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With plant-based food options becoming more and more common, making the switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet has never been easier. Nutritionists, environmentalists, and even your fav law student Elle Woods (shoutout to all you fellow Gemini vegetarians) have been championing the many benefits of eating more veggies for years. But one area where being plant-positive can still be a challenge is when it comes to making sure you’re getting enough protein.
Proteins—and their amino acid building blocks–are an essential part of your diet, and not just when you’re trying to add some muscle at the gym. “We need adequate protein in our diets to support our body’s needs for building cells and tissues, supporting healthy bones, and maintaining a healthy immune system,” explains Sharon Palmer, RD, and author of California Vegan.
Generally, you should try to get one gram of protein per every kilogram of body weight (one kilogram converts to about two pounds), or roughly half your body weight in grams per day, and that’s whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or a good old-fashioned omnivore, says Gena Hamshaw, RD, and author of The Full Helping blog.
While she does believe that it’s a misconception that being plant-based means you struggle to get enough protein, Hamshaw says that it can be difficult to meet nutritional goals when you first make the switch to being a vegan or vegetarian. “What I sometimes see is people become vegan and they remove all the animal protein and they’re left with a diet that’s a lot of vegetables and maybe some grains and beans, but not necessarily enough to equal the amount of protein they were getting before, or what they really need to feel their best,” Hamshaw explains.
To hit your protein goals, your diet should include a variety of foods like grains, nuts, and vegetables, Palmer says, and every plate of food you eat should include at least one source of protein, Hamshaw suggests.
Luckily, there are plenty of tasty options out there. Here are the best plant-based foods with protein, whether you’re making a dietary switch or just looking to change up your typical meals.
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You probably recognize these little legumes from the bulk section at your grocery store, and that’s also where you’re likely to get them for the best deal. Next time you’re making soup or hankering for a good homemade veggie burger, lentils—whether you go with brown, green, or red–are a good place to start.
Per serving (1 cup): 230 cals, .8 g fat (.1 g saturated), 40 g carbs, 3.6 g sugar, 4 mg sodium, 16 g fiber, 18 g protein
There’s a good reason why you’ll see a number of soy-based options on this list. The bean itself offers all of the essential amino acids your body craves, packing a protein-punch akin to that in animal-based foods, Palmer says.
Tofu, a bean curd made from soy, has been a popular protein-rich alternative for decades. It does get its fair share of flak for being bland, but taking the time to marinate it or using a heavy hand when it comes to seasoning will help make it the star of any dish.
Per serving (100 g): 76 calories, 4.8 g fat (.7 g saturated), 1.9 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 7 mg sodium, .3 g fiber, 8 g protein
If you want to appreciate the humble soybean in its purest form, edamame is the way to go. All you need to do is boil or steam the pods with some salt, and you’ve got a healthy, protein-rich side dish or snack ready to go.
Per serving (1 cup): 224 calories, 7.75 g fat (2.11 g saturated), 13.8 g carbs, 3.38 g sugar, 205 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 18.4 g protein
It’s no doubt that plant-based meat companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have changed the game when it comes to making vegan options more mainstream. Made from soy, these products cook like their animal-based cousins.
For her plant-based clients, Hamshaw always makes sure that vegan meats are on their radars. “There are a lot of really creative and delicious options these days,” she says. “They really do deliver on protein.”
Per serving, Impossible Burger (4 oz): 224 calories, 14 g fat (8 g saturated), 9 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 370 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 19 g protein
Don’t let their small size fool you—peas pack a lot of nutrients. Not often thought of as a high-protein source, peas have some of the highest protein levels in the vegetable family, with almost eight grams per cup.
Per serving (1 cup): 117 calories, 0.58 g fat (0.1 g saturated), 20.9 g carbs, 8.22 g sugar, 7.25 mg sodium, 8.26 g fiber, 7.86 g protein
President Barack Obama was onto something with his highly reported habit of eating seven, lightly-salted almonds after working out. While the former Commander-in-Chief later set the record straight on Today that the staff person who reported on his snack habits to the New York Times was only joking, almonds do pack a good amount of protein whether you eat six, seven, or eight of them. You can get about 30 grams per every cup.
Per serving (1 cup, whole): 828 calories, 71.4 g fat (5.43 g saturated), 30.8 g carbs, 6.22 g sugar, 1.43 mg sodium, 17.9 g fiber, 30.3 g protein
Of the nut family, peanuts offer the most protein per serving, making them perfect for a snack or on top of salads, noodle dishes, or even oatmeal.
Per serving (1 cup): 828 calories, 49.3 g fat (9.17 g saturated), 23.5 g carbs, 6.89 g sugar, 26.3 mg sodium, 12.4 g fiber, 37.7 g protein
Chia seeds first became popular on the food scene with the much-hyped chia seed pudding, but there are plenty of other ways to add this superfood into your diet. Add them to your favorite homemade treats, create chia tea, or mix them with water for an egg alternative when baking.
Per serving (1 oz): 138 calories, 8.7 g fat (0.94 g saturated), 11.9 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 4.54 mg sodium, 9.75 g fiber, 4.68 g protein
Ok, so, it’s not the hemp that you made a necklace out of in middle school, but mixing in or sprinkling a tablespoon or two of hemp hearts into your meals will give you an extra boost of protein, fiber, and magnesium.
Per serving (3 tbsp): 166 calories, 14.6 g fat (1.38 g saturated), 2.6 g carbs, 0.45 g sugar, 1.5 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber, 9.48 g protein
From starring in Mediterranean dishes like hummus to adding a great source of protein to curries to sneaking their way into vegan brownies, is there anything chickpeas can’t do? Not only are they filled with protein, but chickpeas are also a great source of fiber.
Per serving (1 cup): 269 calories, 4.25 g fat (0.44 g saturated), 44.9 g carbs, 7.87 g sugar, 11.5 mg sodium, 12.5 g fiber, 14.5 g protein
While there is a whole world of milk alternatives out there that offer different nutritional benefits based on what your diet calls for, the OG, soy milk, is the one that offers the most amount of protein per cup. It’s also extremely versatile and can be easily subbed for dairy milk in recipes.
Per serving (1 cup): 105 calories, 6.34 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 12 g carbs, 8.91 g sugar, 115 mg sodium, 0.49 g fiber, 6.34 g protein
Meet tofu’s close cousin, tempeh. While also made from soybeans, tempeh preparation involves compressing the beans into a compressed brick whole, giving you a chewy texture and nutty flavor.
Per serving (1 cup): 319 calories, 17.9 g fat (4.22 g saturated), 12.7 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 14.9 mg sodium, 7 g fiber, 33.7 g protein
While you might have not heard of it before, seitan has been eaten for hundreds of years, Hamshaw says. But it’s just starting to get the love it really deserves. Made from wheat protein, seitan has a savory, nutty taste (but it will absorb the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with) and a stringy texture that’s almost, dare you say it, meat-like.
Per serving (2.5 oz): 90 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 4 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 340 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 17 g protein
Beans generally may not be the best option if you’re following a high-protein, low-carb diet, but if you’re looking for a base for some vegetarian chili or tacos, it’s hard to beat black beans. They’re a great source of protein, and studies have shown that they may also help lower cholesterol.
Per serving (1 cup, boiled with salt): 227 calories, 0.93 g fat (0.24 g saturated), 40.8 g carbs, 0.55 g sugar, 408 mg sodium, 15 g fiber, 15.2 g protein
Not only is this ancient grain packed with nutrients, but quinoa also offers all of the nine essential amino acids your body needs. Use it as a base for your fav bowl at lunch (and save yourself dropping $20 at that fancy salad place), or sub it in when recipes call for other grains, like white rice.
Per serving (1 cup cooked): 222 calories, 3.55 g fat (0.43 g saturated), 39.4 g carbs, 1.61 g sugar, 13 mg sodium, 5.18 g fiber, 8.14 g protein
Sunflower Seed Butter
All nut butters are a great choice for when you’re hunting for a high-protein vegan-friendly snack, but if you’re looking for something a little different from the world of spreads, try sunflower seed butter instead. No judgment if you spoon it straight from the jar.
Per serving (2 tbsp, with salt and no sugar added): 210 calories, 18 g fat (2 g saturated), 4 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 110 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 8 g protein
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