Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle often leaves people wondering how they’ll get enough protein. Here’s a guide to plant-based living and some of the most popular (and best) sources of plant-based protein, and how you can incorporate them into a plant-based diet.
“Will I get a enough protein with a plant-based lifestyle?”
A common concern among many meat eaters who are thinking about transitioning to more of a plant-based lifestyle is if they will get enough protein in their diet. Even if you have already adopted plant-based lifestyle, it’s important to focus on getting this key nutrient in your diet to give your body the fuel it needs to stay strong, healthy and energized.
Traditionally, we think of meats and dairy products as the go-to sources for protein, but did you know that there are many plant-based foods that contain adequate amounts of this muscle-building nutrient?
Plant-Based Foods that Contain Protein
There are many whole grains that have earned their spot on the superfoods list due to their impressive protein content and many of them also happen to be gluten-free. I love to incorporate whole grains into salads, breakfast porridge, as a base for power bowls or even in homemade granola!
Although quinoa is probably the most popular gluten-free, high protein grain, there are a variety of others that range between 8-10 grams of protein per serving including: spelt, kamut, teff, amaranth and farro.
Want to learn more about whole grains and how to incorporate them into your diet? Check out this post on the 6 Superfood Grains you Should be Eating (plus recipes!).
Beans, Nuts and Seeds
There is a shelf in my pantry devoted to these superfood gems and I often store them in Mason jars for organization and to ensure freshness.
First, let’s talk about the beans (legumes). One serving of your traditional variety of beans provides 39 grams of protein – that’s the same amount as a serving of chicken. Legumes also pack in a healthy dose of fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Get the recipe for these Bean Meatballs & Zoodles with an Avocado Pesto Sauce for a delicious Meatless Monday meal.
Next up, the nuts. A 1 oz. portion of your favorite kind of nut ranges anywhere from 4-7 grams of protein. They are also a good source of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and with so many varieties, it’s easy to incorporate nuts into your day. I love to throw some walnuts into my morning smoothie, sprinkle almonds on a salad, or when I’m in crunch, a spoon and a jar of nut butter gets me by every time (or my no sugar added homemade granola clusters have become a staple these days, too).
Lentils. Did you know that a cup of lentils provides 18 grams of protein? Similar to beans, lentils are packed with fiber and are hearty in texture, making them a great substitute for meat in burgers or meatloaves, or added to soups for a little extra substance.
Now for the newest food item on the block (at least in my kitchen): hemp hearts. One serving (3 Tablespoons) of hemp hearts give you a whopping 10 grams of protein. Hemp hearts are commonly used to make alternative milks, can be added to your smoothie (like this very berry cherry smoothie) to give it a little boost, or sprinkled on a salad.
Chia seeds are up next. A 1 oz. portion of chia seeds provides nearly 5 grams of protein! Chia seeds have the ability to absorb up to 8 times their weight in liquid, creating a gel-like coating around the seed. They are great to use in overnight oats (my favorite are these Almond Joy overnight oats), to create pudding, or added to smoothies.
I can’t talk about plant-based foods without naming a few superfoods, now can I? I’ve got two standout contenders that make sure you get a big bang for your buck in the plant-based protein department.
Spirulina, aka “miracle of the sea.” A blue-green algae, spirulina provides 4 grams of protein in just one Tablespoon. Add it to your green smoothies to give it a deep emerald hue, but be careful. A little bit goes a long way and you don’t want your drink to end up tasting like a murky pond!
A favorite among vegans for it’s cheesy taste, nutritional yeast is a versatile ingredient to have in your pantry. And don’t be fooled by it’s “fish food” appearance! Nutritional yeast provides an impressive 6 grams of protein in two Tablespoons and can be sprinkled on roasted veggies, used to make a dipping sauce or dressing (like in this kale chips and cheesy cashew sauce recipe) or added to homemade hummus.
How to incorporate protein into your plant-based diet
Let’s say you made a green smoothie on your way out the door and included spirulina and hemp hearts. That’s 14 grams of protein. For lunch, you have a salad sprinkled with some quinoa and walnuts to give you 12 grams of protein. For dinner, you have a steaming bowl of vegetarian chili. Depending on how many beans you add, that will probably provide a minimum of 39 grams of protein. So, the total protein consumed for the day would equal 65 grams of protein. The average recommended amount of protein for an adult ranges from 40-60 grams/day.
Now who wants to challenge me and say that you can’t get enough protein following a plant-based lifestyle?
As you’ve seen in this post, it’s possible and there’s even many famous athletes out there to prove it, including Mike Tyson, Venus Williams and Tony Gonzalez!
While I don’t believe you need to become a vegetarian or vegan to reap the health benefits of plant-based foods, I do believe that fueling your body with whole, nutrient-dense foods with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, plant-based protein and whole grains is key for optimal health. That said, it’s important to listen to your body and find what works best for you and your lifestyle.