When you think of protein, you probably have visions of chicken, beef, and fish. And while meat is an excellent source of protein, for omnivores, plant-based protein sources are often left forgotten. Well, this is unfortunate because plant-based protein sources provide many more benefits than just protein. Most of them, for example, also boast fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, just to name a few of the added benefits they bring.
So, if you’re intrigued, here are some plant-based protein ideas to get you started...
Quinoa - These chewy, little protein pearls are so good, and taste just like a grain, but they’re actually loaded with protein. Swap quinoa for any rice or grain and you’ve got a delicious and protein-rich substitute.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/4 cup (43 g) – 156 calories, 6 g protein, 2.5 g total fat, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 47 mg calcium, 4.6 mg iron.
Oats - Oats make every dish just a little bit better. Smoothies need some creaminess? Soup needs to be heartier? Bread needs a little something extra? Try Oats! They're loaded with protein, are a natural source of whole grains, and provide important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Plus, research shows that oats help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce constipation, and aid in weight loss.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/2 cup (48 g) – 190 calories, 7 g protein, 3.5 g total fat, 32 g carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.25 mg iron.
Beans - Whoever said beans were a magical fruit was wrong about beans being a fruit, but right about them being magical. They’re filled with fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Research shows that they can help reduce blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels, and help maintain a healthy gut. Plus, they’re super convenient and very affordable. Did you know you can buy them dry and cook a whole batch in the crockpot? Kelli tells you how here: Slow Cooker Beans Recipe. Just turn them on and they’re ready in a few hours. It’s minimal effort and healthy cooking.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/2 cup (130 g) – 150 calories, 10 g protein, 1.5 g total fat, 23 g carbohydrates, 10 g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 341 mg sodium, 40 mg calcium, 3.6 mg iron.
Lentils - You might be asking yourself, “what is a lentil?” Well, a lentil is a cross between a pea and a bean. It grows in a pod like peas, and like beans it’s high in fiber, protein, and iron. Lentils tend to soak up any flavor you put with them, so they can be used in a variety of really delicious recipes. Try adding them into your favorite warm hearty stew, like this Fiber-Rich Slow Cooker Stew (Vegan or Omnivore).
Nutritional Info: Per 1/4 cup (50 g) – 180 calories, 13 g protein, 0.5 g total fat, 30 g carbohydrates, 15 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.5 mg iron.
Barley - You probably think about barley only when you think of beer, but it’s extremely versatile, delicious, and packed with protein. You can eat it in the morning as a hot cereal or add it to your soup to make it extra hearty. Here’s a great Barley Risotto with Mushrooms recipe to try.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/4 cup (50 g) – 180 calories, 15 g protein, 0.5 g total fat, 39 g carbohydrates, 8 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 0.76 mg iron.
Flaxseeds - It’s amazing how many benefits are loaded in such a tiny package. They’re crammed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytochemicals. Plus, they’re easy to mix into almost anything. You can even buy them milled and add them into practically any dish for a little extra oomph of nutrition. A great way to enjoy these is milled and added into smoothies or morning oatmeal.
Nutritional Info: Per 2 teaspoons (13 g) – 60 calories, 3 g protein, 3.5 g total fat, 5 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.5 mg iron.
Chia Seeds - If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating these yet, just a warning: when you add them to liquid, they go crazy! They turn into little balls of protein-packed jelly. Chia seeds are so small and delicious you can really put them into almost any food for a little extra protein. They’re especially good in homemade granola bars, smoothies, or even on top of salads.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/4 cup (36 g) – 180 calories, 6 g protein, 11 g total fat, 16 g carbohydrates, 14 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 250 mg calcium, 3.4 mg iron.
Nuts and seeds - Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds...they’re all delicious. Plus, eating them daily can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and there are many easy ways to include them in your diet. You can snack on them, add them to a salad, or add them into your favorite muffins like in this recipe for One Bowl Choco-Banana Nut Muffins. Just be careful. Nuts are very calorically-dense and can add up if you snack on them mindleslessly. Try to stick to one serving a day, which is around a handful.
Nutritional Info: Per 1/4 cup (28 g) – 180 calories, 10 g protein, 16 g total fat, 5 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 80 mg calcium, 1.9 mg iron.
There are so many more items that could be on this list, such as soy milk, sprouted breads, or even eggs or greek yogurt (for the non-vegans here). Non-meat protein sources are everywhere and have so many additional nutritional benefits beyond protein. Hopefully this challenges you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new source of protein today.
What are your favorites?
Written for Fitness Blender by Alexandra (Allie) G, RD, RDN, LDN
Registered and Licensed Dietitian
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, August). Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition.
References for nutritional values obtained from www.nutritionvalue.org