Plant-Based Protein Options

Looking for ways to incorporate more protein into your plant based diet? Use these options to boost your intake while staying true to your diet.

Protein sources are integral to every meal as they help your body build muscle, repair cells and tissues, and keep you full throughout the day. That is why it is important to find ones that fit into your lifestyle. This list of plant-based protein options will help you find new foods to add to your meal plan.

What does “plant-based” mean?

The term "plant-based" is used to describe a wide variety of diets. Some plant-based eaters consume only fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, while others include whole grains and dairy products. These diets go by many names such as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and fruitarian. They all focus on fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.

Guide to Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based diets are growing in popularity, and with good reason. They are a healthy way to lose weight, lower cholesterol and fight heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It can reduce the risk of stroke, osteoporosis and kidney stones. And it is a great way to lower your carbon footprint because eating less meat reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for animal agriculture. Here are a few sources of plant-based protein you may already have in your kitchen:

Quinoa: Quinoa is technically a seed, but it is generally treated as a grain. It is complete with all the essential amino acids, so it makes for a delicious side dish or can be added to soups or stews. Quinoa also works well as the base for a vegetarian main dish.

Tofu: Tofu is not necessarily the most exciting food on the planet, but it is an excellent source of protein that can be added to stir-fry dishes or blended into smoothies. It provides 10 grams per serving and has no saturated fat or cholesterol. A little goes a long way. Try mixing it into pasta sauce or using it as a substitute for ground beef in tacos and chili.

Tempeh: Tempeh is a tasty, versatile food that offers a number of health benefits. It is made from soybeans, are rich in protein and fiber, and is particularly low in fat. Tempeh is comparable to tofu, but it contains a bit more protein and has a heartier texture.

Legumes: Beans and lentils are both excellent sources of plant-based protein. One cup of cooked pinto beans has 15 grams of protein; cooked black beans have 15 grams per cup too.

Edamame: These green soybeans are a great source of healthy fats and fiber. They taste great when steamed and served with sea salt.  Try them in a salad or stir fry.

Hemp Seeds: Hemp seeds are a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Sprinkle them on top of yogurt or add them to your morning smoothie.

Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are high in fiber as well as protein. They were recently added to "power bowls" across LA and they are easy to incorporate into your diet. Sprinkle them on yogurt, oatmeal or salads, or try them in Chia Pudding Parfaits.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds and walnuts all contain protein. Just one ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) contains six grams of protein. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds has 8 grams of protein, and a quarter cup of flaxseeds has roughly 5 grams.

Plant Based Protein Powder

Pea protein: Pea protein is made from yellow split peas and has a neutral flavor that works well in a variety of application, from smoothies and baked goods to sauces and dressings. It is gaining popularity because it is hypoallergenic, gluten-free and easy to digest.

Oat Milk Protein: Oat milk protein is a high-quality vegan protein that on its own can be used as a meal replacement. When mixed with water, the result is similar to regular milk but with a creamy texture. It is versatile and can be added to smoothies, cereals or even used in baking recipes. Oat milk protein may not be an ideal choice for those looking for a blend of different proteins. However, it is an affordable option for anyone who wants to avoid whey and soy.

Soy Protein Isolate:  Soy Protein Isolate is a highly-refined product that contains over 90% protein by weight. This makes it one of the most concentrated protein sources available to consumers. For this reason, many food manufacturers use Soy Protein Isolate in their products because it provides a high concentration of protein without adding fat or carbohydrates. Additionally, Soy Protein Isolate contains all of the essential amino acids and is considered to be high-quality protein.

Health Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

Plant proteins are great for people who want to avoid animal products or those with dietary restrictions. Many people choose to eat less red meat or forego it entirely because of the health risks that come along with it.

Plant proteins are also ideal for anyone who wants to increase their intake of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals that may otherwise be lacking in their diet. Grains and vegetables must be prepared properly before you eat them, so it is best to consult with a nutritionist about how to integrate them into your diet without sacrificing your health.

Drawbacks of Plant-Based Protein

If you are eating a completely vegetarian diet, it is really important to understand the balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Because plant-based protein is not as readily available as animal-based protein, you must be prepared to eat more often to meet your daily requirements. For example, one cup of black beans has 15g of protein. Three cups would give you 45g, which may or may not be enough for your daily needs depending on how active you are.

There are also potential drawbacks in terms of the amino acid content of plant-based foods. There is no doubt that some proteins are better than others for building muscle mass and maintaining it. For example, soy products tend to have a lower content of lysine and tryptophan which are important for building muscle mass. The amino acid methionine is low in all plant sources. Another problem with plant-based proteins is that they do not contain all essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be used as effectively by the body.