I get so many questions of how on earth as a non-meat water I get enough protein?? There are so many options and so many benefits to eating more plant-based sources of protein. It’s good for your overall wellness. It’s good for the environment. It tends to even be better for your finances. And, of course, many plant-based proteins are very shelf-stable, meaning they’ll last a while in your kitchen too. See win-win-win-win!
And before you get all concerned, I’m not suggesting you go vegetarian or be 100% plant based, don’t worry. Although if you do the research and decide to make the switch or just partially due to the environmental or ethical benefits, then great! I personally am vegetarian for those basic environmental and ethical facts, but more so because it flat out makes me feel better to not eat meat and eat more plant based options. Ultimately, finding a middle ground that focuses on all foods is something that will most likely work out for most people in the long run.
And, even if you’re someone who’s not ready to give up animal protein, here’s the good news: eating plant-based sources of protein even just a few times a week can have immense benefits on your health and the environment
Benefits of Eating More Plant-Based Protein
Veggies are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – they’re one of the healthiest foods we can eat. Additionally, swapping animal-based protein for plant-based protein occasionally also means reducing saturated fat intake – which is often found in red meat and chicken skin, and with that switch you’ll increase fiber intake – which is found in many sources of plant-based protein.
Decreasing saturated fat intake and increasing fiber intake has proven beneficial for: reducing total cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL ( “good” cholesterol) and decreasing LDL (“bad” cholesterol). In short, yay for plants!
Additionally, eating plant-based protein a few times per week can hugely benefit the environment. Agriculture is responsible for a large portion of the world’s carbon emissions and water use. Cutting down on these protein sources is a simple way to lower your carbon footprint and conserve water.
And lastly, I mentioned the benefits to your wallet…well you can save money with a plant-based protein! Fresh produce tends to be pretty cheap if you’re shopping with the season, and great sources of plant based proteins like beans and legumes are shelf stable so you can stock up and save!
The term “plant-based” gets thrown around so much lately – it’s important to know why it’s become such a big trend so quickly and the potential benefits of it.
So, if you’re willing to try out some new options, here are my top 12 sources of plant-based protein, benefits of each one and ways to use them.
The 12 Best Plant-Based Proteins
1. Beans (canned or dried)
Nutritionally, there’s no difference between canned or dried beans – they’re both great. Be on the look out for salt added in some cans, but don’t fret, you can simply just rinse them before consuming and that way your sodium intake won’t sky rocket. Most canned beans stay good for years and years, they’re cheap and quick. My personal favorite is the dried variety, and in my humble opinion are steps above canned in terms of freshness and taste. We personally use an instant pot to cook up our beans in a matter of 15-45 minutes, and no soaking required. It’s all a personal preference but these are definitely my number 1 in terms of protein. My pantry is stocked with black beans, pinto beans, white beans (or northern beans) and chickpeas pretty much year around!
Quinoa is a grain that’s a good source of both protein and fiber. You can buy it dried and simply cook on the stove in about 12 minutes, or these days I’ve even seen it in the frozen section of the grocery store that can be made in a few minutes in the microwave. There are many varieties – white, red, rainbow, etc. – and all are great as a side to vegetables, on top of a salad, or even baked into bars.
Lentils are also a really good source of both protein and fiber and one of the most popular items in the legume category. Lentils can help make any meal filling, adding them to a vegetarian Bolognese, in curries, or even as a taco filling!
I know what you’re thinking, ew Tofu! Well, I’ve heard that plenty of times and 100% of those conversations end with finding out they had tofu prepared poorly. Tofu is made of soybeans that are pressed into blocks but the amazing thing is that it will soak up any flavor you add to it. When you prep it, make sure to drain the water by using a tofu press or wrapping the block in kitchen towels on a plate and placing a large object on top. Typically I get the extra firm variety to go in stir fries, burgers, or curries.
If you haven’t heard of or tried tempeh, it’s a vegan source of protein made from fermented soybeans and whole grains. Yes, it’s got a weird appearance but if you aren’t a fan of tofu, tempeh might be more up your flavor alley. It has a nuttier flavor than tofu, but will also soak up pretty much any flavor you add to it. With the added whole grains, it also has a good amount of fiber too! Try it with teriyaki sauce and add it to a stir fry.
6. Peanut/almond butter
If you’ve been following me for even a short amount of time, you know that I love nut butters. They’re all so easy and versatile, and have a pretty decent amount of protein per serving. In addition, a great fat source to help make your morning oatmeal, smoothie, or snack with crackers or an apple keep you full way longer. Just keep an eye out on the nutrition label for any unwanted or needed ingredients, a great nut butter is simply nuts and maybe a little salt, no additives or oils necessary.
7. Whole wheat or GF pasta
Believe or not, whole wheat pasta is a really good source of protein! Most whole wheat pasta are made of simply durum wheat flour – a higher protein flour and carry anywhere from 6-8 grams of protein per serving in some varieties I’ve seen. These days, if you’re looking for a slightly healthier option for dried pastas, try looking for gluten alternatives. So many pastas are made with chickpeas, lentils or other veggies which have various health benefits including fiber and protein! Plus, dry pasta lasts about 1 to 2 years. Try it with tomato sauce and veggies for a super easy, shelf stable meal.
Okay, so this one is similar to my bean convo, but I love hummus as a protein option. Use it as a dip with meals or as a spread with a wrap or sandwich – it’s a nice way to easily add protein in any meal. Plus, most store-bought hummus will last at least a few weeks in the fridge.
Edamame – or soybeans – is another source of protein that’s also high in fiber. I love buying edamame frozen – it lasts in the freezer up to 1 year. Add it to salads, grain bowls or even eat it on its own as a snack.
Like nut butter, nuts are a great way to add protein and some healthy fat (fats can be great!) to your diet. Options include: peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts – no nuts are bad nuts! Try them on top of a salad or stir fry, or even your oatmeal in the morning.
10. Chia seeds
Chia seeds contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, all in a very tiny dot. Some people are not fans of the texture but depending on the dish, these are little goldmines! Make sure to store them in the fridge and they’ll last up to a few years (not that they’ll make it that long!). Sprinkle chia seeds on smoothies or oatmeal, add them to yogurt, or make chia pudding. Your options are really endless for this one!
11. Nutritional yeast
Never heard of it, many haven’t but nutritional yeast is basically deactivated yeast. It gives food a fun, cheesy flavor if for any reason you don’t eat cheese (often used in vegan dishes). Nutritional yeast has protein and many B vitamins – all in a small amount. And because some vegan diets are traditionally lacking in B vitamins (some found in meat), nutritional yeast can be a little added flavor and texture as a topping. My personal favorite is adding it to popcorn. Yum!
12. Nut milk
Refrigerated nut milks will last about 7-10 days. Nut milks bought in the pantry aisle of the supermarket will last up to 1 month. If you don’t drink regular milk due to an allergy (most adults lose the enzyme – lactase – needed to digest plain cow’s milk as we get older) or by choice like myself, nut milk is a great option and provides a small amount protein as well. Use it to make oatmeal, or simply have it with a bowl of cereal.
These days, we’re all looking for shelf stable options and keeping things a little cheap. Try these out and let me know how you like them!