plant based protein guide

Your ultimate guide to plant based protein

Plants contain protein – who’d have thought it?!

‘Good’ protein sources are often presented to us in the form of big, juicy steaks or lean chicken breasts, but the truth is, you can get all the protein you need by eating plants.

So, whether you’re trying to cut down on animal products for ethical, environmental or health reasons, you don’t need to panic. You can get all the protein you need with plants.

We have put together this guide on plant-based protein to explain:

  • What plant protein means
  • Why you need protein
  • The differences between animal protein and plant protein
  • Which plant-based foods are highest in both complete and incomplete protein
  • 6 of the best plant protein powders, should you need to increase your protein intake

What is plant protein?

Plant protein is just the same as any other protein – an essential part of our nutrition that supports many different bodily processes. The only difference is that a plant-based protein must come from a plant!

What plants are high in protein?

Most plants contain protein, even if it is just a little. Some are more protein-rich than others, though, here are 32 of the best high-protein, plant-based foods:

  1. Red lentils, 7.6g protein per 100g1

  2. Chickpeas, 8.4g protein per 100g2

  3. Wheat flour, 12.6g protein per 100g3

  4. Buckwheat flour, 13g protein per 100g4

  5. Barley, 12g protein per 100g5

  6. Oats, 10.9g protein per 100g6

  7. Rice (easy cook boiled), 2.6g protein per 100g7

  8. Brown rice, 7g protein per 100g8

  9. Polenta (raw), 7g protein per 100g9

  10. Brown bread, 7.9g protein per 100g10

  11. White bread, 7.9g protein per 100g11

  12. Pasta, 6.6g protein per 100g12

  13. Oatmeal, 11.2g protein per 100g13

  14. Black beans, 24g protein per 100g14

  15. Butter beans, 7g protein per 100g15

  16. Kidney beans, 6.9g protein per 100g16

  17. Cannellini beans, 7.3g protein per 100g17

  18. Baked beans, 5.2g protein per 100g18

  19. Tofu, 8.1g protein per 100g19

  20. Tempeh, 18g protein per 100g20

  21. Soya milk, 3.3g protein per 100ml21

  22. Edamame beans, approx. 11g protein per 100g22

  23. Almonds, 21.2g protein per 100g23

  24. Cashew nuts, approx. 18g protein per 100g24

  25. Pumpkin seeds, approx. 30g per 100g25

  26. Walnuts, 14.7g protein per 100g26

  27. Hazelnuts, 14.2g protein per 100g27

  28. Hemp seeds, 32g protein per 100g28

  29. Chia seeds, 17g protein per 100g29

  30. Peanut butter, 22g protein per 100g30
Read more about the best vegan and vegetarian protein sources here.

Plant protein vs animal protein

Protein can be broken down into 22 natural amino acids, aka the ‘building blocks’ of protein. 9 of these amino acids are classed as ‘essential’, meaning our bodies can’t make them and we must therefore get them from our diet.31

Now, most animal sources of protein e.g. eggs, meat, fish are complete proteins – meaning they contain all the essential amino acids we need from our diet all in one handy foody package.

However, only certain high protein plant foods are complete proteins though, like:

  • Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, protein powder, soya milk & some mock meats)
  • Pea protein powder
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Chia seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Hemp seed
  • Ezekiel bread – made with wholegrains like wheat, barley, lentils, and spelt, then combined with sprouted legumes
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Mycoprotein (Quorn)

Other plants high in protein contain varying amounts of essential amino acids, which when combined with another plant-based protein source, can become complete. For example, eating the following foods together provides your body with complete protein:

  • Hummus and wholemeal pitta
  • Rice and beans (or rice and peas if you’re Caribbean)
  • Peanut butter on wholemeal toast
  • Wholemeal pasta and peas
  • Bean soup and crackers
This means that as long as you’re eating a range of healthy plant protein foods, including some complete plant proteins, you should be getting all you need and more!32

Plant proteins usually come with an abundance of other healthy goodies, like vitamins, minerals, fibre, carbohydrates, so you can take your plant protein with a side of extra health benefits.

How do you get enough protein in a plant based diet?

It is recommended that most people should consume 0.75g of protein per kg of their bodyweight every day. To put this into perspective, a person who weighs 72kg would need 72 x 0.75g of protein per day, which equals 54g.33

However, if you are working out often, want to lose weight or are an athlete, you may need a little more. See the table below to discover how much protein per kg of bodyweight is recommended for you.


Activity Amount of protein
No to little activity 0.75g
Endurance athletes 1.2g
Team sports 1.5g
Muscle gain 1.8g
Muscle gain and weight loss 2.0g
As long as you try and stick to these guidelines and make sure you’re eating a varied lot of plant proteins to get all your essential amino acids, it doesn’t matter if you get them from plants or animals.

What is the best plant based protein?

The best way to hit your protein goals is to eat a varied and abundant diet, and most people who don’t exercise on a regular basis and only need the minimum 0.75g of protein per kg usually get enough protein without really trying.

But we get it, sometimes life gets in the way and it’s hard to be so precise with your meal planning if you need extra protein, especially if you’ve ditched animal products or are training heavy. This is where protein supplements can come into play – providing you with a quick and easy protein hit before / after working out, in between meals or even in place of them.

We’ve put together 6 of our best plant protein powders for you if you need a little extra help.

6 of the best plant based protein powders

1. Soy protein powder

One of the best plant protein powders is made from the long-standing plant-based hero: soy.

It’s usually made from soy bean flakes that go through a process of fat removal and being washed in water or alcohol to remove their sugar and dietary fibre so that you can enjoy them in a pure-protein form.

As we have mentioned above, soy is a complete protein all by itself – it has all of the essential amino acids our bodies cannot make, making it a great protein powder. Here are some of its benefits:

  • Maintains muscle growth
  • High protein percentage
  • Contains little fat and no cholesterol
  • Suitable for vegans and those with dairy / lactose allergies

Our soy protein pick:

Applied Nutrition Vegan Pro Protein Chocolate, 2100g

This 100% vegan protein powder harnesses the power of soy protein alongside pea protein, brown rice protein and hemp protein which contribute the maintenance and growth of muscle mass.

Each serving contains over 25g of protein, while being low in sugar and fat, and it tastes like chocolate – yum!

It also contains a high Branched Chain Amino Acid profile, containing leucine, isoleucine and valine, read more about them here.

Please note: many plant protein blends contain more than once protein source, even if they’re considered complete already, just to pack more goodness into each drink.

2. Pea protein powder

Another of the highest plant based protein foods is pea protein. Yes, you heard that right, peas = protein! Even more impressive, it’s considered a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids.

Pea protein powder is usually made by isolating the protein of yellow peas, e.g. taking out their natural carbohydrates and fats, to make sure all you’re getting is the protein goodness. Here are some benefits:

  • High and complete protein powder
  • Great plant protein for those allergic to soy and dairy
  • Easy to digest

Our pea protein pick:

Precision Engineered Plant Protein Vanilla Cream, 784g

This creamy, dreamy plant protein powder is made of pea protein combined with rice protein to fill you up with 20g of protein per serving.

It may be low in sugar but that certainly doesn’t reflect in the delicious vanilla taste – and it’s totally vegan-friendly too!

3. Hemp protein powder

Hemp protein powder is made from pressed and ground seeds from the hemp plant. This process removes most of the fat, while keeping all of the essential amino acids, as well as a small amount of essential fats and fibre. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Rich in fibre
  • Easy to digest
  • Naturally contains BCAAs
  • High in protein
  • Contains some healthy fats, like omega 3 and 6
  • Full of essential minerals like iron and magnesium
  • Produced more sustainably than animal / dairy protein

Our hemp protein pick:

Navitas Hemp Protein Powder, 340g

This complete hemp protein powder contains all 9 essential amino acids and contains 43g of pure plant protein per 100g.

You can blend it into porridge, smoothies, baking and other recipes for an extra protein punch, and get a dose of iron, magnesium, omega fatty acids and other plant goodness to boot!

4. Diet plant protein powder / meal replacements

Protein can help you to feel fuller and more satisfied for longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight as if you are feeling full, you probably won’t be riffling through the biscuit draw so much!

That’s why some people like to incorporate a high-protein meal replacement shake into their diet. Luckily, there are some super plant-based meal replacement shakes available, which work just the same.

USN Diet Fuel Vegan Meal Replacement Shake Strawberry, 880g

One of the best plant based diet protein options on the market, this USN meal replacement shake contains 26g of protein per serving and can be used once a day to substitute a meal.

This formula is made of a blend of pea protein isolate, soya protein isolate and rice protein concentrate – triple plant protein power!

These shakes are great for those who want to lose weight or maintain their weight loss, while helping them to smash their protein goals.

6. Other protein snacks

Like to enjoy your protein out and about – no shaker required? A plant-based protein snack could be right up your street. Take this one by Misfits for example:

Misfits Dark Chocolate Raspberry Vegan Protein Bar, 45g

With 15g of soy protein and less than 1g of sugar, these delish dark chocolate and raspberry bars make pretty nutritious snack – especially if you compare them to your regular sugar-laden snack bars!

The beauty of these bars is that they can satisfy sweet cravings two-fold, with their high protein content and lush chocolate coating. And, even better, you can enjoy them on the move, no shaker necessary.

Shop Vegan Protein

Last updated: 7 January 2021

bhupesh-panchal2

Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs

  • Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019
  • Qualifications: Masters Degree in Toxicology, BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

Bhupesh specialises in vitamins & minerals nutrition, health benefits & safety of botanicals and traditional herbal medicines. View Bhupesh's LinkedIn profile. In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
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