Here is a review of the best sources of plant protein:
Most legumes are rich in protein, carbohydrates and fiber while being lower in fat. They are an economical source of high quality plant protein, B vitamins, and many phytonutrients. They are especially important for people following a vegan diet because they contain iron, zinc, and other nutrients that are found in animal products. Legumes include fresh beans and peas as well as “pulses” which are dried beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils. Soybeans and peanuts are legumes as well. Because of peanut’s high fat content, they are included in the nuts and seeds category where they are more nutritionally similar. Legumes are high in the amino acid lysine, but low in the amino acid methionine which is found abundantly in grains. This is one good reason to vary your meals and eat both grains and legumes to supply all the essential amino acids necessary for a healthy diet.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and healthy fats. They are higher in calories than most other plant protein sources, but are very important for a healthy diet. Nuts and seeds are very satiating and contain many nutrients that are hard to find elsewhere such as vitamin E, selenium, calcium and unsaturated fat. There are many nuts and seeds that supply numerous vitamins and minerals to the diet, but as far as protein is concerned, the varieties listed in the chart will be your best sources. Remember that serving size is crucial when enjoying nuts and seeds! If you want to make sure you aren’t going overboard on fat and calories, measure out your nuts and seeds before eating them!
Whole grains are classified as any grain that contains all three parts of the grain; the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. The healthiest way to enjoy grains is to eat them whole. Generally speaking, the more processing that a grain undergoes (grinding, bleaching, de-germing) the more nutrient losses occur. Try sticking to whole, unprocessed options like whole wheat berries, brown rice, buckwheat, whole or steel cut oats, or even trying ancient grains such as teff or quinoa for optimal nutrition. Avoid processed white flours, “instant” oats and rice, chips, crackers, and other grain-based products that are less nutritious. Whole grains provide a great source of carbohydrates paired with healthy fiber that can keep your heart healthy and energize the body.
While vegetables are lower in overall protein per serving than many food groups, they are still some of the best foods you can eat. The protein they do supply is packaged with other amazing nutrients and phytochemicals that help fight cancer, ward off heart disease, and promote longevity. Vegetables also supply fiber, some carbohydrate, and are low in overall calories. Vegetables should be the backbone to every healthy diet, and should be added to every meal and snack whenever possible.
This category contains other foods that can help people who are limiting their consumption of animal products. Nutritional yeast is a strain of yeast that doesn’t leaven bread products. It is a good source of protein, B vitamins, and has a nutty, cheese-like flavor. It can be added to popcorn, spreads, dressings, or dips to add a little extra protein and flavor. Soy products such as tofu and soy sauce are in this category as well. These products are made by processing or fermenting soy, a plant rich in protein and phytoestrogens. If you tolerate soy, these products can be a fun way to replace meat and make dishes more enjoyable but are not necessary. If you choose not to eat soy, there are plenty of other options to help you get all of the protein that your body needs.
*Serving size is based on ready to eat amounts unless otherwise specified. For instance, beans and grains are measured after cooking, and nuts and seeds are measured without their shell.