When you hear the word protein what foods come to mind? Most likely, you thought of meat, eggs and dairy. However, there are many plant protein sources that can help pump up the nutrition in your meals while often adding very minimal calories and fat.
Terms like “Plant-powered,” “Meatless Mondays” and more have shed light upon trading meat-based protein for plant-based options. In many countries, low-meat diets are very common but the concept hasn’t quite caught on in the US as of yet.
Follow along as we discuss some excellent plant-based protein options and include tips & recipes for each!
Tofu, edamame & tempeh are all soy products and are some of the richest sources of protein in a plant-based diet.
Firm tofu contains approximately 10 grams of protein in just ½ cup! It also contains no cholesterol, is low in carbohydrates and has less than 100 calories! Tofu is very mild in flavor and takes on the flavor of the sauce it is cooked in or served with it.
Edamame beans are immature soybeans. Steamed, edamame makes a delicious snack. In ½ cup, they have an impressive 8 grams of protein, only 7g of carbohydrates and less than 100 calories!
Tempeh is a fermented product made from soybeans. It has a strong, nutty flavor and tends to hold its shape better when cooked than tofu. Just ½ cup of tempeh boasts over 15 grams of protein and no cholesterol.
Recipe Tip – Not quite ready to replace meat with tofu? Try this indulgent recipe for tofu pudding!
- 14 oz Firm Tofu
- 1 cup organic chocolate chips (vegan chocolate chips can be used)
- ¼ cup almond milk (or milk of choice)
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1-3 tsp. honey to taste
Melt chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or over a double boiler. (Microwave in 10-second increments and stir well to avoid burning.) Add melted chocolate and all other ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve immediately, or chill for a firmer texture!
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas have a delicious nutty taste. In just 1 cup of cooked chickpeas, you will find 15 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber which can help you feel full longer. Commonly, we see chickpeas in hummus. This delicious snack can be enjoyed with carrot sticks or other veggies for a plant-powered snack.
Recipe Tip – Here’s a delicious and easy snack – roasted chickpeas! Start with a can of low-sodium chickpeas (garbanzo beans,) drain, rinse and pat dry. Toss in olive oil and season to taste (see ideas below) before roasting for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees F. For the best result, stir occasionally.
Some great seasoning options: Garlic Parmesan, Lime & Chili Powder, Honey & Cinnamon, Smoked Paprika & Cumin. The options are endless, experiment and find the perfect combo for you!
Though technically a seed, quinoa is a delicious, mildly nutty, gluten-free way to get whole grains in your diet. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein and is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids! Quinoa is also high in fiber, antioxidants and many vitamins & minerals.
Recipe Tip – Quinoa is an easy replacement for rice in almost any dish. However, we love it for a plant-powered breakfast with a bonus protein kick! Try this delicious Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa –
- 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or almonds
- 1 ½ teaspoons coconut or other healthy oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Small pinch of salt
- 1 cup pre-cooked quinoa (a great way to use up leftovers!)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or local raw honey
Toast nuts in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. (4-6 minutes) Add coconut oil and quinoa to the pot and stir to combine. Stir in cinnamon and heat until warmed through. (About one minute.) Transfer to a bowl and top with any of the following wonderful options: plant-based milk, chia seeds, flax seeds, dried cranberries, shredded coconut, fresh fruit. Enjoy!
Like quinoa, chia seeds are a complete form of protein containing all nine essential amino acids as well as heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. In just 2 tablespoons, chia seeds boast more than 4 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber!
Chia seeds are easy to add to smoothies, oatmeal and even as a topping on yogurt.
Recipe Tip – Try adding 2 tablespoons chia seeds to ½ cup plant-based milk. (We love coconut or almond.) Stir well and add a small amount of local, raw honey or natural maple syrup. Cover and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. (Or make ahead – this great snack keeps in the refrigerator for up to 7 days!) Try topping with fresh or dried fruits, shredded coconut, granola, seeds… the options are endless!
Try this beautifully layered chia pudding. The recipe below makes one large serving.
- 3 cups vanilla almond milk, or milk of choice
- 6 Tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tsp local raw honey, to taste
- ½ cup blackberries
- ½ cup strawberries
Add the chia seeds, milk and honey to a jar and mix well. Allow the mixture to settle for several minutes and mix again, ensuring to break up any large clumps.
Cover the jar and store in refrigerator at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Next, place ½ cup of the chia pudding in a blender or food processor with ½ cup blackberries. Blend until smooth and add to the bottom of the serving dish.
Top this layer with ½ cup of the unflavored chia pudding.
Finally, add the remaining ½ cup of chia pudding to the blender or food processor with ½ cup strawberries and blend until smooth. Add to the top of the serving dish.
Top with beautiful fresh fruits and berries. Enjoy!
Dark leafy greens and other vegetables contain protein. While they may not be enough to meet the daily recommendation for protein intake, adding them to your diet and choosing them as snacks can increase overall protein intake. Broccoli, kale, spinach, mustard and collard greens and mushrooms all contain good levels of protein.
Recipe Tip - A quick way to enjoy many of the veggies is with a green smoothie! Try adding 1.5 – 2 cups of any combination of the green leafy vegetables, 1 cup of chopped frozen fruit and 1 cup of water. The add-ins and flavor options are endless. Here’s one of our favorites:
Veggie Power Smoothie
- 5 Cups Spinach (or a combo of spinach & kale with the stems removed)
- ½ cup frozen pineapple chunks
- ½ cup frozen mango chunks
- ½ banana
- 1 Tablespoon chia seeds (you can also add in ground flax seeds for an added bonus)
- 1 cup water (more if needed)
- Optional – ½ cup tofu
Blend well. If the consistency is too thick, add more water & blend (1/2 cup of water at a time.) Enjoy & feel fueled!
While it’s easy to think of meat, dairy and eggs as our only protein options, we hope this article helped open your eyes to the wonderful plant-powered protein options to add to your diet. Try starting with one meatless meal each week, or try one of the delicious recipes above. Be sure to share your pictures with us on Facebook and Instagram! Tag us so we can share your meatless recipes!
Written and photographed by S. Campbell for Access Health Care Physicians