10 Best Plant-Based Proteins

Plant Proteins

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Whether you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet or simply want to cut some meat out of your weekly meal planning, plant proteins are the answer to keeping a balanced diet. These foods include pulses, soy, nuts, legumes, and quinoa.

Not only do some plant proteins rival meat, but some have more protein per calorie. For example, broccoli trumps steak in the protein per calorie category and chicken and fish are about equal to spinach. Of course there are less calories in plants, so you would need to eat a lot more leafy greens than fried chicken for the protein to equal out. That said, plant-based eating is a healthier choice overall, and you can get a sufficient amount of protein without a bit of meat thanks to these protein-packed foods.

  • 01 of 10

    Spirulina

    spirulina

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    Spirulina is an ingredient that's most often associated with health food. The blue or green algae is a plant protein rich in iron, vitamin B6, and manganese. Two tablespoons of the stuff contain around eight grams of protein, or about 64 grams per cup. Not that eating a cup of spirulina is a good idea—it's often sold as a powder that's added to smoothies, protein shakes, juice, or taken as a supplement. So while it's a plant-based food with a lot of protein, it's not one that people eat in the same quantity that they do soy products or nuts. 

  • 02 of 10

    Peanuts

    peanuts

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    Peanut butter is one of the easiest vegetarian foods to find and consume and it's packed with plant protein. In fact, one cup of peanuts contains a whopping 38 grams of protein, making it a top plant for containing this energy-giving nutrient. Though the name has the word "nut" in it, peanuts are actually a legume. While it's high in protein it's also high in fat, something to keep in mind when working the whole food, peanut oil, or peanut butter into a meal. Savory recipes using peanuts include curried ginger and peanut shrimp, fried plantain with spicy peanut sauce, and the Buddha bowl, which is also packed with vegetables, fresh herbs, and tofu. On the sweet side, peanuts can be found in peanut butter crunch bars, peanut squares, and super simple peanut butter cookies.

  • 03 of 10

    Almonds

    Almonds

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    Nuts in general are a great source of protein, and almonds have the most protein compared to walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and cashews. A cup of almonds contains around 30 grams of protein, and as a bonus this nut also has a lot of vitamin E. The easiest way to eat almonds is by the handful, but they can also go into a lot of foods. For example, almond milk is a good source of plant protein and can replace dairy in coffee, smoothies, and bowls of cereal. Crush the nut to make almond butter or use in granola. Or try out almond flour to make pizza crust, slivered almonds to enhance pastry and ground into a paste to stuff dates.

  • 04 of 10

    Sunflower Seeds

    Sunflower Seeds

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    Seeds are an easy food to add to a meal, and sunflower seeds contain around 29 grams of protein per cup. This is why sun butter, a spread made of mashed sunflower seeds and salt, often replaces nut butters for those who have allergies. It has a good amount of plant protein while also being an easy-to-use food that travels and stores well. The whole, shelled seeds are great on their own too. Sprinkle a handful of seeds over a salad, on top of granola, onto roasted carrots, or that slice of peanut butter toast in the morning. They're great mixed into an herby pesto, used to add crunch to a broccoli side dish, and more.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Soybeans

    Soy

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    Basic soy proteins include tofu, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein, and edamame. The first two are processed foods made from soybeans that are often used as a meat substitute and/or main protein source in a vegan or vegetarian dish. Soybeans are a complete protein, meaning they offer eaters all nine of the essential amino acids that our bodies need. The amount of protein in each of these soy-based foods does differ, and in general firm tofu packs about 20 grams per cup, tempeh has 30 grams per cup, and whole edamame beans contain around 16 grams per cup. 

    Because there are so many options when it comes to soy proteins, there are many dishes to choose from. For tofu try vegan tofu manicotti, tofu satay in coconut sauce, and simple scrambled tofu with cheese. Tempeh, which is firmer and has more of a grainy texture, is good for vegan tempeh chili, tempeh tacos, and vegan breakfast hash. The other main way to eat soy protein is through edamame, or whole soybeans, which is often served at Japanese restaurants. Whole, shelled soybeans are also good in pasta, rice, or tabbouleh.

  • 06 of 10

    Chickpeas

    chickpea

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    Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a pulse that pack a lot of protein, around 14 grams per cup. Though the first thing many people think of when they contemplate using chickpeas is making hummus, chickpeas are actually quite versatile. For starters, chickpeas can be made into a high-protein, gluten-free flour that can be used to make pancakes or flatbread. Whole chickpeas taste great in a spiced tagine, curry, and mixed into a vegan salad. Grind up this protein and turn it into falafel, fritters, or an array of flavored hummus. Or, roast or fry chickpeas whole for a flavorful bar snack.

  • 07 of 10

    Lentils

    lentils

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    A cup of cooked lentils contains about nine grams of protein per cup. Overall they are easy to cook, easy to find, and easy to store. Plus, there's so much one can do with this versatile legume. Mix any type of lentils into a hearty barley stew or split pea soup on a cold night. Turn them into vegan meatballs or meat-free sloppy Joes. Lentils are also great for adding protein to a salad, giving a fulfilling chew to an appetizer, and mixing into a spicy Indian-style curry

  • 08 of 10

    Quinoa

    Quinoa

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    Quinoa is considered a whole grain but is actually a seed. It's another complete protein and has about eight grams of protein per cup plus a good dose of fiber, iron, and magnesium. This superfood can show up on the plate as the base of a dish much like how rice, pasta, or salad are used, but has also been transformed into muffins, casseroles, and bread. Quinoa is a gluten-free food that can round out a meal or be the star. Try it for breakfast mixed with chocolate soy milk, lunch combined with roasted feta cheese, tomatoes, and zucchini, and for dinner mixed into gluten-free turkey meatballs

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Potatoes

    Russet potato

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    Researchers have recently found that potatoes have a good amount of protein that can help maintain muscle, especially in women. Not all potatoes are made equally though—the russet potato beats out its red and gold cousins when it comes to protein, and at four and a half grams per cup, they contain almost twice as much of the stuff as the others. The best part about using potatoes as a plant protein is there are so many ways to cook them. Make a delightful potato leek soup, deep fry for a game day snack, and shred and press potatoes to make vegan latkes. The possibilities go on and on.

  • 10 of 10

    Kale

    Kale

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    A cup of cooked kale has around three grams of protein in it, just slightly higher than other dark leafy greens such as spinach and collards. One nice thing about this plant protein is it also includes a good dose of potassium, calcium, copper, manganese and vitamins A, K, B6, and C. And it works well in so many foods. Shred raw kale like an herb and add it as a nutrient boost into a bowl of chili, meatballs, or a casserole. Toss raw kale with almost anything and make a hearty salad. Give a soup a boost of protein with some kale or make a pesto with the green that can be stirred into eggs, pasta, or spread on bread for a sandwich. 

Article Sources
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  1. McMaster University, Potato power: Spuds serve high quality protein that’s good for women’s muscle. ScienceDaily.