Everything You Need to Know About Plant-Based Proteins
by Vickie Chin on Jun 08, 2023
Protein is an essential component of any balanced diet — but how you get your daily protein can vary.
Although meats are well-known for being high in protein, are plenty of alternative sources of plant-based protein.
From beans and lentils to nuts and seeds, protein can be found in many plant-based foods. These vegan proteins make up the foundation of most vegetarian and vegan diets but can also be incredibly advantageous to meat-based diets as well, especially in people trying to improve their cholesterol levels or lose weight.
Moreover, having a good source of protein is crucial for your body’s health. Not only plant-based protein benefits you to build and strengthen your muscles, but also responsible for helping to heal injuries, transport nutrients throughout your body, and keep you feeling satiated throughout the day.
In this article, we are talking all about plant-based proteins, including their benefits and how they differ from animal-based proteins. Plus, we cover the top sources of plant-based proteins.
Keep reading to find out how you can incorporate beneficial vegan proteins into your daily diet!
Why Choose a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based diets can be preferable for a variety of reasons.
Easily the most common reason for following a plant-based diet is a desire to be vegetarian or vegan. People choose to be vegetarian or vegan for many different purposes, from animal rights and weight loss to simply wanting to eat more whole foods plant-based meals.
If you are considering eating a plant-based diet, and adding sourses of plant based protein to it, the key is to go into this journey intentionally and with a strong understanding of how to create balanced plant-based meals that contain all the necessary nutrients.
Like any diet, a good plant-based diet comes down to ensuring you eat the recommended servings of your macronutrients throughout the day and week. These macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
The amount of each of these macronutrients you eat can depend on your body and health goals.
Generally, your macronutrient intake should equate to roughly 45% to 65% carbs, 10% to 40% protein, and 20% to 35% fat. Of course, the sources of these macronutrients also matter, so make sure you are getting your protein, carbs, and fat from healthy sources (like plants!).
The Benefits of Plant-Based Proteins
If you have ever met someone on a plant-based diet, you have likely heard how beneficial and satisfying a plant-based diet can be when done properly.
Plant-based proteins can be highly advantageous for several key reasons, including:
● Nutritionally Dense: Unlike meats, plant-based proteins can have a variety of additional nutrients beyond protein, such as dietary fiber and antioxidants. For example, a serving of black beans can have between 8 to 10 grams of protein, as well as provide a good source of essential nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, and zinc.
● Lower Calories: Though lean meats like chicken and fish can be relatively low in calories, plant-based proteins will almost always win the race when it comes to low-calorie proteins. This can be especially beneficial for people who are trying to lose weight while gaining muscle mass, as you can still consume a healthy level of protein while cutting your calories.
● Disease Prevention: Research shows that vegetarian plant-based diets can help to lower the risk of certain diseases and health conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. This benefit of vegan protein can be helpful to all people, particularly those who are already considered at risk for developing these conditions or those who are recovering from such conditions.
Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein
The biggest difference between plant vs animal proteins is that animal proteins are complete proteins.
A complete protein provides you with all nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) that your body needs to function properly. In total, your body needs 20 different amino acids — these nine are the ones your body cannot naturally produce and, thus, must obtain through food.
This can make switching from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet a little trickier, as you must be conscious of where and how you can get all of your necessary amino acids.
By contrast, complete proteins are found in several animal-based sources, including most meats and dairy.
The Top Sources of Plant-Based Protein
For anyone determined to make the switch to a plant-based diet — or for those who are simply curious and want to give this diet a try — the key is to eat a diverse range of plant based proteins.
By eating many different plant protein sources, you can ensure you are getting all of your essential nutrients and amino acids to keep your body strong and functioning properly. With this in mind, here are eight sources that are considered the best plant-based proteins:
1. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Hemp seeds are hands down the heaviest hitter when it comes to nutritional value, offering more than 11 grams of protein for every 200-calorie serving of seeds.
Lentils are a type of legume that make an excellent replacement for processed carbs, offering a hefty dose of both healthy carbs and protein per serving.
In just one cup size serving of cooked lentils, you can eat nearly 40 grams of carbs and nearly 18 grams of protein. Additionally, lentils can provide you with 37% of your daily value (DV) of iron, 16% of your DV of potassium, and 29% of your DV of phosphorous.
What makes lentils truly great source of vegan protein is how versatile they are. These legumes can be great on their own but can also make a great addition to soups, salads, rice bowls, and other recipes.
Beans are a massive food group made up of several sub-types of beans, all with key nutritional benefits.
My Food Data reports that most beans provide between 29% to 36% of your daily protein per cup of cooked beans. Boiled soybeans (also called edamame) take the crown for the most protein-packed beans, with one cup of edamame providing 63% of your daily protein (equivalent to 31.3 grams per cup).
After edamame, the highest protein beans include:
● Large white beans (17.4 grams per cup)
● Borlotti beans (16.5 grams per cup)
● Pinto beans (15.3 grams per cup)
● Black beans (15.2 grams per cup)
● Navy beans (15 grams per cup)
● Lima beans (14.7 grams per cup)
4. Green Peas
Green peas (also called sweet peas) are widely available and affordable vegetables that offer a good dose of dietary fiber and antioxidants. Compared to some of the other beneficial vegan proteins on this list, green peas are a little lower in protein content but can still be a great way to get some extra protein throughout your day.
In one cup of green peas, you can consume roughly 8.6 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbs. Additionally, green peas have around 25% of your DV of vitamin C, as well as 14% of your iron DV and 15% of your phosphorous DV.
5. Spirulina & Chlorella
For many people on a plant-based diet, green powders play a vital role in ensuring they eat the proper amount of protein and nutrients throughout the day.
In one teaspoon of spirulina powder, you can consume 2 grams of protein, as well as 214% of your DV of Vitamin A 3213 RE and 125% of your DV of Vitamin B12 7.5 mcg.
Meanwhile, chlorella powder can provide you with 3 grams of protein per two teaspoons, as well as 250% of your DV of Vitamin B12 15 mcg and 70% of your DV of iron.
Oats are a beloved carbohydrate among plant-based diet followers, and for good reason.
In one cup of cooked oats, you can eat around 6 grams of protein and 28 grams of carbs. Since oats are a slow-releasing carb, they can also help you to stay full and energized for longer.
What’s truly advantageous about oat proteins is that you can add a variety of different ingredients to your oats to boost their protein and nutrient content. For instance, adding a scoop of peanut butter and some flax seeds on top of your oatmeal can add an extra 8 to 10 grams of protein to your meal.
7. Sprouted Grain Bread
When eating a plant-based meal, it is essential to eat whole grains whenever possible, as whole grains possess far more nutrients and protein than more processed bread.
Sprouted grain bread tends to have one of the heftier servings of protein, with just one slice of sprouted grain bread providing between 3 to 5 grams of protein. Plus, this type of bread can be a great way to sneak in some extra nutrients and essential amino acids, as the loaf is often packed with nuts and seeds.
For our final beneficial plant-based protein, we have one of the most iconic plant baaed proteins of all time — tofu.
Tofu is massively nutritious, with one cup of firm tofu providing a whopping 43.5 grams of protein and 7 grams of carbohydrates. Additionally, tofu is an excellent source of calcium and can provide you with 132% of your DV of calcium in one serving.
If you are planning on starting a plant-based diet, there are plenty of benefits to back your decision.
The key to eating a healthy and balanced plant-based diet is to know where you can get your daily value of vegan protein, as well as all of your essential amino acids. While it may take some extra planning and preparation to ensure all your dietary needs are met, eating plant-based proteins can ultimately help you to better manage your weight, maintain your health, and prevent d