Picture of beans

by Tandis Bishop, RDN, LD, CDE

Plant-proteins have received a lot of attention over the past few decades for their benefits to health and disease prevention. Unlike animal proteins, plant sources of protein are packed with disease-fighting nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and are naturally low in fat. And they contain zero cholesterol!

“But where do you get your protein?” is probably the most common question those living a plant-based lifestyle get. Here is a list of plant-proteins to help answer that question. Include these protein-rich foods into your daily routine for optimal health.

1. Lentils

Benefits: Lentils contain a perfect combo of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. They are considered a starchy protein and help maintain healthy blood sugars and reduce cholesterol. They’re also very low in fat which helps promote a healthy weight.

Nutrition: 1 cup cooked lentils = 18g protein, 16g fiber, 1g fat. 

How to use: There are many types of lentils such as brown, green, and red or pink. Try them all. Lentils cook in less than 30 minutes.

2. Green Peas and Dried Peas

Benefits: Like lentils, peas are also a starchy protein. They’re rich in protein but also healthy carbohydrates and packed with fiber. Enjoy them fresh, frozen, or dried (split-peas).

Fun fact: Peas are rich in leucine, a branched chain amino acid coveted by athletes for its muscle building properties.

Nutrition: 1 cup cooked split peas = 16g protein, 16g fiber and 1 cup green peas (not dried) = 9g protein, 9g fiber.

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3. Quinoa

Benefits: Quinoa is rich bundle of whole food carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It’s eaten like a grain/starch but is technically a seed, which is why it’s much higher in protein than grains. It’s gluten-free and has a somewhat nutty taste.

Nutrition: 1 cup cooked = 8-9g protein, 5g fiber, 4g fat.

How to use: Often eaten like a grain, can be cooked in a rice cooker or stovetop. Make sure to rinse it first. 

  • Use in place of rice
  • Toss into salads, you can make many variations of quinoa salad
  • A nutritious part of any power bowl (a combo of veggies, protein, starch, and healthy fats)
  • Great for making pilafs
  • Great for making breakfast cakes and veggie patties

4. Beans

Beans include black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, adzuki, lima, black-eyed, navy, fava, butter, etc.

Benefits: Beans are another starchy protein with the perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. They promote a healthy weight, are super heart-healthy and help balance blood sugar. With a variety of beans to choose from, you can enjoy them cooked in many different dishes and spices. My favorites are garbanzo beans (chick peas) and white cannellini beans.

Nutrition: 1 cup cooked beans = about 15g protein, 15g fiber, 1g fat

How to use:

  • Cook with your favorite spices or vegetable broth, or use canned beans (choose low-sodium, organic)
  • Make into burrito wraps or bowls
  • Add to stews and soups for a hearty meal
  • Toss into salads
  • Mix into pilafs and noodle dishes
  • Great for making veggie burgers and vegetarian meatballs

5. Hemp Seeds

Benefits: Hemp seeds are packed with protein but also contain a great balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. They are small and soft with a mild, nutty flavor.

Fun Fact: Hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid proven to help reduce inflammation and help wound healing, in addition to reducing risk for heart disease.

Nutrition: 2 Tablespoons = 9g protein

How to use: Very versatile and easy to use, store in the refrigerator to keep the healthy fats fresh.

6. Whole food Soy

Benefits: Whole food, minimally processed soy products such as tempeh, tofu and edamame have a protein profile almost identical to animal protein; it is complete in all amino acids, making it an excellent protein source. Soy is extremely versatile and easy to cook with. But it doesn’t stop there, soy is also rich in phytonutrients, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, thus is most nutritious, easily digested and absorbed, and rich in probiotics. Choose organic and non-GMO if available.

Nutrition: 1/2 cup = about 15g protein, 5g fiber

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7. Nuts

Benefits: Nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, brazil, pecans, and macadamias are rich in protein along with a host of vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, copper, and manganese. They are low in carbohydrates and high in heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. Nuts are calorie dense so enjoy them in moderation (about a 1/4 cup a day) if looking to lose weight or maintain weight.

Fun facts: Almonds are great for weight management and muscle mass as they are high in protein and lower in fat than other nuts. And just one brazil nut provides more than 100% of the recommended intake for Selenium.

Nutrition: 1/4 cup nuts = about 6-7g protein

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8. Chia Seeds

Benefits: These tiny seeds are not only rich in protein, but loaded with fiber. They are also a great source of Omega 3 fats.

Fun Fact: Chia seeds are high in health-promoting antioxidants that also help prevent their sensitive essential fats from going rancid.

Nutrition: 2 Tablespoons = 4-5g protein, 11g fiber, 5g Omega 3

How to use: Chia seeds form a gel when mixed with water, making it great for puddings and desserts.

9. Other Seeds

Benefits: Like hemp and chia, seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and sesame are rich in protein as well as healthy fats. Sesame seeds and sesame seed butter (tahini) are my favorites! I love toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over savory dishes and tahini in sauces and dressings.

Nutrition: 2 Tablespoons = about 7-9g protein

How to use:

  • Add to oatmeal, cereal, granola
  • Throw over salads and use to make dressing and spreads
  • Sprinkle over stir-fries and savory dishes
  • Add extra protein and healthy fats to your desserts and bars

10. Nutritional Yeast

Benefits: Used by many plant-based enthusiasts for its versatility and savory, cheesy flavor. Nutritional yeast is rich in protein, high in B-complex vitamins and zinc. Different from baker’s yeast, it contains no active yeast. It’s vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, and comes in flakes or powder form.

Nutrition: 2 Tablespoons = 9g protein

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Bonus option: Greens (Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Asparagus, Micro-greens, Sprouts)

Benefits: Loaded with fiber, potassium, folate, iron, vitamin C, and antioxidants. But these green veggies are also a healthy source of protein, making them a great nutrient dense addition to any meal.

Nutrition: 1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw = about 5g protein

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