Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

the best plant-based protein sources

There is only one nutrition claim that is 100% infallible. That’s: eat more plants.

If you’re reading this article, you’re already aware of the tremendous benefits of eating more plants. From longevity to gut health to just about everything under the sun, you can’t go wrong with eating more plants.

Plus, with publicity from popular documentaries like The Game Changers, more and more are adding Meatless Mondays to their calendars.

So, whether you’re an amateur vegetarian, full-on vegan, or just interested in upping your plant-based protein, these plants are a must.

We share the best plant-based protein sources that we love to eat, the brands we buy, and our go-to ways of dishing them up.

Selecting The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

When identifying the best plant-based protein sources, it’s not helpful to simply list foods with the highest protein levels. Therefore, all plant-based proteins on our list meet the following three criteria.

1. Nearly effortless and readily available

These plant-based proteins can be effortlessly incorporated into your weekly meal plan. We’ll tell you how we do it. Additionally, you should have no problems finding them on Amazon or at your local grocery store.

2. Provide adequate protein in a realistic portion

In the beginning, a lot of plant-based eaters feel weak. It’s not because animal protein is superior, it’s because plants generally have way fewer calories.

Sure, spinach might have the same amount of protein as a steak gram for gram, but are you really going to eat sixteen bags of it?

The proteins that made our list have a high protein to volume ratio. Therefore you can eat enough protein without feeling full and bloated.

3. Quality and great tasting

Our top plant-based protein sources are all high quality. We suggest brands that we know and trust, organic and non-GMO whenever possible. While you should experiment to find what you like best, we think our recommendations all taste great.

With each plant-based protein source on our list, we include a link to our preferred brand. Make sure you add them into your weekly meal prep plan.

If there’s a plant protein that you swear by, please share it in the comments so we can enjoy it with you.

For Plant-Based Diet or “Plant Slant” Newbies

Becoming vegetarian or vegan, for both men and women, is simple: eat plants. But when you’re living it, a lot of questions come up, like:

  • Am I getting enough protein?
  • What are the best meat-alternatives?
  • Am I consuming too much soy?
  • Am I just eating way too many carbs now that I have cut back on meat?
  • Can I gain muscle eating plant-based?

We answer these questions within the list. However, before we get started, we need to address two things:

1. How much protein should you be eating?

It’s unlikely that you’re protein deficient, as only 3% of the population is, but vegans and vegetarians are more prone to this than their meat-eating compatriots.

The RDI (recommended dietary intake) is to consume 0.36 grams of protein for every 1 pound of body weight daily. That means a 200-pound person would need to eat 72 grams of protein.

However, this ratio is debated, and people seeking to gain more muscle usually follow a 1 gram of protein for every 1 pound of body weight ratio.

2. What’s your target daily caloric intake?

When you start eating more plants, this is critical. For both animal-based and plant-based diets, your body still requires the same amount of calories. Make sure you know how to calculate your calories.

If you need help, we outline how to do this in our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.

Plant-Based Protein – Meat-style alternatives

More and more brands are coming out with meat substitutes that don’t just look like meat but taste and smell like meat too. So if you’re jonesing for some meat-style meatballs or tacos, here’s our go-to list.

Truthfully, we don’t often eat meat substitutes. Instead of chowing down an Impossible Burger, we choose the portobello or black bean burger.

The big secret is, many of these meat alternatives aren’t much healthier than the meat they’re replacing. To give off the juicy taste, they’re heavily processed and loaded with saturated fat. So, occasionally, choose them for taste, but not for nutrition.

Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Morningstar Farms Grillers Burgers

Morningstar Farm Griller’s Original Veggie Burger

Protein: 16 grams per patty

We always keep a bag of Morningstar Farm Grillers Original Veggie Burgers in the freezer.

With 16 grams of protein per patty and the healthiest option on this list, these babies pack a punch.

While it doesn’t taste as meaty as some, they’re delicious. When we grill them, our carnivorous family members always want a bite.

Morningstar Farm is a ubiquitous brand that we find even in rural Minnesota’s supermarkets. They also have products like plant-based sausages, bacon, and taco meat.

Contains: Wheat gluten and soy

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Impossible Ground Beef

Impossible Foods Impossible Burger Ground “Beef”

Protein: 19 grams per 4 oz. serving

In the ultimate taste test battle for the most “beef-like” alternative meat, Impossible Foods take the cake.

We prefer the Impossible burger over the Beyond Burger. It’s pretty realistic, so if you hate the look, smell, and taste of beef… sit this one out.

When I ordered my first Impossible Burger in 2017 from Fort Worth’s Hopdoddy Burger Bar, I asked the waitress to send it back. I thought it was real beef!

But I had been vegetarian for years by that point, so I asked the then-meat eating Ryan to take a bite. He couldn’t tell the difference.

Contains: Soy and potato protein

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Beyond Meat Sausages

Beyond Breakfast Sausage

Protein: 5.5 grams per patty

While lower on the protein scale, these Beyond patties are darn tasty. Plus, what they lack in protein, they make up in fiber and nutrition. Generally, Beyond Meat is healthier than Impossible Foods.

Blame Dunkin’ Donuts, which offers a breakfast sandwich with these suckers, for getting us hooked. While visiting my parents in Boston (where they are headquartered and have a Dunkin’ Donuts on every street), we ate them by the dozen.

Contains: Pea protein and coconut oil

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Seitan

Seitan

Protein: 28 grams per 4 oz. serving

Seitan is made of vital wheat protein and can be found in pre-sliced and flavored forms.

At your local grocery store, look for “chorizo” seitan, teriyaki seitan, and Italian seitan. Seitan can easily be made from scratch with vital wheat gluten flour as well.

We include seitan as a meat-alternative because it’s amazing thinly sliced in a vegetarian Philly cheesesteak or with fajitas.

Contains: Wheat gluten

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Plant-based protein – Soy-Based 

The myth that soy raises estrogen levels has vilified and followed it for years. Studies from the early 2000s suggested that soy disrupted the hormones in male mice. However, this was never substantiated in human men.

Debates are still on-going, but regardless, it’s true that soy is a top 8 allergen and affects 0.4% of children. However, soy contains many antioxidants so don’t write it off completely.

Generally, we simply eat soy in moderation, having their products a couple of times a week. And, we always choose soy products that display the non-GMO label.

Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Tempeh

Tempeh

Protein: 24 grams per 4 oz. serving

Tempeh has an incredible 24 grams of protein and an array of prebiotics, vitamins, and minerals to boot.

I had my first tempeh dish at Fort Worth’s vegan hotspot, Spiral Diner, and immediately went home to buy it. While you may not be familiar with this fermented soy product from Indonesia, you’ll find it at your local Target and grocery store.

Tempeh can be tricky to cook, but it can be grilled, stir-fried, and steamed. For me, sometimes it comes out too dry this way, but it’s to die for in a coconut curry stew, simmering amongst all of the other veggies!

The taste is slightly nutty, but the texture is firm like well-done chicken. Give it a try!

Contains: Soy

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Edamame

Edamame

Protein: 22 grams per cup of shelled edamame

Edamame is that delicious snack you always look forward to at Japanese restaurants — even more so than your meal! Topped with some salt, you can’t go wrong. Even your kids will love them.

If you’re new to edamame, they’re immature soybeans that can be eaten once steamed or boiled. They look like large green beans and you toss the outer shell to eat the seed.

One of our favorite ways to eat edamame is atop a homemade quinoa bowl with raw veggies, like carrots and bell peppers, and a ginger soy dressing.

 Find these little delights in the freezer section and stock up.

Contains: Soy

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Tofu

Tofu

Protein: 9 grams per 4 oz. serving

Tofu is what most people think of as plant-based protein. While its origin is Chinese food, tofu can be eaten in a wide variety of ways.

It’s a popular egg replacement in scrambled eggs and breakfast burritos. We’ve also eaten tofu in barbecue sandwiches, Mexican mole, and salads. Plus, you can tap into an infinite number of Asian recipes from curry to poke to stir-fries to spring rolls.

Tofu comes in different densities, but we like ‘firm’ the most. Before eating, nestle the tofu between paper towels and put a heavy weight on top to take out the excess water. It’s easier to grill, bake, and pan-fry this way.

Contains: Soy

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Plant-based protein – Nut and Seed Products

We often hear from clients that they can’t be vegetarian because they’re allergic to nuts. That’s like saying you can’t eat any meat because you don’t eat pork.

But if you can eat nuts, they are a great source of healthy fat, fiber, and protein. Nuts are also a popular ingredient for vegan cheeses (thanks, cashews!) and are the perfect on-the-go snack.

Peanuts

Protein: 29 grams per 0.5 cups

Okay, peanuts aren’t actually nuts. They’re legumes just like black beans and lentils.

Somehow they’ve managed to steal the nut spotlight, but they deserve a lot of the praise. Peanuts, at 29 grams of protein, are the most densely packed, plant-based protein on this list.

Keep some nuts at your desk for snacking, and load up your smoothies with peanut butter. Don’t forget our favorite pre-bedtime snack: a banana eaten with scoops of peanut butter.

Pro-tip: If you’re watching calories, opt for peanut butter powder over traditional peanut butter for your smoothies. Peanut butter powder has one-third the calories but still eat in moderation as it has added sugar and fewer vitamins.

Contains: Nuts

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Almonds

Almonds

Protein: 24 grams per 0.5 cups

Almonds versus peanuts: the big debate.

Nutritionally speaking, almonds slightly win out with higher amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, peanuts have it in the protein category. Again, slightly.

We love the taste of almonds, but not the price. Given that peanuts and almonds are similar, the choice is yours. Both are great options.

Contains: Nuts

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Flax Milk

Flax Milk

Protein: 2.5 grams per 0.5 cups

When it comes to non-dairy, plant-based milk, flax milk is hard to beat. This protein-fortified flax milk by Good Karma is a favorite. Make sure to pick unsweetened and unflavored milk to eke out the most nutritional benefit.

Most unfortified plant milk, including almond, cashew, and oat, has 0-1 grams of protein per cup. So, it’s flax all the way!

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Plant-Based Protein – Grains

Interestingly, many new vegetarians feel like they eat too many grains. Without the meat, they fill the gaps with more pasta, potatoes, and rice.

Grains are a critical part of your daily diet, despite the many trendy low-carb diets. We explore this concept in-depth in our article, “Do carbs make you fat?” The answer is “no.”

Many researchers and nutritionists recommend a daily diet of 80% complex carbohydrates. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and legumes.

Most people think of carbohydrates in the whole grain category. Here are a few of the healthiest and highest-protein options.

Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Quinoa

Quinoa

Protein: 8 grams per cup

In 2013, the United Nations announced it was the “International Year of Quinoa.” And yes, that’s a true fact.

Quinoa, a magical superfood.

When we lived in Peru — which, speaking of, is superfood heaven — quinoa was everywhere. It was in chocolate bars, crusted on fish, and even puffed like popcorn. Nowadays, we like to make quinoa buddha bowls, stir-fries, and paired with soup.

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole Wheat Pasta

Protein: 7 grams per cup

With the concerns surrounding simple versus complex carbohydrates, starting with a whole wheat pasta is a good idea. Protein-wise, whole wheat pasta wins by a hair, but it contains significantly more fiber.

Look for whole wheat, but not whole grain, pasta to get the most protein into your meal.

Contains: Wheat gluten

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Wild Rice

Wild Rice

Protein: 16 grams per cup, dried

How could I not include wild rice while married to a Minnesotan?

I shared earlier that peanuts weren’t nuts. Well, wild rice isn’t rice. It’s actually the seed of aquatic grass! In our case, that’s a good thing, because rice doesn’t have much protein.

Wild rice grows in Asia as well as in the Great Lakes region in North America. A Native American staple, wild rice is nutrient-dense and has fewer calories than rice. Try fitting wild rice into your meal prep in casseroles, soups, and as a side to baked vegetables.

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Plant-Based Protein – Beans and Legumes

Beans, beans
The magical fruit
The more you eat
The more you toot

Eating beans is one of the single most healthy things you can do for your body. Instead of an apple a day, it should a cup of beans.

Loaded with fiber and great for your poop health, they’re also the cheapest but most nutritionally dense source of protein.

However, before you jump all in, increase your consumption gradually up to a cup a day. Gas is natural, but makes people too uncomfortable to continue eating beans. Don’t let it discourage you.

Ryan and I eat a ton of beans and legumes every week. We like to buy them dry and in bulk.In our Instant Pot, I pressure cook them with fresh water or homemade vegetable broth and seasonings for an hour. Then, they can be eaten right away or blended with an immersion blender.

One way to reducing gas is by soaking your dried beans and tossing the water before cooking.

Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Lentils

Lentils

Protein: 26 grams per 0.5 cups

The most bang-for-your-buck option on this list. At a whopping 26 grams of protein per every half cup, nothing beats the nutrition or price of these little legumes.

They’re also faster and easier to cook than other dried beans. Heck, I used to cook them in a rice cooker! Here’s my recipe for Rice Cooker Lentils with Tomato and Onion in our article ‘Easy Healthy Recipes for Meal Prep.’ 

The options for lentils are endless, and we most often have them as a side dish. But, they can also be made into lentil burgers, meatballs, curry, and chili.

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Black Beans

Black Beans

Protein: 7 grams per 0.5 cup

Black bean burgers, black bean burritos, black bean soup, black bean chili… we really can’t get enough. Ryan jokingly calls me a “beanery” because I manage our black bean inventory and make sure there are always cooked beans in the fridge!

Of course, you can opt for canned black beans that are the easiest to store in your pantry and is always ready to eat.

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Best Plant Based Protein Sources Ryan and Alex Duo Life Chickpeas

Chickpeas

Protein: 6 grams per 0.5 cup

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are another excellent protein source. Plus, they’re a versatile bean that’s seen in cuisines from around the world.

Our favorite homemade dishes include hummus, falafel, and Channa Masala (Indian chickpea curry). When in doubt, you can bake them in the oven, too!

Haven’t made homemade hummus before? It’s a favorite go-to whenever we have leftover fresh herbs. Any really, from cilantro to thyme. Just blend with some olive oil, water, salt, and garlic!

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What Plant-Based Proteins Did We Miss?

Do you have a favorite, ride-or-die plant-based protein that we need to try? Thanks in advance for the ideas and keep living on the veg!

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The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

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