Plant proteins: beans & beyond!

This article was originally published in March 2016

Whether you’re a lifelong vegan or new to the world of plant-based eating, you probably know that legumes — like beans, lentils and chickpeas — are a good source of protein. But those aren’t the only plants packing much-needed nutrition.

How much protein?

We all should get 8 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight; so if you weigh 160 pounds, you need about 64g of protein each day. Our protein requirement goes up the more we exercise, and it’s helpful to consume some protein right after a workout to prevent the breakdown of muscle. Older adults need to consume even more protein each day to prevent normal, age-related muscle loss.

Can you get too much protein?

There is some concern that excessive protein consumption can have a negative impact on bone health, but there isn’t a lot of research to confirm this is problematic. When you consume more protein than your body requires, it is converted into either glucose or fat for energy or storage.

Perfect protein

The name for the PCC Deli’s Perfect Protein Salad comes from the combination of a grain (spelt) and a bean (chickpeas) to create a perfect combination of all nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins are considered “complete” proteins because they provide all nine amino acids, while most plant foods are lacking one or more essential amino acids.

We once thought we needed to combine beans with grains at each meal to create a perfect protein, but now we know we need only to get these over the course of the day, not necessarily together in a meal.

It’s best to get a little bit of protein at each meal, including snacks, rather than eat all 60g in one meal. Protein helps keep you feeling full and helps keep blood sugar levels balanced, but it also is needed throughout the day to support the body’s need for amino acids. A recent study found that eating the same amount of protein in three meals a day led to more efficient protein synthesis and muscle repair than eating a large amount of protein for dinner only.

Plant proteins


Lentils 9g
Chickpeas 7g
Black-eyed peas 6g
Kidney/pinto beans 6g

Beans (per 1/2 cup)

Tempeh* 16g
Tofu* 10g
Black beans 7g

Grains (per 3/4 cup)

Amaranth* 7g
Quinoa* 7g
Wheat/barley/spelt 7g
Wild rice 7g
Buckwheat* 7g
Oats 6g

Nuts and seeds (per 1 oz)

Hemp seeds* 10g
Almond butter 6g
Sunflower seeds 6g
Walnuts 4g
Chia seeds* 4g

Vegetables (per cup)

Peas 7g
Spinach 5g
Asparagus 4g
Broccoli, collards 4-5g
Mushrooms 3g
Avocados* 3g

*Complete protein, providing all essential amino acids\

Did you know?

Washington state is one of the leading producers of lentils, chickpeas and other pulses in the United States. You’ll find locally grown garbanzo beans and lentils from Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative at your local PCC.

Revised March 6, 2020

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