The 8 Best Plant-Based Protein Sources


  • Some of the best plant-based protein sources include whole soy products like edamame or tofu.
  • Plant-based protein sources are lower in calories and higher in fiber than animal sources.
  • To add plant-based protein to your diet, mix it into stir-fries, soups, or salads.
  • Visit the Insider’s Health Reference library for more tips.

Plant-based protein sources, such as beans and legumes, tend to have less fat and more fiber than their animal-based counterparts, such as beef or chicken. However, animal protein sources tend to have higher amounts of protein per serving, which helps meet nutritional needs.

Here are eight of the best sources of complete plant protein.

1. Quinoa

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Quinoa salad with mango, carrot, bell pepper and red onion.

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Quinoa is a seed that is not only a complete protein, but is also full of fiber. Fiber can improve gut health by relieving constipation and can help control weight by increasing satiety.

A cup of cooked quinoa has eight grams of protein, 222 calories, and five grams of fiber.

How to eat it: You can add quinoa to your diet as a substitute for rice or add it to your soups or salads.

2. Tofu

tofu salad healthy lunch

Add tofu to your salads or on top of stir-fry vegetables.

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Tofu is also a complete protein source made from soybeans. Tofu contains essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, which promote bone health.

Three ounces of tofu contains eight grams of protein and only 80 calories.

How to eat it: Tofu has minimal flavor on its own, so you can incorporate it into your diet by mixing it into stir-fry dishes or adding it to curries.

3. Tempeh

vegan vegan tempeh

Tempeh can be added to stir fries or salads.

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Tempeh is similar to tofu but is made from fermented soybeans. It is often used as a meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians.

One cup of tempeh has 34 grams of protein, 319 calories, and five milligrams of iron.

How to eat it: You can incorporate tempeh into your diet just like you would tofu: mixing it into stir-fries or adding it to vegetable kabobs.

4. Edamame

edamame

Edamame is an easy and healthy snack.

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Edamame are boiled green soybeans. These beans are not only loaded with protein, but they are low in calories and high in fiber.

A cup of cooked edamame has 19 grams of protein, 224 calories, and eight grams of fiber.

How to eat it: Edamame is easy to add to your diet by sprinkling it on salads, eating it as a snack, or mixing it with stir-fried rice.

5. lentils

lentil soup

Lentils are a great addition to soups.

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Lentils are a type of legume. They also contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that is slowly digested and helps prevent blood sugar levels from spiking. This makes it a great option for people with diabetes.

A cup of cooked lentils has about 18 grams of protein and 230 calories.

How to eat it: Lentils make a great addition to warm winter soups or stews, but they can also pair well with Indian dishes.

6. Chickpeas

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Hummus is made from chickpeas, making for a healthy, protein-packed snack.

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Chickpeas are another type of legume. They are rich in folic acid, a B vitamin that your body needs to make new cells.

One cup of chickpeas has 15 grams of protein, 363 calories, and 70 mcg (micrograms) of folate.

How to eat it: Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, so eating hummus as a vegetable dip or on toast is a good way to add chickpeas to your diet.

7. Rice and beans

rice and beans

Rice and beans can be a quick side dish for dinners.

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When eaten separately, rice and beans are incomplete protein sources. However, when combined, they produce a complete protein. Beans are also a good source of iron.

One serving (100 grams) of white rice and black beans has 10 grams of protein, 272 calories, and 3 mg of iron.

How to eat it: Rice and beans are a good accompaniment to meals with vegetables and other sources of protein.

8. Ezekiel Bread

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Swapping regular bread for Ezekiel bread can increase your protein intake.

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Ezekiel bread is a type of bread made from wheat, barley, lentils, soybeans, and spelled. It is a complete source of protein. A serving of Ezekiel bread has four grams of protein and 80 calories.

How to eat it: You can add Ezekiel bread to your diet by substituting it for other types of bread when making sandwiches or toast. For an added protein boost, make a tempeh sandwich with Ezekiel bread.

Plant-based protein vs. animal-based protein

If you are following a plant-based diet, it is essential to keep track of your protein intake. It can be difficult to meet your daily protein needs by consuming only plant-based proteins, as they are less efficient protein sources per calorie.

“It would take about 200 calories from almond butter to get seven grams of protein, while it would only take 35 calories from two egg whites to get the same seven grams of protein,” says Muhlstein. So whether your goal is weight maintenance or weight loss, portion sizes are still important.

Proteins are macronutrients, which are nutrients that your body needs in large amounts to function properly. Proteins are especially important because they contain amino acids. Amino acids are involved in everything from digestion to growth to the functioning of the immune system.

There are about 20 amino acids that can make protein, says Ilana Muhlstein, MS, a registered dietitian with private practice in Los Angeles, California. Of these, nine are considered essential, meaning that your body cannot produce them on its own, so they must be obtained through diet. When a protein source contains all nine, it is considered a complete protein.

“Animal products like meat, poultry and fish are considered complete proteins, while most plant proteins are incomplete,” says Gal Shua-Haim, MS, a registered dietitian based in San Diego, California. .

Animal products also have some additional vitamins and nutrients that plant proteins normally lack. Muhlstein says that some nutrients that are often lacking in plant-based diets include:

However, there are many benefits to opting for plant-based protein sources. These benefits include:

Insider information takeaway

Most plant-based protein sources are incomplete proteins. However, both Shua-Haim and Muhlstein explain that you can get all nine essential amino acids by eating a varied whole-food diet, even if you’re plant-based.

Combining plant-based protein sources like whole wheat bread with hummus or rice and beans is another way to help you get the essential nutrients you need.

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