Protein for Plant Lovers

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If every vegetarian or vegan came with an FAQ page, the first question you’d probably read is “But how do you get enough protein!?” Between bodybuilding-mania and the low-carb diets of the 90s, it seems we are all at Threat Level Midnight when it comes to protein.

Need more protein, brah?

In fact, most Americans actually consume way more than the recommended amount of protein.  Currently accepted standards indicate that the average woman needs 46 grams a day and the average man, 56 grams.  To give you some perspective, a single 6-ounce chicken breast has 52 grams of protein.  Yowza!  It’s easy to see how people can go way overboard with their protein intake, which potentially has negative effects when it comes to organ health.

On the flip side, vegetarians, vegans, and vegetarian-leaning folks may still not meet their ideal protein intake, since plant-based foods have significantly less protein than animal-based foods. Protein provides the building blocks for muscles and bones and you can feel tired, hungry and lethargic without enough.

Why go planty?

Both vegetarians and meat-eaters can benefit from eating more protein-rich plant-based foods.  Plant-based proteins are often a more affordable option than animal products and come packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and diverse phytonutrients.  Go for the beans instead of the bacon (you know, once in awhile.)

Whether you are cooking from scratch or working with a pre-made meal, here are some foods you’ll want to make sure are in your vegetarian meals to meet your protein needs.

Top Sources of Plant-based Protein:


You have permission to go nuts! A quarter cup of nuts has on average 5 grams of protein, so it’s a great way to bump up the protein of any meal while also adding crunch and decadence. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are high in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (or MUFAs), healthy fats that keep you full and help regulate your blood sugar.  Try keeping cashews on hand to chop and top dishes or just stuff mixed nuts in your cheek pouches for later…

Chubby Grey Squirrel Munching on a Peanut
This guy knows what’s up.


Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower and sesame are also powerhouse sources of protein and make gorgeous garnishes.  Hemp seeds, which come from the cannabis plant, are one of the few complete plant-based proteins.  Although you won’t get the, ahem, mental benefits you would get by using other parts of the cannabis plant, with hemp seeds you’ll take in 13 grams of protein per serving, plus good-for-the-brain Omega 3s.


Globally, lentils, beans and legumes are used by cultures that consume less meat to supplement protein.  A can of white beans can be added to just about any soup and chickpeas make a great addition to salads.  1 cup of cooked legumes provides on average 12-18 grams of protein. Combined with whole grains, beans make a complete protein, which means they contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need.

Whole Grains

Whole grains might make you scream “carb!” in Paleo-induced fear, but grains like quinoa, spelt, and kamut are great sources of protein. Try almond butter on whole grain toast or choose an entrée that features quinoa as a main ingredient.

Plant-based Protein Powders

Unflavored protein powders blend up undetectably in whole food- or fruit-based smoothies.  Skip the prepackaged shakes and add some hemp- or pea-protein powder to your next smoothie.

Digging the Plant Power?

Choose a vegetarian meal in your Home Chef cart this week, like the cremini mushroom barley bowl with pickled shiitake mushrooms and hazelnuts by Chef Nigel Palmer.

We referenced a few sources for this piece. For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD, Institute of Medicine and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

This article was written by Wellness Chef Alia Dalal for Home Chef.