Protein Foods that Fight Disease & Boost Weight Loss

1. Natto

Natto is a type of fermented soybean consumed most often in Japan. At 31 grams of protein in one cup, you can probably see why it ranked No. 1 on my list. It’s also a complete protein.

While I don’t recommend most soy products to my readers (due to the high prevalence of GMO options and phytoestrogen complications), natto is a fermented soy product that I think is worth the hype.

The smell and texture of natto often turn off people to trying it, but I enjoy the taste and don’t mind using it as a side dish — especially with all the benefits it provides.

2. Spirulina

This algae superfood looks a little bizarre, but this plant protein powerhouse has some unbelievable benefits, like heavy metal detox, HIV/AIDS improvement and cancer prevention.

While not a complete protein on its own, spirulina has a whopping 39 grams of protein in just a serving (part of why it’s a delicious part of a morning green smoothie). To supplement the methionine and cysteine it’s missing, just pair it with a whole grain or some nuts.

Spirulina also includes the highest amount of glutamine found in a plant food. Glutamine is an amino acid that is called “conditionally essential,” because the body is able to create it on its own, but it’s used in such large amounts that you also need to consume it through foods. (8)

3. Tempeh

Another one of the world’s best plant-based protein sources is tempeh, an Indonesian soybean. Like natto, this probiotic-rich bean is fermented to eliminate the common issues soy often provides.

You’ll get 18 grams of protein in a serving of this complete protein. Some people boil and eat it with soy sauce or coconut aminos, and since it absorbs neighboring flavors, you can use it with almost any recipe. Try it in chilis, salads and stews for a start.

4. Nutritional Yeast

Don’t let the name fool you — this yeast isn’t the same stuff that helps to bake bread. Nutritional yeast only contains about 9 grams of protein per serving; however, unlike almost any other plant food, it usually includes fortified Vitamin B-12.

Generally, you should treat nutritional yeast like a condiment or an ingredient in cheesy dishes or as a shake ingredient.

5. Pumpkin Seeds

A cup of pumpkin seeds contains 12 grams of protein. (9) Another complete protein source, pumpkin seeds are high in healthy fats, magnesium, lysine and zinc (the latter two of which are often limited on plant-based diets).

However, a word of caution: if you are counting calories (which I don’t often deem necessary), you should know that a cup of pumpkin seeds contains 264 calories.

6. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds have 9 grams of protein per serving, and are also complete in their amino acid profile. They contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is probably one reason they have so many health benefits, like reducing inflammation and helping with multiple sclerosis.

7. Amaranth

A gluten-free “ancient-grain” cultivated first in history by the Aztecs, amaranth grains are an excellent source of nutrition. Amaranth is a complete protein, offering 9 grams per serving, and also contains over 100 percent of your daily recommended manganeseintake.

8. Quinoa

Quinoa is another one of those incredible “ancient grains,” although it’s technically not a grain at all, but a “pseudocereal,” a seed that you use similarly to barley.

Due to its 8 grams of protein per serving, complete inclusion of amino acids and relative ease of access, quinoa is one of my favorite plant-based protein foods to eat often.

9. Black Beans

Although black beans are short just one amino acid (hydroxyproline) of being called “complete,” they still offer an awesome source of protein at 15 grams per serving.

They also contain a large amount of lysine and leucine, two of the amino acids rarely found in plant-based protein foods. (10) Leucine is the primary of three branched-chain amino acids, which is extremely significant for weight loss and metabolism management.

10. Green Peas

Apparently, your mom was right when she said eating your peas was important — green peas have 9 grams of protein per serving and include significant amounts of leucine, lysine and glutamine. (11)

They’re also one of those high-fiber foods that help decrease your risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Plant-Based Protein Nutrition

A major question people ask when considering plant-based dietary options is, “How will I get protein? Will I ever have enough?”

While kwashiorkor, the medical diagnosis for protein malnutrition, is rarely seen in first-world countries, it is common for people on the Standard American Diet to experience protein deficiency because of the prevalence of processed, empty foods.

As long as you take time to be intentional, as I said before, about your protein intake, you should be able to consume enough protein from plant-based foods.

However, if you start to notice you have trouble building muscle mass, constant fatigue, moodiness, bone/joint pain, slow wound healing or a low immunity, you should consult your doctor immediately to check your protein levels.

It’s okay that plant-based foods don’t all contain “complete” proteins, as long as you are careful to eat a variety of foods to fill in any potential gaps in amino acids.

There are 20 amino acids in proteins, 10 of which humans can produce on our own. The remaining 10 (or 9, for adults) are considered “essential” because our only source for them is through our diet. It’s not vital to have every single one of the 20 at each meal, but consuming a good variety of all of these amino acids throughout the day will help you achieve optimal health. (35)

Plant-based protein nutrition can, contrary to popular belief, also provide satiety, that full feeling at the end of a meal. Specifically, “dietary pulses” (beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils) have a potential to really help you feel full. (36)

Keeping in mind the vast benefits of plant-based protein foods, there are a few nutrients that plant-based nutrition simply does not provide in large quantities.

For one, the amino acid leucine, which triggers muscle growth, is not often found in most plant foods. (37) However, there’s a ton of it in spirulina, watercress and alfalfa seeds, so adding those to your regular diet can help, especially if you’re trying to build a lot of muscle. (38)

Plant-based proteins almost never contain Vitamin B-12. Because of this, it’s vital for vegans in particular to supplement their diet with an organic Vitamin B-12 or B-complex. Studies also recommend vegetarians be regularly screened for B-12 deficiency. (39)

The three exceptions to that B-12 rule are nutritional yeast, soy products (which I do not recommend) and nori seaweed, found in sushi wraps. (40) Nori has 9 percent of your required B-12 each day per serving, so even if you eat sushi every day, you’ll still need an additional supplement.

Lastly, vegans and vegetarians usually do not consume enough ALA or EPA, both omega-3 fatty acids found in fish that help to prevent heart disease. (41) For vegetarians, you may want to try a fish oil supplement. If you strictly consume only plant-based items, you should look into algal oil for these nutrients, although they are not available in the same quantities as fish oil would provide.

The good news is that plant-based proteins are great for your health. For most conditions and dietary changes, one of the first things I recommend is to start eating more protein-rich plant foods, because they offer a host of benefits, whether they make up a large portion or the entirety of your diet. Plant-based proteins have a ton of vitamins and minerals that are essential to bodily functions and longevity