6 Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Some of the best plant-based foods rich in protein
It seems that every day there are more and more plant-based products out there. Only a few decades ago it was a challenge to be vegetarian, now it is trendy and there are many options available. But are all of these food items healthy? Do they provide enough protein? Can they completely replace meat products?
In this article, we will take a look at many plant-based options with a focus on the protein content, how to get enough protein in a plant-based diet, and which are the best plant-based protein foods/sources.
How much protein do we actually need?
If you haven’t read this great article written by our CEO Andrea Holwegner, I highly recommend you to take a look at it. In it, she explains the roles and the needs of protein as well as highlights some special considerations such as vegetarian diets.
The Canadian Dietary References Intake (DRI) recommends for adults an average of 10-35% of total calories from protein, which can be translated to 50-175g for 2,000 calories a day.
A recent study, highlighted the protein quality (amino acids intake) and overall protein intake among people following a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet and people eating meat.
This study came to these conclusions:
- The proportion of amino acids (what builds the protein) are typically consumed in adequate amount among people following a plant-based diet as long as there is a good variety in their diet.
- All the research showed an adequate protein intake that is above the DRI. In more details, as explained here above, the recommendation for protein intake is 10-35% of total calories; the research showed respectively an average of 13.1%, 12,8%, 14,1%, 14% and 11.1% of calories from protein compared to 17-18% for meat eaters.
In summary, vegetarian diets, when well balanced, provide a sufficient amount of all amino acids and protein and is comparable to a diet containing animal products. However, it is important to know where to find the proteins in order to ensure a well balanced and good variety in the diet.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
1. Soy products
Soy is a very versatile bean and is used to make a ton of products. If that was not enough already, soy is a complete protein, which means that all the amino acids are present in good proportions for the needs of the human body. Soybean can be eaten roasted or is used to make tofu, tempeh (fermented soybeans), edamame (immature soybeans), soy beverages, protein powders, meatless products (discussed hereafter) and TVP (Texture Vegetable Protein). All of which are high in protein and contain all the 9 essential amino acids.
If you haven’t tried seitan already, I encourage you to give it a try. Seitan is made of hydrated gluten, from wheat. It is very high in protein; 100g of seitan provides about 25g of protein compared to 9g for tofu and 20g for ground beef.
3. Meatless products
There are many companies out there making products that are completely plant-based. While these are convenient and can totally replace a meat product and still feel like eating meat, they need to be considered as processed food. They may be high in total fat, saturated fat and sodium and therefore shouldn’t be used in all meals. To name only a few of the products: Deli slices, sausages, hot dog wieners, grounds, burger patties, vegetarian balls, nuggets, vegan cheese, vegepate, breakfast meatless options and jerky.
I encourage you to take a look at some of the companies (listed alphabetically) making meatless products and sold in Canada: Beyond Meat, Daiya, Earth Island, Fielf Roast, Gardein, Gusta, Lightlife, Morning Star, President’s choice, Simulate, Sol Cuisine, Tofurky, Yves Veggie
4. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast can be added as parmesan to add a nutty or cheesy flavor to food such as popcorn, risotto, sauces or scrambled eggs (or scrambled tofu). It is extremely high in protein, only a tablespoon (15ml) provides 8g which is as much as ½ cup (125mL) of tofu. And as a bonus, some nutritional yeast is fortified in vitamin B12, making it one of the rare plant-based sources.
Spirulina: Often sold with the protein powders, spirulina is a algae available raw or more often dried in a powdered form. It has all essential amino acids and is also extremely high in protein; comparable to the nutritional yeast.
5. Plant-based beverages
There are so many plant-based beverages out there: Almond milk, Soy milk, Oat milk, Cashew milk, Coconut milk, Hemp milk and Rice milk. However, did you know that some of them provide barely any protein?
Coconut, Cashew, Rice and Almond milk have almost no protein
Oat, Hemp and Soy milk have a good amount of protein per portion, soy being the highest.
Some seeds are very versatile and are somewhat high in protein. Chia, Hemp or Ground Flax seeds can be sprinkled to soups, yogurt, smoothie, hot or cold cereals, salads or added into baking without barely noticing it.
*Note that many other foods contain a good amount of protein, such as nuts, nut butters, cereals and whole grains, legumes and plant-based protein powders.
Don’t hesitate to comment below the vegetarian products you love! Maybe you will make someone discover a product they have been looking for a long time!
If you are considering a vegetarian diet, have already started the shift to the new lifestyle but are confused about all the information and products out there, don’t hesitate to communicate with us and speak with one of our dietitians specialized in vegetarian diets.
Need some personalized help for vegetarian meal planning or how to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet?
As university trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.
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Olivier Yergeau is a Registered Dietitian in Prince George, British Columbia.