The 8 Best Plant-Based Proteins
Meat, fish, and poultry may be the gold standard when it comes to protein, but plants don’t fall far behind. Rather than sticking to meat and poultry for your daily protein needs, venture out of your comfort zone and incorporate new ingredients to your diet for an exciting, healthy new way to reach your nutritional goals. Consider that you only need 50 grams of protein in a day, and you’ll see how quickly plant-based proteins can add up to satisfy your daily protein needs. They’re also full of fiber and, as a whole, have less saturated fat than animal-based proteins. Eating plant-based proteins is associated with a lower risk of disease, and these foods have a smaller carbon footprint, too. But the best part? Vegetables are downright tasty! Read on for 8 of the top protein-packed plant sources.
1 Cup Cooked Spinach
Saturated Fat: 0.1g
With packaged prewashed spinach available everywhere, it’s never been easier to add spinach to quick and easy meals. Try tossing handfuls into a pot of soup, or wilt into a pasta dish or whole-grain toss. It loses volume considerably when cooked, so feel free to load in lots. Take this easy recipe for Sautéed Spinach with Garlic and Red Pepper, and serve as a side dish, tuck into an omelet, or combine with pasta, quinoa, or farro for a meal. Or heap a pile of spinach onto pizza for a meal to please the whole family.
1 Cup Cooked Quinoa
Saturated Fat: 0.4g
This gluten-free whole grain is great for pilafs, salads, casseroles, soups, and more. At the grocery store, you’ll find beige, red, or black varieties; all have about the same nutritional profile and are just as quick-cooking as the other. Try quinoa cooked porridge-style with our Breakfast Quinoa, or put the hard-working grain to delicious use in Asian Stir-Fry Quinoa Bowl or Zucchini, Walnut, and Feta Cakes with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce.
1 Cup Cooked Lentils
Saturated Fat: 0.1g
Humble, inexpensive dried brown lentils are a protein powerhouse—and they’re quite high in fiber, too. Unlike most dried beans, there’s no need to presoak dried lentils; they cook to tenderness in about 30 minutes. Cooked properly, they have a creamy, slightly firm texture and nutty-meaty texture. They’re perfect in soups, casseroles, and salads. If you’re including meat in your diet, think about replacing half of the ground meat of meat loaf or sloppy Joes with cooked lentils; your family will likely never know. Check out our recipe for A Perfect Pot of Lentils, and use them to make our comforting meat-free Lentil Shepherd’s Pie or our fresh and colorful Grilled Peppers and Lentil Salad.
1 oz. Dry-Roasted Shelled Pistachios
Saturated Fat: 1.6g
That’s right—your favorite nut to crack and snack is also a great source of plant protein. Rich and sweet, pistachios work beautifully in pesto (in place of pine nuts) or any kind of salad. Try them in Fettuccine with Pistachio-Mint Pesto and Tomatoes or Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Currants. You can also grind them to make your own easy homemade Pistachio Butter for elevated sandwiches or morning toast.
2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
Saturated Fat: 3.4g
One way to enjoy peanut butter is, of course, the childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich—nothing wrong with that. You can also use it to boost your morning hot cereal; try our Crunchy Peanut Butter Bulgur with Berries, or simply stir into your usual morning oats. Or make yourself a protein-rich snack stash with our No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars. You can also go savory with peanut butter, like with our Steamed Broccoli with Peanut Sauce (try the sauce also on rice noodles or soba noodles).
1 Cup Canned Chickpeas
Saturated Fat: 0.5g
While you can always opt to cook dried chickpeas, we love the convenience of canned chickpeas; just opt for unsalted ones, and give them a thorough rinse before using for the best flavor. These firm, nutty legumes are perfect for meat-free salads, soups, and (of course) hummus. Try them in our speedy Chickpea Curry with Basmati Rice or pureed into Sweet Potato and Chickpea Cakes with Avocado Salsa.
1 Cup White Beans
Saturated Fat: 0.2g
Creamy, starchy, and mild, white beans blend seamlessly into all kinds of dishes. You can cook your own dried beans, or go for the ease and convenience of canned beans—purchase unsalted beans for better nutrition and truer flavor. You can try cannellini beans (white kidney beans), navy beans, Great Northern beans, or canned beans simply labeled “white beans.” Try pureeing with a little garlic and olive oil, and use as the “sauce” for a pizza loaded with veggies, try as a sandwich spread, or create an elegant entrée with Roasted Mushrooms on White Bean Puree. Or go more rustic with a pot of White Bean and Hominy Chili, or boost the protein of a tomato soup by blending in some white beans.
1 Cup Edamame
Saturated Fat: 1g
These slightly sweet, slightly nutty immature soybeans are wonderfully firm and incredibly versatile—great in salads, soups, and purees. Toss them into fried rice for a protein boost, or use them in place of lima beans in your favorite succotash recipe. Try our Soybean Hummus as a dip with pita or as a flavor-packed sandwich spread, or try an Asian spin with Soba-Edamame Noodle Bowl. And for a salad that holds up well for take-to-work lunches, go for Three-Bean Salad.