Our Top 5 Sources of Plant-Based Protein

What do elephants, gorillas and Popeye all have in common? They’re all 100% powered by plants! Today we’re sharing our Top 5 Sources of Plant-Based Protein because you, too, can be plant-powered.

Many people assume if you don’t eat animal protein with every meal, you must have a protein deficiency. They often equate a veggie-forward diet with not getting “enough protein” — the implication being you can only get adequate protein from eating meat.

Real protein deficiency is not as common as most people think. As a culture we’re actually over-consuming protein, which can cause a slew of medical conditions. And this is especially concerning given how many people consume high protein diets in an effort to build muscle quickly.

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Elephants, gorillas, horses and even rhinos are all herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. And they certainly don’t lack any strength or muscle. Their bodies are adapted to extract the maximum nutrients and protein from the plants they’re eating. For humans, nutrition and diet are extremely bio-individual.

“Bio-individuality” means one person’s diet may not work well for another. We’ve evolved to be omnivorous, yet lots of people actually thrive on a plant-based diet. However, not everyone can feel their best without animal protein. But overall, the more plant-focused we can all make our diets, the better our health will be.

We created the Conscious Cleanse food plate with that theory in mind: ⅔ of your plate veggies with the other ⅓ being your choice of protein!

Personal preferences and protein grams aside, let’s take a closer look at this macronutrient. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein – but more on these guys in a second. Our body needs protein to build new cells and to maintain healthy tissues. We also need protein for healthy hair, strong nails and most of our body’s basic functions.

So we know protein is crucial to our health. But what are the best sources of protein?

Well, the answer to that depends on the person. After working with thousands of people on the Conscious Cleanse, we have real data which shows that some people thrive on a vegan diet while others need animal protein or fish to feel their best.

But one thing we know for sure is eating animal protein requires your body to work harder. Remember amino acids, those building blocks of protein? Well, when you eat protein from an animal source, your body has to break it down into a string of amino acid parts, and then reorganize it into amino acids before the body can actually utilize it.

When we eat plant-based sources of protein – things like nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and even dark leafy greens – we ingest the amino acids directly, skipping the extra steps where your body has to work harder.

The results? Extra energy and easier digestion!

So back to the original question, “where do you get your protein?” Below are our top favorite sources of plant-based protein.

Our Top 5 Sources of Plant-Based Protein

  • Dark Leafy Greens and Other Green Vegetables – Spinach, watercress, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower and cabbage provide some of the highest available proteins.
  • Nuts and seeds – Think pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds. We also love nut and seed butters like almond butter, cashew butter, and sunbutter.
  • Spirulina and Chlorella – These forms of green algae provide up to 65% protein – a must if you are trying to minimize the amount of animal protein in your diet. They contain all the essential amino acids, so they’re great for athletes and anyone who’s on the go a lot.
  • Beans and LegumesBeans and legumes are generally inexpensive and provide long-lasting energy, thanks to their high protein and fiber content. They’re also a great source of calcium and other vitamins and minerals.
  • Quinoa – Quinoa is technically a seed but it masquerades as a grain. It’s also a superfood! Hailing from South America, this Peruvian pseudograin is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 8 essential amino acids. It’s earthy and nutty and goes great with steamed veggies.

Do you thrive on plants or are you a die-hard meat eater? Do you ever think about reducing your animal protein consumption by 50%? Let us know in the comments below!

With love and green protein,

The Conscious Cleanse Team

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Showing 25 comments
  • Kathy Bacon

    I feel great Jules – so happy and excited to really pay attention. I can’r believe the stuff I was eating before the cleanse. I believe for me I will continue on the vegetarian path with some fish – I guess that would make me a pescetarian. I am super happy and everyrthing you entioned for protein will work for me…….love quinoa

  • Renae Redick

    If I had a nickle for every I was asked that question! I have been eating a vegan diet for a little over a year now and that is the number one question I get. People just refuse to believe that (a) you don’t need as much as you think, and (b) that yes, I can get all my needs from leafy greens, nuts and beans!
    I have been feeling like I need a little something more lately though…I’m a runner and currently training for a marathon. I don’t feel like I’m nourished enough/have the energy for some of the tougher speed training runs at times. As such, I’ve been considering adding eggs back in my diet because I know they don’t upset my stomach when eaten before a run or a long strength workout at the gym.
    This probably isn’t the proper place to tell you this but I have to say how much I love, love, LOVE your book! I Initially bought the kindle version a week and a half ago but found I was going back to it so often for recipes and daily food ideas that I had to have the print copy as well. It arrived yesterday to a jumping up and down me! I’ve made a smoothie from your book daily since downloading the kindle edition! Today I had the Hemptastic Smoothie after the gym then I made the Spicy Zucchini Hummus to snack on with some veggies (SO good!) and I just finished preparing the Sunny Sunflower Dressing for my dinner salad. Oh and did I mention I made the Protein-Packed Almond Butter Balls today as well? YUM! My kids have never seen so much kitchen activity….not sure they believe it’s their mom! I’m spreading the word about your book to anyone who will listen. Thank you so much!!

    • Julie Peláez

      Renae, That is awesome! You might try the spirulina if you are wanting to avoid eggs. It rocks for long-lasting energy!

      • Renae

        Thanks for the tip…I’ll pick some up for sure!!

  • Becky O'Brien

    It was very comforting and validating to read this. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and this topic comes up all the time. I have a close friend who is a doctor whose athlete teenage son decided to become vegetarian. She was freaking out about the protein issue. I asked her point blank, “do you know how much protein he even needs?” She had no idea. And she’s an intelligent woman in the medical field. She just had this vague sense of “ack, protein deficiency” based on absolutely nothing. And she also had no idea how much protein was in everything else he was eating. Thanks for this great piece!

  • Katy Ward

    Hey Jules! I agree with all of the above! A few years back I was a pescatarian; I am thinking of now trying to go full veggie :) since, due to overfishing, I can never tell what fish I should eat anyway. Soy is too scary and though I was introduced to Quinoa a few years ago and do like it, I have been upset by this latest article

    I also hear a lot about body-typing and the two tests I have done do say my body responds best to high amounts of protien, sooooo, I feel stuck. Not sure which food to eat, soy out, and quinoa makes me feel like I am pillaging a country that needs it–what else can I use to give “high” amounts of protien!! ( or do I just stick with limited healthy organic meats??)

    • Julie Peláez

      Hey Katy, Thanks for the article. I had no idea. My approach to food and eating is to be flexible, to not follow any strict ways or dogma. And with that to not eat too much of a good thing, just because it’s a good thing. It all comes down to personal choice. If your body thrives on animal protein, then you should eat it. I would watch for what the tests or other people tell you about what you should eat. Put it (whatever it is) in your body and see how you feel. That’s the true test. Good luck!

  • Lisa Fierer

    I am thrilled with the results of the Conscious Cleanse! As a prior bodybuilder, animal protein has been the biggest staple in my diet. Following the Conscious Cleanse, I chose an emphasis on utilizing the suggested plant proteins for the majority of the cleanse, and am amazed at how I feel and look. I used to believe I needed animal protein to maintain my musculature, but have discovered just the opposite! Thank you Jules and Jo! I am eternally grateful for your wisdom, support, and expertise.

    • Julie Peláez

      That is fantastic, Lisa! Glad to have you in our Conscious Cleanse community! xo

  • Tony

    I’m amazed about having no cravings for meat, dairy, or pastries. That said, someone is making money from all the kale chips I’m buying.

    • Julie Peláez

      That is hilarious, Tony!

  • Gina Griffin

    I did a 21 day veggie/fruit cleanse and decided to eliminate chicken and beef and only eat seafood. so far it feels great. No bloating or sluggish feeling at all.

  • Nancy DArezzo

    Good Morning,
    I love this blog but I’m still a little confused. I am a “wanna be” body builder. I weight train and although I don’t necessarily want to enter a body building show, my goal is to have a lean, fit body and I’m currently working toward 12% body fat. (If I want to enter a show I have to be at 6-8%…I’m currently at 19%). Weight training does not build muscle; it tears the muscle down and we need good, quality protein which builds muscle. It has always been my understanding that animal protein is the best thing for building muscle. Do you believe that we don’t need animal protein to accomplish this? And you mention 8 amino acids; I thought there were 10 and the difference between plant based protein and animal protein is the amino acid profile. I currently eat lean protein, always going for organic and/or grass fed, and fish and eggs, but it’s sometimes difficult and expensive to find. I would like to cut back on my animal protein intake and incorporate more plant based foods.
    Nancy :)

  • Nancy DArezzo

    I forgot to mention that I am a student at IIN and will graduate in March. I am also a Personal Trainer and I want to be able to guide my clients and give them the right information regarding their nutrition and their health goals. Thanks!!! :)

    • Julie Peláez

      Hey Nancy! Go IIN! That is fantastic. I am not a body builder or a meat eater so I can’t speak with any authority there. I do know there are many strong, successful high level athletes who thrive on a vegan diet. As with anything, I believe in moderation and doing what feels best in your body! Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

  • Kim McCormack

    I notice the sluggishness when I eat meat, less so with fish. I mostly stick to turkey,eggs and fish when I do eat animal protein but I shifting more and more to the vegan lifestyle with a lot of it raw. The problem is that my hubby likes meat and thrives on it much more than I do, I am the cook of the house, and he eats whatever I make but I know he really likes it when I throw in a meat dish a couple/few times a week.

  • Jaime

    Love this article, Jules! Vegetables are my favorite, more than any other food. When we have friends or family over for dinner, I always prepare a vegetable-heavy to show them how good they can be!

    I am even more excited about today, where only one of the items I’m making for the Superbowl contains meat!! I can’t wait to share good, healthy food with the people who want to start making a change in their diets.

    • Julie Peláez

      That’s awesome Jaime!

  • D. Gilbo

    I am beginning the cleanse next week and am excited to do so. I am more than ready to get my health back. I am new to this idea and have been working on getting myself ready for the cleanse. But… I am always hungry. Nothing seems to fill me up. I am concerned that if I feel like this I will not be able to sustain this lifestyle. I am diabetic, asthmatic, and have multiple health issues. Help!

    • Julie Peláez

      On the cleanse you will eat real food and be nourishing your body in a whole new way. Be open to the miraculous and let us know how it goes. Congrats on starting the journey. We believe in you!

  • Bridget A. Guila

    Hello Julie, Bridget here. I absolutely love the part in conscious cleanse in regards to “feeling hungry”. Tweeking our perspective on hunger. It’s not such a bad thing to feel hungry. Our body is simply communicating with us. Can you elaborate on that?

    • Jules Peláez

      Hi Bridget, Thanks for your comment. Yea, feeling hungry has gotten a bad wrap (and let me clarify that I am speaking about those of us in the developed world that have the resources the we need for basic survival). I know I’ve had issues in the past with having blood sugar crashes, and gotten irritable and grabby and that’s never any fun. But as a result of that fear based mentality (which is pervasive in our country) we stuff food in our mouth at the very first thought (note: thought, not feeling) of being hungry. So in some ways we don’t even feel hunger any more, we’ve lost that connection with our body. I could write an entire blog post about this topic but I’m curious to hear others’ insights too. :)

  • Patty Killee

    Hi! I really enjoyed your article. I live with one kidney, lost left one to cancer 23 years ago. Have been eating low protein ever since. Using my fitness pal I do not go above 20% for protein. Why? Your articles explains that protein must be broken down but neglected to say that it was by kidneys! I think more people need to know this for long term health.
    Yet being post-menopausal, lifting weights to build muscle, it is is hard on low protein diet to gain muscle. So I have been trying to increase the best plant protein. And eat more beans as I love them. So this email was timely for me.
    It has been a long time since I have done a cleanse. I drag my book out and use it frequently for my own kick-start.

    • Jo and Jules

      Hi Patty, thank you for your comment and sharing your experience! Yes, the kidneys are what breaks down protein and it is super important to highlight that kidney issues can result from a diet that’s too high in protein. Beans are such a nutritious source of plant protein, and will definitely help you in your journey to build muscle. Spirulina is also worth a try if you don’t have a thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s. We’re happy to hear you get frequent use out of the Conscious Cleanse book! We also have a Group Cleanse coming up in November if you’re interested in getting group and coach support while you cleanse. Feel free to reach out to us directly at connect@consciouscleanse.com if you have any questions or you’d like some help signing up. XO, The Conscious Cleanse Team.

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