acids to build proteins just as you would if you ate animal proteins.
16 of the Best Sources of Plant Protein
I ask my clients to add a concentrated source of protein to every meal. These are the foods that will get you there. You’ll note that there aren’t a lot of actual vegetables on this list; the reason for that is because you need to eat a lot of broccoli or spinach to equal these plant powerhouses.
However, every little bit counts. If you need 75 grams of protein a day, for example, aim for roughly 20 grams of protein per meal. The broccoli and quinoa you eat with your 1/2 cup of tofu will top you up.
Read on and get cooking!
Organic Soy Foods + Legumes
Tofu 1/2 cup = 10 grams protein
The versatile staple, tofu boasts plenty of iron and calcium along with phytonutrients that support gut health and soothe inflammation.
Tempeh 1/2 cup = 16 grams protein
Tofu’s spunky cousin, tempeh is sheets of fermented soy beans, making it even more digestible and high in protein.
Edamame 1/2 cup = 12 grams protein
From Japanese bar snack to grain bowl star, immature soybeans, AKA edamame, are creamy and fresh tasting.
Lentils 3/4 cup = 13 grams protein
I cannot get enough lentils, with their rich and savoury flavour. They cook up quickly without soaking, which is a bonus. Use red lentil in soups and sauces where you want them to dissolve into the mix. French and beluga lentils hold up well for salads and grain bowls. Try my fave winter salad, here!
Chickpeas and beans 3/4 cup = 10-11 grams protein
Chickpeas are the crowd-pleaser and can be roasted as a snack, added to dips, soups, curries or salads or even scrambled. Use kidney beans in soups or casseroles, try black beans in salsa and salad and don’t forget about cannellini beans – they’re amazing pureed into dips and sauces.
Unsweetened Soy Milk 1 cup = 6-7 grams protein
I’m still a soy milk fan, it’s the best substitute for dairy milk in most recipes because it’s creamy and protein-rich. Look for organic to avoid GMO soy. If you eat a lot of tofu, switch up your milks with almond or cashew to maintain variety in your diet.
Bean-based Pastas (varies per manufacturer) 1 cup dry = 25g protein
I’m obsessed with Banza pasta (NOT sponsored!). It’s a soooo close to traditional pasta and so high in protein that I can just have a big bowl of pasta without having to add grilled tofu or beans.
Nuts + Seeds
Hemp 3 tablespoons = 10 grams protein
Hemp is an anti-inflammatory all-star. Rich in omega 3 fatty acids, mineral rich and so easy to use. Try it in my low FODMAP smoothie!
Chia Seeds 3 tablespoons = 5.5 grams protein
Chia seeds are packed with tummy soothing, blood sugar balancing soluble fibre. While not quite as high in protein as hemp, they make a great booster for a meal. If making a chia pudding, be sure to add extra protein in the form of soy milk, nuts or other seeds.
Almonds + Pistachios 1/4 cup = 7-8 grams protein
Nuts make a perfect lower carb, higher protein snack to help stave off blood sugar crashes. Not all nuts are protein rich, if you need a boost, stick to almonds and pistachios. Nut free? Pumpkin seeds are high in protein too!
Natural Peanut Butter 2 tablespoons = 7.5 grams
Peanut butter is a staple for a reason; it’s inexpensive, creamy and satisfying! Peanut butter on two pieces of sprouted grain toast will net you 20 grams of protein. So easy!! It’s great in my chocolate PB smoothie too.
Sprouted Grain Breads (like Ezekiel or Silver Hills) 2 slices = 12-13 grams protein
I’m all about the effortless swaps. Switch your usual sandwich bread for sprouted grain and you’ll feel fuller, more satisfied and get WAY more nutrition.
Oatmeal 1 cup cooked = 6 grams protein
You might be surprised that oats have almost as much protein as an egg, yes? Add some nut butter and hemp seeds and you can have a protein packed breakfast in no time.
Quinoa 1 cup cooked = 8 grams protein
So, quinoa gets listed as a high protein food all the time…but it’s not super high in protein! What it does have, however, is an excellent amino acid profile. So you see, a full cup of quinoa is a great protein booster – but it shouldn’t be the only protein on your plate.
Wheat Berries 1 cup = 12 grams protein
This one might be another surprise: yep, good old wheat berries have more protein than quinoa and they are high in fibre too. Most people don’t eat wheat berries in this form. They take a while to cook, so I recommend batch cooking and freezing for easy additions to pilafs, soups and stews or even as a hearty alternative to rice.
Pumpkin Seeds 1/4 cup = 11 grams protein
Pumpkin seeds are an overlooked nutritional gem. Super high in immune-supportive zinc, rich in energizing copper and look at the protein! They are richly flavoured and add great crunch to salads or oatmeal. I also love them in this super seed butter which is sooooo nutritious.
So where DO you get your protein on a plant-based diet?
Evidence-based Note: All nutrient information from the Canadian Nutrient Data File
73 Comments on “16 Powerhouse Sources of Plant-based Protein”
About the pumpkin seeds, is that with the outer shell, the husk? on or not? If I only eat the inner green portion pepito? Is there just a much protein?
Thanks. Ur always very informative.
Good question! The inner part, the pepita.
What bread do you recommend for gluten sensitive lupus patients? I ate sourdough for a while and felt fine.
If you are not strictly gluten free, a proper, well-fermented sourdough is a great choice. I like a 100% rye sourdough but they can be harder to find. If you are gluten free, there aren’t a lot of healthy gluten free breads out there. I really love making a homemade loaf. I have a great one in my Eat More Plants Cookbook or, online, My New Roots has a ‘Life Changing Loaf of Bread’ that really is that wonderful. Wholehearted Eats also has great gluten free sourdough recipes if that is your thing!
What about buckwheat groats?
Hi Jo-Anne! 1/2 cup of cooked buckwheat groats, according to the Canadian Nutrient File, has just 3g of protein. A nice boost…but not enough to anchor a plate 🙂
Where do you find Banza pasta in BC?
It used to be available at Costco…but it’s not anymore! Now the only place seems to be naturamarket.ca
Thank you for all your wonderful recipes, and the educational comments you address re: gluten free, fiber, and other food concerns we all experience today.
Also, you are so in touch with things to prepare today for todays busy schedules…thank you, youre the best.
Thank you Rebe!! That’s so kind of you to say 🙂
You put out an article regarding sprouted bread and gluten and I just can’t find it. I find most gluten free bakery products are tough on my gut. You spoke about how sprouted grains (ie Silver Hills) are just as effective to gluten free in breads. I can’t seem to find it on your website. Can you send it to me or repost?
Both my husband and I thank you ~ Susan
I have a few Silver Hills recipes on my website, however, it’s incorrect to say that they are as effective as gluten free. Sprouted wheat still does contain gluten, so anyone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should steer clear. However, for people with more of a mild sensitivity, sprouted grains may feel more digestible to them. Hope this helps!
I’m wondering if the quantities listed for legumes and chickpeas are for the dry or cooked product. Thank you.
Hi Linda, it’s cooked measure! Desiree
You state that the basic requirement for protein is 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight. Does age or gender make any difference to this?
Also, recently in the news it was reported that some studies have found an increased risk of depression or other mental illness. What is your opinion on this?
Hi Adele, on the basic requirement, no difference in age or gender! And for the risk of depression, do you mean it was related to protein? Feel free to link the article and I’ll check it out.
Thank you. Interesting article.
Thank you so much for all of this great information!
A very useful reference. Thank you!
This is so helpful for planning protein packed meals. Thanks! My favourite snack is natural peanut butter on a slice of Silver Hills bread.
Such a good one, and that snack has more protein than an egg!
I was so surprised to see the protein content of the seeds and grains! Didn’t realize they had that much. I’ll have to try adding to my diet for a change.
It’s totally surprising isn’t it?!? Plants are magic 🙂
You are my family’s go to for diet and nutrition! I have a copy of How to Unjunk Your Diet and have gifted a copy to each of my adult kids as well! We love your recipes so keep them coming♥️
Aw thank you so much Debbie! I am so glad my work can be useful to you.
This post is SO useful, I come back to it again and again. After reading today I’m craving the chocolate PB smoothie!!
Oooh that’s a good one!! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment Gillian!
Thank you so much for this information-I have seen Banza pasta in the store but hadn’t yet tried it now knowing whether I’d like the texture. I’ll definitely give it a try now!
I really like it…I hope you do too! It just makes it ridiculously easy to pack in the protein.
Tempeh “tofu’s spunky cousin”. 😆 I eat lots of tofu but would welcome an alternative. Gonna try this family member. What do you think about seitan?
New to your blog and loving it!
Ha ha, let me know how you get along with cousin Tempeh! And seitan is great too, it’s common in vegetarian cuisines throughout Asia but hasn’t quite caught on in NA. It’s got a great texture.
Thank you for this useful information. I am not vegan but I like to include at least 3 meatless lunch or dinners a week
Hi Gabriela, love that!!! Meatless meals are for everyone 🙂
For some reason I had it in my head that brown rice had more protein than quinoa. Am I just out to lunch?
Hey Sarah! I use the Canadian Nutrient File, which is the national nutrition data registry. According to the CNF, 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice has 5 grams of protein…so a bit less!
Love this blog! I have the cookbook and am so happy to prepare protein-licious, fiber-filled, gut-protecting, tasty meals for my poor little IBS gut so it (and I) can thrive! I first found you through a Google search for “how to get enough fiber on a low FODMAP diet” because I realized that although I was feeling better after cutting out sources of fructans and excess fructose, I might be sacrificing the long-term health of my microbiome. Soooooo appreciate your clear explanations and celebration of living!
Thank you Sally…I am so glad you found me!!! IBS is quite the roommate, isn’t it? I am happy that you’ve figured out the path that works for you 🙂
Thank you! Thank you for spelling this out in such a concise and easy to follow way. I’ve been reading a lot about protein lately and in our home we don’t eat anything with a hoof. And to be honest chicken, Turkey and seafood aren’t really my thing anymore either. But I’ve hesitated to go completely plant based because I wasn’t sure how to meet my protein requirements. This helps. 💕
I’m so glad to hear it Stephanie! Making change takes time before it feels automatic, but before you know it, you’ll know where to get your protein from plants more often 🙂
Excellent review! Thanks for a great article
Thank you Marg!
Love the part amount not needed to combine at every meal. So many people stay think plant base is incomplete proteins
I was talking with a professor and apparently some text books are still teaching this?!? Ugh.
I love reading your blogs. As a celiac your suggestions make reaching my protein requirements easy peasy. Most times just keep doing what I am already doing. Thank you
Sometimes, that’s all we need is to check in, realize we’ve got it sorted, and move on with it! Nutrition should be a tool to keep you healthy, not a constant battle 🙂
Thank you for not only the norms for protein, but also protein content in different foods. This was extremely helpful.
I am so glad it was helpful, we’re all so obsessed with protein right now but it’s a really simple one to get sorted!
Love the silver hills feature! A couple slices toasted with peanut butter is such a great protein rich breakfast!
It’s my ride-or-die bread. Such an easy swap to net you so much nutrition.
Thank you, Desiree – I find your posts and IG so helpful. And Jess is a gem – thank you for all you do to support healthy eating and debunk pervasive myths.
Hi Chris! You’re right…Jess IS a gem. I’ve got the best practice dietitian around 🙂
Love the protein information. How much protein do you suggest to clients with Osteoporosis? Thank you for all your information.
Protein is really important for building strong bones! It is recommended to get slightly more protein than the basic requirement…but the basic requirement is only 0.8g/kg body weight. My calculation of 0.5g/lb is already higher. There hasn’t been an official recommendation yet so as long as you aim for my calculation you are probably well on your way! A study you can share with your care team here.
This is a great article that I want to show people who ask me ALL.THE.TIME how I can get enough protein as a vegetarian. I usually say I eat a wide variety of foods and focus on high protein food like beans etc. thank you’
Right?? People so often associate protein with meat…they can’t imagine that grains, beans, nuts and seeds have protein too…even pasta, shocker!!
What a great article, thank you for the amazing evidence based info!
So glad it was helpful, Elena!
Thanks for all the great recipes!
You’re so welcome, June! Thank you for being here 🙂
Thank you for the information. I’m trying to incoporate more seeds into meals and snacks – super stoked about the seed butter! Do you have any tips for roasting chickpeas?
Oh yes I do….https://desireerd.com/crispy-roasted-chickpeas-with-everything-bagel-seasoning/
Thank you the information in an easy to refer to format. I eat all those things but not in that quantity – a cup of some of the grains is just too much food! But I do combine nuts, grains and soy so I think I’m doing ok.
Absolutely – you have to follow your appetite! I just wanted to give average servings for ease 🙂
Thanks for this informative article. I am plant-powered all the way and also often get the question about protein (althoughm I feel in the protein focus is not so strong in Europe where I live).
I mostly eat a seed and nut packed porridge with nut butter for breakfast. I also love, love tofu and tempeh as well as bean or lentil pasta, quinoa.
And in Germany, it’s still very meat focused! So glad this was helpful, Kirstin.
Thanks for the refresher Desiree…always such helpful info!
Where might I find wheat berries?
Hi Heather! I am a big fan of Flourist wheat berries (they ship!) and Bob’s red mill might have them in the supermarket…I know they do Farro and Kamut berries.
Thanks for your informative post. I have been incorporating hemp hearts or powder into my power bites in order to up the protein and I’m enjoying the resulting flavor/texture. I was interested to learn that wheat berries have a fair amount of protein. Do you have any recommendations for how to use them? Also, do you know if barley is a good source of protein?
Hi Jacquie! Use wheat berries as you would rice, barley or quinoa: as a side dish, in a salad, casserole or even in a soup! They have a great chew. As for barley, 1/2 cup of cooked pearl barley is about 2g of protein, so not a ton.
Excellent information whether you’re new to reading about nutrition and starting your plant-based adventure, or a regular who’s always looking for the latest science and thinking. And I love the links to related information and recipes. Thank you.
Thank you Patrice! So glad it was helpful 🙂
Great information. I am trying to eat a healthier way and more plant based recipes.
So glad this was helpful, Cheryl!