When considering protein-dense foods, the first thing that comes to mind is meat. Meat is an excellent source of protein and the preferred source of this nutrient for most people. But how do vegetarians and vegans, who only consume plant-based foods meet their protein needs?
Well, the good news is that there are some excellent plant-based, protein-dense foods that vegetarians and vegans can eat to get the nutrients they need.
Why Do You Need Protein?
Protein is the body’s main building block. It is required for everything from cell repair and muscle building to fueling energy and transporting oxygen to all parts of the body.
Here are some of the top plant-based protein foods you can incorporate into your diet.
Best Plant Protein Sources
Lentils come in all varieties of brown, green, red, and yellow. They are easy to cook, cost-effective, and just as easy to incorporate into soups, salads, curries, and tacos. Being excellent sources of protein, about a cup of cooked lentils adds around 18 grams of protein to a meal.
Lentils also add generous amounts of fiber to the diet along with iron and potassium. They are also high in complex carbohydrates while being low in fat and calories.
Anyone who has issues with gluten can easily use lentils as part of their gluten-free cooking routine. And people looking to manage their blood sugar can also benefit from the exceptionally low glycemic index value of lentils.
Here is a delicious lentil salad recipe, you can try out.
Another excellent protein source, chickpeas deliver around 14.5 g of protein per cup.
This versatile food is easy to eat hot or cold and you can use it in anything from a soup and salad to a curry and even a sandwich. Hummus, a paste made from chickpeas is a popular and nutritious way to enjoy this versatile food.
Alongside protein, chickpeas are also a good source of vitamin B6 and folate. The high fiber content is also beneficial for promoting heart health, regulating blood sugar, and aiding weight management.
Quinoa is a gluten-free, high-protein, high-fiber plant food that contains all nine essential amino acids. This makes it a complete protein source to add to vegetarian and vegan diets.
Its nutrient profile also features magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins B and E with several beneficial antioxidants.
This highly nutritious food yields 8 g of protein per 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa. When compared to other grains, quinoa boasts a much higher fiber content which can help lower blood sugar levels, improve satiety, and help with weight loss.
Try this delicious Mediterranean Quinoa Recipe.
Different seed varieties like chia and hemp are complete proteins yielding all nine essential amino acids. These are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and full of heart-healthy benefits.
Seeds are easy to add to a smoothie, sprinkle over breakfast cereals, and add into salads. Chia seeds deliver about 2 g of protein per tablespoon while hemp seeds provide 5 g of protein per tablespoon. serving.
Both seed varieties are also decent sources of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.
All bean varieties including kidney, black, pinto, navy, lima, and others are an important protein staple in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Although soy is the only type to contain all nine essential amino acids, you can combine other beans with nuts, seeds or grains to make complete proteins.
For instance, you can eat beans with rice or pair beans with nuts or seeds to create a complete protein.
Beans also contain other vital nutrients, antioxidants, and lots of fiber that can help improve overall gut health.
They are also an excellent option for controlling appetite and managing weight given their high fiber content.
Spirulina is a blue or green algae that contains about 8 g of protein per 2 tablespoons. It is also rich in other nutrients like iron, manganese, and B vitamins.
This is a low-calorie food that contains both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Its protein content delivers all the essential amino acids needed by the body. Consult with your doctor before taking any spirulina.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all high protein plant-based foods. Although soy has been the subject of much controversy, general research shows that when consumed in moderation, it is overall safe.
It is important to choose certified organic soy, as it is grown without chemicals and is GMO free. Buying organic soy products like tofu, tempeh and soybeans is the only way you can be sure you are not consuming GMOs.
For example, here is a delicious tofu scramble recipe.
Soy-based foods are also excellent sources of fiber which can help promote healthy digestion. In addition, they contain omega 3-fats, different vitamins, and minerals which all round out their nutritional qualities. Soy foods are also naturally cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat.
Many soy foods are also enriched with vitamin b12, calcium, and vitamin D to help vegans and vegetarians get these much-needed ingredients.
And finally, there are several dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables that contain protein. Watercress, alfalfa sprouts, spinach, cabbage, and bok choy are some good options.
You can also consider cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and asparagus to add more variety to your plate. Even though these may not be complete proteins, they still deliver a decent amount of protein relative to their calorie content.
Plus, they come with the benefit of other nutrients that increase the nutritional value of a meal without packing on many calories.
So, whether you have decided to eat more plant-based foods while cutting down meat consumption, or are following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, there are plenty of smart choices you can make to keep up your protein nutritional requirements.
To incorporate more plant protein into your eating, take a look at my plant-based blog to get some versatile and easy cooking ideas.
Or, if you want to take your culinary skills up a notch, check out this excellent program at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.
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