Without question, a diet rich in plant-based foods is a great way to support overall health. But, there’s one common concern about this diet: lack of protein. For years, it’s been thought vegan and vegetarian foods lack adequate protein. And while it’s true that not all plant-based foods contain a complete amino acid profile, there is plenty of research to suggest a plant-based diet can, in fact, provide all the nutrients you need — protein included. All it takes is a little know-how! So whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply cutting back on animal-based foods, you should know there are many plant-based protein-rich foods that are tasty, nutritious, and satisfying!
That said, not all plant-based protein foods are created equal. Some plant-based foods are complete proteins and contain all the essential amino acids, while others contain more protein by weight. And some, while still nutrient-dense, contain less protein or lack certain amino acids. But regardless, getting adequate daily protein from plant-based foods is easier than you think — all it takes is a little food combining. And all that really means is filling your plate with a variety of whole food plant foods, particularly those rich in protein! Sounds easy enough, don’t you think?
Ahead, the healthiest plant-based protein foods and the tastiest ways to enjoy them! Whether you’re strictly plant-based or not, these protein-rich plant foods make a healthy addition to any diet.
11 Healthy Plant-Based Protein-Rich Foods
#1 Lentils (16g of protein per cup)
Packed with plant-based protein, full of antioxidants, and loaded with dietary fiber, folate, iron, and potassium, lentils are a looked-over legume! With a nutrient-rich profile like this, lentils don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve. I mean, a single cup contains 10 grams of fiber, a nutrient that helps support weight loss goals and digestive health. Plus, the combination of fiber and protein helps to balance blood sugar and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. They’re also a great source of polyphenols, antioxidants known for reducing inflammation and boosting heart health and brain health.
They come in a variety of types (black, brown, red, green, and yellow) and are tasty to enjoy.
Here are some delicious ways to include lentils in your diet:
- Use them as a meat replacement in dishes like tacos, pasta dishes, and burritos
- Make a simple lentil salad with green lentils, cucumber, red bell pepper, red onion, and an easy lemon dressing
- Enjoy store-bought pasta alternatives made with 100% lentils, such as Modern Table, or Tolerant Foods
- Add them to soups, curries, and dahls
- Use them in place of rice in stir fry dishes
#2 Chickpeas (15g protein per cup)
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are one of the healthiest plant-based protein sources. Delicious in both sweet and savory recipes (think: chickpea cookie dough and chickpea-based falafels), there are so many reasons to love this legume! Thanks to their rich fiber levels, chickpeas support weight loss by suppressing appetite and preventing blood sugar spikes after a meal. And because of their fiber content, chickpeas are also great for digestion and gut health. Containing all the amino acids except methionine, they make a great protein-rich addition to any healthy eating plan.
Here are some ways to include chickpeas in your diet:
- Make a creamy traditional hummus or sweet dessert hummus
- Roast them with cinnamon or salt for a crunchy snack
- Mix them with avocado or Greek yogurt as a substitute for canned tuna or chicken
- Enjoy store-bought chickpea pasta from brands such as Banza
- Bake them into cookies with nut butter, honey, vanilla, and chocolate chips
#3 Hemp Seeds (10g protein per ounce)
Containing all essential amino acids, hemp seeds are an easily-digested complete protein source. In fact, an impressive 25% of their calories come from protein! Hemp seeds are also a great source of magnesium and contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, making this superseded a great gut-supporting food.
Here’s how to enjoy them:
- Add a spoonful to your smoothie
- Make a homemade hemp milk
- Sprinkle them on your salad
- Blend them into sauces or dips
- Stir them into baked goods
#4 Chia Seeds (5g protein per ounce)
A great source of plant protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, Chia seeds are a plant food worth mentioning. These little seeds are free from sugar and loaded with omega-3s. And because they expand to as much as 10 times their size when added to liquid, chia seeds are great for increasing satiety and hydration.
Add a spoonful to your smoothies or baked goods, sprinkle them into your oatmeal or yogurt bowl, or make a fiber and protein-rich chia seed pudding.
Try this simple Blueberry & Almond Chia Pudding recipe:
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- ¾ cup blueberries
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- ⅛ tsp cinnamon
Step #1: Use a fork to mash half blueberries in the bottom of a bowl or container. Stir in the yogurt, almond milk, almond butter, and cinnamon. Stir well. If you like things sweet, consider adding low-carb sweetener. Stir in the chia seeds.
Step #2: Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. When serving, top with remaining blueberries.
#5 Tempeh (13g protein per 100 grams)
As the higher protein cousin to tofu, tempeh is considered a healthier alternative. Aside from protein, tempeh is also rich in fiber, iron, and potassium. While both tempeh and tofu are made from soy, tempeh is uniquely made from cooked and fermented soybeans. The fermentation process is what sets tempeh apart, as fermented foods enhance the diversity of gut microbes.
With a hearty texture and mild nutty taste, tempeh is a yummy meat replacement in tacos, sandwiches, buddha bowls, and stir-fries. Similar to tofu, tempeh easily absorbs the flavor of any sauce or marinade. Try a ginger peanut, maple balsamic, teriyaki, or Chipotle sauce — you can’t go wrong!
#6 Oats (6g protein per cup)
A nutritious and versatile food, oats are easy to love. From oat milk and smoothies to baked and overnight oats, we can’t get enough! Unique to this plant-based protein, oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber known to promote fullness, lower LDL cholesterol and blood sugar, and support gut health by increasing the growth of good bacteria.
There are so many ways to add oats to your diet!
- Make a homemade oat milk and use it as the base for smoothies or oat bowls
- Grind them into a flour and use it as a flour replacement in baked foods
- Blend them into energy bites
- Make a homemade granola
- Steam your oat milk for a comforting oat milk latte
Try this single-serve Blueberry Oatmeal Mug Muffin! It takes two minutes to make and requires just a few simple ingredients.
- 1 egg white
- ⅛ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- ⅓ cup banana
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ⅓ cup blueberries
- ½ cup oats
- ½ tbsp flaxseed meal
- ⅓ cup unsweetened almond milk
Step #1: Spray a large mug with cooking spray. Use a fork to mix together the milk, mashed banana, egg white, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir in the oats, flaxseed, and cinnamon. Then fold in the blueberries.
Step #2: Cook on high for 2 minutes and check. Then continue cooking in 30-second increments until puffed up and cooked through.
#7 Black Beans (16g protein per cup)
As one of the highest protein beans, black beans make a filling addition to any meal. They’re rich in both resistant starch and soluble fiber, which are gut-friendly nutrients that improve satiety and support digestion. Research also suggests that beans may help aid weight loss. You’ll also get your fair share of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and folate.
Because they’re an incomplete protein, they’re best enjoyed with foods if you want a full amino acid profile!
Here are some other ways to enjoy them:
- Blend them into a simple savory black bean dip
- Add them to tacos, nachos, or quesadillas
- Use them in baked goods, like black bean brownies (trust us!)
- Make a comforting black bean soup
- Use them as a meat replacement for homemade burgers
#8 Almonds (6g protein per ounce)
Almond milk, almond flour, almond butter… What isn’t this protein-rich nut food for? Beyond protein, almonds are also rich in vitamin E, monounsaturated fats, and dietary fiber.
Here are ways to enjoy them:
- Blend them into a simple homemade nut butter or nut milk
- Use almond milk as the base for smoothies, overnight oats, and chia pudding
- Use almond flour for your baked goods or pancakes
- Enjoy them raw with a side of fruit, and other nuts or seeds
- Crush them up and use them as a topping for salads and smoothies
#9 Pistachios (6g protein per ounce)
A 1-ounce serving of pistachios contains an impressive 6 grams of protein. And because there are about 49 pistachio nuts per serving, you’re less likely to overeat them — especially if you buy the shelled version! Pistachios are rich in antioxidants and carotenoids, they’ve been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and they’re a great source of fiber.
Aside from eating them raw, here are some yummy ways to enjoy them:
- Make a homemade trail mix with pistachios, cashews, almonds, and pumpkin seeds
- Blend them into pestos or dips
- Crush them up and sprinkle them on salads or yogurt bowls
- Use them as a garnish for desserts, like banana nice cream or avocado pudding
#10 Leafy Greens (2-3g per cup)
We couldn’t talk about protein-rich plant foods without mentioning all the superior greens! Yes — despite what you may have heard — veggies do contain protein! Of course, the amount will vary depending on the vegetable. But, rather than focus on the number, simply load up your plate with a variety of whole food veggie sources and include some nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains!
When it comes to greens, some of the highest protein-rich sources include:
- Broccoli (1 cup = 2.5 grams protein)
- Spinach (3 cups = 2 grams protein)
- Kale (1 cup = 3 grams)
- Brussels sprouts (1 cup = 3 grams)
- Mushrooms (1 cup = 3 grams)
Wondering how to add more greens to your diet? Try these 21 tasty ways!
# 11 Quinoa (8g per cup)
Another complete plant protein source, quinoa is a healthy and hearty option. With a mild taste, it pairs well with almost any savory dish! Plus, it packs 8 grams of protein per cup and is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients such as magnesium and iron.
- Make a quinoa and veggie soup
- Use is as a replacement for rice in stir-fries
- Add it to a warm Mexican-inspired salad with black beans, tomatoes, and sweet potato
- Enjoy a cold Mediterranean-style dish with cucumber, red onion, red pepper, olives, avocado, and chickpeas
- Add it to homemade falafels
- Use it as a flour alternative in baked goods
Power Up Your Plate with Plant Protein
With so many good-for-you options, it’s easy to get all the protein you need from plant sources! From overnight oats filled with oats and chia seeds to protein-rich plant-based smoothies made with spinach, nut milk, and nut butter, there are plenty of options to choose from. That said, it’s important to remember that not all plant foods contain a complete amino acid profile. And, serving size matters! For some foods (like leafy greens), you may need to boost your serving sizes, whereas other foods (like nuts and seeds) require healthy moderation. Use these protein-rich plant foods to help guide your meal planning and balance your plate. And if you need some extra recipe inspiration, sign up for FitOn PRO and gain access to thousands of delicious recipes and personalized meal plans.