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The 25 Best Plant-Based Proteins That You Need To Be Eating

Protein can help you lose weight, reduce fat mass, promote fullness and shrink your waistline. However, protein isn't protein.

I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian. In fact, I love steak. But I'm determined to continue prioritising plant-based proteins because they're healthier. For the environment, and for me.

Hippie Truths

Did you know that we can grow 15 x more protein on a given area of land if we grew plant proteins instead of animals? 15 times more! Right now we're growing enough food for 10 billion people, we just choose to feed it to cows rather than starving people. Making the human species about as efficient as a Ford F350 truck. Some other damning stats

  • 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are for livestock
  • We could see fishless oceans by 2048
  • 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kilo of beef
  • Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
    • Vegan: 1/6th acre
    • Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan
    • Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan

Ok, so that's humbling and depressing. 

And Plant Protein Is Healthier

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies processed meat as a Group 1 agent. Carcinogenic to humans. So ham, sausages, bacon etc were investigated and shown to cause cancer. I wonder what the Paleo and Whole30 community think of that?

Oh, and the WHO placed red meat in group 2A. Probably carcinogenic to humans. Again, I love steak. But you're absolutely off your head if you think that daily red meat is essential to your diet. It might contain nine essential amino acids but if vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, how essential are they really?

This study from scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital found every three per cent increase in calories from plant protein was found to reduce risk of death by 10 per cent. Alternatively, increasing animal protein by 10 per cent led to a two per cent higher risk of death from all causes. 

Enough With The Evidence

Agreed. The truth hurts. This meat is bad angle is becoming a little preachy. Thankfully, the alternative to animal protein is a lot tastier and healthier than you think.

But Spirulina Doesn't Count

Every time I read a vegetarian protein article an inevitable mention goes to spirulina. Because it's 60-70% protein. But a serving size is a teaspoon. Therefore, a daily hit of spirulina is 2 grams of protein. No one in their right mind eats spirulina in steak size portions, and you shouldn't, so you can't count it as protein dense.

However, there are significant sources of vegetarian protein. Serious ones. Here is a detailed list of my favourites, what makes them unique and how to get them in your belly.

Top 25 Sources of Vegetarian Protein

1. Nutritional Yeast

14g of protein per ounce / 50% protein 

The B Vitamin content of nutritional yeast is absolutely off the charts. It's a vegan's best friend but omnivore's need to get it in as well. One tablespoon is going to give you more than a day's worth of B12 as well as five times your daily B6 needs. Plus it's antiviral and immune boosting.

How to enjoy it:

It's the key ingredient in most vegan 'cheeses'. We've got a mean Walnut Parmesan recipe that improves any pasta or zucchini noodle dish.

nutritional yeast vegan cheese

2. Plant-Based Protein Powder

22g of protein per scoop / 44% protein

Stop with the whey protein. It's not a food. You know that whey is the leftover junk from making cheese and that it's acidic to your body?

That being said, there's plenty to criticise about plant-based protein powders too. Synthetic ingredients, artificial sweeteners and stabilisers. And the main ingredients, brown rice and pea protein, are often sourced from China.

The best plant-based recipes have as few ingredients as possible. I haven't found a product that I swear by, so much so that I now make my own, but the cleanest I've seen are:

How to enjoy it:

Add a scoop to smoothies, bliss balls, chia puddings or other homemade desserts.

3. Hemp Seeds

10g of protein per ounce / 37% protein

Banned for human consumption in Australia but I don’t let the man keep me in the dark. Hemp seeds are an unbelievable source of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and 6), promoting weight loss, lowering cholesterol and providing energy. You only need a couple of tablespoons for a powerful serving. They'll also thicken up your smoothie like chia seeds would, only with twice the protein and all nine essential amino acids.

How to enjoy them:

Hemp protein powder is a good option but I just add two tablespoons of the hulled stuff into a smoothie. You can sprinkle hemp seeds onto salads or use them in homemade protein bar recipes. Hemp milk is the new thing and you can make that from home just like you would almond milk

4. Peanut Butter

65g of protein per cup / 25% protein

There's hundreds of different nut butters out there but few are as popular or as protein dense as the original. Peanut butter is chock full of fibre, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous. 

How to enjoy it:

You don't need any help here but I'll still give you some anyway:

5. Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

34g of protein per cup / 25% protein

An anti-ageing multi-vitamin, just one handful will go along way to achieving your daily requirement of magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, vitamin E and protein. That means energy, weight loss, firmer skin and a stronger immune system.

How to enjoy them:

I love them in anti-ageing smoothies and granola but they're also great in salads. Crunchy nutrition.

green press pepita smoothie

6. Sunflower Seeds

10g of protein per cup / 21% protein

Sunflower seeds are heavy on the fats and calories which will deter the detox tea crowd. However, those fats help you look younger. Sunflower seeds are full of omega-3s and omega-6s and it's a great source of vitamin E. That means you'll be ingesting a lipid-soluble antioxidant which protects your skin from ageing.

How to enjoy them:

The usual nut or seed application. Salads, smoothies, bliss balls, homemade cookies etc. 

7. Almonds

20g of protein per cup / 21% protein

California's favourite nut is a legitimate multi-vitamin. Fibre, protein, vitamin E and many other nutrients mean almonds help with fighting disease, losing weight, treating respiratory disorders and anaemia, improving skin and hair, and preventing diabetes. And gentlemen, almonds also help with impotence and constipation. Lucky us.

How to enjoy them:

For best results, soak a handful of almonds in water before bed. Strain and rinse. You've now activated your almonds to be more nutritionally accessible.

So many uses. Almond milk, almond butter, smoothies, salads, bircher muesli, chia puddings, overnight oats, granola, roasted almonds. 

8. Tempeh

31g of protein per cup / 19% protein

Fermented soybeans. Similar to tofu, only it's processed less. Which makes it more potent in most categories, including protein and fibre. Tempeh is also a significant source of iron and calcium.

How to enjoy it:

It's most commonly featured in meals as a direct replacement for animal protein. Imitating beef, chicken, bacon etc. It's versatile and can take on a lot of flavours with different sauces and seasonings.

9. Cashews

17g of protein per cup / 18% protein

Cashews are seriously dense in almost every essential mineral, from iron to zinc. They’re also dense in fat. Which may deter some punters but it's why they make the perfect dairy replacement. Creamy flavour with more nutrients. 

How to enjoy them:

Cashew cream, cashew cheese, cashew ice cream, cashew milk and cheesecake. Who needs dairy?

green press lemon cheesecake recipe

10. Flaxseeds

31g of protein per cup / 18% protein

Flaxseeds, or linseeds, are the second richest source of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid behind chia seeds. They're also tremendously dense in fibre and every renowned mineral. Flaxseeds are no joke.

How to enjoy them:

They're one of my go to homemade protein powder ingredients, or I just add them directly to smoothies. They're such a powerful ingredient that serving sizes are small and the flavours are subtle, meaning that you can slip flaxseed meal into almost anything. Healthy pancakes, cakes, cookies, muffins, zucchini bread, homemade granola bars. There's no end to the list.

11. Tahini

5g of protein per ounce / 17% protein

Tahini, aka sesame seed nut butter, is a great source of calcium and iron. It's also rich in methionine which helps detox your liver.

How to enjoy it:

Firstly, use the unhulled stuff. It's healthier.

Tahini is most commonly used in hummus and dressings, but you can also use it in smoothies and protein balls.

green press tahini tofu burrito

12. Oats

26g of protein per cup / 17% protein

Renowned for their fibre, rolled or steel cuts are also full of manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins. Oats lower cholesterol which reduces the chance of heart disease or stroke. And they stabilise blood sugar levels which makes them an ideal breakfast ingredient.

How to enjoy them:

These guys are as versatile as any ingredient on the list. Turn them into:

13. Black Sesame Seeds

26g of protein per cup / 17% protein

Tremendously popular in Chinese medicine, black sesame seeds are regarded as anti-ageing. It's apparently particular adept at nourishing skin and stimulating hair growth. There's even claims that it can reverse grey hairs by helping produce melanin, the pigment responsible for hair and skin colour. I better up my black sesame intake!

How to enjoy them:

I like to turn black sesame seeds into nut milks with coconut as it creates this amazing concrete colour but read this article for more ideas. They can be used in hummus, soba noodle salads, cookies, banana bread and more.

14. Chia Seeds

4g of protein per ounce / 16% protein

Chia seeds, in terms of nutritional content, are basically a blend of the best attributes in salmon, spinach, blueberries and human growth hormone.

If you haven’t read the worldwide bestseller, “Born To Run”, do yourself a favour. Christopher McDougall describes the true story of the Tarahumara tribe who live hidden in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, running double marathons for fun all on the fuel of the magical chia seed. Once you read the book you'll be putting a tablespoon of chia seeds in everything.

How to enjoy them:

Do a Pinterest search for 'chia puddings' and you'll have more chia recipes than you could possibly eat. Delicious ones though.

Chia can be added to overnight oat recipes, tablespooned into smoothies or just added to your water. 

green press chia pudding recipe

15. Hazelnuts

17g of protein per cup / 15% protein

Hazelnuts are actually nutritional monsters. That might be why they cost so much. If you examine their profile you'll see that 1 cup can achieve basically half your daily needs in vitamins, minerals, iron and fibre. That makes hazelnuts immune boosting, cancer protecting, heart helping, stomach calming and skin glowing.

How to enjoy them:

Impossible to go passed a healthy Nutella recipe. And we've got a recipe to turn them into Maxibons. You can also add to smoothies and trail mixes, or snack on roasted hazelnuts by themselves.

16. Walnuts

18g of protein per cup / 15% protein

Walnuts are a dense source of omega-3, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and biotin. Importantly, they are recognised with having unique anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. And they support brain function, male reproduction and heart health... I have a handful of walnuts every time I spell check this paragraph.

How to enjoy them:

Like most nuts you can add them to any salad, granola, chia pudding or breakfast bowl. My favourite application is our anti-inflammatory smoothie recipe. They're also brilliant in healthy brownies.

I crave walnuts whenever I'm feeling sore from the gym or when I want some extra focus at work. The good fats and unique antioxidant properties make walnuts a tremendous fuel source for the brain. It can't be a coincidence that they look like sculptured brains.

17. Brazil Nuts

19g of protein per cup / 14% protein

Brazil nuts are the world's most concentrated source of selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that helps with cognitive performance, immune support and fertility. It's also great for heart health.

How to enjoy them:

In vegan cheeses, homemade nut milks, trail mixes, brownies, raw cakes, salads and granolas.

green press trail mix recipe

18. Edamame

17g of protein per cup / 11% protein

Edamame is a young soybean that is harvested before it hardens. They contain most of the essential vitamins and minerals that we thrive off and are particularly dense in folate. 

How to enjoy them:

Edamame is the first thing that I order at any Japanese restaurant. And they're handy to have at home too. I buy frozen shelled edamame from Asian grocery stores and steam them up with broccoli, sea salt and pepper. Delicious. They're also great to add to salads, warm grain dishes and stir-fries.

19. Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

15g of protein per cup / 9% protein

Chickpeas are one versatile legume that you need to eat more often. They contain:

  • 69 percent of your iron needs
  • 57 percent magnesium
  • 55 percent vitamin B6
  • 50 percent potassium
  • 21 percent calcium
  • 13 percent vitamin C

Look up their nutritional profile. They're a legitimate multivitamin.

How to enjoy them:

It's hard to go passed a simple hummus recipe. Bake them in the oven and enjoy a crispy sack or add them to any simple salad recipe. We even make them into Peanut Butter Cookies.

20. Lentils

18g of protein per cup / 9%

Lentils are one of the best sources of folate which is why they're highly recommend during pregnancy. And they're also great at fighting acne.

How to enjoy them:

I like them on top of roasted veggies or in a chilli con veggie.

green press lentil as anything recipe gluten free

21. Lima Beans

15g of protein per cup / 8% protein

In addition to lowering cholesterol, lima beans' high fibre content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.

How to enjoy them:

Add them to homemade baked beans, soups, stews and salads. They're also found in homemade veggie pattie recipes. 

22. Tofu

20g of protein per cup / 8% protein

Universally thought of as a vegan's favourite protein, which isn't necessarily true, tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing it into blocks. Tofu covers a range of nutritional bases including eight essential amino acids.

How to enjoy it:

Just like tempeh, it's often used by vegetarians and vegans in place of meat. My brother created a sensational Tofu Bolognese recipe that genuinely tastes better than most beef versions. That dish converted me, a tofu sceptic. 

green press tofu bolognese recipe

23. Peas

8g of protein per cup / 4% protein

Peas are one of the most popular ingredients in vegan protein powders so it surprises me that they aren't higher on the list. Nevertheless, peas are high in starch, fibre, vitamins, minerals (such as iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium) and plant chemicals called polyphenolics, which have antioxidant and anticarcinogenic activity. People who eat legumes are four times less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who don't.

How to enjoy them:

That bag that you've had sitting in the freezer for six months, waiting for the day you hurt yourself, is actually food. Add them to a cauliflower fried rice. Or enjoy them in salads, soups, mash potato or even baked eggs

24. Quinoa

8g of protein per cup / 4% protein

The universally popular seed that can be eaten like a grain. On top of the 8 grams of protein, one cup contains 5 grams of fibre and is full of vitamins and minerals. In addition, quinoa is high in plant antioxidants that have been shown to have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and anti-cancer properties. It also contains a small amount of omega 3 fatty acids.

How to enjoy them:

Unlike most plant-based foods, quinoa doesn’t appear to lose its nutrients when cooked. So go ahead and boil (then simmer) your quinoa and add it to salads and soups. You can make quinoa porridge or my Mexican bowl. I recommend making up two cups of it every Sunday and adding it to whichever dish needs bulking out that week.

25. Brown Rice

5g of protein per cup / 3% protein

Again, I'm shocked at how little protein is in brown rice when a rice protein powder is over 20g per scoopt. Makes you wonder what they do to it to turn it into a concentrated powder. Nevertheless, brown rice is a good source of manganese, selenium and magnesium.

How to enjoy it:

You can bulk out any salad or meal with this gluten free grain. Or get real funky and make Mexican inspired horchata

Conclusion

If you want your body to function efficiently then you need protein. You'll also look better naked. Just try to prioritise plant-based proteins first as they are tremendously nutritious, providing essential vitamins and minerals, and healthier for the environment. Plus they're cheaper. And they can taste amazing with very little effort. 

 

image credit: Minimalist Baker 

About James

I co-founded Green Press in 2013. I grew up in Alice Springs, the Australian outback, with absolutely no understanding of what healthy food is. Mum...




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