There are so many reasons to switch to a plant-based diet this year: It’s better for your health and for the planet>>>P, and there are tons of delicious plant-based products available in supermarkets across the country (we love chef Matthew Kenney’s PlantMade frozen meals). But you might be thinking, Without a chicken breast or hunk of steak in the middle of my plate, how will I get enough protein?
“This is the number one question I get about going more plant-based,” says DJ Blatner, R.D.N.>>>P, author of The Flexitarian Diet>>>P.“But there’s no need to worry, because you can absolutely can get enough protein on a plant-based diet.”
Blatner says that whether you’re vegetarian>>>P, vegan>>>P, flexitarian>>>P, or just trying to cut down on your meat consumption>>>P, the best way to make sure you have enough protein is to have at least one source of plant protein in every meal or snack.“No matter what type of eater you are, it’s important to get a wide variety of nutrients for optimal health,” she says.“In the past, people were told to pair certain plant proteins like beans and rice at each meal to form a complete protein [with all the essential amino acids]. But now we know you do not have to do that, because the body maintains a‘pool’ of amino acids to pull from.”
To figure out how much protein you should be eating each day, Blatner says you should multiply your weight by.36 grams (for an average, 150-pound woman, that means around 54 grams per day—add a bit more if you’re a serious athlete).“Try one new plant-based recipe each week,” Blatner suggests.“At the end of a year you’ll have tried over 50 recipes, some of which will be so easy and delicious you’ll keep them in your regular rotation.”
Ready to invest in the power of plants? Here are more than a dozen plant-based proteins to add to your diet, plus delicious ideas for how to enjoy them.
Protein: 22 grams in about 3/4 cup, cooked
Made from wheat gluten (basically, wheat minus the starch), seitan has a“meaty” texture that’s perfect for replacing turkey or bacon in your favorite dishes. It’s also the most protein-dense food on this list—and it even beats some meats. Although it’s not a complete protein, seitan blends into almost anything, from stir-fries to fajitas.
Protein: 20 grams in about 3/4 cup, cooked
Soybeans make up three of the top protein sources on this list, starting with tempeh, a savory cake made from soybeans.“I love tempeh because it’s fermented for easier digestion>>>P, and it has an awesome meaty texture,” Blatner explains. Cook it any way you would meat—grilled, baked, or in this buffalo-strip sandwich>>>P.
Protein: 11 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
Tofu, unlike tempeh, is made from soy milk. Products like plant-based burgers also use soy protein, Blatner says, but tofu is better for daily meals because it’s a whole, unprocessed food. Firm tofu packs in the most protein of any variety and shines as the star of this sweet and sticky noodle bowl>>>P.
Protein: 9 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
Rounding out the soybean trio is edamame itself. Soybeans are the only plant-based food that contains all eight essential amino acids, and they’re also an excellent source of fiber>>>P, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. Cook them alone for a healthy snack or fold them into protein-packed veggie fried rice>>>P.
Protein: 8 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
These tasty little legumes can be slurped up a variety of tasty soups or used as a ground-beef replacement in shepherd’s pie or meatloaf>>>P. They can also take the place of grains like rice, and since they’re rich in folate, potassium>>>P, and copper, they’re even healthier than their counterparts.
Protein: up to 8 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
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Packed with both protein and fiber, and with a versatile texture that can be cooked in chili>>>P, shaped into burgers>>>P, or tossed onto salads>>>P, beans are an important staple in any plant-based diet. Try kidney, pinto, white, and black beans—each has a slightly different flavor and texture, but a similar concentration of protein.
Protein: 8 grams per 1 ounce
Of course, you can eat these ballpark favorites as a snack (about 35 nuts) or as a PB&J (about two tablespoons). But peanuts and peanut butter are versatile ingredients to add to stir-fries, veggie dishes, and smoothies>>>P. Case in point: These healthy PB-banana pancakes are packed with protein, but taste like dessert.
Protein: 8 grams per 1/4 cup
Peek in the pantry of any vegan, and you’ll likely find a stash of this savory yellow powder that tastes similar to grated cheese. Often called“nooch,” nutritional yeast can be mixed into a tofu scramble, sprinkled on top of popcorn, or swirled into any pasta sauce or soup to easily bump up the protein and flavor.
Protein: 7 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
Whether you eat them as hummus (try it slathered on a wrap with sautéed mushrooms), on a complex salad>>>P, or in a hearty soup, chickpeas—also known as garbanzo beans—are some of the best plant-based protein sources. With tons of fiber, too, they’ll also help curb cravings between meals.
Protein: 7 grams per 1 large potato, cooked
Most potatoes actually pack in an impressive amount of protein, but the red variety is the clear winner. Beyond their protein content, they also have high levels of vitamin B6, a nutrient that promotes the metabolism of protein. Roast them alongside root veggies or mash them into a standout side dish>>>P.
Protein: 6 grams per 1 ounce, raw
Carry a pack of almonds or other nuts for a protein-packed snack on the go—a serving size of about 24 almonds will also give you 3 grams of fiber for only 172 calories. We love them crushed and sprinkled on top of green beans>>>P, in a tasty glass of almond milk, or as a crunchy topper for oatmeal or yogurt.
Protein: 5 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
The ancient grain spelt (and its cousin, kamut) packs in more protein and other nutrients, like fiber and iron, per serving than other, more common grains. Although most recipes require you to soak spelt overnight, not all of them do—including this filling salad that also happens to be entirely vegan.
Protein: 5 grams per 1/2 cup, uncooked
As comforting as a hug from Grandma, oats are also a high-protein grain. Classic, delicious overnight oats is, of course, a great way to enjoy the grain, but you can also try mixing them into a smoothie or a batch of apple oatmeal muffins>>>P. And did we mention that they’re full of fiber and antioxidants?
Protein: 4 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
The chewy grain is perfecto as the basis for a refreshing salad topped with veggies, beans, avocado, and whatever else you have in the fridge—and you can even use quinoa to pump up the protein in a batch of chocolate chip cookies>>>P. And, strangely enough, quinoa pasta is a perfect dupe for the wheat-based stuff.
Protein: 4 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
Another member of the legume family, which also contains lentils, beans, and peanuts, classic green peas taste great in split-pea soup, stirred into risotto or pasta, served on the side of just about anything, or mixed with other veggies for a childhood favorite. If you’re feeling adventurous, puree them with broccoli—it’s divine.
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