14 Plant Based Foods List For Beginners (Single Ingredient)

In the United States, we consume a lot of animal products. It’s common knowledge that protein comes from animal sources – meat, chicken, pork, eggs, etc. But did you know that you can find a good quality source of protein from vegetables and other foods that come from plants? That’s right!

While protein may not be as abundant in plant foods compared to animal sources, you can still get a good amount from them. Along with this protein content, plant based foods are known to provide an array of health benefits – some of which one could argue are even more beneficial than animal sourced foods.

Vegans, vegetarians, and those who are just looking to incorporate more plant based foods into their diet rejoice! In this article, we will discuss some of the top protein-containing foods that come from plants.

Single Ingredient Plant Based Food List

There are so many foods that come from plants that contain protein (along with an array of other health benefits): but here are some of the best ones.

1. Tofu

Tofu

I’m sure when you hear ‘plant based food’, tofu isn’t far from your mind. And for good reason.

This vegetarian/vegan favorite packs a protein punch and is extremely versatile. Eat it on its own or throw it in soups, stews, casseroles, eggs – you name it.

Coming from soybeans, tofu tastes very bland before cooking. But it loves to soak up flavors during the cooking process, making the options endless! 

Along with protein, tofu is a good source of calcium, manganese, copper, selenium, vitamin A, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and zinc. AKA – a lot of nutrients!

3.5 ounces (100 grams) of tofu contains about 145 calories and 17 grams of protein.

2. Tempeh

Tempeh

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. Tempeh has a dry and firm but chewy texture and a slightly nutty taste.

Like tofu, it takes on flavor easily and is very versatile; it can be steamed, sautéed, baked, or fried (or air fried – for a healthier way!). Tempeh is notably an excellent source of manganese. 

A 3 ounce serving of tempeh contains about 160 calories and 15 grams of protein.

3. Edamame

Edamame

Edamame are whole, immature soybeans. They are green and differ in color from regular soybeans, which are typically light brown, tan or beige.

Most edamame sold in the United States comes shelled and frozen – which makes it a great plant based food that you can always keep on hand. However edamame beans are often sold while still encased in their pods, which are not meant to be eaten. 

Edamame is notably rich in fiber (9 grams per ½ cup!)

A ½ cup serving of edamame contains about 120 calories and 11 grams of protein.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa

If you’re a health conscious person, I’m sure you have heard of quinoa before. Heck, if you’re just a person I’m sure you’ve heard of quinoa before!

Quinoa has become very popular in recent years due to its many health benefits.

Quinoa is a gluten free ancient grain (although technically a ‘psuedocereal grain’) that possesses the rare quality of being a plant based food that is also a complete protein –  which possesses many benefits that we have previously discussed.

Quinoa is rich in many important nutrients –  including fiber, protein, folate, and magnesium.

1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories and 8 grams of protein.

5. Amaranth

Amaranth is another psuedocereal grain that is rich in nutrients and also a complete protein. Similarly to quinoa – it has a slightly nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked. Amaranth flour is a great option for gluten free baking.

Amaranth is notably rich in manganese – providing over 100% of your Daily Value in one cup.

One cup of cooked amaranth contains about 250 calories and 9 grams of protein.

6. Buckwheat

Buckwheat

Buckwheat is another pseudocereal grain. Although its name may be deceitful, buckwheat contains no wheat and is therefore considered a gluten free grain (like quinoa and amaranth).

Buckwheat, like most other whole grains, is an excellent source of digestive healthy fiber.

3.5 ounces (100 grams) of buckwheat contains about 340 calories and 13 grams of protein.  

7. Spirulina 

Here’s one you may not be familiar with. Spirulina is a blue-green alga that became famous after it was successfully used by NASA as a dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions.

It is a strong antioxidant and extremely nutrient dense. Spirulina increases healthy lactobacillus in the intestine, enabling the production of Vitamin B6 that also helps in energy release.

It also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the release of histamine from mast cells. I’m going to have to purchase some spirulina after writing this!

1 tablespoon of spirulina contains 20 calories and 4 grams of protein. 

8. Hemp Seeds

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are a great plant based food that is easy to throw onto salads or in cereals or oatmeals. Hemp seeds come from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa.

They are members of the same species as marijuana, but they contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana.

3 tablespoons of hemp seeds contains 166 calories and 10 grams of protein.

9. Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds also possess similar capabilities to hemp seeds – in that they can be an easy add-in plant based food.

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids that may promote heart health, support strong bones, and improve blood sugar management. Chia pudding recipes and chia water have gained recent popularity. 

2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain 138 calories and about 5 grams of protein.

10. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional Yeast

A personal favorite – nutritional yeast provides a unique (and cheesy taste!) to plant based meals. It gets its name from the protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it contains.

There are tons of recipes out there that substitute cheese and other ingredients for nutritional yeast. A fave of mine is to sprinkle some on top of popcorn! Yum.

Nutritional yeast is notably rich in B vitamins – very important if you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Typically, ¼ cup of nutritional yeast contains 60 calories and 8 grams of protein.

11. Beans

Beans

Good old beans! Beans are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. In fact – some of the healthiest/longest living people on the planet eat a full cup of beans everyday!

One study even found that for every 20g intake of legumes (beans, peas, etc.), the risk of death fell by 6 percent. So eat your beans!

Beans are cheap and relatively easy to prepare. They also are very shelf stable when packaged in cans, making them easy to keep on hand regularly.

Not to mention they are an excellent source of many nutrients including fiber and protein. They come in tons of different varieties – you gotta like at least one!

100 grams of raw pinto beans contains 347 calories and 21 grams of protein.

12. Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter

Who doesn’t love peanut butter!? Well unless you are allergic to peanuts (sorry!). This classic household staple packs a nice plant based protein punch.

Peanut butter is a relatively balanced food source – which means it contains all three of the macronutrients (fat (healthy fats!), carbohydrates, and protein).

It also is a good source of fiber. So cherish that PB&J – it has some great nutritious qualities! 

Try to grab a peanut butter with the most minimal ingredients, this means it is less processed and has no added sugar.

Peanut butter also now comes in powder form (although I prefer the classic stuff) – which typically has less fat and calories. All you have to do is add some water to it and mix well.

Peanut butter typically contains about 200 calories per tablespoon. Per a 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving – peanut butter contains around 22.5 grams of protein.

13. Nuts and Seeds (Besides Peanuts)

Nuts and Seeds

There are so many seeds and nut varieties out there besides peanuts. And they all pack some great nutrients – including protein. Yay for peanut allergy folks!

Nuts and seeds are great sources of fiber and healthy fats, along with iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin E, and some B vitamins. They possess great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nuts and seeds vary a lot in calories and other nutrients. But one ounce (28 grams) typically contains about 5–7 grams of protein.

14.Plant-Based Protein Powders

You have probably heard of whey protein, and perhaps casein protein. Those two types of protein powder seem to dominate gyms and GNC shelves – but they are both animal sourced.

Fortunately, if you are looking for a plant based protein powder, you have lots of options! Plant based protein powders have become more popular in recent times. AKA there’s a TON of them.

Check out this awesome comprehensive list/review here to find the best plant based protein powder for you.

Plant based protein powders can vary widely in calories and grams of protein per serving (and price!). Try and look for one with minimal ingredients and no added sugar.

And keep in mind you don’t need to break the bank for a good plant based protein powder – some of them can be scarily expensive!

What Are Plant-Based Foods?

Plant based foods are, essentially, any food that comes from plants. Sounds simple enough, right? This includes not only fruits and vegetables – but nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, and oils.

Tons of good (for you) stuff! Plant based foods have no association with animal sources.

Scientifically speaking, the difference foods that come from plants have from animal-based foods is that their fiber fraction is made of indigestible compounds, mainly cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, and/or resistant starch.

Plant foods possess bioactive compounds, which promote better health conditions.

Plant foods possess many key nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. Some foods that come from plants however may be high in phytates and oxalates, which can inhibit calcium absorption.  

Plant Based Diets

Plant forward diets such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet have provided evidence that they provide a vast amount of health benefits.

These diets are abundant in foods that come from plants and emphasize these foods highly over animal sourced foods. 

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant based foods – with a particular emphasis on heart healthy fats (fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, etc.) – and discourages processed foods and foods that are high in refined sugar and grains (although no food/beverage is off limits).

It is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Spain, Greece, and Italy.

Studies have shown that these people were extremely healthy and had a low risk of many chronic diseases and conditions.

The Mediterranean Diet also places an emphasis on physical activity, socialization, and other non-food factors that may enhance your livelihood and well-being.

Studies also have shown that the Mediterranean Diet can help promote weight loss and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular related conditions and diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

This is because the ‘healthy fats’ that the Mediterranean Diet is abundant in help reduce cholesterol and plaque buildup in arteries. Recent evidence even suggests that the Mediterranean Diet may help prevent cognitive decline and support brain health.

For five years in a row, The U.S. News & World Report has ranked the Mediterranean Diet as the best diet for overall health. And this Registered Dietitian agrees!

It is important to note that the Mediterranean Diet is not a “diet” in the common assumption of the word (AKA: “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons”), but it is rather a habitual way someone eats.

Therefore, the Mediterranean Diet serves as more of a guideline than anything. One thing is for certain though, the Mediterranean Diet places a special emphasis on foods that come from plants. Below is an illustration/example of the ‘Mediterranean Diet Pyramid’. 

The Vegetarian Diet

There are tons of reasons why someone may adopt a vegetarian diet. Ethical, non-ethical, as a challenge, as a way to incorporate more plant based foods – everyone has a reason. Whatever the reason may be, the health benefits are the same – and they are abundant!

Studies have shown that eating a vegetarian diet may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease and prevalence of diabetes type 2. 

Not all vegetarian diets are created equal. There are actually many different types of vegetarian diets. Below are some examples:

  • Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian includes eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
  • Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy foods, fish, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
  • Vegetarian (sometimes referred to as lacto-ovo vegetarian) may include eggs and dairy foods, but no meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.
    • lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products
    • lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs
    • ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products
  • Vegan includes no animal foods whatsoever.

It is important to note that you may need to supplement with nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron if you are following a strict vegetarian diet. This is because meat is the richest source for iron and B12 and a diet free of meat may be lacking in these nutrients. Consult with your physician regarding these potential concerns.

Plant-Based vs. Animal

So much debate over this! Which has the most benefits? Which is better for you? Can you really get enough protein in your diet without animal sources?

WELL, sorry to say that there is no simple/‘one size fits all’ answer. Nutrition, as with anything, is very specific to the individual.

What can produce effects in you may not (and likely won’t) produce the same exact effect in others. A lot of figuring out what works for YOU (and only you!) is a lot of trial and error.

But what I can share with you is facts and evidence. And there’s a lot of it! 

For starters, animal sourced food (meat, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese) tends to have a higher fat/saturated fat content than food that comes from plants.

A diet high in saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease; and reducing your saturated fat intake (or replacing it with healthy unsaturated fat intake) may reduce your risk for heart disease.

Then there is the issue of protein. It is common knowledge that animal sourced food is a very rich source of protein.

But to dive even further into that – animal protein is also a complete protein. What’s that you ask?

Complete proteins contain all of the nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) – amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own and therefore need to acquire from our diet.

Our bodies naturally produce the other 11 amino acids. All of the 20 amino acids are imperative to help the body grow, repair tissues, break down food, and perform many other functions.

Therefore, consuming complete proteins is important to health. Plant based foods that are also complete proteins include quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and spirulina.

Final Considerations

There are TONS of healthy foods that come from plants out there. Whether or not you are looking to add more plants into your diet, or looking to completely swap out animal products for them – you have a lot of options! I hope this article has provided you with education and insight on all things plant based.

As always, consult with your physician when looking to make any major changes to your diet. And cheers to you for looking to improve your health through nutrition! Proud of you!

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