Health Tips > Nutrition Bites > Adding Plant-Based Proteins to Your Diet

Adding Plant-Based Proteins to Your Diet

View All Section Pages

Bowls filled with grains, nuts and seeds

Today, more and more people are turning toward plant-based eating due to its numerous health benefits. Emerging research shows incorporating more plant-based proteins in your diet can lower the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and promote longevity. Yet following a diet high in plant-based protein does not mean you have to cut out your favorite animal-based proteins. Many plant-based meal patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, include small amounts of lean red meat, poultry and seafood.

Protein is an essential macronutrient which provides the building blocks for muscles and cells, increases satiety and helps maintain weight loss. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 10-30 percent of daily caloric intake come from protein. Based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, one should aim to eat 50-150 grams of protein per day. Calories per day and protein intake vary depending on how active a lifestyle you have. Consider these plant-based protein sources when planning your next meal.

Soy. Soybean has some of the highest protein content among plant foods. Whole sources of soy include edamame, tempeh, tofu and soy milk. Edamame can be added to salads and soups or lightly salted as a side dish and provides up to 11 grams of protein per half cup. Dry roasted edamame has become a popular grab-and-go snack and can be found at your local grocery store. Tempeh and tofu can also be easily incorporated into meals as they absorb flavors from herbs and seasonings well. Three ounces of tempeh can provide up to 15 grams of protein. Soymilk is a commonly used alternative to cow’s milk and has a similar nutrient profile with eight grams of protein per cup.

Legumes. Beans, lentils and peas are legumes that, on average, provide seven grams of protein per half cup serving. Not only are they a good source of protein, but they also contain nutrients such as fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and folate. You can eat beans on their own as a side dish or as a tasty filling for wraps, salad bowls or stuffed peppers.

Lentil pasta is another great option to incorporate legumes into your meals. When compared with regular pasta, lentil pasta contains more protein and fiber, making it a great addition to your plant-based diet. To build a healthier spaghetti—including pasta options made from lentils, legumes and whole grains—read Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services’ recommendations on the Cooper Aerobics blog.

Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds are another good source of protein. The options are numerous—almonds, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds and nut butters just to name a few. A quick and easy snack option, nuts and seeds are calorie dense and should be portioned accordingly.

Recommended serving sizes:

  • Nuts: one ounce = the size of your palm or a measured ¼ cup
  • Nut butter: two tablespoons or less (eight grams of protein)

Whole Grain. Grains are essential to a well-balanced diet, and it is recommended that whole grains make up at least half of your total grain intake. Whole grains get all the glory for being high in fiber, but did you know they contain protein? Whole wheat flour, quinoa, spelt, teff and seitan are great sources to consider when adding plant-based protein into your meals. Substituting your regular bread or pasta for whole grain options is one simple switch to a plant-based protein.

Seitan, a newer food of interest for those looking for a meat-free alternative, is made by rinsing away the starch in wheat dough, leaving behind high protein gluten. It is not only high in protein, with 19 grams per 3.5 ounces, but it is also a good source of iron and resembles the flavor of meat.

Except for quinoa and amaranth, grains are not considered complete proteins. Complete proteins include all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and are commonly referred to as animal-proteins. For individuals who follow a plant-based eating pattern, soy is another complete protein option. All other vegetarian protein options need to be combined with other foods to fill in the gaps of the missing amino acids. These foods paired together are called complementary proteins. For example, include black beans and brown rice or whole wheat bread and peanut butter. You don’t need to consume them in the same sitting but try to include a variety of complementary protein foods throughout the course of the day.

There are many ways you can add protein into your diet while enjoying a variety of plant-based foods. Incorporate your favorite types into existing recipes, substitute ingredients or be adventurous and try a new recipe that includes these plant-based proteins.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by David Martinez, Texas A&M Dietetic Intern, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.