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Top 6 Plant-Based Protein Sources

"The bottom line is, if you want to be healthy and strong, with energy as you age, you need good quality protein throughout the day."

Nothing promotes healthy weight loss, helps you feel full and satisfied through your day, and preserves lean muscle better than protein.

Watch Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist break down which plant-based protein sources are best and how to use them, as well as how much protein you should be eating each day. 

Video Highlights

  • 02:04: Three categories you need in your diet
  • 03:31: For most, a high-protein diet is a must
  • 03:55: Getting protein without animal sources
  • 06:09: Top experts recommend 30 grams of protein per day
  • 08:14: Top six plant-based proteins and how to use them
  • 08:55: Lentils
  • 10:54: Hemp seeds/hearts
  • 12:53: Quinoa
  • 14:50: Seeds
  • 17:03: Nuts
  • 20:22: Beans and legumes
  • 24:55: Questions and answers

The Three Elements You Need in Your Diet

There's nothing like protein after a workout, right? One of the most common questions we get about Dr. Nancy's anti-inflammatory diet is, how much protein should I have each day? In fact, Dr. Nancy says she gets more questions about protein than any other subject! So let's talk about this.

In the anti-inflammatory diet, we break down food into three cagetories:

  1. Slow-burning carbs (carbs that don't spike your blood sugar!)
  2. Healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats and fats high in omega-3 fatty acids
  3. Lean protein sources

None of these categories are more important than the others to your health, and we'll address categories 1 and 2 in the future. But today, it's all about protein!  

For many people, a high-protein diet is one of the best ways to lose weight and reduce inflammation. There are some exceptions, such as medical conditions which require a lower protein diet. But the bottom line for most, is that nothing promotes muscle strength and preservation (which is super important as we age), feeling satiated after eating, and weight loss, better than a protein source.

There is a common misconception that the need for protein decreases with age, but this is a myth. Research shows we need more protein as we age, not less. This is because we don't absorb processed foods as well as we age, and the hormones that that help you utilize protein better when you're younger, change as you get older. The bottom line is, if you want to be healthy and strong, with energy as you age, you need good quality protein throughout the day.

Can You Get Enough Protein Without Animals? 

Many people want to know where they can get good protein, without eating meat or fish. There are many people living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle who need the right daily amount of protein, but may find that relying too heavily on beans and nut butters can throw off your gut balance. It can be challenging to get enough protein every day just from plants! However, the more plant-based your diet is, the better it is for long-term health. 

The anti-inflammatory diet does include some kind of protein in the greens and vegetables, but to get the 30 grams of protein per day recommended by health experts, can be tough. If you choose this route, a good supplement once or twice a day with a a non-dairy, amino acid complete protein powder will be important.

Certain plant foods contain significantly more protein than others, and plants are rich in fiber, minerals, and phytonutrients that you don't get from animal sources.

Top Six Plant-Based Protein Sources


Lentils are a great source of carbohydrates and fiber, as well as protein. In fact, they offer nearly 20 grams of muscle-building protein in one serving! Lentils are considered to be a starchy protein, and split green peas are in the same category. Lentils contain both essential and non-essential amino acids, and promote health by providing insoluble dietary fiber, prebiotics, and potassium. Plus, they're extremely inexpensive!

1 cup cooked lentils = 18 grams of protein!

Combine them with brown rice or quinoa for a satisfying comfort meal, or add them to vegetarian meatballs, burgers, or even taco filling!

Hemp seeds/hearts

Hemp seeds are incredibly good for you! They contain a lot of protein, as well as heart-healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. They don't contain all the amino acids (they're missing lysine), but they are a great source of plant protein. Hemp seeds have a deliciously subtle sweet, and nutty flavor, and are so small in size they can easily be added to any recipe to boost the plant protein content.

3 tablespoons of hemp seeds = about 10 grams of protein!

You can enjoy these by sprinkling them on top of salads, stirring them into soups or stews, adding them to gluten-free pancakes, and add them to smoothies, hummus, or dressings. Essentially you can blend these into anything you use a blender for, and sprinkle them on top of pretty much anything, including cereal or oatmeal, or even add them to desserts. 


Quinoa is a seed, not a grain. It's considered to be a starchy protein, because it contains a lot of carbohydrates, as well as plant protein and fiber. It's a fantastic starch substitute and you can use it anywhere that you use rice! Compared to grains, quinoa has a much better amino acid profile, and higher protein-to-fat carb ratio. It's also higher in the amino acid lysine, which is super important for immune health.

1 cup of cooked quinoa = 14 - 18 grams of protein!

Top off your leafy greens with cooked quinoa, add it to your morning eggs, eat it for cereal (cold or hot) with nut milk and fresh fruit, use a bed of quinoa for stir fry dishes, or just as a side dish. Try it with other plant-based proteins like black beans for delicious taco wraps!


Seeds such as sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds, are protein and mineral rich. Seeds vary by type, and some of a nutty flavor, while others are sweeter or neutral tasting. Pumpkin seeds have a very earthy flavor, while sesame seeds are very nutty. Sunflower seeds are slightly sweet, and flax and chia seeds taste mild and nutty. Like most plant proteins, these seeds lack lysine, a key amino acid needed to make a complete protein on their own. This is why it's good to mix them with a high-lysine protein like quinoa. In terms of overall protein, they are still a great source.

1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds, for example, is about 7 - 9 grams of protein.

Sprinkle seeds on top of salads, or any meal, to increase the healthy fat. Use them on top of oatmeal, grind them and use them as nut seed flour, or seed butter. 


Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and brazil nuts are not only rich in minerals, vitamin E, and healthy fats, but they're also high in protein! Like seeds, nuts vary in flavor, with some tasting more nutty and others more sweet and neutral.

Try putting some almonds in a mason jar, filling the jar with spring water, put it in the refrigerator overnight, and in the morning, pour out the water and enjoy sprouted almonds! Sprouting nuts brings the enzymes inside them to life, and make the nuts more bioavailable for your body to digest. They also taste delicious! 

Many people love cashews, because they're incredibly versatile to use and buttery in flavor, but don't pass up other great nut options. Skip the peanuts, but try Brazil nuts! Brazil nuts are super rich in selenium. In fact, one serving per day of brazil nuts will provide 100% of your daily selenium value. Unless you have a nut allergy, add nuts to your meals and snacks. They're a good mix of protein and fat that helps keep you satiated, and you can take them pretty much anywhere! However, like seeds, they don't contain the full lineup of amino acids. Most lack lysine and other key essential amino acids, so they can't replace fish or eggs on their own.

1/4 cup of nuts (about 22 almonds) is about 7 - 9 grams of protein!

Carry them with you for a snack, sprinkle them on salads, grind them as flours in gluten-free baking, make your own nut butters by blending in a food processor, or sprinkle them on oatmeal for a crunch. 

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes like chickpeas, are an amazing source of plant proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber. Beans are also considered to be super starchy, but it's healthy starch. Most beans are high in magnesium, a super important mineral that plays a key role in muscle function, protein synthesis, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation, just to name a few. Beans have also been shown to help decrease PMS, headaches such as migraines, and even relax the digestive muscles, which can reduce constipation. Beans contain many amino acids, and are very high in an essential one known as isoleucine. They do lack other amino acids, like valine, and lysine, and can be harder to digest than other proteins. Absorption can be an issue, depending on the type of bean, and your digestive system.

1 cup of cooked beans = about 15 grams of protein!

Cook beans with your favorite spices and seasonings, or eat them plain. Add them to your favorite salads or combine them with quinoa for a hearty, high protein meal. Use them to make vegetarian meat balls, loaves, or burgers. 

Bonus tip: If your favorite protein source is raw broccoli but you find vegetables like this hard to digest, or that they disagree with your stomach, try a digestive enzyme like Smarter Enzymes to help break down food and absorb it more effectively into your bloodstream.

In our next video, we'll talk about the top animal sources of protein and how best to prepare them! 

Living a more plant-based life is all about choosing fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources that offer the most value for you. The anti-inflammatory food guide contains a great shopping guide so you know what to buy! Eating these foods will keep you energized and satisfied, which is a huge key to following any healthy eating plan long-term. Plus the food is delicious!  

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