Medically reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Curious about what plant based protein foods to eat on a plant forward diet? Get the scoop on the best protein for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, alike!
I've been a plant-based eater for more than half of my life. And often, people ask me how I get my protein. Well, it's not as complicated as it may seem.
These days, lots and lots of plant proteins exist, from whole-food options like edamame and hemp seeds to plant-based hamburgers. The best part? Many plant proteins are often pretty darn cheap and provide you with other essential nutrients, too. I'm going to be talking about the best plant-based protein foods in this blog post.
Why Plant-Forward Eating is Hot This Year
Before we get into those plant-based proteins, let's chat about why plant-based eating is so "in" right now.
From the looks of it, 2020 might just be the year of the plant-based diet. More and more eaters are swapping their turkey burgers for veggie alternatives, opting to extend Meatless Monday throughout the week and making plants the spotlight of most meals. This is music to the ears of a plant-forward dietitian like me!
But when you're used to a helping of chicken or beef every day, how do you make sure you're getting enough protein while following this new eating style? I'm teaching you exactly how to do that.
In this blog post, you'll find all the need-to-know info on what eating a plant-based diet actually entails, the health perks that come along with it, and (you guessed it!) the best animal product-free proteins to start adding to your plate.
I'm even sharing one of my favorite nutrient-dense plant-forward recipes that will keep you fueled for hours to come. So pull out your grocery list, and let's get started.
You'll even find easy, peasy recipes to help you prepare for your first Meatless Monday or first stab at vegetarianism. Or maybe just a one-off plant-based meal while you get your toes wet!
Thinking about following a plant-forward diet? Then you'll want to know all about the best protein for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
The Best Protein for Vegetarians and Flexitarians
Now that you've said goodbye to meat for a night (or just a meal!), load your plate with one of the five whole or minimally processed plant-based protein foods for a hefty serving of protein, featured in my Food Network article.
Aside from boasting good-for-you nutrients, these best protein for vegetarians also score big in the storage department, as most can be tucked away in the freezer and pantry. In fact, many of these are my go-tos that I always keep on hand for an easy, nutritious, plant-based meal!
Want even more plant-protein ideas? As a plant-forward registered dietitian, I get lots of questions about how to eat the plant based diet—and especially how to get enough protein!
So I put together this graphic (below) of my fave plant proteins. These work in main dishes and side dishes, alike.
You'll find the best protein for vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians alike. They also work if you simply want to eat more plants.
Nuts and Seeds
Hooray for healthy fats. You won't find many saturated fats in nuts and seeds. I love snacking on these and adding them to a smoothie bowl or salad. A quarter cup of pistachios boasts 6 grams of protein!
This wheat gluten protein is high in protein, providing 16 grams of protein per 3 ounces. It’s delish in a stir fry.
These are beans, lentils, and chickpeas. I love ‘em in a bowl with rice or veggies. 1 cup of chickpeas has 15 grams of protein.
This plant protein meat substitute comes from fermented, nutritious fungus. Many forms of mycoprotein exist, including meatless grounds—1 cup of which contains 15 grams of protein.
Yup, the green stuff boasts protein—you get 2 grams per ounce. Add spirulina to a smoothie for a pop of color!
Soy is a complete plant protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids. Think tofu, edamame, and tempeh! You get 7 grams per 3 ounces. I love baked tofu!
This all-plant protein grain has 8 grams of protein per 1 cup of cooked grains. It's a great plant food, and I love adding it to a salad!
These green veggies boast protein—8 grams per cup! I like to mix ‘em with brown rice.
I just gave you the super-quick rundown on the best proteins to eat on a plant-forward diet. if you want even more ideas, peanut butter, chia seeds, black beans, soy milk, and nutritional yeast are also full of essential amino acids!
How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet
As intimidating as it sounds, kickstarting a plant-based diet isn't actually that complicated. And it's a great way to start learning how to eat more fruits, veggies, and legumes before going full-fledged vegetarian or vegan if your contemplating trying those eating styles.
To help you get started, check out my step-by-step guide to following the eating style in this CNET article. Remember, baby steps are still steps forward! If you need more inspo, take a look at my mix-and-match plant-based meal plans.
And when it comes to high-protein breakfasts, definitely skip the cinnamon bun and the negroni cocktail donut! Instead, dig into these registered dietitian breakfast favorites:
And you might be wondering just how healthy plant-based eating is in the first place. Maybe just maybe it feels like all your friends signed onto plant-based eating. Still on the fence yourself? This Well+Good article might convince you to take the leap.
I reveal all the health benefits of eating less meat, along with the most delicious plant-based foods that pack a one-two punch of protein *and* fiber. What's not to love?
The Most Popular Non-Dairy Yogurts
Seeing more and more plant-based yogurt on the grocery shelves? Yup, dairy-free yogurts are hotter than ever, especially when you're following a plant-forward diet! Which ones are the best protein options?
In this Well+Good article, I dish all the need-to-know info about soy, almond, coconut-based yogurts, and more! By the way, you can sub in dairy-free yogurt into pretty much any Greek yogurt parfait recipe.
Do You Really Need Protein Powder?
Despite the fancy labels, protein powders aren't any healthier than protein-rich, whole foods like edamame, nut butter, and beans.
I usually get more than enough protein from natural foods—but when I really want to amp things up, I add just egg white protein powder to smoothies and oatmeal.
Amy's Plant Protein Recipes to Try
You'll love this recipe: Vegan Mediterranean Vegetable Salad
This hearty Mediterranean salad is inspired by the place where plant-based eating all got started!
Mixed with arugula and herbs, the edamame and almonds give this salad a satisfying crunch of protein, while the prunes offer a heaping dose of fiber. Toss this meal together for a lunch that'll keep you hunger free till dinner.
Bonus recipe: Citrus Salad Recipe
When it you think of protein-packed recipes, I bet the last thing to come to mind is salad. Well, this zesty salad is here to change your thinking!
In one bowl, you'll get a punch of protein from small-but-mighty quinoa (which is also a complete protein—win!) and crunchy almonds.
You also get lots of other plant nutrients from the prunes and oranges. Toss these ingredients together for a quickie meal today! Also try a vegan Mediterranean vegetable salad, with lots of plant protein!
This blog post was updated in July 2020.
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I'd love to hear from you! Are you following a plant-forward diet? Which of these best protein foods for vegetarians and beyond will you try first?
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