While animal meat offers rich protein, as well as other micronutrients like zinc, iron and vitamin B12 in particular, a plant-based lifestyle is becoming more popular due to the health benefits associated with less meat and more fresh produce and plant-based swaps.
Whether you are fully vegan or simply emphasize plants and meatless meals during the week in a more plant-based diet approach, you’ll want to make sure you’re still getting enough calories and nutrients, with ample protein to maintain energy levels, boost cognitive function and repair damaged muscles post-workout.
To be fair, it is harder to guarantee adequate protein intake if you’re sticking with plants over animals, since animal protein is more readily available in larger quantities per serving and with full essential amino-acid profiles (meaning there are all nine present in a single food). Plus, your body absorbs protein from animals more easily than it does with plant options such as grains and veggies.
Luckily, you can increase absorption by combining plant proteins in meals and snacks for a complete amino acid profile. For example, pairing brown rice with beans and legumes would help you reach your requirement faster. And reaching for the best sources of plant proteins is also important, so you can maximize how many grams you’re getting per serving, all of which add up to your daily total. These are the top plant proteins to add to your shopping cart.
While other whole grains, meaning they contain fiber and are thus “complex” in nature, don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is a complete plant protein and whole grain source that’ll fill you up faster and for longer, as well as improve gut health, immunity and digestion due to its high fiber content.
Enjoy quinoa in veggie tacos with avocado or toss it into a hearty soup for some crunch and satiety-boosting benefits. You can also DIY granola or protein bars for pre- or post-workout snacks at home or use quinoa as a base for a protein bowl or salad for lunch. Layer it in a mason jar, which makes it both portable and chic, or throw instead on a bed of greens to further increase nutritional value.
An immediate source of plant protein comes from a high quality protein bar, where there are 15-20 grams of protein per serving and the bar is lower in refined carbohydrates and sugar, both of which can spike blood sugar and lead to a crash later. Protein bars can help make snacking for on the go convenience easier, where you can keep the bars stashed in work or home cabinets, car drawers and in your bag so it’s there when you need a bite.
Tofu and Soy Products
Soy happens to be pretty comparable to animal protein and as long as you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity, it’s an excellent plant protein source to include regularly. Switch from cow’s milk to unsweetened soymilk (flavored brands will contain more sugar!) and from chicken or beef stir-fry to one made with tofu or edamame.
You can even roast edamame at home or buy ready-to-eat packaged snacks at the store for a quick post-workout recovery snack that’s crunchy, perhaps a bit salty or even sweet, since you can experiment with different flavor combinations when cooking a batch at home.
As for cubed, fresh tofu, use it as a protein topper for salads, stir-fry and grain bowls or make an “eggless” scramble for breakfast. You can even use it in your smoothies with protein powder and in dessert, such as in a vegan chocolate mousse, as tofu is silky and bland in flavor, where it takes on that of the other ingredients in the recipe.
Beans and Legumes
Black beans, chickpeas, red kidney beans and lentils are among some of the top beans and legumes that happen to be pretty dense in grams of plant protein per serving. And they offer a “meaty” texture depending on how they’re prepared, so you can swap chicken and beef for lentils or chickpeas in your favorite taco, soup and stew recipes. You can even use them for meatless burger patties as part of a blend, along with mushrooms, quinoa or soy, for example.
Chickpeas are especially helpful for meal prepping snacks and meals as they have a long shelf life and you can buy the cans in bulk to then use in a variety of ways. Make a batch of roasted chickpeas with different seasonings to eat alone or add to a trail mix or savory granola. Crank up the heat with wasabi or turmeric or just keep it simple with salt and pepper. Even better? Purchase a keto-friendly granola that is lower in carbs and sugar for stabilized blood sugar in the day.
Leafy Greens and Cruciferous Veggies
While veggies aren’t the best sources of protein, some contain more protein than others, with leafy greens and cruciferous veggies being highest in content per serving. Add kale or spinach to a tofu scramble for a quick and filling breakfast or to a plant-based soup for dinner that will keep you warm on chilly nights and satisfied until morning.
And enjoy broccoli and brussels sprouts as part of a stir-fry, simply sauteed with garlic and pepper, or as a side for any dish for a fiber and iron boost. And bulk up on greens and plating too, where you’re eating more green veggies than starchy veggies, like sweet potato and carrots.
Although vegan, nutritional yeast offers that “cheese-like” flavor and texture and it’s high in plant protein to keep you fuller for longer. You can use it when making kale chips at home, along with spices or herbs. Or swap kale for the leaves of brussels sprouts, which get a nice crisp, especially when roasted or cooked in the air fryer. Use it as you would cheese, for the consistency, taste and purpose are pretty comparable!