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Nutrition: Power up with plant proteins

Getting enough protein can be a challenge when starting to incorporate more plants into the diet.

Chopsticks holding piece of grilled tofu
Soy is a source of high-quality protein, which means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
Contributed / dashu83 / Getty Images / iStockphoto
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Plant-based eating is on the rise. The typical American diet incorporates most of our protein as animal-based sources like meat, dairy and eggs.

Jenna Porter
Jenna Porter
Contributed / St. Luke's

Getting enough protein can be a challenge when starting to incorporate more plants into the diet. Americans don’t typically meet the recommendations for nuts, seeds and soy products, which provide additional health benefits because they are lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber. Other sources of plant proteins include whole grains, beans, peas and legumes.

Protein is important because it plays a key role in building bone, muscle and other tissues. Protein also provides our bodies with energy through calories.

Let’s review some of the powerful plant proteins that you can incorporate into your diet:

Nuts and seeds

There are different types of nuts which include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and many more. Common types of seeds include flax seed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and chia seeds.


Nuts and seeds are beneficial because they contain heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They also contain essential nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

A typical serving of nuts is about one-third cup or a small handful. Another benefit of nuts is that the fiber and protein content help your body to feel fuller for a longer period of time. Try incorporating nuts and seeds into smoothies, salads, trail mix and spread nut butters on top of whole-wheat bread.

Beans, peas and lentils

Now we can move on to our next category of plant proteins which includes beans, peas and lentils. Beans, peas and lentils are also known as legumes. Much like nuts and seeds, these powerful plant foods have heart health potential through their low levels of fat, absence of cholesterol and high fiber content.

Grocery stores carry these products in dried and canned options. Different types of legumes include chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans. The recommended serving size for legumes is one-half cup.

Challenge yourself to make legumes the main part of your meal by having black bean burgers, hummus and as the main protein sources in soups and chili.

Soy products

Technically, soy is also considered a legume. Soy products include tempeh, tofu, edamame, miso and soymilk. Soy is a source of high-quality protein, which means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, whereas other plant sources may be missing one or two sources. Soy contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can promote healthy digestion.

A serving size of soy is one cup of soy milk or one-half cup of tofu or soybeans. Try adding soy products by incorporating tofu into soups and stew, and trying soymilk in baked goods, cereals or smoothies.

Black Burrito Bowl

As you can see, the benefits of adding plant-based protein into your diet are endless. Challenge yourself to make a plant-based protein the main part of a meal. Try the following Black Bean Burrito Bowl recipe:



  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 can black beans
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • Lime juice and chopped cilantro to taste
  • Optional: Sour cream and cheese

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute oil, black beans, corn, cumin and chili powder for 5-10 minutes. 

Add ingredients from skillet into a bowl and top with avocado, cherry tomatoes, lime, cilantro, sour cream and cheese. 

Servings: 4

Jenna Porter is a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian at St. Luke's.

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