The best sources of plant-based proteins are those that create extraordinary health in people, are widely accessible and affordable for all eaters, delicious to eat, and sustainable for our planet’s resources. Reams of research point to the power of plant-based protein to deliver high performance nutrition and plenty of protein to meet our body’s needs – making them a vital tool to solve our urgent challenge of how to support healthier people on a thriving planet.
To get the biggest bang for your buck, here’s a trick: focus on minimally processed, whole food options that look similar to how they are found in nature, and opt for packaged food products that list simple to understand, easy to recognize ingredients that sound like you could craft in your own kitchen (instead of highly processed options).
Beans and legumes are longevity and vitality superfoods, delivering heart healthy nutrients such as folate, plus protein (around 15 g per cup) and fiber, a particularly powerful combo that works to keep blood sugar stable, enhance gut health, fight obesity and help ease inflammation. Because of this bounty, in 2016 they were recognized by the UN as being one of the world’s most highly nutritious, affordable and sustainable foods that can also ensure food security. Seeds (such as flax, hemp, chia, sunflower, or pumpkin) deliver roughly 7-9 grams of protein per 1/4 cup and also top the list for good reason: they hold nature’s “essential nutrition blueprint” to start and sustain life, including minerals such as zinc and magnesium, phytonutrients and heart healthy fats. And whole soy foods (such as tofu or edamame), are high-quality complete proteins that contain all 9 essential amino acids in every bite, similar to animal protein.
Nuts (including almond, walnut, cashew and Brazil) deliver 7-9 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, plus are rich sources of key nutrients like omega-3 fats, Vitamin E or selenium. Peanuts in particular have the added benefit of helping replenish our food system by fixing nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers or agrochemicals (peas are regenerative, too). Ancient supergrains like teff, quinoa and sorghum, and new protein-rich flours like garbanzo bean or almond, are fast reshaping the “inner aisles” of a typical American grocery store, offering super swaps for refined grains and flours in your favorite recipes.
And don’t forget the sea! Seaweed is a nutritional jackpot, boasting impressive amounts of protein (red seaweed has the most, with about 50 grams per 3.5 oz), a bevy of vitamins (A, D and E to name a few), minerals (such as potassium, iodine and magnesium), fiber and more. In addition to promising health benefits such as fighting cancer or supporting our body’s natural detoxification pathways, seaweeds also hold enormous potential to help restore our oceans and create enduring livelihoods for coastal communities.