I say it all the time. Contrary to popular belief, it's not only possible to optimize your health on a plant-based diet; when done right, I actually recommend it.
But where do you get your protein?
I field this question constantly. Despite deeply ingrained but misleading conventional wisdom, the truth is that you can survive without meat, eggs and dairy. Believe it or not, you can actually thrive, and never suffer a protein deficiency. Because no matter how active your lifestyle, a well-rounded whole food plant-based diet provides more than enough protein to satisfy the body's needs without all the artery-clogging saturated fats that dominate the typical American diet.
I speak from experience. As a vegan endurance athlete, I place a high tax on my body. And yet my plant-based diet has fueled me for years without any negative impact on building lean muscle mass or recovery. In fact, at age 45 I continue to improve and am as fit, healthy, and strong as I have ever been.
Here's a list of my top-7 plant-based foods high in protein:
1. Quinoa: 11g Protein / Cup
A grain like seed, quinoa is a high protein alternative to rice or pasta, served alone or over vegetables and greens. It provides a good base for a veggie burger and is also a fantastic breakfast cereal when served cold with almond or coconut milk and berries.
2. Lentils: 17.9g Protein / Cup
Delicious, nutritious and super easy to prepare. Trader Joe's sells them pre-cooked and I'm not afraid to just eat them cold right out of the package for lunch or a snack on the run.
3. Tempeh: 24g Protein / 4 Ounces
A fermented soybean-based food, tempeh is a healthy protein-packed alternative to it's non-fermented cousin tofu. It makes for a great veggie burger and doubles as a tasty meat alternative to meatballs in pasta, or over brown rice and vegetables.
4. Seitan: 24g Protein / 4 Ounces
An excellent substitute for beef, fish and soy products, one serving provides about 25% of your RDA of protein. But not for those with gluten sensitivities, as it is made from wheat gluten.
5. Beans (Black, Kidney, Mung, Pinto): 12-15g Protein / Cup
I love beans. Great on a veggie burrito, in chili and soups, on salads or over rice with vegetables, beans of all varieties are a daily staple of my diet.
6. Spirulina: 6g Protein / 10 grams
A blue-green algae, spirulina is a highly bioavailable complete protein containing all essential amino acids. At 60% protein (the highest of any natural food), it's a plant-based protein powerhouse that finds it way into my Vitamix blends daily.
7. Hemp Seeds: 16g Protein / 3 Tbsp
With a perfect ration of omega-6 and omega-3 EFA's, hemp seeds are another bioavailable complete protein rivaled only by spirulina. A simple and great addition to a multitude of dishes, from breakfast cereal to salads to smoothies to vegetables and rice.