Many people are making an effort to eat more plant-based foods. Whether you want to prioritize plants for health, animal rights, or planetary reasons, it’s vital to make sure you plan for enough protein. Learn about the best protein-rich plant options and what powerful nutrients they provide.
It’s possible to get all of the protein you need during the day without eating animal foods. The key is to do it thoughtfully and by focusing on a variety of the best wholesome plant-based protein sources. Keep in mind that all of this depends on your personal preferences, protein needs, and allergies or intolerances.
Tofu is known as the classic vegetarian health food. It’s made from edamame or soybean. Unlike all plant-based protein sources, it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need. It also contains iron and calcium which can be a bit tricky to find in plant-based protein options. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout our bodies and calcium helps with bone strength.
Some concern exists around genetically modified organisms in products like soy. Since the research is not conclusive, it may be best to aim for organic whenever possible (1). More importantly, vary your food intake, and avoid eating excessive amounts of any type of food.
Beans are not only good sources of plant-based protein, but they are also good for our heart health. They are high in fiber which helps improve cholesterol levels and supports good gut health.
Beans are also rich in folate which is important for making healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen and play a major role in healthy pregnancies. Beans are high in protein but don’t contain all of the essential amino acids, so it's best to eat them along with a combination of other plant-based protein foods, such as nuts or whole grains.
Lentils are both high in plant-based protein and fiber which also help protect against heart disease and can lower cholesterol levels (2). There are different colors of lentils that contain different types of antioxidants. These keep our cells healthy and help slow the aging process (3).
Eating too many lentils or beans, especially if you’re not used to having higher levels of fiber, may cause gas and bloating. So, go slow and drink plenty of water when you add these to your diet. They aren’t considered to be complete proteins because they are low in the amino acid methionine, so it's best to combine lentils with other protein sources throughout the day.
Tempeh is made from partially cooked, whole, and fermented soybeans, or a combination of other legumes. It's high in protein and prebiotics which help promote better gut health. It’s also a good source of calcium which is needed for strong bones and electrolyte regulation (4). If you’re allergic to soy or have a sensitivity to wheat, such as with the condition celiacs, make sure to check the ingredient list to find the kinds without added wheat.
Seitan is high in plant-based protein which does not contain all of the essential amino acids. It’s made from gluten, the main protein in wheat, so it's not a good option if you’re trying to avoid wheat. But it does not contain soy so it could be a good option if you’re sensitive or allergic to soy.
Quinoa is technically classified as a seed. It’s an excellent source of plant-based protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. It's gluten-free as well, making it a good option if you have an allergy or sensitivity to wheat. It’s also high in fiber and nutrients such as magnesium, iron, and vitamin E which can help with energy and healthy skin.
Check out this delicious Lifesum recipe: Quinoa stuffed green peppers
Oats contain a high amount of protein. They also contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which is known to help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar stable, leading to consistent energy and fewer cravings (5). Since oats may be cross-contaminated with other grains, you may want to avoid them if you have a severe gluten intolerance.
Nuts and seeds contain protein but not all the amino acids so a good addition to a balanced plant-based protein diet. They also contain healthy unsaturated fats that can help your heart and brain health. However, since nuts are higher in calories, watch for portion sizes; about a handful makes for a good estimate. Aim for the types without salt or added oil.
Why is it important to include these plant-based proteins in your diet? Protein is the building block of life. We need it to repair cells and make new ones. It’s also essential for growth and muscle building and structure. Protein is important for our weight, body composition, immunity, and recovery from injury.
As we’ve hinted at while featuring each plant-based protein source, those protein building blocks, called amino acids, come in varying amounts. There are nonessential ones that our bodies make on their own. The essential ones we get from food. Some concern exists around whether enough protein and amino acids can be obtained from plant-based proteins. But there is no need to worry as long as you focus on a wide variety of plant-based protein foods (6).
Not sure if you’re getting enough? Download Lifesum to find out how.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.