5 Excellent Sources of Plant-Based Protein

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: August 17, 2017
Qarbanzo Beans
Guest post by: Dan Desilva of Nutrition Inspector

While animal products are the most prevalent and common sources of protein, the protein content of plants is not to be underestimated.

While plants do not have quite as much protein as meat, they still make up a large amount of your daily recommended protein.

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are building blocks the body needs. There are about twenty amino acids needed by the body, but the body can supply most of them itself.

Nine of these amino acids need to be supplied by the diet, and they are considered essential amino acids. Foods that contain all of these essential acids are known as complete proteins.

As a rule, animal sources of protein are complete while plant sources of protein generally are not, but that does not make much of a difference in the long run. As long as all essential amino acids are supplied across the day, plant protein is just as good, plus it supplies a larger range of essential vitamins and minerals.


Soy is one of the best sources of plant based protein. It is considered a complete protein but it is actually low in two of the essential amino acids. Edamame, green soybeans, are a great choice of vegetable to add to dishes like stir fries to boost the protein content. One cup of cooked soybeans contains more than half of the protein needed for a day. Soybeans are also very high in iron, copper and omega-3 fatty acids which are all usually supplied by animal products.

Tofu is a popular choice of vegetarian protein as well that can take on the flavor of anything it is cooked with. As it is processed, it contains a bit less protein than the actual soybeans.

Soy has become a bit controversial as it is a highly genetically modified crop, so try to buy organic soy products when you can.


Lentils are small protein-filled legumes that come in various colors. One cup of lentils contains thirty-six percent of your daily recommended protein. Lentils are a great way to bulk up a meal, by using it to add more plant protein to ground meat or just as a substitute for meat like in pasta sauce. They also go great with rice for a protein-packed vegetarian meal.

Lentils are also the top source of folate with ninety percent of what you need. Folate helps the entire body from heart and nervous system health to developing healthy babies.


Like lentils, other legumes in the bean family are also really high in protein. Things such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans and garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) all contain around thirty percent of the daily recommended protein. Most beans are also a great source of dietary fiber which helps regulate weight, blood sugar and keeps the digestive system running smoothly.

Beans are versatile and not only are a delicious addition to most dishes but they can be mashed up to make vegetarian substitutes for meat products like burgers, and even used in baking. Black bean brownies are a good way to have a healthier dessert, while something like chickpea flour can be used in place of white flour in pizza dough and other dishes.


For a leafy green vegetable, spinach contains a surprising amount of protein. One cup of cooked spinach contains eleven percent of the daily protein you need for the day. It is a super nutritious food with dozens of other vitamins and minerals, and it is very easy to add to many dishes. Add spinach to a fruit smoothie for a serving of protein with very little taste difference.

Spinach also contains nutrients found in animal proteins such as iron, copper and omega-3s, so while it is not a complete protein you get a well-rounded nutrition boost from eating spinach.


This superfood that has taken the culinary world by storm in recent years has many health benefits. It can replace rice in many dishes as it has about the same amount of calories and fulfills the same role, but is much more nutritious. One cup of cooked quinoa contains about sixteen percent of the protein you need, and it is one of the only true complete proteins in the plant world. Technically while it is used as a grain, it is actually a seed.

Not only can you replace many other grains with it such as rice, oatmeal or couscous, but you can also bake with quinoa. It is gluten free as well, making it a great choice for those with that to consider.

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