Plant-Based Protein Sources

In the plant kingdom, protein is literally everywhere.

While meat tends to be higher in protein – ounce-for-ounce compared to plants – it is often deficient in or entirely lacks the added vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in vegetables. It’s rich in protein, but almost entirely lacking in everything else, while being a very high source of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Not to mention, getting quality meat that’s not brimming with added hormones and antibiotics is incredibly expensive and only getting worse. The cost of water, feed, land, and care necessary to raise livestock for consumption is growing exponentially and being passed on to the consumer.

Even if you don’t go entirely vegetarian or vegan, your health, your quality of life, and your monthly food budget can benefit significantly from reducing meat consumption and switching it out for healthy options – in a much broader, more interesting range of plant-based protein options.

Can you get enough protein from plants?

As a protein source, meat is great, but the notion that it is a necessary part of an individual’s diet to reach their daily protein needs is entirely unsubstantiated. It is unfortunately one of the most circulated myths out there today, one with growing evidence mounting against it.

One need only look at the wide variety of vegetarian and vegan bodybuilders on Instagram to see not only the possibility of building muscle with plants, but also the massive growth in the number of people doing it. People are slowly but surely beginning to open their minds and entertain the possibility that maybe we’ve been told the wrong thing all along. While many bodybuilders, both carnivores and herbivores alike may make use of supplements like protein powders, creatine, and other things, these women and men are proof that there’s nothing magic about protein from animal meat and milks that makes it / them superior to plant-based protein sources.

Keep in mind that nearly all of humankind’s sources of animal protein come from animals that are fed herbivorous diets. All of the protein in mass-produced meat that humans consume is ultimately plant-based. Some of the animal kingdom’s largest, strongest, and most powerful members eat nothing but plants.

Nearly every form of mass-produced meat intended for human consumption is fed an entirely plant-based diet.

Those who (take the stance that) soy and grains are bad for you should keep in mind that nearly all the animal protein you consume were raised on soy and grains.

The same reason that animals are fed a primarily herbivorous diet are great reasons for humans to follow that same type of diet: The reasons for this preference include efficiency (herbivores convert plant matter to meat more efficiently than carnivores converting meat to meat), health concerns (diseases can accumulate more in carnivorous diets), and practicality (raising herbivorous livestock is often simpler and more cost-effective).

If it’s good enough for them, why is it so undesirable for us?

The Secret to Getting Protein from Plants

The supposed “challenge” of getting enough protein on a plant-based diet is partly one of variety and availability in the grocery market, and primarily one of overcoming personal habits, perspectives, and conventions within one’s own self.

That’s what I discovered in my own journey. I was a victim of my own conditioning and skepticism for a long time. I read ingredient labels and just couldn’t get

It involves a mindset shift. We have evolved into an overly simplistic view of food and nutrition. We see meat as protein, and vegetables as carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc. The reality is that protein is everywhere, and in rather high amounts in a lot of plants.

To be successful in reducing consumption of meat, or making the switch entirely, you have to see the satisfaction of your need for protein as less of a one-and-done affair as it is with meat, and a collaborative affair. You have to realize that, eating more plants, you are gaining protein from a much more diverse set of sources – and at the end of the day, it often adds up to just as much, if not more than what you got eating meat.

While the protein density of plants tends to be lower than that of animal meat – ounce for ounce – the overall nutritional value of plants far exceed that of animal meat, offering a number of important cofactors as well as a host of vitamins, minerals, important carbohydrates and healthy fats, fiber, and other things. When you replace meat with plants, you significantly increase your consumption of all of these things.

Plant-Based Protein Sources

I’ve arranged these into a primarysecondarytertiary level, based on their relative protein density as well as their prevalence in modern plant-based diets as a protein source.

The primary level, the first four, are the ones that plant-based people the world round use as a primary constituent protein source in their diets. The secondary level, the next two, are the ones that play an important supplementary role. The tertiary level, the last five, while technically containing protein, are not typically relied upon to provide significant amounts or protein, but still add a small but important amount to the overall dietary intake.

Primary Proteins

Legumes

This group includes beans (like black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans), lentils, peas (like chickpeas and split peas), and soy products (like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk).

Legumes are an absolutely fantastic and diverse source of protein. On their own they can be a little boring, but when prepared in different ways, they take on a whole new identity. // There are so many options, and so many different ways to prepare them. While they can easily be made the main protein source of a meal, (you can also structure a meal where) they can also act in partnership alongside equal amounts of other protein sources. Most legumes contain a high amount of fiber, which has been shown by quality studies time and time again to have a host of benefits.

Whole Grains

These include quinoa, buckwheat, bulgur, barley, farro, oats, brown rice, whole wheat, and products made from these grains like whole grain breads and pastas.

Unlike super enriched, ultra-refined, bleached and bromated white flour, whole grains retain all of the things that make them such a killer nutritional thing…

Seitan

Technically not a raw ingredient in the sense that legumes and whole grains are, seitan has gained its place in this list as a standalone section. Seitan is the original meat substitute. Made from vital wheat gluten, it is obviously out of consideration for those who are celiac or gluten-sensitive, but for those who are not sensitive to it, seitan represents a stunningly-convincing stand-in for meat, one that’s full of other great stuff, too.

Though not technically a standalone food in the sense that legumes and whole grains are, seitan plays a very important role, one that I tend to think of it as being separate from meat substitutes. A high-protein, wheat-based meat substitute.

Meat Substitutes

These are often made from combinations of the above categories (like soy, peas, or wheat) and are designed to mimic meat in flavor and texture.

Secondary Proteins

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nut butters like almond butter and peanut butter. For me, a normal serving size of these might vary between two tablespoons to a half a cup, which could contribute 10-20 grams of protein to your daily intake, depending on what it is.

The wide array of options available and the diversity in the different types and levels of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other things included make these into a veritable artist’s palette of options for mixing and matching to create your own personal superfood combination. These are instrumental in helping you to achieve your nutritional goals because they are just so full of so many good things. Nuts and seeds make fantastic snacks, and the wide range of tastes, textures, and other things they can be seasoned or mixed with help to prevent boredom in the snack department.

Plant-Based Protein Powders

Made from various plant sources like pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein, and soy protein.

Tertiary Proteins

Vegetables

Some vegetables have a surprisingly good amount of protein, such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes.

Fruits

Generally lower in protein compared to other plant-based sources, but some like guava, blackberries, bananas, and apricots contain small amounts.

Nutritional Yeasts

Often used as a seasoning, it provides a cheesy or nutty flavor and is fortified with protein.

Mycoprotein

A protein-rich food source derived from fungi, commonly found in products like Quorn.

Spirulina and Chlorella

Types of blue-green algae that are high in protein and other nutrients.

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