Best Plant Based Proteins Reviewed
Why Protein is Important
Protein is a crucial part of the human diet, and is necessary for living a healthy life with a body that performs at its best. In fact, protein is so important that it is part of every single cell in the human body! The body uses protein to build and repair muscles and tissue and is an important component of bones, skin, cartilage, and blood. If the human body experiences a protein deficiency, it won’t be able to function properly. Instead, you would experience lethargy, weakness, and hair loss, among other symptoms.
Where to get Plant Based Protein
There are specialty shops and supermarkets that sell these foods, but the best way is to order online as some places don’t have certain products. Check out the best plant based proteins and where to get them below.
10 Best Plant Based Proteins
Legumes have plenty to offer on top of all of that protein. They are also high in fiber and phytonutrients (which help fight inflammation) and are great for digestive health and controlling blood sugar levels.
Variety is the spice of life, and there are innumerable varieties of legumes you can try to get a plant-based protein kick until you find your favorites. Legumes can be found at any grocer, and can be purchased fresh, dried, canned, or frozen, giving them a long shelf life.
Legumes are a very affordable plant-based protein.
- Highly versatile
- Tons of protein
- Many different varieties
- Prepping fresh or dried legumes can be time consuming.
2. Hemp Seeds
In addition to the 10 grams of protein, three tablespoons of hemp seeds has 14 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber. They are also loaded with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, other amino acids, and magnesium.
Hemp seeds have a light, nutty flavor and are very similar to flax seeds. Their versatility makes the possibilities for their use nearly endless. Try them as a salad or yogurt topping, or blended into your favorite smoothie or plant-based protein shakes.
Hemp seeds are affordable, although more expensive than pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
- High protein content
- Usually only found at specialty retailers
Quinoa is an edible seed, and is loaded with protein and amino acids. Add to that high levels of fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and a few antioxidants, and you have a plant-based protein that helps meet most of your nutritional needs.
With quinoa growing in popularity, it is pretty easy to find in the rice section at your average grocery store. Quinoa has a slightly nuttier taste than rice and can be used as a replacement for rice in any recipe. It cooks quickly, so there is no long wait to get a plant-based protein on the dinner table.
Quinoa is a bit more expensive than rice, but is still affordable. Try buying it in bulk or loose.
- Overall nutritional powerhouse
- A little expensive compared to other grains
Four ounces of tofu, in addition to the 10 grams of protein and nine essential amino acids, has 164 calories and is loaded with lots of other nutritional goodies like calcium, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Let’s be honest: tofu isn’t known for its amazing flavor. However, tofu’s bland base can be flavored any way you want. Try it with traditional Asian flavors, cooking it up with some BBQ sauce in place of a burger, or blending it into your favorite smoothie. Tofu also comes in a fermented variety (seitan) that has its own unique flavor. A couple of varieties of tofu can usually be found in your grocer’s produce section.
Tofu is an inexpensive plant-based protein
- Can be flavored any way you like
- Bland taste in its original form
5. Chia Seeds
Four grams of protein aren’t all that this plant-based protein source has to offer. A serving of chia seeds also has 8.3 grams of fiber, 8 amino acids, and loads of antioxidants, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and potassium.
Chia seeds have a very unique gel-like texture that takes some getting used to. Users tend to blend them into a smoothie or toss a scoop or two into a normal recipe (like pancakes, salad dressing, etc.) to give it an extra plant-based protein boost. Chia gel (mixing chia seeds with water) can also be used as a vegan replacement for eggs, or as a replacement for oils (or eggs, of course) in baking recipes.
Chia seeds are about the same price as other seeds and nuts, and remember, a little goes a long way.
- Lots of nutrients
- Gel-like texture can be a turn-off
Almonds aren’t only a great source of plant-based protein. They are also full of fiber, healthy fats, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium. A small handful of almonds has 161 calories and only 2.5 grams of digestible carbohydrates.
Almonds have a slightly sweet, but light nutty flavor. Almonds are a very versatile plant-based protein. They are a great grab-and-go snack, but can also be enjoyed as a topping for oatmeal or a salad, chopped up and put into your favorite side dish, or even as a milk.
Almonds are priced in the average range of other nuts.
- Potential allergen
In addition to being little green protein powerhouses, broccoli is also rich in the following: glucoraphanin, which helps the body detoxify; beta-carotene, zinc, and selenium, which are immune-system boosters; phytonutrients, which help fight inflammation; and indole-3 carbinole, which is known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogen. Broccoli is one well-rounded plant-based protein!
Broccoli is commonly found in your local grocer’s produce department and can easily be grown at home. It can be eaten raw or cooked and possibly topped with hummus, cheese or other toppings.
Broccoli is inexpensive and versatility which really gives it a bang for your buck.
- Commonly found
- Can be dry when eaten raw
8. Soy Milk
What’s in soy milk other than 8 grams of plant-based protein? It’s a great source of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium and isoflavones. What’s not in soymilk is just as important. Soy milk is free of lactose and cholesterol and is very low in saturated fat.
Soy milk is available in original, chocolate, and vanilla flavors. Try them all to find your preference. Do note that it doesn’t necessarily cook the same as dairy-based milk. Soy milk can be found at any grocer in either the milk section or the baking aisle where there will be shelf-stable varieties.
Soy milk is one of the less expensive plant-based milks.
- Too much soy can be troublesome for people with thyroid issues
In addition to 4 grams of protein, each tablespoon of spirulina contains 20 calories and is also an excellent source of vitamin B1 (aka Thiamin), iron, and calcium (it has 26 times the amount of calcium of cow’s milk!).
Spirulina is not, I repeat, is not, tasty. In fact, it has been described as tasting like pond water. Spirulina powder is the most common form of this plant-based protein and is easy to mix into smoothies, sauces, or other liquid foods. It can even be mixed in with dry baking ingredients to give your goodies a plant-based protein boost. Just make sure that whatever you are mixing the spirulina with has a strong enough flavor to hide it!
Spirulina is the most expensive plant-based protein on the market.
- High doses of many nutrients
- Bad taste
10. Sunflower Seeds
Not only are sunflower seeds packed with protein, they are also a great source of vitamin E, copper, vitamin B1, antioxidants, and magnesium.
Sunflower seeds have a unique, buttery taste and can be found anywhere from your neighborhood grocer to the farmers market to the corner convenience store. They make a great portable snack, a topping for salad or yogurt, or can be eaten in the form of sunflower butter.
Sunflower seeds are inexpensive in comparison to other seeds. Sunflower butter is slightly more expensive than peanut butter.
- Easy to find
- Higher in calories than other plant-based proteins
However, when most people think of a protein-rich diet, what foods come to mind?
Most people think of meat when it comes to protein. But what about the non-meat eaters out there or those of us that simply want to increase our intake of plant-based foods? Have no fear! There are lots of plant-based proteins out there that really pack in the protein, and many of them are so versatile, you most likely won’t miss eating meat at all!
What Protein Does?
Proteins are large and complex molecules that are a crucial component of the human body and are found in every cell of your composition. They are the molecules mainly responsible for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues. Below is a short list of body functions and parts that depend on protein:
- Hair and nails are composed mostly of protein.
- Protein is used by the body to build and repair muscle and tissue.
- Protein is important in the making of enzymes, hormones, and other important body chemicals.
- Protein is a key component in bones, blood, skin, muscles, and cartilage.
How Protein Works?
Proteins are the molecules responsible for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues. Proteins are made of chains of hundreds of thousands of amino acids, which attach to one another. Twenty different amino acids can link together to form a protein. The unique sequence of amino acids that link together determines the structure of the resulting protein and the function it will have within the body.
What Protein Does for the Body?
When amino acids link together to form a protein, they create a unique structure with a specific protein function. Five of the major protein structures and their functions are:
- Antibodies (example: Immunoglobulin M): When a foreign particle, such as bacteria or virus, enters the body, antibodies attach to the particle to help protect the body.
- Enzymes (example: DNA polymerase): The main function of enzymes is to carry out the chemical reactions that occur within the cells of the body. A secondary function of enzymes is forming new molecules by interpreting genetic information in DNA.
- Messengers (example: oxytocin): Messenger proteins are responsible for transmitting signals between cells, tissues, and organs so that biological processes can take place. Many hormones are messenger proteins.
- Structural Component (example: elastin): In addition to providing structure and support for the body’s cells, structural proteins also allow the body to move.
- Transport/Storage (example: serum albumin): Structural proteins bind atoms together, then carry them throughout the cells of the body.
How Protein Builds Muscle?
After a tough workout, your body needs to repair and replenish your muscles, and it uses proteins to do this. Your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers by fusing new muscle fibers together. These new muscle protein strands are called myofibrils. These new muscle fibers, or myrfibrils, increase in number and size, and are what cause muscle growth.
How Protein is Digested?
Your stomach is full of enzymes specifically designed to help you digest different types of food and nutrients. Pepsin is the enzyme that your body produces specifically to digest proteins. When a protein enters your stomach, pepsin breaks apart the peptide molecules that hold the protein together. Digestion of the protein is completed in the small intestine by the enzymes trypsin, chymotrypsin, and carboxypeptidase.
How Protein Synthesis Works?
There are 4 steps in protein synthesis:
- First, mRNA is transcripted in the nucleus from DNA. RNA molecules move from the nucleus to the cytoplasm.
- Once in the cytoplasm, protein synthesis begins when the AUG codon signals two interactions: one between the mRNA and the ribosome and another between the tRNA and the anticodons. Then, a second tRNA approaches the mRNA with the codon CCG, which is the code for proline. The final part of this step is the initiation of the growth of a peptide chain through the bonding of proline and the carboxyl acid group of methinone. This lengthens the peptide chain.
- The growth of the peptide chain continues as the tRNA’s are matched up with the next codon. This continiously forms peptide bonds, further lengthening the chain. This process hydrolizes the proline from the tRNA. The proline tRNA returns to the cytoplasm to attach itself to another proline amino acid, starting the process over again.
- The enlongation of the peptide chain ceases when the “stop” signal on the mRNA is reached. The peptide chain leaves the ribosome and the ribosome can repeat the synthesis process.
Which Protein is Best?
There are many different forms of protein, and each provides a unique combination of nutrients and is most effective at different time. The type of protein that is best for you will be determined by your nutritional needs, dietary restrictions, and when you plan on using it. Consult the list below to determine which protein will best meet your needs:
- Whey Concentrate: This is one of the most commonly found types of protein and is very inexpensive. It is a good pre-and post-workout choice. It may be hard to digest for some users, leaving them feel bloated or gassy.
- Casein Protein: Casein protein breaks down very slowly, taking a full 5-7 hours to fully digest. This means that steadily absorbs its protein and nutrients over a long period of time. It is recommended that casein protein be taken before bed so that your body can refuel and repair as you sleep.
- Whey Isolates: This fast-absorbing protein is a good choice for people that follow a low-carb diet. They can be taken pre- or post-workout. It costs a little more than traditional whey proteins.
- Hydrolysate protein: This is the quickest absorbing protein available, and therefore, is also the most expensive. It is easier to digest than whey proteins and can be used pre- and post-workout.
- Soy protein: This plant-based protein option is suitable for vegetarian or vegan diets. In addition to protein, it also provides users with a healthy dose of glutamine, arginine, and BCAA’s. It can be used both pre- and post-workout, but it is not recommended that soy protein be taken immediately before sleep.
- Milk Protein Isolate: This combination of whey and casein proteins is usually part of a blended protein combination. It isn’t the most recommended source of protein, but can serve as a nutritional filler if necessary.
- Egg Albumin: Before protein powders existed, egg albumin (i.e. egg whites) is where athletes needed a protein boost got their fix. It provides many amino acids and helps build lean muscle. Egg albumin is now available in powder form and can be used any time during the day.
Why Protein After Workout?
When you workout, you strain and damage your muscles, and when you are finished, your body needs to repair the damage caused so that the muscle can rebuild. The process of repairing and rebuilding muscle fibers is called muscle protein synthesis, and ingesting protein after a workout can help this process along. Protein is generally quickly absorbed (except for casein) and can help stimulate muscle repair and growth in most athletes. Additionally, studies have shown that athletes that take protein after a workout experience less soreness, have better overall immune response when ill, and need to visit the doctor less.
Where to Buy Plant Based Protein Powder?
Plant based protein powder, although growing in popularity, is still most easily bought on the internet or through a specialty retailer, like a health food store. You may be able to find a variety or two at your local grocer or a major department retailer (like Target or Walmart), but the internet is most likely your best option if you are looking for variety or want to research different types and brands.