Best Protein Sources for Vegans

By Claire Hansen
Blog Content Contributor

One of the biggest myths about going vegan is that it’s impossible to get enough protein (1). While not having an 16-ounce ribeye on your plate every night will impact the amount of protein you normally consume, a well-balanced diet of plant-based foods can provide you with all of the nutrients you need– no calorie counting or supplements necessary (2).

However, navigating the world of health foods can often be confusing, especially for someone who’s just made the switch. If you’ve decided to go plant-based (or even if you haven’t), try including some of these rich protein sources in your diet along with a variety of fruits and veggies!

Seitan

Made from gluten, seitan is used as a meat substitute by many vegans and vegetarians. You can find about 25 grams of protein in just 3.5 ounces of this stuff (3). Pan-fry it, sautée it, or grill it to make the perfect addition to any recipe. It can be found at Whole Foods or made at home for cheaper!

veggie protein 2
Although this article only focuses on whole foods, vegan “meats” like this also contain lots of protein and are perfectly healthy! Photo by Claire Hansen.

Quinoa & Amaranth

These ancient “grains” are a lot different from the grains we’re used to, as they don’t grow from grasses like other cereal grains do. Yet, they still have the versatility of more commonly known grains and are consumed in similar ways. Both provide eight to nine grams of protein per cooked cup and are also complete sources of protein, unlike most other grains (4, 5).

Beans & Chickpeas

One cup of cooked beans or chickpeas contains 15 grams of protein as well as a hefty stock of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate and more (6, 7). This applies to most varieties of beans, including kidney, black, and pinto. Chickpeas are also the main ingredient in hummus, making it a protein-rich snack too!

Chia Seeds

These little guys pack three grams of protein in one tablespoon and can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, salad dressing, homemade jam — the list goes on (8). They are also a good source of iron, calcium, selenium and magnesium.

Soy

The soy family has been a staple in vegan and vegetarian diets for a long time. Soybeans are used to make tofu, tempeh and edamame, all containing 10-19 grams of complete protein per 3.5 ounces (9, 10, 11). Tofu is good for absorbing the other flavors around it whereas tempeh stands with a slight nutty flavor. If you haven’t had a chance to try tempeh, I recommend giving it a shot at Freebirds!

Lentils

A nutritional powerhouse, lentils stack up at 18 grams of protein per cooked cup, 50 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake and good amounts of slowly digested carbs (12). They can be used in everything from soups, to salads, to curry.

Hemp seed

Descending from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp seed contains only trace amounts of THC but a whopping 10 grams of complete protein per ounce (13). Additionally, it comes with a good amount of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Like chia seeds, it can be sprinkled in smoothies, added to oatmeal or used in salad dressing.

Ezekiel bread

If you read my post about grains a few weeks ago, you may remember me giving a shoutout to this bread for it being flourless and delicious. Well, today it deserves another shoutout for its stellar protein content! Two slices of Ezekiel bread will supply you with 8 grams of protein and because it is sprouted, the quality of the protein is higher than that of other breads (14).

Nuts

A popular source of fiber and healthy fats, nuts and their derived products also contain between five and seven grams of protein per ounce (15). Now, when I say, “derived products”, I don’t mean Skippy. The more natural and pure you can consume your nut butters, the better. Try out the DIY peanut/almond butter machine at H-E-B!

Protein-rich veggies

The amount of protein in most vegetables is small compared to the other items on this list, but there are still a handful of vegetables that make the cut. Peas, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts and more pack about four to five grams of protein per cooked cup (16). Plus, they are essentially fat free and also give you a vitamin boost!

Sources of protein for vegans are definitely not limited to this list. These foods just rank as some of the highest when it comes to protein content. As long as you are incorporating a few of these foods in your meals here and there, you should have nothing to worry about! This list can be used by anyone, not just vegans, who are looking to incorporate more plant-based protein into their diet.

Featured image by Claire Hansen.

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