As long as people keep asking about this, we’ll keep talking about protein. The topic is a seemingly endless black hole of conversation when it comes to vegan diets, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. A vegan diet can contain an abundance of protein sources, and there is no need to worry about developing a protein deficiency or lacking variety in meals. All whole foods contain protein (we’ll say it again later, as it bears repeating), and here are the best vegan protein sources to meet your daily needs and answer omnivores’ never-ending questions about where to eat. vegans get their protein.
How much protein do you need?
Protein deficiency is generally not a problem in industrialized countries. That’s not to say that protein isn’t important, as it is extremely essential for life and optimal health, but industrialized countries tend to put a lot of emphasis on an issue that doesn’t really affect them. The American obsession with protein is a lot like Southern Californians worrying about hypothermia – it’s not completely out of the question on a cold January night, but it’s highly unlikely. For the vast majority of people, it is not necessary to count your protein intake, but if you’re curious, it’s pretty straightforward to calculate. The USDA recommended daily allowance is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To calculate your protein needs, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, and the result is the number of grams of protein you need each day. For example, a 130-pound woman should aim for 46.8 grams of protein per day, and a 170-pound man should aim for 61.2 grams of protein per day. Note: This formula is intended for the “average” person, that is, someone who can exercise occasionally but not at high intensities and most of the week. Those who are more active – who exercise at moderate to high intensity at least four days a week – should aim for 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is a general guideline: To truly optimize performance, an herbal dietitian can help you fine-tune your precise protein needs based on your activity level.
Are plant proteins complete proteins?
Complete and incomplete proteins aren’t much discussed in the vegan community except to respond to omnivores in their attempt to make plant protein appear inferior to animal protein. Most people, omnivorous or not, don’t pay attention to how much complete or incomplete protein they eat on a daily basis, but as soon as someone goes vegan, it becomes a major concern for the outdoors. Neal Barnard, Dr Colin Campbell and Dr Michael Greger pointed out that as long as you eat enough calories and vary your diet, they will meet their protein needs whether they are consuming complete protein or incomplete.
If you suddenly find yourself wondering whether the foods you love are complete or incomplete, here’s what you need to know. Proteins are made up of 20 different building blocks called amino acids. The human body can make 11 of these amino acids on its own, but the other nine must be obtained from food sources. These nine building blocks are called essential amino acids. Not all foods contain all nine amino acids. These are called incomplete proteins. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. With the exception of foods such as soy, hemp, quinoa, chia seeds, pea protein, and buckwheat, most plant-based foods lack a few essential amino acids. This is not to say that they are inferior sources of protein, as people eat a variety of foods and incomplete sources of protein naturally complement each other. Think rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, peanut butter sandwiches… the list is endless. Eat a varied diet, eat enough calories to support your body, and you don’t have to worry about full or incomplete protein.
The best sources of vegan protein
Every whole food contains protein, but some contain much more than others. This list isn’t exhaustive – you would need a manual to list them all – but here is a list of some of the best high protein vegan foods.
This meat-based vegan food is primarily made from vital wheat gluten which is extremely high in protein. There is a whopping 18 grams of protein in a simple two-ounce serving of seitan. Many vegan meats depend on seitan for their chewy texture, but you can also buy it in its original form and season to your liking (try Upton’s Naturals). Those who enjoy DIY can make their own seitan quite easily. Here is a recipe if you like it.
Beans are not a singular food, they are a category. While many stick with just a few varieties, there are dozens of different kinds of beans that all have unique taste and texture, not to mention a significant amount of protein. Lima, fava, black, pinto, kidney, cannellini, and chickpeas all contain between 12 and 15 grams of protein per cup, cooked. While not called a bean, black-eyed peas are also high in protein, weighing 13 grams per cup.
The protein content of tofu fluctuates slightly, as it depends on the type of tofu you buy. The firmer the tofu, the more protein there is because firm tofu is more concentrated than the milder options. For example, a three-ounce serving of extra-firm tofu has nine grams of protein, while silken tofu hovers around four grams. Many brands (like Wildwood) also offer a high protein variety, and these contain over 14 grams of protein.
Finish your tempeh bacon, it’s high in protein. Also made from soybeans, tempeh naturally contains a substantial amount of protein – a three-ounce serving has 18 grams! This crumbly and meaty source of vegan protein is a great base for a good marinade. Try it yourself with this smoked tempeh and peanut satay recipe.
While not a complete food, there’s no denying that plant-based protein powder will help you meet your daily quota. Most vegan protein powders contain between 15 and 20 grams of protein. If you’re looking for a product with complete protein, go for soy or pea protein brands like 22 Days Nutrition or NuFYX.
This powdered seaweed does more than turn smoothie bowls into a pretty blue: it’s a super concentrated source of protein. A single tablespoon has four to six grams of protein (the green variety is lower on the scale, while blue spirulina has a bit more protein). The next time you’re in a smoothie bar, go for the menu item with Spirulina (or Blue Majik, as some call it) for an extra dose of protein.
The latest United States dietary guidelines – revised at the end of 2020 – now state that fortified soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. This is huge, because it completely undermines one of the dairy industry’s strongest arguments for drinking milk. Cow’s milk has eight grams of protein, that’s right, but so does soy milk. Pea milk also has eight grams of protein, and some brands (like Califia Farms and Silk) boost their plant-based milks with even more protein, up to 10 grams per eight-ounce serving.
Nuts, seeds and butters
Like beans, the category of nuts and seeds is huge. When looking for the seeds with the highest protein content, go for a serving of 30 grams of hemp seeds (12 grams), chia seeds (seven grams), and flax seeds (nine grams). High protein nuts include peanuts (7 grams), almonds (6 grams) and Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and pistachios (all 4 grams) per 1 serving. ounce. Nut and seed butters have similar protein profiles.
Affectionately referred to as a ‘nooch’ in vegan circles, these yellow flakes are packed with nutrients. Two tablespoons of this cheesy-flavored condiment is equivalent to five grams of protein. Don’t know what to do with a can of nooch? Discover 16 Ways to Use Nutritional Yeast.
Dairy free yogurt
Like plant-based milk, dairy-free yogurt can contain a fair amount of protein, depending on the brand. For the bigger dose of protein, look for a product with added protein, like Kite Hill Protein (11 grams) or Chobani Oat (seven grams).
If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, replace rice with quinoa. This robust grain contains eight grams of protein per cup, cooked. Quinoa is also an excellent satiating porridge. Change up your next bowl of morning oats for this belly warming quinoa and sticky banana bread breakfast bowl.
Whatever their color (green, brown, yellow or red), lentils are real proteins. A quarter-cup (dry) serving will provide 10 to 12 grams of protein, depending on the variety. You don’t know how to prepare them? Start with this vegan lentil and kale stew.
The cartoon may have exaggerated the protein powers of spinach slightly, but there was a grain of truth to Popeye the Sailor’s spinach philosophy. Leafy green provides just over five grams of protein per cup, cooked. Go ahead and be liberal with this. We love adding it to smoothies, soups, pizzas, pastas and large salad bowls.
Excluding white varieties (sorry, sourdough lovers), bread can supplement your daily protein quota. Varieties such as whole wheat and Ezekiel bread contain four and eight grams of protein per slice, respectively. Don’t be afraid of bread, just choose the higher protein options.
Spinach isn’t the only vegetable that has a decent amount of protein. Green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus all contain about four grams of protein per cup; collard greens contain five grams of protein per cup; and a large potato contains just under eight grams of protein. There is more than one reason to eat your vegetables!
To learn more about healthy vegan eating, read:
9 fabulous ways to cook tofu
Is soy milk making a comeback?
5 great ways to eat more calcium
JUST LAUNCHED! Vote for your favorite vegan products at the 2022 VegNews Veggie Awards.
JUST LAUNCHED! Vote for your favorite vegan products at the 2022 VegNews Veggie Awards.