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A Guide To The Best Protein Sources For Vegans And Vegetarians – Forbes

4 minutes, 41 seconds Read

Here’s a look at some of the best protein-rich vegetarian and vegan foods, and the nutritional benefits they can offer.

Tempeh

In Pascale’s opinion, the “foremost” protein source for vegans and vegetarians is tempeh, which she describes as a fermented alternative to tofu that’s made with a whole soybean. “I love tempeh because it’s great for the gut, rich in fiber and it’s really tasty and it marinates well,” says Pascale.

In terms of its protein content, 1 cup (or 166 grams) of tempeh contains an impressive 33.7 grams of protein. Tempeh is also a source of fiber, which, when paired with protein, can help you feel fuller for longer. Additionally, tempeh provides probiotics, which benefit gut health.

Lentils

According to Ansari, “one of the highest sources of protein is lentils,” which are technically seeds derived from the pod of the legume plant, making them a type of legume. One cup of lentils provides a notable 47.2 grams of protein. Important to note this is one cup dry lentils, one cup on cooked lentils is about 18 grams protein.

Lentils offer a number of other beneficial nutrients as well, per Ansari. “Lentils are high in iron, fiber, potassium and vitamin B6,” she says.“Eating lentils can support digestion and brain health and may offer protection against the development of heart disease while providing energy.”

Indeed, studies show that lentils are associated with reduced incidence of diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancers and cardiovascular disease, most likely due to the polyphenols (plant compounds that act as antioxidants) and other bioactive compounds they contain.

Beans

Another type of legume that can provide an excellent source of protein for vegans and vegetarians is beans. There is a wide variety of beans to choose from, such as kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, lima beans, fava beans and soybeans.

According to the USDA, one half cup of black beans contains almost 7 grams of protein.

Beans offer other benefits as well. All types of beans are rich sources of fiber, potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, magnesium and B vitamins, all of which are vital nutrients for the body.

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Nut Butters

Nut butters, such as peanut butter and almond butter, are another supplemental source of protein for vegetarians and vegans, according to Pascale. One tablespoon of peanut butter offers roughly 3.84 grams of protein, while a tablespoon of almond butter offers a slightly lesser 3.36 grams.

One 2017 study that reviewed the impacts of nut consumption on human health concluded that it has a myriad of benefits. For one, due to the nutritional composition of nuts, eating them regularly can help to prevent and even treat certain risk factors related to chronic disease. Additionally, eating nuts can be helpful when it comes to controlling appetite.

However, when selecting a nut butter, it’s important to look at the ingredient list. “What you don’t want is for it to say something like peanuts, hydrogenated oil and sugar,” says Pascale, who says she opts for nut butters “where it’s just the roasted or raw nut and a little salt, for flavor.”

Because nuts are primarily fat-based, they tend to have a higher calorie count per serving. Because of this, serving size should be especially considered if someone is looking to lose weight.

Hemp Seeds

Another vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein source that Pascale praises is hemp seeds, also often referred to as hemp hearts. “They’re so efficient,” she says. “They pack such a punch in that it takes so few to get such a large amount of protein.”

Specifically, 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds pack 9.48 grams of protein. Hemp seeds offer a number of other nutritional benefits as well, including essential fatty acids, fiber, amino acids and vitamins and minerals. They can be prepared in a variety of ways, too, as you can eat them raw, cooked or roasted.

Tofu

Tofu is an additional powerhouse protein source that’s vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. A half-cup of raw, firm tofu offers 21.8 grams of protein, and it’s also a good source of calcium, containing 816 milligrams. As Ansari explains, “in addition to protein, it supports bone health” due to its calcium content. (Tofu that comes in other consistencies, such as extra-firm or soft, may have a slightly different nutrition content)

Further, “current evidence suggests that whole soy sources such as tofu and soybeans may also have favorable effects on cardiometabolic risk factors,” she adds. One study published in 2021 found that consuming soy products such as tofu at least four days a week is associated with a lower risk of death due to a heart attack among those who do not already have a history of cardiovascular disease.

Another great reason to choose tofu? Unlike many other plant sources of protein, tofu contains all the essential amino acids an individual needs.

According to Pascale, getting adequate protein as a vegan or vegetarian is “really quite easy” if you’re an informed consumer. One great way to make sure you get all the protein you need is to “eat in layers,” she notes. For instance, “where an omnivore might have chicken breast and brown rice and broccoli for dinner, a sufficient vegan meal is going to have several sources of protein.”

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