Guide to Plant-Based Protein

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to leverage the power of plant-based protein. Adding these non-meat proteins to your diet will help make any meal more filling and nutritious, whether you’re reducing meat, eliminating it, or just in the mood for something different. 

What is plant-based protein 

Protein is a macronutrient required by our bodies. It promotes muscle health, and helps you feel full. You may remember from high school that proteins are made up of amino acids. Here’s a quick crash course in case it’s been awhile since your last chemistry class: our bodies require 20 different amino acids to form the protein in our cells. Eleven of them are naturally produced by the body, and the remaining 9 come from food. Foods like meat, fish, and eggs contain all 9 of those essential amino acids, and are considered complete proteins. 

Plant-based proteins are simply non-meat foods containing essential amino acids. Even though many vegetarian proteins are considered incomplete, meaning they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, your body can do the work of completing them so long as the missing acids come from another food source. To ensure you’re getting all of the essential amino acids, eat a variety of plant-based proteins. 

Plant-based protein benefits 

In addition to protein, many of these plant-based options are full of other beneficial nutrients. A diet full of rice, beans, and vegetables will supply you with fiber and vitamins in addition to protein.

Our favorite plant-based proteins 

Quinoa

Quinoa is a nutrient-packed whole grain. In addition to protein, it’s packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium. Quinoa is a great addition to a salad, or as a dish in it’s own right. Each ½ cup of quinoa contains 4g of protein. 

To cook 1/2 cup of quinoa fill a medium pot 3/4 of the way up with salted water; cover and heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, add the quinoa and cook, uncovered, 18 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain thoroughly

cooking quinoa
Draining quinoa

Try quinoa with an assortment of roasted vegetables for a nutritious dinner

Swap quinoa in for rice and top it off with an egg for even more protein 

Chia seeds 

Chia seeds are tiny but powerful. They make a great addition to smoothies or salad dressings. Their unique ability to absorb water has led to a variety of inventive recipes. We’ve used them as an egg replacement in veggie burgers and to help make homemade jam spreadable. Chia seeds contain 4.7g of protein per ounce. 

Chia seeds help this veggie burger stay together

Use chia seeds to thicken a homemade jam

Tossing a few chia seeds into homemade granola will add a filling crunch

Tofu 

Tofu is endlessly versatile. It absorbs flavors, and makes any dish filling. Tofu isn’t just for vegetarians! Classic dishes like Mapo tofu serve it alongside ground pork. 

Tofu has 10g of protein per ½ cup serving. Try it roasted, baked, or fried.

Try this spicy, satisfying Mapo tofu

General Tso’s-style tofu is delightfully crispy 

This glazed-tofu is served on a bed of quinoa, for two plant-based proteins in one dish 

Lentils

Lentils can be served in soup or as the base of a grain bowl. They’re also excellent in curried dishes. 

Lentils have 9 g of protein per ½ cup serving. 

This hearty lentil curry gets its richness from coconut milk

Pair lentils with roasted vegetables for a variation on a grain bowl 

Nuts

Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts (which are technically a legume), are a great source of protein. Try topping a salad or a rice dish with toasted nuts, or grinding them to make a flour. 

Walnuts have 4.3 g of protein per serving (about 7 whole nuts).

Top bucatini off with walnuts to add a kick of protein to your pasta

Beans 

Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and edamame and an excellent source of protein and fiber.  

This Italian-inspired grain bowl combines white beans, farro, figs, and beets.

Use black beans and cheese to make a satisfying filling for flautas 

This list is just the beginning. Head to the Blue Apron cookbook for dozens of bean and grain recipes that are full of healthy plant-based protein.