The 10 Best Plant-Based Sources of Protein – Meal Replacement Shakes The 10 Best Plant-Based Sources of Protein – Meal Replacement Shakes
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The case for plant-based protein continues to grow stronger and stronger as we learn more about the health benefits of these delicious and nutritious plant sources. 

Not only do plants provide a great source of many essential nutrients, but the ones on this list are also packed with protein! And compared to animal-based protein sources, these plant-based options are high in fiber and low on calories and unhealthy saturated fats

So whether you’re rocking a vegan or vegetarian diet, looking to cut back on meat, or just trying to eat healthier, give these 10 plant-based protein sources a try. Plus, read on for more helpful info on what protein is, why we need it, and how you can supplement your protein needs with plant-based protein powders

What Is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of basic building blocks called amino acids. There are over 20 different types of amino acids that combine in long chains to make a protein. 

You’ll often hear the term “building blocks” when describing protein because these long protein chains make up most of the cells in your body including your skin, hair, muscles, and bones. They play a critical role in your body’s structure, function, and regulation. 

This is why you need protein to survive. But our body doesn’t store amino acids. And some, known as essential amino acids, must come from your food because the body cannot produce them naturally. 

How Much Protein Do I Need?

The average adult needs to eat over seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. This means that if you’re a 200-pound person, you would need to consume around 70 grams of protein each day. And if you’re highly active, you’ll need even more. 

For most Americans, getting enough protein is not a problem. Most are easily surpassing that daily recommended amount. The problem is that over 75% of Americans are eating too much animal-based protein such as meat, poultry, and eggs, and not getting enough of other healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This can result in some unwanted health impacts. 

Plant vs. Animal Protein Sources

steak and vegetables on a table

A “complete” protein contains all twenty amino acids your body needs to make new protein in the body. Animal-based protein sources such as meat, fish, and dairy are complete protein sources, making them easier for your body to absorb. 

Most plant-based proteins tend to lack one or more essential amino acids, making them “incomplete” protein sources. However, this doesn’t mean you need to only get your protein from animals. A combination of plant-based proteins in the diet can provide a complete protein solution. And there are a few plant-based protein sources, such as quinoa, hemp, and chia seeds, that are complete proteins!

Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

Although animal-based protein sources offer a complete protein solution, that doesn’t always make them the healthier alternative. Often loaded with sodium or saturated fats, many animal-based protein sources could increase your risk of heart disease

For example, according to Harvard Health, a 4-ounce ham steak might have a whopping 22 grams of protein but it’s also loaded with 1,500 milligrams worth of sodium and 1.6 grams of saturated fat. A cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, and no sodium or saturated fats to worry about. 

Not only that, but plant-based protein sources tend to be high in fiber and low in calories, making them a healthier choice, especially when trying to lose weight. In a study in the Journal of General Medicine, for example, those on a vegan diet lost 5 pounds more than those on other diet plans – proving plant-based could help you slim down.

10 High-Protein Plant-Based Foods

This is why it’s important to get your protein from a variety of healthy plant-based sources such as these high-protein options:

1. Beans/Legumes

Beans in baskets at a market

Legumes, which include all beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, etc., are some of the best sources of plant-based protein, fiber, healthy fats, and nutrients such as folate, magnesium, and iron. And the best part is, there are over 20 different types of legumes, and they’re all packed with healthy nutrients. So, you can switch it up and find the ones you like best. 

Protein content (1 cup serving):

  • Chickpeas: 15 grams
  • Lentils: 18 grams 
  • Black beans: 15 grams
  • Kidney beans: 15 grams
  • Pinto beans: 15 grams
  • Lima beans: 15 grams

Here are some tips for adding legumes to your diet:

  • Add to a soup, stew, curry, stir-fry, or salad!
  • Look for low or no-sodium options whenever possible
  • Enjoy hummus with veggies
  • Swap out white rice for lentils in your next dish or add beans into your rice
  • Roast chickpeas in the oven for a crunchy snack
  • Swap out your high-fat meat for baked beans instead
  • Order a veggie burger instead of a meat burger

2. Nuts/Seeds

Nuts and seeds in a bowl

Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein, fiber, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and magnesium. Plus, you’ve got a wide variety of options to choose from including pecans, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds. Many of which are complete protein sources! 

Protein content (¼ cup serving):

  • Almonds: 8 grams
  • Sunflower seeds: 6 grams 
  • Cashews: 5 grams 
  • Chia seeds: 9 grams 
  • Hemp seeds: 12 grams

Here are some tips for adding nuts or seeds to your diet:

  • Add nuts or seeds to your meal replacement shake smoothie
  • Sprinkle on top of your oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt
  • Mix a variety into your salad for extra crunch 

3. Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables on a sandwich

Although not the highest protein source, some leafy green vegetables can help add to your daily protein intake while providing numerous other health benefits. They’re also rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and potassium.

Protein content (1 cup serving): 

  • Broccoli: 4 grams
  • Spinach: 5 grams 
  • Kale: 3 grams
  • Asparagus: 3 grams
  • Brussels sprouts: 3 grams

Here are some tips for adding more protein-rich veggies to your diet:

  • Dip veggies into hummus, guacamole, or a healthy dressing as a midday snack
  • Opt for a salad instead of a sandwich for lunch and mix in healthy vegetables and legumes
  • Add spinach or kale to your meal replacement shake smoothie
  • Roast broccoli, asparagus, or brussels sprouts in the oven for dinner

4. Quinoa

Quinoa in a spoon

This grain/seed is one of the best plant-based protein sources since it’s a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. It’s also high in fiber and vitamins and minerals including magnesium, iron, and manganese. 

Protein content (1 cup serving): 

  • Quinoa: 8 grams

Here are some tips for adding quinoa to your diet:

  • Swap out your white rice or pasta for quinoa instead
  • Add to soups, stews, salads, curries, or stir-fry
  • Sprinkle on top of your yogurt or oatmeal
  • Mix with apples and honey for a nutritious morning breakfast

5. Oats

Oatmeal with fruit

Oats don’t just make great oatmeal, they also provide an excellent source of protein. Plus nutrients like fiber, magnesium, iron, and thiamine. 

Protein content (1 cup serving): 

  • Raw oats: 26 grams

Here are some tips for adding oats to your diet:

6. Peanuts and Peanut Butter

Peanut butter and banana on toast with bowl of nuts

Peanuts and peanut butter, technically legumes, are excellent sources of plant-based protein. The downside is they are high in calories. But if you consume these in moderation, you’ll load up on other valuable nutrients as well, such as healthy fats and fiber. 

Protein content: 

  • Peanuts (1 cup): 38 grams 
  • Peanut butter (2 Tbsp): 8 grams
  • Almond butter (2 Tbsp): 7 grams

Here are some tips for adding peanuts and peanut butter to your diet:

  • Enjoy as a snack on their own or as part of a trail mix
  • Make a peanut or almond butter sandwich and sprinkle on some nuts and seeds
  • Add peanut butter, almond butter, or peanuts to your meal replacement shake smoothie
  • Enjoy peanut or almond butter with fruits like bananas or apples

7. Nutritional Yeast

three spoons on a counter with powder

Don’t let the name turn you away because nutritional yeast is not only packed with protein, but also contains B vitamins and other antioxidants as well. Plus it’s the perfect staple for any diet given its gluten, sugar, and dairy-free. Its “cheesy-like” flavor also makes it a favorite among vegans as a delicious alternative to cheese. 

Protein content (2 Tbsp): 

  • Nutritional yeast: 8 grams

Here are some tips for adding nutritional yeast to your diet:

  • Sprinkle some on your popcorn, potatoes, avocado toast, or anywhere you’d sprinkle cheese
  • Add to soups or sauces for extra flavor 
  • Blend with cashews or other nuts for a cheesy-like sauce

8. Seitan

Seitan and vegetables on a plate

Next up is seitan, an almost complete plant-based protein. It has all your essential amino acids except for lysine. Seitan is made by mixing wheat gluten with spices. Its look, flavor, and texture make it an excellent meat substitute and favorite among vegans and vegetarians. Plus it’s high in protein!

Protein content (3 ounces): 

  • Seitan: 21 grams

Here are some tips for adding seitan to your diet:

  • Seitan easily absorbs and takes on the flavor of whatever you’re cooking it in, so try it out with soy sauce, curry, or another favorite!
  • Cook it in strips to add to your salad, taco, or stir fry
  • Grill it with your favorite BBQ sauce
  • You can often find seitan sold as Tofurky deli slices in grocery stores, which make a great vegetarian sandwich filler

9. Spirulina

Spirulina in a spoon

Spirulina is a nutrient-rich blue or green alga that is gaining popularity as a health supplement. And for good reason, because this water-born alga is high in protein and nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. You can buy it in either supplement or powder form.

Protein content (2 Tbsp): 

  • Spirulina: 8 grams

Here are some tips for adding spirulina to your diet:

  • Add a spirulina supplement to your routine
  • Add spirulina powder to your smoothies, shakes, or juices 
  • Sprinkle it in your soups, salads, or snacks for extra protein

10. Meal Replacement Shakes

fruit and smoothie on a table

High-quality plant-based protein powders are one of the best ways to meet your daily protein needs on a busy schedule. Look for powders that have little to no sugar, are low in calories, and provide good fiber, vitamins, minerals, and even superfoods for overall health. 

Protein content:

  • Aim for around 15-20 grams of protein per serving

Here are some tips for adding meal replacement shakes to your diet:


While we are often raised on the idea that protein mostly comes from animals, that’s not the case. You can get a high-quality source of protein from plant-based protein options like the ones above! And in the process, you’ll also be improving your health and supporting your weight loss goals. 





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