Oct. 10. 2014
Truth
McKel Hill

McKel Hill

MS, RDN, LDN, Dietitian

Learn about the top 10 sources of plant-based proteins and how to incorporate them into your diet.

Curious about plant-based proteins, how to use them, what they are, and why you should be eating them? Bookmark this page as it’s a comprehensive guide to the top 10 plant-based protein sources and how to use them daily. Regardless of what lifestyle you practice, we all can benefit from a diet rich in plants, fiber, minerals, phytonutrients, and all the health benefits that result from these foods.

1. Lentils

Lentils are a great source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Lentils are considered to be a starchy protein. Split green peas can be also added to the same category as lentils.

Nutrition Of Lentils:

  • 1 cup cooked lentils = 18g protein
  • 1 cup of green peas = 8g protein

How To Use Lentils:

2. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds not only contain protein but also contain heart-healthy fats, mainly omega-3 fatty acids. They have a delicious subtly sweet and nutty flavor and are so small in size that they can easily be used and added to any recipe to boost the protein content.

Hemp Seeds Nutrition:

  • 3 tablespoons hemp = about 10g protein

How To Use Hemp Seeds:

  • Sprinkle on top of salads (like the Kale Hemp Tabbouleh)
  • Stir or blend into soups or stews to slightly thicken
  • Add to smoothies for a creamy texture
  • Make Hemp Seed Milk
  • Make Hemp Seed Crumble
  • Add to hummus, dips, or dressings by blending in hemp seeds
  • Sprinkle on top of porridge, oatmeals, or other cereals
  • Add into baked goods and desserts for added protein
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of hemp seeds, click here.

3. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are an ancient seed that has been used for centuries for their amazing properties to absorb water and turn into a gel-like substance thanks to the soluble fiber content in the seeds. Because of this unique characteristic, chia seeds are great to add to meals and foods to thicken naturally while also boosting the fiber, protein, and healthy fats (mainly omega-3’s).

Chia Seed Nutrition:

2 tablespoons = 4g protein

How To Use Chia Seeds:

  • Sprinkle on top of porridges, oatmeal, and cold cereals for a crunch
  • Soak for at least 30 minutes in almond milk for a basic chia seed pudding.
  • Soak in water for a Chia Fresca/Bubble Water for a refreshing and hydrating beverage
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of chia seeds, click here.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa is a gluten-free grain (technically a seed) that is used as a carbohydrate. It’s considered a starchy protein because it contains carbohydrates as well as protein and fiber. Use it instead of rice for more diversity in your carbohydrate intake.

Quinoa Nutrition:

1/2 cup cooked quinoa = 7-9g protein

How To Use Quinoa:

  • Cook and top on raw or cooked greens
  • Use in a Nourish Bowl or One Bowl Skillet Meal
  • Use as a hot or cold cereal by adding homemade nut milk and fresh fruit
  • Use a bed of quinoa instead of a bed of rice for stir-fry dishes or as a side dish
  • Quinoa can also be used as a pilaf, such as the Citrus Quinoa Pilaf
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of chia seeds, click here.

5. SPIRULINA

Spirulina is incredibly protein rich and one of the few sources of plant-based protein that is mostly protein by dry weight (about 70%). It’s deep blue-green in color and will change anything you mix with it into that color green. It tastes subtly sweet and nutty (hints of vanilla and chocolate), but with a background seaweed flavor.

Spirulina Nutrition:

  • 2 tablespoons spirulina = 8g protein

How To Use Spirulina:

6. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a staple food in plant-based diets due to its cheesy flavor, versatility, high amounts of B vitamins, and protein content. Nutritional yeast contains no dairy or active yeast, and it’s found in a powder/flake form that creates a paste when mixed with liquid, i.e. it’s great for making dairy-free sauces, dressings, and more.

Nutritional Yeast Nutrition:

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast = about 12g protein

How To Use Nutritional Yeast:

  • Add flaked nutritional yeast to almond milk or water to create a cheesy dressing or sauce
  • Sprinkle on top of salads, quinoa, lentils, beans, and more for a cheesy flavor
  • Incorporate into dips such as hummus, Baba Ghanoush or Classic Cashew Cheese
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of nutritional yeast, click here.
  • RECIPES using nutritional yeast, click here.

7. Seeds

Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, chia, hemp, flax, and pumpkin seeds are all both protein and mineral rich. Seeds vary by type, and some are nuttier in flavor whereas others are more sweet and neutral tasting. Pumpkin seeds have an earthy flavor, sesame seeds are very nutty tasting, sunflower seeds are slightly sweet and nutty, and flax and chia seeds taste mildly nutty.

Nutrition Of Seeds:

1/4 cup seeds = around 7-9g protein

How To Use Seeds:

  • Sprinkle seeds on top of salads or any meal to increase the healthy fat and protein content
  • Use in granola, Nourishing Muesli, or other baked goods
  • Grind and use as a “flour” in gluten-free baking
  • Grind or pulse coarsely and use in desserts such as the Raw Peach Tart
  • Use in desserts, snacks, truffles, and raw bars for a nutrient dense boost
  • Make your own seed butter by blending
  • Sprinkle on top of oatmeal, porridges, or cold cereals for crunch and protein
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of seeds, click here.

8. Nuts

Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, brazil nuts, and more are not only rich in minerals, Vitamin E, and healthy fats but are also protein rich. Nuts vary from type, and some are more nutty in flavor whereas others are more sweet and neutral tasting. Cashews are one of my favorite nuts as they’re incredibly versatile to use in sweet and savory dishes. Brazil nuts are my close second favorite because they’re rich in selenium. Just eating 1 a day makes up 100% of your DV for selenium.

Nutrition Of Nuts:

 1/4 cup nuts = around 7-9g protein

How To Use Nuts:

  • Sprinkle nuts on top of salads or any meal to increase the healthy fat and protein content
  • Use in granola, Nourishing Muesli, or other baked goods
  • Grind and use as a “flour” in gluten-free baking
  • Grind or pulse coarsely and use in desserts such as the Raw Peach Tart
  • Use in desserts, snacks, truffles, and raw bars for a nutrient dense boost
  • Make your own nut butter by blending
  • Sprinkle on top of oatmeal, porridges, or cold cereals for crunch and protein
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of nuts, click here.

9. Beans

Beans are an amazing source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Beans are considered to be a starchy protein to be used similarly to lentils. Magnesium is another key player in beans, which is an important mineral in our body and plays a key role in 300 cellular functions in the body including muscle function, protein synthesis, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation. It’s also been shown to help decrease PMS, headaches (such as migraines), and can be used to help relax digestive muscles which can reduce constipation.

Nutrition Of Beans

  • 1 cup cooked beans = around 15g protein

How To Use Beans:

  • Cooked with your favorite spices and seasonings and eaten plain
  • Top on salads, Nourish Bowls, or One Bowl Skillet Meals
  • Combine with rice or quinoa for a hearty meal
  • Use to make vegetarian meatballs, loafs, or burgers
  • Use as a taco filling or meat sauce for spaghetti
  • For more information on the nutrition and health benefits of beans, click here.
  • RECIPES using beans, click here.

10. Organic Tempeh, Tofu, and Edamame

SSoy-containing foods such as tempeh, tofu, and edamame all offer a complete protein containing all amino acids. Often these sources also carry fiber and healthy fats as well as the protein. Tempeh is the most nutritious out of this bunch and is an exception to soy foods as it contains naturally occurring healthy bacteria from the fermentation process.

Nutrition of Tempeh:

1 serving of tempeh/tofu/edamame = around 20g protein

How To Use:

  • Use as you would beans or lentils. Tofu and tempeh both can be marinated.
  • Use tempeh and tofu as toppings to salads.
  • Add to stir-fry meals.
  • Add to sauces, for example, create a “meat” spaghetti sauce
  • Use as filling for tacos, burgers, or even shaped into “hot dogs”
  • Shopping tip: always purchase organic and sprouted tofu if available, non-GMO if available.

Have you tried any of all of these plant-based proteins? If so, what’s your favorite recipe? Share in the comment section below so we call can hear — maybe there’s a recipe we need to explore making!

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