Protein is still considered the “it” nutrient for satiety, plus there are often many nutrients packaged with protein. Here’s how to make the best choices if you’re a vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian.
According to the FDA, an average American needs about 50 grams of protein per day. Those are the grams you see on a Nutrition Facts Panel for foods. So, for example, two tablespoons peanut butter would provide about 7 grams towards that 50 grams daily protein goal. To help you keep track, we also provide the grams of protein per serving at the end of each of our recipes. (The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer another way to account for protein intakes that is portion-based.). However you count your protein, vegetable-based sources can also be nutrient-dense, providing many other nutrients for the calories consumed.
For example, one-half cup of black beans contains 7 grams protein, 8 grams fiber (almost a third of your needs for a day), almost 20 percent of daily folate needs and more than 10 percent of daily iron allowances. Canned beans, which you can find in no-salt-added options, make it easy to rack up those protein grams to bolster salads or soups; make dips, refried beans or quickie mole; or toss with pasta. Other good protein-rich legumes to try include edamame, split peas, white beans, red beans and lentils. Lentils work wonders in salads, dips and soups, and they supply nearly 9 grams protein for one-half cup cooked. Furthermore, that portion of lentils come with nearly 8 grams fiber (almost one-third of your daily needs) and nearly 20 percent daily iron needs.
Soybeans and nuts are processed to make a world of protein options from tofu and tempeh to nut milks and vegan cheeses. These can be excellent protein resources and hearty additions to your repertoire. Three ounces of tempeh contain nearly 17 grams protein and 10 percent iron needs. The same three-ounce portion of tofu has seven grams protein and 10 percent daily calcium needs, plus a little of your day’s iron allowance. Both are great grilled, roasted, marinated or stir-fried.
Plain nuts and seeds are another quality protein choice. Be aware that nuts and seeds — because of their higher fat content — are also higher in calories. Nut and seed butters are ideal because they can be used in smoothies, on sandwiches, on crackers or bananas and apples. (Just make sure to choose no-salt-added butters to minimize sodium intakes.) And two tablespoons almond butter has more than six grams of filling protein, more than three grams fiber, about 10 percent of daily calcium needs, and small amounts of zinc and iron (two nutrients commonly found in meats). And many nuts provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as filling fiber.
Your protein goal adds up quickly when you’re making smart choices at mealtime. And while the nutrition profiles of these quality plant-based protein choices are stellar, the best part is that they taste good, too. Here are our picks for delicious protein-packed options for veggie-lovers.
- Start your day with tofu tacos, and the filling can be cooked up two days ahead to help on hectic mornings.
- A smoothie with peanut butter and soy milk makes a satisfying breakfast or snack.
- Homemade cashew nut butter is also great for dressings, or combined with nut milk to make a sauce for sautéed mushrooms or pasta.
- This spin on hummus uses black beans, but is just as versatile as the traditional chickpea version.
- Using canned beans and some simple seasonings makes bean salad an easy packable lunch with a whole-grain roll and some crudités.
- This vegan tofu salad is perfect to make-ahead for lunches.
- If you plan ahead, making a pot of beans is a hands-free way to make a filling dinner when paired with brown rice, a soup or salad addition, or a substantial taco filling.
- Allow an hour to press and marinate tofu for oven-roasted tofu, and you’ll be rewarded with a go-to protein packed entrée to star in salads or sandwiches.
- This grilled tempeh can also be prepared in a hot grill pan.
- A lentil soup gets plenty of protein from the quick-cooking legume.
- Beans add heft to an entrée salad.
- This dinner of filling tofu and noodles tossed with peanut sauce is a weeknight wonder.
- Dinner for one? You won’t skimp on protein with pinto beans in a stuffed baked potato.
What is your favorite way to flavor protein-packed beans, tofu or tempeh? Tell us all about it!