Nutrition: Plant-Based Protein

Protein is a key part of a healthy diet, but sources of protein can vary in how good they are for your health. Most people eat enough protein, but they may not be eating the right kinds.

Plant-based protein sources, such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds, are full of fiber and other nutrients, and have little to no saturated fat. Processed meats are high in sodium and often are high in saturated fat, both of which are linked to heart disease. Processed meats also have been linked to cancer.

A good first step to eating healthier protein sources is to cut down on deli meats, hot dogs, bacon and sausages, and to eat more plant-based proteins. In addition to improving your health, replacing animal protein — especially red meat — with plant-based protein sources can help our planet’s health by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Make Healthy Proteins Part of Your Routine

It can be tough to make permanent changes to your eating habits. Here are some tips for how you can include a variety of healthy protein sources as a regular part of your diet:

  • Eat at least two meatless meals a week, full of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods.

  • Some ideas to start you on your plant-based protein adventure: bean or lentil soups or stews; bean burgers, wraps or tacos; or tofu stir fries. For inspiration, check out Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables recipes or plant-based recipes (PDF) highlighting farmers market produce. You can get more ideas by visiting USDA's What's Cooking website and searching for beans or tofu

  • Make plant-based foods the focus of your meal. Try combining smaller portions of animal proteins with larger portions of plant foods in soups, stews, chilis, and other mixed dishes. A little meat can go a long way.

  • Make snack time healthy with hummus and carrot sticks, nuts, or peanut butter and celery.

  • When eating animal protein, choose leaner sources, such as seafood, lean cuts of poultry, and eggs. Replace deli meats with low-sodium canned fish, sliced hard boiled eggs or baked chicken breasts.

  • To stretch your food dollar, buy dried and low-sodium canned beans and lentils. They keep for a long time in your pantry and can save you money.

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