I get asked a lot what kind of “diet” I follow. Am I Vegan? Vegetarian? Am I an omnivore? And with today’s blog, 10 Best Plant Proteins to Fuel and Nourish, you might be wondering the same thing.
The truth is, I am none of the above. I eat a little bit of everything and at the end of the day I just really don’t like to put a label on the way I eat. I eat what feels good and try to listen to my body the best I can…and what feels right to me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you!
That being said, I have found myself leaning in to a more plant based style of eating over the past year or so. There’s just no denying that getting more plants on our plates is going to benefit our bodies, and our planet. From a nutrition standpoint, plants are packed with nutrients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that can protect our body from aging and chronic disease, keep our skin and hair healthy, energize, and lift our moods. Sustainability wise they have a lower footprint and, for a lot of the people, it is ethically driven.
So whether eating more plants looks like packing in more colorful produce, dabbling with one or two meatless meals per week, or maybe adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet is truly what feels best, If you’ve been curious about this movement, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite plant based proteins below. See how they stack up and my favorite ways to use them!
I have also had clients who struggle to absorb iron from plant based sources, or find they get digestive distress from eating a purely plant-based diet, and for some, they just don’t feel full or satisfied. At the end of the day, it’s important to find what’s right for you, holistically, and there are many different things to consider in making this decision!
If you are interested in exploring this concept of eating more plants, where do you start? One of the things I often hear people questioning is whether it’s possible to meet your nutritional requirements from plant foods. And the answer is a definite yes! But if this is new to you, there are definitely a few things to consider. A big one is where can you get protein, and all of the minerals that often come part and parcel with high protein foods like zinc and iron? I’ve rounded up 10 amazing plant based proteins to get you started!
Tempeh has quickly become one of my favorite proteins, plant-based or otherwise. It is so hearty and flavorful and brings tons of nutritional value to the plate! Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is a high protein food made from fermented soy. The fermentation process improves digestibility, allowing nutrients to be more readily available for your body to use. Tempeh is also super high in fiber and has potential to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Win-win!
Protein: Approx 16g per 85 g serving
Another favourite of mine, tofu. As well as being a great source of protein , tofu provides iron, magnesium and calcium. Tofu has been linked to lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and even protecting from some cancers.
There are endless tofu products on the market these days. Choose organic when you can, and most often, opt for the actual blocks of tofu vs. tofu “products” like meat alternatives which can end up being really processed.
Protein: Approx 13 g per 85 g serving (Extra Firm Tofu) *note the more firm, the more protein per serving.
I love the vibrant pop of color edamame adds to dishes! A big part of the holistic picture of nourishing our bodies includes connecting with our food and eating mindfully. The color and texture of different foods can play a big part in this. Nutritionally, edamame is high in protein, folate, and healthy fats including omega-3s.
Protein: Approx 8.5g per ½ cup serving
Aside from being a great protein source, many plant foods are also high in fiber. This combo makes them slow digesting (in a good way!) for longer lasting energy, fullness, and more stable blood sugar levels.
A good intro to chickpeas for a lot of people is hummus. Dip your veggies in it, spread it on wraps or sandwiches or add a dollop to salads or bowls to up the protein factor. The creaminess is also a nice way to get contrasting textures, another key to satisfying meals!
Protein: Approx 8g per ½ cup serving (cooked)
Joining chickpeas in the “legume” family, beans share a lot of the same benefits – high protein, high fiber and a source of B vitamins, iron and magnesium. Because of the high soluble fiber content, the legume family can help lower cholesterol, keep blood sugars stable and keep you feeling full longer after eating.
Protein: Approx 8g per ½ cup serving (cooked)
I love adding beans to dips for a creamy high protein base, breakfast dishes, and I even put them in my smoothies (don’t knock it til you try it! haha) Just remember to soak them in water the night before if you’re using dry beans.
Same family, slightly different stats. Also legumes, lentils have a slightly higher protein content that beans and chickpeas. They also contain the same fiber benefits to keep your digestion humming along and are great source of potassium, an important mineral to keep your heart healthy.
Protein: Approx 9g per ½ cup serving
Lentils tend to keep their shape and are great tossed into salads. With a similar shape and texture, I also like to use them as a substitute to ground meat – tacos, pasta sauces, lettuce wraps – you name it! And you can’t forget the classic, lentil soup, one of my favorites to batch prep in colder months.
Ok, so this one is technically a grain, not a protein. But I’ve included it because I can’t tell you how often I get asked if quinoa is a protein! While it won’t replace the protein source in a meal (treat it as the carb or grain portion of your meal) it can be a way to boost your protein overall intake, being higher than most other grains. Quinoa also provides antioxidants and minerals including manganese, iron and zinc.
Protein: Approx 4g per ½ cup serving.
Quinoa is a great base for grain salads or a hearty add in to green salads, bowls, and can even be made into a warm breakfast cereal as an alternative to oatmeal or porridge, just search it on Pinterest or Google and tons of amazing recipes will pop up!
Hemp hearts are nutrition powerhouses! They’re a great source of antioxidant vitamin E, protein, minerals like phosphorus and potassium, and also provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids (good for brain health and keeping inflammation at bay). Hemp hearts have a mild, nutty flavour and can be eaten raw, cooked into dishes, or roasted.
Protein: 14g per ¼ cup (I usually use 2-3 Tbsp at a time)
Sprinkle hemp hearts onto salads, into smoothies, on salads or stir-fries or try them out in this Matcha Protein Banana Ice Cream recipe!
Ok I’m breaking the theme here a little bit…I’ve included this one not so much for the protein but for it’s high Vitamin B12 content. B12 is an important vitamin that helps our body convert the calories we consume into usable energy, and plays an important role in our body’s metabolism. This particular vitamin is naturally found only in animal foods like meat, eggs and dairy, so if you’re going fully plant based it needs some extra attention! Many plant based food are fortified but make sure to check.
Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast often used as a condiment because of its savoury, nutty, and cheesy flavours. You may have seen it in vegan cheeses or cheese sauces, or as a replacement to parmesan if you follow any plant based blogs. Along with its bold flavor, it’s packed with a punch of B vitamins including thiamin, folate, riboflavin, niacin, and as mentioned, is usually fortified with cobalamin (B12).
B12: 2.4mcg (meeting our daily needs) per 3 Tbsp serving (Bob’s Red Mill, may differ from brand to brand.)
On top of their protein content, magnesium, zinc and fiber, pumpkin seeds are a great addition to a plant based diet because they provide about 3x the amount of iron as most other nuts and seeds. Pair them with Vitamin C containing foods like Oranges, strawberries, broccoli or tomatoes to maximize iron absorption (a general rule for plant based iron)
Protein: 3g per ¼ cup serving
Iron: 1.4-4.7g per ¼ cup serving
Roast them for a quick snack on the go, add to granolas, healthy treats like these salted pumpkin caramels, or add to your soups, breakfast bowls or salads!
What are some of your favourite plant based foods? Share with us in the comments below so we can try them out or tag me on Instagram @lindsaypleskot with #makefoodfeelgood!