More and more people are switching to a plant-based protein diet, which is good for your body and the planet.
But are you eating the right food in the right way?
If you’re a meat-lover and want more high-quality vegan protein into your diet, you’re at the right place.
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan and looking for more high-quality protein sources, you’re at the right place as well.
Find out the differences between plant-based and animal-based protein, tips to get enough protein in your plant-based diet, and a list of high protein vegan foods for your diet.
What Is Protein And Why Is It Important?
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is responsible for building, maintaining and repairing our cells. The cells are essential for digesting food, coordinating the activities in different body systems, fighting diseases and carrying substances throughout the body.
It is a vital component in your journey to optimal health, and you need a relatively large amount of it.
Wonder how much protein you really need? Use this simple Daily Recommended Intake calculator to find out.
Is Plant-Based Protein Better?
Have you wondered which is better? Animal or plant protein?
Before we jump to conclusions, let’s take a step back and look at them from different perspectives.
How would your health be affected?
The biggest concern is which protein can help you achieve optimal health in the long run.
Science has shown us over and over again that people who had a diet rich in high-quality vegan protein were at a lower risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, heart disease, lower mortality rate, and lower blood sugar. And meat-based diets increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases
Summary: People who have a plant-based diet had lower risks of diseases.
Which is a complete protein?
A complete protein means the food contains all 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Most animal products (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy) and some vegan protein sources (such as quinoa, buckwheat hemp seeds, chia seeds, and soybean) are complete proteins. However, the amount of protein in plants may not contain as much as animal products.
Summary: Animal products and some plants are complete proteins.
What about the protein package?
There isn’t a single natural food that contains only one nutrient. What makes us healthy is consuming the entire protein “package” — the other nutrients present in the food such as carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Some nutrients are animal-specific such as heme iron and vitamin B12. Certain plants have plant-specific nutrients such as phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.
Animal products also contain higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol than plants.
Summary: Some nutrients exist specifically in animal or plant products.
What about their bioavailability?
Bioavailability is the amount of the nutrient that is absorbed and used by the body.
- One example is iron. In general, there are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is only found in animal products, and non-heme is found in plant products. Heme iron is easily absorbed into our body system but only a small fraction of non-heme iron is absorbed.
- An important source of Vitamin A is β-carotene present in animal and plant products. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that more plant products are needed to get the same amount of Vitamin A from animal products.
Summary: In general, we need to consume more plants to achieve the same number of nutrients in animal products.
And the result is?
As you can see, there’s no clear winner here.
Our ancestors have been eating meat and plants for millions of years, and our bodies have evolved to thrive in omnivore diets. We also recognize that some people become healthier when they go either way: meat-based or plant-based diet. If it’s working for you, that’s great!
If it’s not, you may want to seriously reconsider the quality of the food you’re eating. A vegan diet can be unhealthy if it’s not optimized. A meat-based diet full of saturated fat and processed meat is bad for your body.
How Do You Get Enough Protein On A Plant-Based Diet?
Enough protein is not enough. We need enough high-quality protein.
Quality is key here, alongside the variety and eating in seasons.
1. Always choose high-quality sources of plant-based protein
Always opt for fresh and unprocessed plants without flavorings, preservatives, and additives.
Fresh beans have higher quality and more nutrients than their processed counterparts.
Get raw or dry-roasted nuts instead of salted or sweetened nuts.
Eat raw vegetables. If you have to cook them, steaming or boiling does the trick, without removing most of the nutrients.
2. A variety of plant protein is more important than you think
You may have heard of protein complementing or protein combining.
Protein complementing means combining different plant products that replace each other’s missing nutrients in a single meal.
That was a myth. Our body can store nutrients for immediate or later use, so we don’t need to eat complete vegan protein meals at one go.
What’s key here is eating a variety of plants and animal products throughout the year. And some high-quality lean meat — like fish, chicken breast, turkey breast — can go a long way.
3. Optimize for seasonal eating
We evolve with seasons. Our bodies would have seasons where we gain fat and lose fat, not a visible level. It’s a cycle.
— Eric Edmeades, Author Of Mindvalley’s Wildfit Program
We are evolved for seasonal eating.
“How do our bodies work with seasons?”
Before winter comes, our bodies will store fats, nutrients, and calories. So our ancestors can survive through winter.
When spring comes, our bodies will release stored fats (because we don’t need it anymore) and prepare to eat an abundance of food.
The problem is, most of us are eating foods that keep telling our bodies, “Winter is coming! We need to store all the fats!”
And that winter never comes.
One food that sends the “winter is coming” signal to our body is sugar.
If you optimize your diet around seasonal eating, you’ll gain some and lose more weight (spring and winter) naturally and give our dear pancreas a break.
What Plants Are High In Protein?
Any diet can make or break your health. It’s vital to choose high-quality and high protein vegan foods so you can achieve optimal health.
As a general rule of thumb, always choose fresh, unprocessed, unsweetened, and unflavored foods. If permissible, opt for organic.
Also, how you cook affects the protein and nutrients in the food. We preserve most of the nutrients by cooking it the WildFit way.
So, here’s a list of the best plant-based protein you can start adding to your diet.
Soy products: Tofu, tempeh, and edamame, beans, and milk
Soy protein is a complete protein. Soy products are rich in B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. They contain polyunsaturated fat and low in saturated fat.
Science has shown that soy foods are generally good for our health. Some of the benefits are:
- Lower the risks of breast cancer
- Reduce the risks of prostate cancer via intakes of total soy foods, soy isoflavones (a kind of micronutrient present in soy), and unfermented soy foods
- May help prevent cognitive decline — memory loss or thinking skills.
What’s more, soy products are one of the best vegetarian protein sources.
For every 100g,
- Tempeh contains about 20g of protein
- Soybeans contain about 18g of protein
- Edamame contains about 12g of protein
- Tofu contains about 8g of protein
- Soy milk contains about 2.6g of protein
Soy foods are very versatile; they can be boiled, steamed, baked, stir-fried, in any healthy way you want it.
Do you know tempeh is a popular choice to substitute meat? It can be cooked just like meat and contains all the goodness of soy.
Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans, peanuts
Do beans have protein?
Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils are among the best plant-based protein. They are packed with other essential nutrients like folate, fiber, iron, phosphorus, and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
This is why the Mediterranean diet won the best diet award in 2019. One reason is that it’s rich in legumes.
Why are legumes such a big deal?
Because of the benefits they offer:
- Better heart health
- Help to lower blood cholesterol and may prevent sharp rises in blood sugar
- Used to substitute red meat and it’s shown to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- Help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- May help with weight loss (thanks to the fiber) and modestly increase calorie burning.
Lentils, chickpeas, black beans contain, and red kidney beans about 9g of protein for every 100g. Except for peanuts, it contains a whopping 26g of protein!
But, do take caution because peanuts also contain a high amount of fat (mostly unsaturated fat).
Seeds: Chia seeds, hemp seeds
Chia seeds were high protein vegan foods eaten by the Aztecs in central Mexico around 5,500 years ago (3500 B.C). It was used for medicine, oil, offering, and food. It is said that the Aztecs would carry chia seeds during long trips as an energy provider (something like energy bars but much better).
Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids (including alpha-linolenic fatty acids), fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. One ounce (28g) of chia seeds contain around 5g of protein.
This is why chia seeds are good for you:
- The fiber in chia seeds may help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and slow down digestion, which can prevent blood sugar spikes and promote a feeling of fullness
- High intake of omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and plants may reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
- Plant sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic fatty acids may reduce risk factors of sudden cardiac death in women.
Hemp is originated in Central Asia. It is cultivated as early as 2800 BCE. The edible hemp seeds contain about 30% oil and a good source of protein, fiber, and magnesium. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain around 10g of protein.
Some benefits of hemp seeds are:
- Like chia seeds, hemp seeds contain high levels of omega-3s and a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to improve heart health and reduce the risks of heart disease.
- Hemp seeds can be blended into hemp milk. It is a great source of protein and calcium.
Protein-rich fruits and vegetables: Guavas, avocados, apricots, kiwis, blackberries, broccoli, spinach, asparagus
Fruits and vegetables do not fight disease; It is their absence that causes it.
— Eric Edmeades, Author Of Mindvalley’s Wildfit Program
If you want optimal health and longevity, fruits and vegetables are a must-have. They are the best protective mechanism against diseases we’ve got. Yet, the vast majority of us are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables.
Their protein “package” is far superior to any non-functional foods.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in protein, potassium, fiber, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C. And they don’t contain any cholesterol.
Over and over again, studies upon studies have shown that fruits and vegetables help us achieve optimal health.
Some of the fruits and vegetables high in protein are,
- Guavas contain 4.2g of protein per cup
- One avocado contains 4g of protein
- Apricots contain 2.2g of protein per cup
- Kiwi contains 2.1g of protein per cup
- Blackberries contain 2g of protein per cup
- Broccoli contains 5.7g of protein per cup
- Spinach contains 5.3g of protein per cup
- Asparagus contains 5.3g of protein per cup.
Want to know other vegetables that are high in protein? Check out our High-Protein Vegetables You Should Consume article.
Note: Although most vegetables have less protein than other plant-based protein sources, their protein “package” is what makes them so valuable for our health.
Nuts: Nut butters, walnut, pistachio, almonds, cashews
Isn’t it nuts that nuts have so much protein and nutrients?
These chewy and crispy little nuts pack a lot more nutrients than you think. They are rich in vitamin E, folate, potassium, fiber, and arginine, an amino acid required to make nitric oxide that relaxes constricted blood vessels and eases blood flow.
Even better, studies have shown that nuts may significantly lower the risk of heart attack or stroke, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
Fun fact: Peanut butter sold in the market are different. The salt and sweeteners mixed in don’t do your body good. Opt for unsalted and unsweetened peanut butter instead.
Grains: Amaranth, quinoa, sprouted Ezekiel bread, spelt, teff, wild rice, brown rice, corn
We eat grains all the time — wheat products, rice, bread, tortillas, cereals — but do you know most grains we eat are actually low in nutritional quality?
What we eat are mostly refined grains. But what we should be really eating are whole grains.
Because whole grains have all nutrients remain intact, whereas refined grains have 99% of its nutrients stripped away.
Why are whole grains good for the body?
It’s rich in protein, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, vitamin E, healthy fats, and phytochemicals (a natural compound in plants).
The compounds in high-protein grains are shown to lower cholesterol, maintain a steady blood sugar level, may protect against cancer and may help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes.
Examples of high-protein grains include,
- Amaranth grains contain around 4g of protein per 100g
- Quinoa contains around 4g of protein per 100g
- Sprouted Ezekiel bread contains 15g of protein per 100g
- Spelt contains around 6g of protein per 100g
- Teff contains around 4g of protein per 100g
- Wild rice contains around 4g of protein per 100g
- Brown rice contains around 3g of protein per 100g
- Corn contains around 3g of protein per 100g
Fun fact: Here’s an interesting story about grains. Warning. You may feel not wanting to eat grains anymore, so read at your own risk.
What Is The Best Plant-Based Protein?
If “The Best Plant-Based Protein” award existed, which food do you think will win?
By protein alone, hemp seed would take the crown, boasting about an equal amount of protein as beef and lamb.
However, our bodies are built to get protein from multiple sources and proteins from hemp seed alone wouldn’t suffice.
The key here is the protein package.
We need to get other nutrients alongside high protein vegan foods to fulfill our broad range of nutritional requirements.
What Is The Best Diet?
It is undeniable that Americans and some parts of the world are eating way too many non-functional foods and too few high-quality plant-based proteins.
About half of American adults — 117 million — have one or more preventable chronic diseases. These diseases can be prevented by eating high-quality functional foods and a decent amount of physical activities.
More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese.
The good news is, humans have the best diet.
You might guess it’s paleo, vegan or the famous Mediterranean diet.
It’s the human diet.
The best diet for humans is the human diet.
This may sound confusing but get this.
Eric Edmeades, the author of Mindvalley’s WildFit program said, “Every organism on Earth has a diet. And humans have one.”
And high-quality plant-based protein foods are just a tiny part of the human diet.
Disclaimer: All nutritional data are taken from Food Data Central.
Which protein food do you think you need more of? Why? Share your comments below!