16 Best Sources of Plant-based Protein

Plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular among the general public.

When a person says “I’m vegetarian” or “I’m vegan,” one of the first questions they will often get is: “Do you get much protein intake?”

Although eating enough protein is simple when consuming an omnivorous diet, it can be tricky when eating a plant-based diet.

But it is possible!

There are tons of high-quality plant-based protein foods out there. Here are 16 of them.

1) Quinoa

Quinoa is a pseudocereal grain. It is rich in macronutrients and micronutrients alike. This includes various vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is a plant from the Chenopodiaceae family. It is originally from the Andes. However, the quinoa plant is adaptable to different types of soils and various climatic conditions. Quinoa is often consumed as a whole grain. It is also milled to produce high-value flour. There are red, white, and black quinoa seeds.

Quinoa is a high-quality protein. It has a wide spectrum of amino acids. Quinoa is especially rich in the amino acid lysine. But quinoa isn’t just high in protein. It also contains lipids and fibers. Since quinoa is free of gluten, it is a good option for patients with Celiac disease or those who want to avoid gluten for other reasons.

Quinoa is what we call a superfood. This is because of its significant health benefit potential. It also has antioxidant activity. Quinoa can help to increase microbial activity in the large intestine. It can also reduce total cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol) levels.

2) Lentils

Lentils are a grain legume. People eat lentils all over the world and consider them a staple source of dietary protein. Lentils can be a useful ingredient alternative to animal and soy protein. For example, instead of using beef in your pasta sauce, you can make lentil bolognese. Lentils provide dietary amino acids. They also contain bioactive peptides, which confer many health benefits.

3) Chickpeas

Chickpeas are an excellent source of proteins, as well as carbohydrates, and various minerals. Chickpeas can be protective against colon cancer. Chickpeas are a valuable source of the ever-important amino acid lysine. The digestibility of lysine, as well as the amino acid proline, is higher in chickpea than in yellow peas.

Chickpeas can be eaten whole and can be included in meat alternatives such as plant-based sausages. Chickpeas provide important Physico-chemical, textural, and sensory properties crucial in the palatability of meat alternatives.

4) Chia seeds

Chia seeds are a plant-based source of protein. Their proteins have biological and functional properties that provide nutritional benefits. This is because of the well-balanced amino acid content in chia seeds. Their peptides have potential beneficial health effects.

Chia seeds contain protein fractions called albumin, globulin, glutelin, and prolamin. Research shows that these protein fractions help against inflammation and atherosclerosis. They reduce inflammation markers such as reactive oxygen species, prostaglandins, TNF-alpha, MCP-1, interleukin-6, and interleukin-10.

Chia seeds also help to reduce the accumulation of fats or lipids in the body. Overall, chia seed proteins reduce the expression and secretion of markers related to inflammation and heart disease.

Chia seed proteins can help to block angiotensin-converting enzyme by interacting with its catalytic site. Chia seeds can be an inexpensive source of protein and bioactive peptides that also help lower blood pressure. Pepsin is the name of the peptide in chia seeds that has the most potential to help lower blood pressure. According to research, chia seeds can also help decrease depression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

5) Peanuts

The formal name for the peanut plant is Arachis hypogaea. Peanuts are one of the most widely consumed legumes in the world. In fact, the worldwide annual protein harvest has reached almost 4.5 million tons! This is because they boast a great nutrition profile, are affordable, and taste great.

Peanuts are full of protein and energy. They are often used to address nutritional needs in developing countries. In recent years, cereal and legume-based foods tend to use peanuts as protein. This is to alleviate protein deficiency and malnutrition. Peanuts can play a role in a heart-healthy diet.

Current studies show the value of the phytonutrient profile of peanuts. They contain compounds that can enhance overall health and wellness, such as resveratrol, isoflavonoids, phenolic acids, and phytosterols.

Peanuts can be eaten in whole form, peanut butter, flour, protein isolates, and meal mixed into products. Peanut protein is desirable because of its sensory quality. Peanut also has a digestibility level that is comparable with that of animal protein.

6) Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa L. plant. Hemp seeds tend to be less allergenic than those from other edible seeds on the market. Hemp seeds contain precursors to sequences with potential bioactive peptides. Hemp seeds are known for their nutrients and fiber content.

Research shows that hemp seeds help to down-regulate inflammatory markers such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 beta, and interleukin-6. Studies suggest that hemp seeds can improve inflammatory states, particularly in the brain and nerves.

Hemp protein can be used in functional foods. They can also be used as nutraceuticals against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The digestibility of hemp seed protein is equal to or potentially higher than other grains, nuts, and pulses.

7) Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable. Fresh organic kale has moderate concentrations of protein. Kale contains approximately between 1.3 to 6.0 grams of protein per 100 grams of kale. Add some kale to your grain bowl for some extra protein!

8) Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread is made from organic sprouted whole grains and legumes. Ezekiel bread is typically made from things like wheat, millet, spelt, soy, barley, and lentils.

Ezekiel bread contains more protein than a typical loaf of bread. This is because sprouting legumes and grains increases their nutrient content. Two slices of Ezekiel bread contain eight grams of protein. Studies show that sprouting grains and legumes increases their content of amino acids.

In many plants, lysine is the limiting amino acid. Sprouting can actually increase the lysine content. This can therefore help to boost the overall quality of the protein. Sprouting grains can also reduce gluten content. This can enhance the digestibility of these proteins in people who are allergic to or sensitive to gluten. Sprouting grains and legumes can also enhance the bread’s content of the following nutrients:

  • Soluble fiber

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin E

  • Beta-carotene

  • Folate

9) Seitan

Seitan is a wheat-based source of protein. Its digestibility in the small intestine is 97%, which is excellent. Food production companies often use seitan to make plant-based burgers.

10) Spirulina

Spirulina is a species of filamentous cyanobacteria. Spirulina is used in agriculture, the food industry, pharmaceuticals, perfumery, and medicine. Spirulina has a high protein content. In fact, spirulina is one of the richest protein sources of microbial origin. It has protein levels similar to meat and soybeans (tofu). 

11) Oats

Oats, also called Avena sativa, are a rich source of protein. They are cultivated worldwide. They form an important dietary staple for people in many different countries. There are several varieties of oats available. Not only do oats contain protein, but they also contain minerals, lipids, beta-glucan, and other phytoconstituents. Oat milk can also be a good substitute for almond milk or soy milk for those with sensitivities or allergies. It’s also lower in calories.

12) Wild rice

Wild rice is also known as Oryza rufipogon. It is actually the ancestor of cultivated rice, which is Oryza sativa. Rice is a plant-based source of protein. It is the staple diet of more than half of the world’s population!

13) Black beans

Black beans are a legume. They are widely consumed in Latin America. There is evidence to show that the consumption of black beans is beneficial due to the type of protein they provide. Black beans also contain resistant starches and polyphenols, both of which can also have health benefits.

One research study looked at rats on a high bean diet for 10 weeks. This reduced the rats’ weight gain and body fat, despite the high-fat diet they were consuming. The rats also had lower glucose and insulin concentrations. They had lower expression of lipogenic genes in the liver, meaning that it helped with fatty liver disease. Researchers concluded that adding black beans to the diet of subjects with insulin resistance can improve their metabolic status.

Black beans have protein content in the range of 85.2 percent to 88.2 percent. They also have a good balance of amino acids. They have high lysine content, which is always important in plant-based protein sources! Black beans also help to enhance the absorption and bioavailability of calcium.

Black beans provide immunomodulatory effects in the colon. These help to improve gut health and decrease inflammation in colitis. Black beans also reduce the uptake of glucose. Black beans are antifibrotic in liver injury. They can be used in chronic or degenerative states that involve inflammation and oxidation.

Black bean protein is affordable and functional, with significant biological potential.

14) Hummus

People make hummus using chickpea puree, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Hummus has a protein content of 19%. Hummus is also a good source of iron. It is low in sugar and highly nutritive. Research shows that eating hummus can reduce subsequent snacking on desserts by 20 percent.

Hummus can also reduce appetite (hunger, desire to eat, and prospective food consumption) by 70 percent. Research also shows that satiety is 30% higher after having hummus as compared to having no snack. Hummus is also able to reduce blood glucose concentrations by 5%.

15) Peas

Peas are probably one of the most important legume crops in the entire world. Green peas are often used as a functional food in the global food industry. There are four major classes of pea protein: globulin, albumin, prolamin, and glutelin. The major storage proteins are globulin and albumin. Albumin is a metabolic and enzymatic protein.

Pea protein has a well-balanced amino acid profile. There is a high amount of lysine in pea protein. Pea protein is widely available and has a low cost. It also has high nutritional value and various health benefits. This is why it is often a substitute for soy or animal protein in functional foods and vegan protein powders.

One study compared supplementation with pea protein against whey protein and placebo. Researchers looked at biceps muscle thickness and strength after a 12-week resistance training program. The subjects were 161 males between the ages of 18 and 35.

Pea protein promoted a greater increase in muscle thickness compared to placebo. This was especially true of men starting or returning to muscle strengthening type exercise. Pea protein also increased muscle strength. Pea protein can also enhance the availability of vitamin D. It can be useful in improving vitamin D status in the older population as well.

Pea protein can be a great alternative to whey-based dietary products. It makes a great plant protein powder.

16) Farro

Farro is an excellent plant based food. One quarter cooked cup of whole-grain emmer farro contains six grams of protein. This is higher than brown rice and whole-grain wheat. Farro’s protein content is similar to that of quinoa. If you compare farro to other plant-based foods, such as legumes, farro offers a more complete protein source. This is because farro provides enough essential amino acids. These are crucial for human health.

Plant vs. animal protein

The amino acid profile between plant proteins and animal proteins is different. Amino acids are what the body breaks proteins down into after you eat them. Our bodies use proteins and amino acids in almost every single metabolic process there is.

Different protein sources can have major differences in the types of amino acids they contain. In general, animal protein seems to have a good balance of the amino acids that we need. Some plant proteins are low in certain amino acids. For example, many plant proteins are low in lysine, methionine, tryptophan, and isoleucine.

Benefits and risks of a vegetarian or vegan diet

In general, animal proteins are complete, and plant proteins are usually not. There are also some other nutrients that are higher in animal sources compared to plant sources. These include the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin B12: It is difficult to get sufficient vitamin B12 from plant sources. This is because vitamin B12 is mostly in fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products. However, you can obtain B12 from nutritional yeast.

  • Vitamin D: It is hard to get enough vitamin D from plant sources. This is because it is in oily fish, eggs, and dairy products. Although vitamin D is in some plants, this type is not used as well by the body.

  • Heme iron: Heme iron is a type of iron that is only in animal sources. Heme iron is mostly in meat, especially red meat. Plant foods provide non-heme iron. The body poorly absorbs this type of iron, so if we are only getting non-heme iron in our diet, then we can become iron deficient.

  • Zinc: Zinc is mostly in animal protein sources, like beef, pork, and lamb. Although some plant protein sources do contain zinc, the type from animals is much more easily absorbed and used but the body. One vegan source of zinc is pumpkin seeds.

  • DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid): This is an essential omega-3 fatty acid (healthy fat). It is mostly in fatty fish. This nutrient is crucial for brain health. It is difficult to find plant sources of DHA. One potential source is sunflower seeds.

It is important to remember that there are also many nutrients in plant sources of protein that are not present in animal foods as well! Besides, you can discover new foods. Have you tried tempeh yet? How about pea protein powder?

Certain types of meat may cause disease. Meat has been linked to the following health conditions:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Heart failure

  • Diabetes

  • Early death

Diets that are high in plant protein are associated with several benefits, including the following:

However, animal protein does have its benefits as well.

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As always, it’s best to speak to your health care provider before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle. As you can see, a plant-based diet has several potential benefits to your health. It does come with some risks too, so this is why we stress the importance of talking to the health care provider to make sure that all your nutritional needs are being met while on a plant-based diet.

There is a difference between plant and animal protein, but many high-quality plant-based protein sources exist out there. Although you may worry about where you are going to get your protein from on a plant-based diet, you can see there are tons of options just waiting for you!


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