Protein On a Plant Based Diet

Tempeh and lentils and beans - oh my!

More and more people, athletes and average joe’s alike, are trying out plant-based diets. Reasons mentioned often include chronic disease prevention (think cancer and heart disease), to protest animal cruelty, or to just feel better. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to ensure you’re getting adequate protein in your diet.First, let’s break down plant-based diets:

  1. Vegetarian - this means you do not eat any animals or fish, but may consume foods made with animal products like milk, yogurt and eggs. There are categories within vegetarianism:

  2. Lacto-ovo vegetarian - you eat eggs and dairy products.

  3. Ovo vegetarian - you eat eggs but not dairy products.

  4. Lacto vegetarian - you eat dairy products but not eggs.

  5. Vegan - you do not eat any animals, animal products, or foods made with animal products:

*Sometimes vegans will also exclude gelatin and honey.

Animal products are rich in a number of important nutrients, vitamins and minerals. These include protein and all of the amino acids, vitamin B12, iron, calcium and vitamin D. When following a plant-based diet, it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods in the right combinations to get these nutrients. More on that in a bit.

Tip: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are some that your body makes, aka nonessential amino acids. There are 9 others, essential amino acids, that you only get through food. Animal protein contains all of the essential amino acids. Plant foods don’t, so it’s important for vegetarians and vegans to consume a diet rich in a variety of foods to get essential amino acids.

The good news is, depending on the plant-based diet you follow, there are lots of awesome protein sources out there to help you meet your needs. Let’s start with a few natural sources:

Eggs 7 grams of protein per egg

Plain Greek Yogurt 23 grams of protein in an 8oz serving

Tofu - soy milk curds pressed into a block 10 grams of protein in 124g or 1/2C serving

Tempeh - cooked, fermented, pressed soy beans 16 grams of protein in 100 gram serving

Dry Beans - black, kidney, pinto, garbanzo, etc ~ 6-7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving

Nuts & Seeds - not honey roasted ~ 6-7 grams of protein per 1/4 cup serving

Quinoa 6 grams of protein in 1/4 cup dry serving

Hemp, Pea, & Other Plant Proteins Varies by type

Tip: While nuts may add 6-7 grams of protein per serving, they are also very calorie dense. Consider protein from nuts a “bonus” and try not to depend on it as the main protein source in your meal. 

Earlier I mentioned combinations. Why? Many plant proteins offer some essential amino acids, but not all. Pairing plant foods in a meal helps to ensure you get all of those necessary amino acids. Examples include combinations like:

  • Red beans and rice.

  • Bean burrito.

  • Black bean and corn salad.

  • Quinoa and lentils.

  • Hummus and pita bread.

Now, let’s talk about meat alternatives. These are foods designed to replace meat either on their own or in recipes. More and more options are appearing every day, and most of them are delicious! Meat alternatives, like chick’n strips and meatless meatballs are often made from a combination of soy and seitan (wheat gluten).

This allows for a higher protein content and improved texture. If you try to limit processed food in your diet, some of these items may not appeal to you. If you’re ok with including processed foods in your meal plan, the items below are fantastic.

Tip: Read the label! If you have a soy or wheat intolerance or allergy, or are following a gluten free diet, these items may not be for you. Many of the items below are vegan. These are just suggestions. Xplore Nutrition is not paid to endorse these products. 

  • Bob’s Red Mill Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) - This is a ground beef-like product that can be used in chili, marinara sauce, tacos or sloppy joes. A 1/4 cup boasts about 80 calories and 12 grams of protein.

  • Gardein Meatless Meatballs - These guys are awesome in spaghetti and make a solid meatball sub. Three meatballs gives you 15 grams of protein and 150 calories.

  • Tofurkey Italian Sausage - At 280 calories, this sausage stand-in is more calorie dense that some of the other items on this list. However, one link gives you 28 grams of protein.

  • Field Roast Apple Maple Breakfast Sausage - Two small links provides 10 grams of protein and 100 calories. They are a tasty edition to scrambled tofu or a good sidekick to a few wheat pancakes.

  • Morningstar Farms Black Bean Burgers - These patties not only have 190 calories and 17 grams of protein, but also provide 8 grams of fiber!

  • Boca, Morningstar Farms or Gardein “Crumbles” - Same application as TVP, but higher in sodium. Calories range between 70-80 per half cup serving and offer 8-10 grams of protein, depending on the brand.

  • Morningstar Farms Chick’n Strips - Toss these on top of a salad or into your stir fry to add 23 grams of protein and 150 calories to your meal.

  • Lightlife Jumbo Smartdogs - These hotdogs are a decent replacement for beef and pork hotdogs at cookouts or for a quick, casual lunch. One hotdog provides 100 calories and 13 grams of protein.

You can find these items either in the produce or freezer section of your local grocery store. TVP is sneaky and is sometimes with grains or flour alternatives.

Tip: When you’re shopping for meatless items, choose wisely. If you typically try to avoid breading on meat, try to avoid breading on meatless foods. Breaded chicken and fish, and products like vegetarian corndogs are typically higher in calories and lower in protein.

At Xplore Nutrition, we believe all foods fit, and moderation is the goal! You may not want to eat meat alternatives at EVERY meal, but they can serve as a solid source of protein in your diet.We hope this was helpful in guiding you along your plant-based journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your coach, or our team at Xplore, if you have any questions!

This blog was created by Xplore Nutrition coach & registered dietitian, Cat Holly.