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47 Protein-Filled Plant-Based Foods



By far, the most common question that pops up around plant-based eating or being vegan is, where do you get your protein? Naturally, that's a legitimate question since most of us have been raised to create meals that make meat the center of the plate. Once you take meat off the plate, you're left wondering, where's the protein? What most of us haven't been taught is that there is plenty of protein in the plant-based foods that accompany the meat, like rice, potatoes, pasta, and even Brussels sprouts! Plus, where do the animals that end up as meat on the plate get their protein? You may have guessed — plants!


Absorbability of Plant Protein

There's also the question about the absorption of plant-based protein. In general, 10% of plant-based protein isn't absorbed. In other words, 90% of plant protein is absorbed. To give you an example, if you need 60 grams of protein a day, you may need 66 grams of plant-based protein instead of 60 to make up that 10% that isn't absorbed. That extra 6 grams may be a few bites of tofu, some extra forkfuls of lentils, a slice of Dave's Killer Bread, or two tablespoons of hemp seeds.


Are Plant Proteins Complete?


There are 22 essential amino acids that create proteins in your body. Those proteins are used for a variety of functions from building muscle to synthesizing hormones to supporting the immune system to transporting iron, just to name a few. Of those 22 amino acids, nine are essential, meaning that you need to get them from your diet since your body can't make them.


All plants have all nine essential amino acids, but some plants may fall short in the amount of certain amino acids. For example, whole grains have quite a bit of protein but some are low in the essential amino acid, lysine. Beans are a good source of lysine, but can be low in the essential amino acid methionine.


There was a time when nutrition experts thought you needed to pair certain plant foods together, like rice and beans, to get all nine of those essential amino acids in one sitting. But science has proven that to be untrue. Your body maintains a 24-hour amino acid pool that can assemble into a complete protein in any moment. As long as you eat enough total calories (including protein) and a variety of plant based foods throughout the day (not only eating only rice all day long), then you'll contribute to that amino acid pool.


Consider the Protein Package, Not Just the Protein


When you eat foods for their protein content, you also eat everything that comes with that food. It is this protein “package” that may make a difference in your health. For example, while a 3–ounce steak might have 26 grams of protein, it also has saturated fat, heme iron (which has been linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes), carnitine (which is has been linked to heart disease), cholesterol, carcinogenic substances, and potentially antibiotics and hormones. It also lacks anti-inflammatory compounds like dietary fiber and phytonutrients.


As a comparison, lentils contain 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber per cup, not to mention phytonutrients that have been shown to reduce inflammation and fight lifestyle diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. What's more, lentils do not have any saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, hormones, antibiotics, or any known carcinogenic substances.


The same rationale can be applied to pork, poultry and dairy products when compared to quinoa, soy, nuts, and seeds.


When you choose to eat plant-based protein, you are choosing to not only eat the protein, but also all of the plant compounds that come with it that have been shown to optimize health. By choosing plant-based sources of protein you will also optimize your health.


So, which plant-based foods provide protein? Here's the short list of 47 individual foods!


Soy foods


Tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soybeans are all great sources of protein. Soy has adequate amounts of all essential amino acids. Fun fact: Soy milk's protein content is equivalent to dairy milk with 7–8 grams of protein per cup. Whenever purchasing soy products, try to choose organic since most soy in the U.S. is genetically modified (organic ensures non GMO as well as minimal pesticides).


Protein in soy foods

Amount Protein (grams)

1/2 cup tofu 10

1/2 cup tempeh 15

1/2 cup edamame 8.5

1/2 cup soy beans 15

1 cup soy milk 7–8


Beans, peas, and lentils


Beans, peas, and lentils are staples in a plant-based diet and for good reason. They're chock-full of protein, fiber, minerals (like calcium, iron, and magnesium), vitamins (like B6 and folate), and phytonutrients. You can minimize the gastrointestinal side effects that sometimes come with beans by soaking dried beans in water for 24-48 hours before cooking them. (See our article on beans to learn how to cook beans starting with dried.) You can also rinse canned beans to decrease some of those gassy compounds.


Protein in beans, peas, and lentils

Amount (cooked) Protein (grams)

1 cup black beans 16

1 cup chickpeas 14.5

1 cup kidney beans 15

1 cup lima beans 11.5

1 cup mung beans 14

1 cup pinto beans 16

1 cup navy beans 15

1 cup peas 8

1 cup lentils 18

2 ounces legume pasta 12 (chickpea) – 21 (edamame)


Nuts and seeds


Nuts and seeds are packed with protein as well as healthy fats, which are critical for brain health, hormonal health, and absorbing certain nutrients. Nuts and seeds are also filled with fiber and phytonutrients that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Add them meals or snack on them daily.


Protein in nuts and seeds

Amount Protein (grams)

1/4 cup peanuts 9.5

1/4 cup almonds 7

1 ounce cashews 5

1/4 cup pistachios 6

1/4 cup walnuts 3

1/4 cup hazelnuts 5

1/4 cup pine nuts 4.5

2 Tbsps hemp seeds 6

2 Tbsps chia seeds 5

2 Tbsps flax meal 2

1 ounce pumpkin seeds 7

1 Tbsp sesame seeds 1.5

1 Tbsp black seeds 3


Whole grains


While most people think of carbohydrates when they think of grains, these nutrient-powered foods are also packed with protein. This is your green light to consume whole grains with each meal if possible. Consuming just 1/2 cup per meal can help to foster a healthy gut, which may lead to improved metabolism, decreased inflammation, and a boost in mood.


Protein in whole grains

Amount (cooked) Protein (grams)

1 cup amaranth 9

1 cup quinoa 8

1 cup buckwheat 6

1 cup oatmeal 6

1 cup brown or black rice 10

1 cup wild rice 7

1 cup millet 6

1 cup sorghum 7

1 cup teff 8.5

1 sliced Dave's Killer Bread 5

1 sliced Ezekiel bread 5

4 ounces whole wheat pasta 6


Vegetables

While veggies aren't the most protein-packed plant-based foods, they do indeed have protein and it all adds up at the end of the day. I've analyzed diets where vegetables have contributed to a significant amount of the protein in someone's diet. The point is that veggies deserve protein credit too!


Protein in vegetables

Amount Protein (grams)

1 cup Brussels sprouts 5.5

1 cup broccoli 4

1 ear corn 4.5

1 medium potato 4.5

1 cup asparagus 3


Other

photo credit: bon appetit

Other plant foods Protein (grams)

2 Tbsps nutritional yeast 8

1 Tbsp spirulina 4


So, are you convinced that you can easily get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet?


Want 5 delicious and easy-to-make plant-base sauces and dressings? Grab the free recipes here!




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