6 Terrific Sources of Plant Protein for an Added Boost of Fuel

You don’t need to be vegan to get more protein sans beef, poultry, and dairy.

One of the biggest concerns among those leaning towards a vegan or vegetarian diet is whether or not they'll get enough protein. Surprise twist: Plants are loaded with it. "Protein is found in literally every single whole plant food—even coffee!" says Whitney English, RD, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Plant-Based Baby & Toddler. "One can easily meet their protein needs by eating a variety of plants such as beans, soy foods, nuts, seeds, and whole grains."

Experts add that you don't need as much protein as you may think either. The average woman requires only about 46 grams of protein per day. And, by the way, you don't need to be considering going full vegan or vegetarian to appreciate how much protein you can get—and probably have been getting—from plant sources. Knowing this may inspire you to recalibrate how you balance your plate, gradually adding a higher ratio of plant-based options to pork (just saying!).

A word of advice though: Skip the fake meats and stick to real plant protein sources. "I recommend getting the majority of your protein from whole food sources rather than the heavily-processed, plant-based proteins like imitation meat products or even protein powders," says Claire Carlton MS, RD, LD/N, a North Carolina-based registered dietitian nutritionist and digestive health expert. "[Meat alternatives] are fine every once in a while if you enjoy them, but they have less fiber, vitamins, and minerals than real foods." To help meet your protein quota, check out these powerhouse plant-based sources.

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Big-Batch Slow Cooker Black Beans
Jennifer Causey

When it comes to longevity, legumes are considered the ultimate superfood. "They are the most nutrient-dense sources of plant-based proteins, full of fiber and B vitamins" explains Carlton. Lentils contain about 18 grams per cup, while black beans contain about 15 grams, and both can be used in soups, salads or made into taco "meat."

RELATED: The Many Health Benefits of Eating Beans

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Soybeans and Soybean Products

Crispy Tofu With Cabbage and Carrots
Greg DuPree

While there seems to be some controversy surrounding soy products, in organic, whole-food form, they are a nutrient-dense and powerful protein source, with about 18 grams of protein per cup. Whether diving into a bowl of steamed edamame, throwing shelled beans into a salad, or cooking up some tofu or tempeh, soybean-derived foods also give you a healthy dose of omega-3s, iron, B vitamins, and antioxidant phytochemicals.

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Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Francesco Lagnese

Despite being tiny, seeds are an efficient source of protein, easily added to oatmeal, smoothies, and soups. The unexpected frontrunner: hemp seeds (also available as an oil), with 6 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons. "Hemp is a complete protein, providing every amino acid, including all 9 essential amino acids," explains Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP, a California-based functional medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist. Hemp seeds also deliver omega-3s, as well as other vitamins like magnesium and iron. More of a household name, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds also pack a nutrient-dense punch, both with about 5 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons.

RELATED: 5 Health Benefits of Flaxseeds—the Small-but-Mighty Superfood Worth Sprinkling, Blending, and Baking Into Everything

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Nuts and Nut Butters

Homemade Nut Butter recipe
Jennifer Causey

Whether sprinkled on your salad, gracing a slice of Ezekiel bread, or starring in a smoothie, nuts like almonds, peanuts (technically a legume), pecans, and walnuts are superstars. A quarter cup of raw nuts contains anywhere between 4 to 10 grams of protein (peanuts have 9.5 grams), while 2 tablespoons of nut butter contain about 7 to 8 grams of protein.

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Whole Grains

Grain Medley
Greg DuPree

A protein-heavy grain sounds like an oxymoron, but whole grains are healthy carbs that offer far more than you think. In fact, your morning oatmeal contains about 12 grams of protein in one cup—that's about the same as two eggs! Swirl some nut butter and soy milk into your oatmeal, and you're starting your day with over 20 grams of protein, Petersen says.

Nutrient-dense ancient grains are also heavy hitters. Spelt, which can be used as a base for traditional "rice" dishes like risotto, contains about 11 grams of protein in one cooked cup. Used in baking, spelt flour has 25 grams of protein per cup. A cup of cooked quinoa has about 8 grams. Here's a full list of the healthiest whole grains out there.

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Vegetables (Yes, Vegetables)

Spiced Peas With Cilantro and Lime
Anna Williams

Even your healthy green (and brown) veggies provide hearty hits of protein. Green peas have about 9 grams in one cup, and are packed with fiber and vitamins. A whole potato has about 7 grams of protein, and spinach has 6 grams per cup. So whether you're whipping up a hearty stew or a loaded grain and veggie bowl, you'll be getting way more plant-based protein in there than you think.

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