Plant-Based Proteins: Best Options for a Keto Diet
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Plant-Based Proteins: Best Options for a Keto Diet

Plant-Based Proteins: Best Options for a Keto Diet

Posted 3 months ago

Katie Freire, FNTP

Katie Freire, FNTP

Whether you’re a full-time vegan, looking for Keto-friendly options for meat-free Monday, or just want to boost your protein intake and can’t face another steak, we’ve rounded up the top plant-based foods that are high in protein and low in carbs.

A Quick Intro to Protein

Protein, along with fats and carbohydrates, is one of the three macronutrients your body needs to function. Think of protein as your body’s building blocks – the protein in the food you eat does everything from giving structure to your organs, muscles, bones, teeth and hair, to helping to make enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters

Protein is composed of 20 different amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are labeled “essential,” which means your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from your food.

Animal foods contain all nine essential amino acids, making them “complete” protein sources. A few plant foods also have all nine – the rest are missing one or more. All this means is that if you’re choosing not to consume animal products, you need to eat a variety of plant proteins across the day to ensure you’re getting all the amino acids your body needs.[*]

Figuring Out How Much Protein You Need

On a standard Ketogenic diet (SKD), 15-35% of your calories should come from protein. We recommend you aim for the higher end of the scale if you’re very active, pregnant or breastfeeding.

In grams, this looks like:[*

  • Very active people should aim for 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (100 grams for a 140-pound person)
  • Moderately active people should aim for 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (80 grams for a 140-pound person)
  • Sedentary or minimally active people should aim for 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (60 grams for a 140-pound person).

Top 10 Keto-Friendly Plant Protein Sources

Here’s our top 10 plant-based, low-carb protein sources. Remember, if you’re not eating animal products, you’ll need to eat a range of different protein sources to make sure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids.

1. Soy

Soy products are a complete protein, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids. Unlike other complete plant proteins, soy contains these nine amino acids in amounts comparable to the proteins in milk.[*] Soybeans are also packed with fiber, potassium and iron.

Tempeh (3oz)

Protein: 17g

Net carbs: 3g

Use it: Tempeh is made from soybeans that have been fermented and pressed into a block. It has a nutty flavor and is delicious in soups, stir-fries, marinated and fried or barbequed, or added to a salad. 

Firm tofu (3oz)

Protein: 8g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Tofu doesn’t have much flavor of its own, so is delicious marinated and fried in a stir fry, added to a soup or curry,  or even packed into a sandwich with some Keto-friendly bread.

Silken tofu (3oz)

Protein: 7g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Like you would firmer tofu, or blend it into a smoothie, a Keto pudding, or with nutritional yeast (see below) for a delicious, high-protein, plant-based cheese sauce.

Unsweetened soy milk (1 cup)

Protein: 9g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Any way you’d use dairy milk. Soy milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals – choose a brand with added B12 if you don’t eat meat.

Edamame (½ cup)

Protein: 9g

Net carbs: 3g

Use it: Edamame are immature soybeans, usually bought in their pods or frozen. You need to steam or boil them before you eat them. They are delicious eaten straight out of their pods with salt or chilli powder.

2. Nuts

As well as plenty of protein, nuts contain fiber, healthy fats, B-vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Because high heat can damage the nutrients in nuts, it’s best to buy them raw – if you like the taste of roasted nuts, roast them yourself at no more than 275°F (140°C) for 15 minutes or less to preserve the nutrient content.

Peanuts (¼ cup raw)

Protein: 9g

Net carbs: 3g

Use it: Add peanuts to trail mix, salads, or turn them into a satay sauce and add to stir-fries or grilled veggies. Peanut butter is also delicious on Keto-friendly toast, in smoothies or added to baking – just make sure the brand you buy contains only peanuts and salt. Better still, make your own.

Cashews (¼ cup raw)

Protein: 6g

Net carbs: 9g

Use it: Cashews are delicious as a snack, in curries or stir-fries. They can be soaked, or roasted at a low heat, then blended into a smooth, creamy paste – making them a staple in plant-based cheeses, dips and sauces.

Almonds (¼ cup raw)

Protein: 8g

Net carbs: 3g

Use it: Almond flour is a staple of Keto-friendly baking – it makes great pancakes, crackers and cakes. Almonds and almond butter are also delicious in everything from curries to soup.

3. Seeds

Seeds are a great source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids

Sacha inchi seeds (¼ cup)

Protein: 8g

Net carbs: 0g

Use it: You can buy sacha inchi seeds whole or ground into a powder. Use the seeds as you’d use other nuts or seeds, or add the powder into a smoothie for a protein boost. 

Pumpkin seeds (¼ cup raw)

Protein: 9g

Net carbs: 2g

Use it: Pumpkin seeds are excellent as a snack, added to trail mix, baked into bread or crackers, blended into bliss balls, or sprinkled on top of salads or soup.

Hemp seeds (2 tbsp hulled)

Protein: 6g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Hemp seeds are a complete protein. They can be sprinkled onto salads or buddha bowls, added to baking, used to create low-carb ‘oatmeal’, or blended into smoothies. 

Chia seeds (2 tbsp)

Protein: 3g

Net carbs: 2g

Use it: Chia seeds are another complete protein. They form a gel when soaked in water. Perfect for making sugar-free berry jam, chia pudding, or adding thickness to  smoothies.

4. Spirulina

Spirulina is a type of algae that’s especially rich in iron, magnesium, manganese and B-vitamins. It also contains compounds and antioxidants that may improve blood sugar, reduce inflammation and stimulate the immune system.[*][*]

Spirulina (1 tbsp dried)

Protein: 4g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Spirulina is typically sold dried and ground into powder. Add to a smoothie, juice, water, or sprinkle some onto a salad or over roasted, salted nuts.

5. Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a complete protein source and is usually sold as yellow flakes, often fortified with B-vitamins.

Nutritional yeast (1 tbsp)

Protein: 3g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: Nutritional yeast has a cheesy taste, perfect for making plant-based cheeses and sauces. 

6. Protein-rich vegetables

Don’t forget your greens when you’re thinking about your daily protein requirements – many green vegetables contain a surprising amount of protein. 

Broccoli (1 cup cooked)

Protein: 4g

Net carbs: 6g

Use it: in salads, low-carb hummus, or blend into veggie soups.

Kale (1 cup cooked)

Protein: 3g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: In snacks, salads and sides.

Spinach (½ cup cooked)

Protein: 3g

Net carbs: 1g

Use it: In salads, sides and soups.

Asparagus (½ cup cooked)

Protein: 2g

Net carbs: 2g

Use it: For dipping, or roasted or breaded as a side.

7. Seitan

Seitan is made from wheat gluten and has the texture of meat when it’s cooked. It becomes a complete protein when it’s eaten with soy sauce.

Seitan (3oz)

Protein: 22g

Net carbs: 6g

Use it: Seitan can be fried, sauteed or grilled. Add it to stir-fries or curries, use it in burgers or even put it in sandwiches. Keep in mind that it is made from wheat gluten, so is not suitable for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

8. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are one of the best vegetarian sources of vitamin D, as well as being a great source of B vitamins and copper.

Cooked mushrooms (½ cup)

Protein: 2g

Net carbs: 2g

Use it: The meaty texture of mushrooms makes them great animal protein replacements for ragu sauces, stir-fries, curries or burgers. They’re delicious grilled, roasted with herbs and plant-based butter, or added to a cashew-based cream sauce and eaten for breakfast.

9. Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. It’s a great source of vitamin B1, copper, calcium and selenium.

Tahini paste (2 tbsp)

Protein: 5g

Net carbs: 4g

Use it: Many people are most familiar with tahini as a key ingredient in hummus, but it’s also delicious as a dressing for salads or vegetables. Tahini can also be used like peanut butter in baking or cooking.

10. Lupini beans

Most beans are of-limits when you’re eating Keto, but, depending on your goals, lupini beans might be worth considering. They’re high in protein while being lower in carbs than other beans.

Lupini beans (1 cup)

Protein: 25g

Net carbs: 11g

Use it: Lupini beans need to be soaked and boiled before eating. They can be found canned, dried or ground into flour.

Plant Proteins You May Want to Avoid

Many plant-based protein sources are not suitable for a Keto or low-carb lifestyle. Plant-based staples like rice and beans (a complete source of protein) have 44g of net carbs per cup. Canned or dried beans, chickpeas and lentils all contain decent amounts of protein but have between 13 and 15g of net carbs in a half-cup serving. A cup of quinoa has 9g of complete protein – but 35g net carbs. These proteins may require some planning to fit into a low-carb lifestyle – or you may choose to only eat them in small portions.

If you’re choosing plant-based “meat” products like sausages or burger patties, check the ingredients carefully. Not only are many of them high in carbohydrates, but they are often heavily processed and filled with additives, preservatives and fillers.

Supplementing with Protein Powder

It can be difficult to meet your daily protein requirements when you’re eating plant-based. Adding a good-quality protein powder to your daily smoothie or low-carb bakes can give you an extra boost.

Check the label before you buy – look for a protein powder that offers a complete protein source and has minimal additives and sugar.

The Bottom Line

Getting enough protein from plant-based sources is more than possible when you’re eating Keto – but it can take some planning to make sure you’re getting all the essential amino acids you need. 

As a general rule, eat a range of good-quality proteins across the course of the day – and consider a protein powder supplement if you need it. If you’re uncertain or need more help, use the Carb Manager app to track what you’re eating. This will help you make sure you’re getting everything your body needs.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. Carb Manager may earn a commission for qualifying purchases made through these links.

Comments 2

  • VeganKeto22

    VeganKeto22 a month ago

    Very informative!

    • BlithesomeKetone726512

      BlithesomeKetone726512 2 months ago

      Great article