Optimal Plant-Based Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

by Shelby Burns, MS, RDN/LDN

Protein is an important building block of bones and muscles. It supports our immune response, provides a source of energy, assists in cellular repair, and more. Proteins consist of amino acids, and many of the metabolites Ixcela tests stem from two important amino acids: tyrosine and tryptophan. If we don't include sufficient protein in our diet, our mood, sleep, motivation, and energy levels suffer.

Although it's fairly easy for people who consume animal-based foods to get all the amino acids the body needs in order to form proteins, it can be more challenging for vegans or vegetarians. Rest assured, plenty of plant-based foods supply sufficient protein and amino acids.

There are Two Types of Protein

Complete Proteins

Not all protein sources are equal. Animal-based proteins tend to be complete proteins, whereas not all plant-based proteins are complete proteins. “Complete” protein sources contain all nine of the essential amino acids. Essential means we must obtain them from our diet because the body does not make them. One of the metabolites Ixcela tests, tryptophan, is an essential amino acid. Other amino acids, such as tyrosine, are considered nonessential because we don't need to obtain them from dietary sources.

Incomplete Proteins

Most plant-based proteins contain only small amounts of, or are missing one or more, essential amino acids, which means they are “incomplete” protein sources. Fortunately, plant-based foods contain varying amounts of amino acids, so combining certain foods and/or eating a varied, protein-rich diet will help you take in sufficient amino acids and protein.

There are also some complete plant-based proteins that contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.

Complete plant-based proteins include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp
  • Quinoa
  • Seitan
  • Soy (tofu, edamame)
  • Tempeh

Vegan and vegetarian food combinations that make up complete proteins:

  • Barley and lentil soup
  • Bean-based chili with brown rice or crackers
  • Oats and peanut butter
  • Pinto beans and whole wheat pita
  • Rice and Beans
  • Salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds or almonds/assorted nuts
  • Whole grain noodle stir-fry with peanuts
  • Whole wheat bread and peanut butter
  • Whole wheat pasta and green peas
  • Whole wheat pita and hummus

A variety of dietary preferences can support a healthy gut and overall wellness. Because amino acids can be found in varying amounts in a variety of foods, Ixcela recommends a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet. Many high-protein, plant-based foods can fulfill protein needs and optimize the metabolites that Ixcela tests.

Try the Protein-Packed Asian Tempeh Lettuce Wraps recipe for a delicious plant-based protein boost.

About the Author

Photo: Shelby Burns, MS, RD/LDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Shelby Burns has been in the fitness and nutrition industries for more than ten years. Shelby, who has personally struggled with gut issues, believes that exceptional wellness starts from within. Her passion for helping people prioritize their health shines through as she assists Ixcela clients in making diet and lifestyle shifts that result in renewed energy, better sleep, and improved digestion. 

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Interested in learning more about Ixcela? Check out Ixcela’s test, to receive personalized nutrition, supplement, mindfulness, and fitness fitness recommendations based on the metabolites we test to improve energy, GI health, mood, and overall wellbeing.