Where do vegans get their protein? How much protein should I be eating? A guide to veganism and protein plus 10 of the best plant-based protein sources in the world!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.
I've been vegan for almost 14 years and during that time, I've been asked a lot of questions.
Why are you vegan?
Is it healthy?
What do you eat for breakfast?
So much so, that I wrote a comprehensive article trying to answer all those questions. But, BY FAR, the most common question that I get asked as vegans is, "Where do you get your protein?"
Turns out, for healthy vegan and vegetarians with well-balanced diets, vegan protein is not hard to find. Protein is in nearly everything! But before we dive into my favorite plant-based proteins, let's take a look at some of the other frequently asked questions about veganism and protein.
How much protein should I be eating?
Protein is obviously essential for life, but for many years we have had a misrepresentation of how much protein we need to be eating. According to Harvard Medical School, you can figure out how much protein you should be eating by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36. On average this calculates to:
- 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
A very active person, athlete, or pregnant person will need about 50% more. To read more about how much protein we should be eating, this is a helpful article.
Is vegan protein as good as animal protein?
Not all protein is created equal and I would argue that plant-based protein, as a whole, is much better for your body. A few things to keep in mind when considering plant vs. animal protein:
Is it a complete protein? Generally speaking, animal protein contains the 9 essential amino acids that our bodies need. Not all plant-based protein contains all 9, but that doesn't mean it's hard to get what we need from plant-based proteins. (more on that below).
Does it have essential vitamins and nutrients? Animal protein has b12 and that can be hard for vegans to get without taking a supplement. However, plant protein offers much more essential vitamins and nutrients such as phytonutrients and antioxidants. Beyond that, vegan protein is the only protein source that contains fiber, which is necessary for a healthy digestive system.
What else is in my protein? Animal protein does have all essential amino acids and b12 but that's not all it contains. Animal proteins are often filled with the hormone and antibiotics that were given to the farm animals and are often high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which may be linked to cardiovascular disease. Whereas, vegan protein has zero hormones, antibiotics, or cholesterol and is typically comprised only of heart-healthy fats.
What is a complete protein?
We use a combination of just 20 amino acids to live and thrive. 11 of those amino acids are produced by the human body. In order to stay healthy, we must get the other 9 amino acids (called "essential amino acids") from our diet. A complete protein is a food that contains all 9 of those essential amino acids.
What plant-based foods have complete protein sources?
There are many plant-based proteins that do contain all 9 essential amino acids and others, that when paired together, give you a complete protein. Here are some of my favorite plant-based complete proteins:
- Tofu, Tempeh, and edamame
- Hemp Hearts
- Chia Seeds (<<affiliate links)
- Pumpkin Seeds
Also, it's important to remember than any time a grain (like rice, wheat, or corn) is combined with a legume (like beans, lentils, or peanuts) you have a complete protein. That means a snack like toast and peanut butter, rice and beans, or hummus and pita all contain a complete vegan protein source.
What are your favorite vegan protein recipes?
If you're looking for a recipe that is high in protein, here are a few of my quick and simple protein-rich recipes:
- 3-Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Shake This protein shake has no protein powders or unnatural ingredients. Just 3 wholesome and delicious ingredients for a shake that is over 14 grams of protein per serving!
- Peanut Butter Protein Balls - A protein-rich combination of peanut flour, oats, and flaxseeds for a delicious and protein-hearty snack.
- Gluten-Free Protein Cookie - A cookie for breakfast? Why not? This superfood-packed cookie is filled with nutrients including a complete source of protein.
- Vegan Cobb Salad - This vegan spin on a classic salad is filled with delicious vegan proteins like tempeh, tofu, and chickpeas for a salad that is 15 grams of protein per serving.
- Mexican-Style Stuffed Zucchini - A delicious and hearty sausage-flavored tempeh stuffed zucchini boat with fresh tomatoes and olives and over 16 grams of protein per serving.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Don't be fooled into thinking that protein needs to come from animals. There are many plant-based protein sources that not only are dense in protein but offer complete proteins with all 9 essential amino acids.
Here are a few of my favorite vegan proteins
Chia seeds are the seed of the desert plant, Salvia hispanica, which originated in Central America. They are small, adding a tiny crunch and lots of powerful benefits. Add chia seeds to salads, bowls, and smoothies or combine them with liquid to create a naturally gelatinous texture, perfect for chia pudding or an egg replacer.
Protein in Chia Seeds
- A complete protein
- 19% protein or 10 grams in 2 ounces
Read more about chia seeds.
Vegan Recipes with Chia Seeds
Hemp hearts are the shelled seeds of the industrial hemp plant (related to the cannabis plant). They have an earthy nutty flavor and a nice soft crunch. Despite being so small, they are packed with nutrients. So go ahead, sprinkle them on your salads, and dinner bowls. Blend them in your smoothies, or add them to your tofu scrambles.
Protein in Hemp Hearts
- A complete protein source
- 2 tablespoons have about 11 grams of protein
Read more about hemp hearts.
Vegan Recipes with Hemp Hearts:
Nuts and nut butters are commonly known for being rich in protein. Earthy, crunchy, and slightly sweet, nuts can be used in both sweet and savory recipes as well as a perfect snack on its own. While all nuts contain protein, the most protein-dense nuts are peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts.
Protein in nuts per 100g
- Peanuts - 25.8
- Almonds -21.5
- Pistachios - 20.1
- Cashews - 18.2
Vegan Recipes with nuts
Quinoa has been growing in South America for thousands of years, making it one of the oldest forms of complete plant-based proteins. With a full, nutty flavor and cooking like a grain, quinoa becomes the perfect base for gluten/grain-free bowls and salads. You can also mill the seed into flour which bakes similar to all-purpose flour and makes some of the best gluten-free cookies I’ve ever had.
Protein in Quinoa
- A complete protein source
- Quinoa is 16% protein or 8+ grams per serving
Read more about quinoa.
Vegan Recipes with Quinoa:
Whole grains are high in vegan protein on their own but when combined with any legume, a complete protein is formed. Some of my favorite high-protein grains are wild rice, buckwheat, couscous, and oats. 1 serving of overnight oats contains 16.9 grams of protein. Make it Peanut Butter Overnight Oats and you've got a complete protein!
Protein in grains per 1 cup
- Amaranth - 26 g
- Wild Rice - 24 g
- Buckwheat - 13.2g
- Oats - 16.9g
Read more about whole grains.
Vegan Recipes with Whole Grains:
Tofu & Tempeh
Both tofu and tempeh come from soybeans and provide an excellent source of protein. Tofu has an egg-like consistency and works like a sponge, taking on any flavors it marinates with while tempeh has a hearty nutty flavor and sausage-like texture making it perfect for vegan meatballs or Reuben sandwiches.
Protein in Tofu and Tempeh per serving
- a complete protein
- Tempeh - 15.4 grams
- Tofu - 10.1 grams
Read more about tempeh.
Vegan Recipes with Tofu and Tempeh
Lentils & Legumes
Lentils and other legume are protein-packed food that comes in a variety of colors and textures. Some of the most common lentils are red, brown, and green. Red lentils are common in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. They are mostly used in Red Lentil Curries or Red Lentil Soups. Other high-protein legumes are peanuts, peas, and edamame.
Protein in Lentils per cup (cooked)
- Red lentils - 18g
- Brown lentils - 24g
- Make up a complete protein when mixed with rice
Vegan Recipes with Lentils
Similar to tofu and tempeh, seitan is a meat substitute that is made from cooked wheat gluten. It is an excellent source of complete protein while offering a chewy, meat-like texture to your favorite comfort foods. Beyond that, seitan is comprised of 75% protein, offering as much protein is chicken or beef!
Protein in Seitan
- 75 g of protein in 100 g
Read more about seitan.
Vegan Recipes with Seitan
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo bean, are an imported food from Africa and Central and South America. They are not only surprisingly high in protein (39 grams per cup!) but they also are a complete protein all on their own! Chickpeas make up the base of most hummus, are a delightful snack when roasted, and add protein to your favorite soups and stews.
Protein in chickpeas
- 39 g protein per cup
- a complete protein
Read more about chickpeas.
Vegan Recipes with Chickpeas
Even some vegetables have a significant amount of protein. Vegetables with the most protein include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes. You can add these protein-rich vegetables to stir-fries, sneak it in smoothies, serve them as a side, or use it the base of your favorite salad.
Protein in Vegetables per cup
- Sweet Potato - 2.1g
- Brussels Sprouts - 5.6g
- Asparagus 4.2g
Vegan recipes with vegetables
I hope this answers the question of where vegans get their protein. What are your favorite vegan protein sources?
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