Last updated on March 18th, 2019 at 06:44 am
I’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to eat a high-protein diet and still keep it plant-based (at least sorta). This wondering thing is just a little hobby of mine.
As someone who cannot keep her hands off of carbs (mmmhhhmhhhs CARBS, how you doin’) and tries to eat plant-based the majority of time, I always thought a future of no diabetes and less belly fat is just not for me.
But I found hope.
Because I made a list of high-protein foods that are low (or lower) in carbs.
You know how “they” say eat lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, oats and so on for more protein?
Oh, yes you do, you’re smart.
But, last year, when my sister was pregnant, she got gestational diabetes. And she had to measure her blood sugar like it was the goal of her life. Well, to my surprise foods like chickpeas, whole grains and lentils (the main things we ate) made her blood sugar fly to the moon and play among the stars.
Her blood sugar was so high, that we had to walk for an hour every time after she had those not-guilt-free chickpeas, to make it go down.
This was due to something I never, ever considered before.
Glycemic load. This is the amount of carbohydrate multiplied by the glycemic index of a food. So unlike the glycemic index – it’s not only about the quality of carbs, but also about the amount of carbs you take in. So you might be avoiding added sugar, even fruit, and focusing on only eating real food. But, you still could be eating too many carbs if your diet is grain- and bean-heavy.
And too many carbohydrates, good or bad, well, they might be causing you some trouble. In fact if you’re not losing fat or weight, it could be that you’re eating too many healthy carbs. And if you have diabetes or insulin resistance, then that’s one more thing you need to watch out for.
Therefore – this list.
What you’ll find here are one ingredient foods that don’t need brands, don’t need marketing and you can find outside the grocery store. Or McDonald’s.
Okay, so it’s basically nuts, seeds and vegetables, but ordered by carb to protein ratio. Mmkay?
Carb to protein ratio
So usually beans have a carb:protein ratio of 3:1 and grains go as high as 10:1 (quinoa has 5:1 and I know it’s a seed).
For this list I chose foods with a carb:protein ratio of 2.5/1. And I also calculated the protein in 100kcal, because I got very excited and insane.
Note: soy products are a very good source of protein and don’t contain many carbs, but I didn’t include them on this list. The one time when I was trying to be fancy, I ordered a soy latte & I almost threw up, chocked and died, so that’s the reason you won’t find soy and its monster babies (tofu and whatnot) on this high-protein vegan foods list. But if you like tofu – good for you, it’s got the best carb/protein ratio. It’s basically a protein.
Who’s this list for?
This high-protein lower-carb vegan foods list is for anyone
- eating a plant-based, but lower-carb diet who wants to get more protein
- keeping a high-protein low-carb (or lower-carb) diet to lose weight, manage diabetes, support their fitness goals (just kill me now for saying that last one) and wants to eat more plants
- who wants to improve their overall health
Because when you mix the benefits of a high-protein lower-carb diet and the plant based diet, which is rich in antioxidants and fiber – you get everything you want in a healthy diet.
Important note: This doesn’t mean don’t eat ANY lentils, chickpeas, whole grains or other sources of protein. They’re an important part of a healthy diet. All this means is to not go overboard with those foods (especially if you have insulin resistance) and to make the foods on this list a part of your daily diet. This is a great way to add more protein and antioxidants all in one.
Now, finally on to the list.
***For reference here’s how much protein some popular vegan and non-vegan protein sources have per 100kcal:
- Lentils (cooked): 7.86g protein, 17.54g carbs, carb/protein ratio: 2.23/1
- Chickpeas (cooked): 5.52g protein, 17.09g carbs, carb/protein ratio: 3.09/1
- Quinoa (cooked): 3.74g protein, 18.13g carbs, carb/protein ratio:4.85/1
- Chicken breast (cooked): 20.33g protein, 0.0g carbs, carb/protein ratio: 0
- Egg (cooked): 8.76g protein, 0.50g carbs, carb/protein ratio: 0.06/1
15 High-Protein and Low-Carb Vegan Foods You Need In Your Diet
(even if you’re not vegan)
in descending order for carb to protein ratio:
Parsley is a good source of minerals, vitamin C, iron and is loaded with antioxidants. Per 100kcal worth of parsley you get 8.24g of protein, with a carb/protein ratio of 2.13.
Yes, it has almost as much protein per calorie as an egg, but 100kcal worth of parsley is also a ton of parsley.
However, doesn’t hurt to use it in your favorite dishes, falafels, dips or salads. Great, now that I said it, I crave falafel.
Did you know that lettuce has absolutely no nutrients? Well, apparently, as underwhelming and poor as lettuce seems to be, it managed to have 9.06g of protein per 100kcal and a carb/protein ratio of 2.1.
Tell them lettuce, tell them. Hmmm, I guess lettuce is better than eggs. Additionally it’s a great source of fiber and potassium.
My favorite way to use lettuce is of course chopped in a salad, OR to make lettuce wraps like this.
Kale is full of 2 things: himself and nutrients. As egocentric, as kale seems to be, it’s a great source of EVERYTHING. Like EVERYTHING. Antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and Mr. Protein.
Protein per 100kcal = 8.77g
Carb/protein ratio: 2.044
You can use kale in salads (make sure to massage it with some lemon juice, yes someone needs special treatment), smoothies or chop into stews, soups…everywhere. It’s a great way to add some nutrients for almost no calories.
Yes, it’s another herb and it’s green like the ones before. Cilantro is a great source of vitamins (especially A & C) and minerals (esp. iron and potassium) and again – great for your health. Plus it’s a good way to add some extra protein to your diet without eating too many calories.
Protein per 100kcal = 9.28g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.72
I use cilantro just like parsley: in wraps, salads or in curries.
One of the healthiest foods on earth. First of all, they win the competition when it comes to omega-3/omega-6 ratio among the plants. That ratio is of huge importance for reducing chronic inflammation (common denominator in most diseases). It’s one of the things that makes flaxseeds so special.
Second, flaxseed got other nutrients as well (shocking I know). Among others: fiber, B-vitamins (esp. B1 & 6), magnesium, iron and zinc. The health benefits of flaxseed include lowering cholesterol (study), preventing cancer (study) and weight loss (study).
And now, out of nowhere, it turns out flaxseed also has a good amount of protein.
Protein per 100kcal = 3.41g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.56
To make the most out of flaxseeds, grind them and use in smoothies, oatmeal/overnight oats, salads – I also like to use them in dips and in snacks like this one as a thickening agent.
It’s not as famous as kale, but arugula is one of the healthiest foods around. It can help activate detox liver enzymes and it has anti-cancer & anti-inflammatory properties. And it’s one of my favorite foods. Arugula is also rich in antioxidants, minerals and anti-aging carotenoids. The point is, arugula is on this list, because it also has A LOT of protein, how much?
Protein per 100kcal = 10.32g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.41
Okay, like the other foods until now, it’s not easy to eat the 100kcal of arugula (I mean 1 cup has 5kcal), BUT you can use the green stuff in salads, in pesto, in sandwiches, as a side, in pasta, over pizza… every and anywhere you want. Can eat it raw or cooked. My preferred way is raw and chopped. Here’s my favorite side dish salad with arugula.
Who needs chips, when you can eat pistachios and get some extra vitamins and minerals instead of simple carbs and trans fats? Well, apparently me 2 days ago, but that’s a different story. Still, on most days I choose pistachios. And that’s good, because they’re a good source of vitamin B-6, magnesium, fiber, potassium and PROTEIN. Who screamed that?
Protein per 100kcal = 3.6 g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.35
Now it seems like pistachios don’t have that much protein, but, let me tell you, it’s easier to eat 100kcal of pistachios than arugula. If you eat 300kcal worth of pistachios (which is about half a cup) you get an extra of 10.8g protein just like that.
A great source of provitamin A, folate, vitamin K and a good source of magnesium and iron, just to mention a few. Pair that spinach with some fats to actually absorb the vitamin A and you’ve got an anti-aging superhero. But that’s not all. Spinach is also a GREAT source of plant-based protein. How much exactly?
Protein per 100kcal = 12.3 g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.27
What are you going to say about that, egg? Nothing, because you’re embarrassed. Spinach has more protein than an egg/100kcal and it has a great carb to protein ratio. Which means – yes, eat as much spinach as you please – I love it in soups, salads or even smoothies. Cooked or raw – it’s always a win.
Mushrooms are one of those foods that just keeps me guessing. Are they good for you, are they bad for you? Well, according to this article they’re great for you. Boost your immune system, fight cancer, reduce inflammation & hormonal imbalances, plus BAM – get a ton of protein for almost no calories. The nutritional information I used is for those boring white mushrooms and here’s what it says:
Protein per 100kcal =13.92 g
Carb/protein ratio: 1.13
That protein content is the best until now. So, to add some more protein to your diet – definitely add some mushrooms to your favorite dishes.
Eat these raw and you’ll get a good amount of iron, magnesium + a ton of vitamin E (an important fat-soluble antioxidant we need). Sunflower seeds are fat, but also contain a lot of protein.
Protein per 100kcal = 3.54 g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.96
Sprinkle over salads, eat as a snack, blend with some dates and cacao to make raw chocolate bites or if you want to experiment use in raw tacos like this one.
As if I didn’t love basil enough already and needed an extra reason to overuse it everywhere. This healthy herb has many health benefits (anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, antibacterial), but what I didn’t know until this post is that it’s such a great source of protein.
Protein per 100kcal =13.68g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.84
BOOM. 13.68g of protein/100kcal, okay? That’s almost as much protein as in 100kcal of chicken breast (well, on a bad day). It’s definitely more than ground beef (9.9g/100kcal).
It might make your pee smell, but asparagus is also a great source of the vitamins C, A, B, E. And its protein content? Well, why else will it be on this list, asparagus is an amazing source of plant protein.
For cooked asparagus:
Protein per 100kcal = 16.42g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.65
With 18kcal/100g, that makes a lot of roasted asparagus, but it’s definitely worth to use this vegetable as a side to your favorite dishes.
A lot of folks would say, “You know what, don’t eat peanuts. They’re bad for you. They’ve got toxins because they’re covered in mold and are high in inflammatory fatty acids. ”
Well, it might be true for some types of peanuts and especially for most sorts of my beloved peanut butter.
If you do buy peanut butter, please buy organic that is made only from peanuts. I used to buy chunky peanut butter that contained peanuts, but also hydrogenated oils (I think it was cottonseed oil) and actually sugar. The taste is definitely different, not that intense, BUT you get used to it. Plus my goal is not to eat half a jar of peanut butter (happens often with the chunky one).
Wow, where did I just go… The point is, peanuts are not pure evil if you get quality ones. Peanuts contain great amounts of vitamin E, fiber, zinc and magnesium and you can get A LOT of protein by snacking on peanuts.
Protein per 100kcal = 4.53g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.63
Often overlooked, pumpkin seeds are so healthy they should be on every single healthy food list out there. 1st of all iron, zinc and magnesium. Things we all struggle to get from a “normal” diet. Pumpkin seeds got them all. Tons of those. Second, B vitamins and essential fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds to the rescue. And then that protein.
Protein per 100kcal = 5.48g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.35
Oh, yes. While pumpkin seeds might be high in fat, they’re also a great source of plant protein and have one of the best carb/protein ratio among the plants. Don’t hesitate to add these delicious seeds to salads, breads or have them as a snack.
The proud winner of the carb/protein ratio competition. Hemp seeds have the full thing – a complete set of all the essential amino acids. Yep, hemp seeds not only have a good amount, but also contain COMPLETE protein.
But protein is not the only nutrient hemp seeds brag about. They’ve got: omega-3’s, B vitamins (B1,2,3,6 &9), iron, zinc and magnesium.
Protein per 100kcal = 5.68g
Carb/protein ratio: 0.27
Now that I think about it, if there’s one thing I regret in this life it’s letting those hemp seeds go rancid the one time I actually bought them 2 years ago. To avoid that, keep your hemp seeds in the fridge and actually use them. You can do this in salads (like this salad looks DELICIOUS), smoothies – get creative with it.
And that is it. It’s over.
Best protein/carb ratio: hemp seeds
Highest protein content per 100kcal: cooked asparagus with 16.42g protein (beats eggs really hard and is so close to chicken breast).
Now, I know plant protein is not “as good” as animal protein, but it’s still protein. And when you diversify your diet and eat different sources of protein – you’ll get the complete set of essential amino acids + some extra stuff that will help you live longer. FIY the extra stuff is phytonutrients and those exist ONLY in plants.
PS: If you’re wondering, I used the USDA Food Composition Database to make these genius calculations.
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I’m grateful for this information. I rarely ever leave comments, but been on a search for information such as this. I’m a vegetarian, and I recently applied myself this year to really be on my weight loss journey. But in my findings several diets have not allowed me to shed pounds, and that’s because they did not consist of high protein and low carbs. If you look at me you would never think I work out twice a day, eat healthy 5 out 7 days out of week, and remain active. Sugar and meat is not part of diet. I But looking for the perfect fit as far as food/workouts I lost 24 pounds 2 inches in 3 months, although I feel is not enough success for me. Personally I don’t care for tofu or soy like meat substitutes in my meal. All the mention food up above I enjoy eating. With this list I will apply to my healthy eat lifestyle. Please if you have time e-mail me and let know what you think.
congrats on losing so much weight, so happy for you! You can definitely add more of these foods to your diet. Basically leafy greens, nuts and seeds are always a good source of protein and are low-carb 🙂
really nicely written. loved the humor.
Thank you 🙂
Jessica Salley says
Thanks for making this. I think the volume for vegetables listed may be unrealistic. 100kcal of parsley for example is 5 cups.
haha oh yes, it’s very unrealistic – I think I said it somewhere in the article. It’s unrealistic to eat that much arugula, spinach or parsley. The point is to add these foods to your diet, not to focus on eating just one thing
Emilia Gee says
Thanks so much for this. I went vegan last year and the beans/chick peas were not kind to my waistline. I’ve done soooo much research and could have saved myself a lot of time if I’d read your article first.
Thank you Emilia! haha those chickpeas are dangerous, sneaky, aren’t they? Glad you found the post helpful, let me know if you have any questions
Stella Marie says
I am a vegan to, and I appreciate you listing the veggies we can eat. This certainly saves us lots of time having to pick out which one is best. Thanks!
Thank you for sharing these high-protein and low-carb foods!
Where are you getting this information from? I looked up some of these foods (kale, arugula, lettuce, etc) online and also on the store packaging and they are very different from the numbers you mentioned. I’m just curious to know what your sources are so I can look into it further.
I used the USDA Food Composition Database to make the calculations. Maybe you’re getting different numbers because what you see here is per 100kcal, not 100g.