Plant-Based Protein: Where to Find & How to Optimize

If you’ve been thinking about switching to plant-based diets, you’ve likely wondered where you’ll get all of your protein from. Proteins are undeniably essential for your health and wellbeing and the thought of not getting enough may be intimidating. After all, they support the body’s needs for creating cells and tissues, support healthy bones, and help maintain a healthy immune system. While there’s no denying that most people get their daily protein from animal-based products, these aren’t the only option. In fact, there are many other ways to get your daily dose of protein without consuming animal products. In this article, we cover the vast array of delicious and nutritious vegan protein sources that will provide your mind and body with the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs to thrive. So, whether you’re a vegan veteran, a curious flexitarian, or simply looking to incorporate more meatless meals into your diet, let’s take a bit out of the various vegan protein sources that are certain to pack all the punch – and health benefits you’re looking for.

vegan protein sources fact sheet

What Are Vegan Protein Sources?

Vegan protein sources are protein that doesn’t come from animals. Simple enough, right? The only reason these sources of protein seem “odd” to the average person is because most people rely on meats to get their daily protein. This is because animal-based proteins like meat are considered “complete” proteins as they contain all essential amino acids.

Now, there isn’t one source of vegan protein that offers the same – a “complete” protein. However, you can easily get all of the essential amino acids simply by incorporating an array of plant-based proteins into your diet.

Some examples of good sources of plant-based protein include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Grains
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds, especially peanuts and sunflower seeds
  • Soy products

Importance of Dietary Protein

Proteins are an essential part of your diet. They are the building blocks of life, compromising of chains of amino acids that form the structural foundation of every cell in the human body.

The body naturally generates 11 protein classified as “non-essential” protein. As for the other 9, known as “essential” proteins, you have to get them through your dietary choices as the body cannot make them itself. These help your body repair cells and build new ones for growth, energy, strength, tissue and muscle repair, and the synthesis of enzymes and neurotransmitters.

Your body also uses protein to carry oxygen throughout the body. This helps nutrients get to where they need to go, for optimal functioning. Additionally, approximately half of the dietary proteins you consume go towards making enzymes, which help with digestion. Proteins also play a significant role in regulating your hormone health.

The body naturally cycles through cell loss and repair, replacing approximately 2 million cells per second. However, without a sufficient supply of dietary protein, this process begins to slow down.

On the other hand, consuming enough protein ensures optimal functioning which comes with well-rounded benefits for your entire health and wellbeing.

Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

Not only will eating plant-based proteins ensure you’re getting the amino acids your mind and body need, they also provide some additional benefits. From improved heart health and reduced inflammation to a reduced risk of serious diseases and health conditions, let’s take a look at the many advantages you can expect.

Reduce Risk of Serious Health Concerns

For example, eating less meat can decrease the risk of several health concerns, including heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, many cancers, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. So, by opting for vegan protein sources, you can ensure you’re getting adequate protein without the health risks that come with meat-based protein sources.

Reduced Inflammation

Animal proteins are also commonly associated with inflammation, due to the saturated fat. This is your body’s natural response to protect itself from danger. This says enough about meat-based proteins in itself. After all, if you’re eating something that causes your body to activate this defensive response, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

By opting for vegan protein sources, you can also help reduce inflammation. This can be a powerful move when dealing with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and diabetes, as they have all been linked to chronic inflammation.

Healthy Dose of Fiber

The benefits don’t stop there either. Plant-based protein comes with a healthy dose of fiber. This helps regulate your hunger and blood sugar, digestion, the body’s use of sugar and maintain a healthy gut flora.

Improved Digestion

Vegan protein sources are especially beneficial for your digestive health, as they come packed with nourishing fibers that work wonders for digestion. They also promote better nutrient absorption, enhance intestinal motility, and reduce discomfort from gas and bloating.

Enhanced Metabolism

Trading in meat protein sources for vegan ones can give you a significant metabolic boost. Vegan food sources naturally take longer to digest, leading to improved fat-burning efficiency as your body spends more energy to process the plant proteins. This can also help with weight management and weight loss.

Boost Heart Health

Choosing a plant-based diets, or even just protein sources, often means lower cholesterol and saturated fat intake, coupled with an abundance of heart-friendly plant sterols. This combination contributes to better cardiovascular health and overall wellbeing.

Avoiding Unwanted Additives

Unlike animal-based protein sources, plant-based options steer clear of added hormones and antibiotics. So, not only are you receiving a rich supply of antioxidants, phytochemicals, essential vitamins, and minerals, but you’re also avoiding potentially harmful ingredients.

Sources of Protein for Vegans

Most people get all the protein they need from meat sources, as they are “complete” proteins that have all essential amino acids. As a vegan, it’s just as important that you get all these amino acids in your diet. However, there isn’t just one food that can do that like animal products can. So, you have to eat a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting the amino acids you need.

Below is a list of top vegan protein sources to choose from:

  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Hemp seeds
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa
  • Vegan meat
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds (and nut butter)
  • Soy milk

Of course, there are many more sources of protein that don’t come from animals. The options above are mentioned specifically due to the protein content they offer. However, here are some additional vegan protein sources:

  • Beans and legumes: Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans.
  • Vegetables: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes, kale, spinach, sweet corn.
  • While grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, whole-wheat.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.
  • Soy: tempeh, tofu.

Tips For Consuming Vegan Protein Sources

If you’re still having a hard time getting sufficient amount of protein in your diet, there are a few tips that can help. For starters, aim to combine at least 2 of the above foods groups to ensure that you are always getting all 20 amino acids in every meal. For example, you may choose to pair beans with rice, almond butter with rice crackers, or lentil soup with a slice of whole meal bread. These combinations are also certain to keep you satisfied!

Now, if you still need an extra boost, you may want to consider taking a protein supplement. These are often the quickest and easiest way to ensure that you are getting all the protein and amino acids in your diet. Just be sure to read the label to ensure you’re using a vegan protein powder.

Lastly, you may want to start following a vegan meal plan. These will lay out your meals for you, while also ensuring you’re getting everything you need from your food choices. Plus, they take the stress and hassle out of trying to figure out what to eat each day.

Just when you think meat is the only way to get adequate protein in your diet, you stumble across these delicious and nutritious vegan protein sources. While you do have to incorporate several different food items to get all of the essential amino acids, there are plenty of options to choose from. Plus, opting for vegan protein sources into your diet not only supports your nutritional needs but also contributes to a more ethical lifestyle. Choosing plant-based protein sources also allows you to avoid harmful additives commonly used in meat-based products, which is certain to give you an extra boost to your overall health.  So, whether it’s hearty legumes, nutrient-rich seeds or soy-products, sticking with vegan protein sources is a delicious and wholesome way to meet your nutritional goals.

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