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; however, 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.
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