When it comes to vegan protein, there’s no shortage of options. The list includes everything from hemp seeds to seitan.
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Carnivores are endlessly curious about where vegans get their protein.
It’s often the first question asked when they hear someone follows a plant-based lifestyle.
Their curiosity isn’t unreasonable. Protein is important. Our bodies rely on it to carry out many vital functions.
Still, there’s more protein available from vegan sources than the average meat-eater realizes.
Vegan protein comes in many shapes and forms. You’ll find this essential nutrient in a wide range of plant-based sources.
For example, you can get lots of protein from nuts such as almonds. It’s also abundant in foods such as tofu. And you can supplement with vegan protein powder.
Plant-based meat substitutes are another option. The number of delicious, protein-rich vegan meat substitutes is growing. Choices by brands such as Beyond Meat give you a chance to enjoy plant-sourced food that mimics meat’s taste while providing clean protein.
In this article, we will:
- Explain why protein is important for optimum health
- Take a look at recommendations regarding the amount of protein you should consume each day
- Discuss vegan protein’s advantages over animal protein
- List several foods that are excellent sources of vegan protein
- Share some protein-rich vegan recipes
Why is protein important?
There’s no two ways about it: Your body needs adequate amounts of protein to maintain good health. This vital nutrient supports your well-being in countless ways:
- Protein strengthens your immune system. It helps the body create antibodies that battle viruses and bacteria.
- Protein builds muscle. Your body’s muscles are mainly made of protein. Including adequate protein in your diet can help ensure your muscles have what they need to grow and flourish.
- Protein helps repair tissues. If you’re recovering from an illness, your protein needs may be higher than normal as the body works to regenerate itself. If you’ve suffered an injury or have been in an accident, you may need more protein as you recuperate. And athletes and seniors tend to require more protein than the average person.
- Protein can help you grow healthier hair, skin and nails. Your hair, skin and nails are made largely of protein, and they can become dry and brittle if you don’t include enough of this nutrient in your diet.
As you can see, protein is quite the multi-tasker! It’s easy to understand why it’s so critical to health and well-being.
What’s the daily protein requirement?
When it comes to protein consumption, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for males over 18 is 56 grams. It’s recommended that females over 18 consume 46 grams of protein each day.
However, some studies indicate that eating more protein than these recommended amounts can provide certain health benefits:
- Healthy weight management. Protein can help you achieve a feeling of fullness with less food. It’s able to accomplish this because it suppresses the secretion of the hunger hormone ghrelin. In so doing, protein can help reduce the amount of food you consume and assist you in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Muscle building. Bodybuilders know that it’s impossible to gain muscle mass without dramatically increasing protein intake. The research backs this up; studies show that an increase in dietary protein has a favorable effect on muscle and strength during resistance training.
- Healthy blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to strokes and heart attacks. A 2010 study shows that increased protein intake may help lower blood pressure. According to that study, plant protein appears to generate the most significant blood pressure benefits.
- Healthy aging. Protein supports healthy aging. Muscles sometimes weaken and deteriorate as we grow older. Protein provides your body with the fuel it needs to prevent this from happening. To enhance the effect protein has in this area, it’s important to stay physically active.
So, does this mean everyone should strive to eat even more protein than the RDA?
According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, adding extra protein to your diet isn’t harmful.
However, they stress that it’s important to choose wisely when selecting your proteins. Red meat is protein-rich. However, studies indicate that a diet that includes lots of red meat may cause heart disease.
The Mayo Clinic recommends plant-based protein as a good choice for supporting long-term health.
Is vegan protein healthier than animal protein?
Both vegan and animal protein have their strengths. However, relative to animal protein, vegan protein provides these advantages:
- Easier to digest. Generally speaking, vegan protein has an easier time moving through your system than protein of the animal variety. This has everything to do with fiber. Plant foods ae typically loaded with fiber; this isn’t the case with meats and dairy products. Fiber provides bulk that supports healthy digestion.
- Less cholesterol and saturated fats. Foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats have been linked with heart disease. Certain animal proteins have lots of cholesterol and saturated fats; this is certainly true of red meat, for example. Plant proteins tend to be a lot leaner and cleaner. This means you can regularly consume these vegan foods with less risk of causing harm to your health.
- Free of hormones and antibiotics. If you’re consuming dairy products and meat from commercially raised animals, you’re probably getting undesirable hormones and antibiotics with each bite. You can sidestep these toxins by purchasing organic, but organic food is more expensive than food that’s been commercially raised. Choosing plant-based protein is a surefire way to avoid exposure to harmful hormones. With vegan protein, you don’t have to worry about these toxins making an appearance in your food.
Best vegan protein sources
Now it’s time to take a look at some of the best vegan protein sources. These proteins pack a mean punch when it comes to providing clean, plant-based nutrition.
We’ve lumped these proteins into various food categories. Within each category, they’re listed in order of protein content, from highest to lowest.
In almost all cases, we’ve included each food’s protein content per 100 grams. Our figures are sourced from data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Nuts and seeds
When most people think of vegan protein sources, nuts and seeds are usually the first things that come to mind.
These foods are rich in protein, and they also contain a host of other nutrients that support good health. The nuts and seeds discussed below offer great taste and ample nutrition.
Yes, this food has the word “seed” in its name. Technically, though, hemp seeds are nuts. Also known as hemp hearts, this food has a flavor that’s nutty and rich.
Although they come from a hemp plant that’s the same species as cannabis (marijuana), hemp seeds contain virtually no THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
Hemp seeds are incredibly nutritious. They’re rich in healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain nutrients such as vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, iron, calcium and zinc.
Let’s discuss essential amino acids:
- Some types of plant-based protein contain some amino acids, but not others.
- Hemp seeds contain every amino acid your body needs; as a result, this vegan food is a complete protein source.
- Your body can’t make amino acids on its own, so it needs to get them from the food you eat.
Certain animal proteins have been linked to heart disease. The opposite is true with hemp seeds. This food is rich in arginine, an amino acid that creates nitric oxide in your body. Studies show that nitric oxide can reduce your risk of heart disease.
What about protein content?
- Hemp seeds provide 31.6 grams of protein per 100 grams.
- You get 9 grams of protein with a 1-ounce serving.
- By weight, this plant-based food provides protein content similar to that of beef and lamb.
You can sprinkle your hemp seeds on a salad, and eat them raw. Add them to a vegan protein shake. Consume them cooked or roasted.
Botanically, peanuts are legumes. However, from a culinary perspective, they’re treated as nuts, so we’ll include them in that category here. They’re also known as groundnuts, goobers and earthnuts.
This vegan food has an excellent nutritional profile:
- Peanuts have lots of healthy fats, and they’re also rich in fiber that supports optimal digestion.
- This is a low-carb food, and that means it won’t spike your blood sugar after you eat it.
- Peanuts are packed with valuable nutrients such as biotin, copper, niacin, magnesium and vitamin E.
- They also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that can reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.
With 100 grams of raw peanuts, you get 25.8 grams of protein. An ounce of dry-roasted peanuts provides 6.9 grams of protein.
Peanuts make a delicious snack, and they can be eaten raw or roasted. You can also pour them into a food processor to make creamy peanut butter.
Almonds are often categorized as nuts, but they’re actually the seeds of the almond tree. This tree is native to Iran and neighboring countries. Today, the United States leads the world in almond production.
Let’s examine some of this vegan food’s health benefits:
- Almonds are loaded with antioxidants that protect against inflammation and aging.
- This food is one of the top sources of vitamin E; studies show that vitamin E intake can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Finally, almonds are rich in magnesium, a mineral that can improve insulin function.
With almonds, you get 21.2 grams of protein per 100 grams. That’s 6 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving. A 1-ounce serving consists of about 23 whole kernels.
You have lots of choices when it comes to how you consume your almonds:
- They can be eaten raw, blanched or roasted.
- You can enjoy this food as almond butter or almond milk.
- Also, almonds can be converted into a low-carb flour that you can use to make tasty baked goods that won’t spike your blood pressure.
Known for their vibrant yellow hue, sunflowers are one of the most cheerful-looking flowers on the planet, and they grow on sunflower plants. Sunflower seeds come from these large flowers. These seeds have a nutty flavor and a firm texture.
Sunflower seeds are tiny in size, but they loom large when it comes to nutritional content. They’re rich in these nutrients:
- Vitamin E
Studies show that sunflower seeds provide a host of health benefits. This food can help lower your risk of getting heart disease. Also, it contains plant compounds that can reduce inflammation.
One hundred grams of sunflower seeds contain 20.8 grams of protein. That works out to 5.8 grams of protein per ounce.
Here are few ways in which you can include more sunflower seeds in your diet:
- Add these seeds to a homemade trail mix, or sprinkle them on a salad.
- They also taste great in stir-fried and sauteed dishes.
- Use them to replace pine nuts in your next homemade pesto.
Cashews have a uniquely creamy flavor, and this makes them an addictive snack. They come from the cashew tree. This tree is native to Brazil, but it’s now found in warm countries all across the globe.
Though they’re commonly referred to as nuts, cashews are actually seeds. They offer these benefits:
- They’re rich in nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorus.
- They’re also a great source of unsaturated fats. These healthy fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Additionally, cashews provide an abundant amount of copper. This mineral supports energy production and healthy brain development.
Cashews shine as a vegan protein source:
- This food provides roughly the same quantity of protein as the equivalent amount of cooked meat.
- With 100 grams of raw cashews, you get 18.2 grams of protein.
- You get 5.2 grams of protein with each 1-ounce serving.
You can eat your cashews raw or roasted. Add them to a stir-fry or breakfast smoothie. Toss them into a food processor to create cashew butter; this decadent nut butter can be enjoyed on crackers, bread and fruit.
Chia seeds have been prized for their high nutritional value for a long time. This food has been around for centuries. It was a favorite of the Aztecs and the Mayans, who relied on chia seeds as a source of energy.
This vegan food provides superb nutrition:
- Chia seeds are rich in fiber. Fiber supports healthy digestion.
- They also contain lots of healthy fats, as well as minerals such as calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.
- Chia seeds contain lots of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against aging, and they can reduce your risk of getting cancer.
- Finally, the high calcium content in chia seeds supports the development of strong, healthy bones.
With every 100 grams of chia seeds, you get 16.5 grams of protein. You get 4.7 grams of protein with a 1-ounce serving.
You can consume chia seeds in countless ways:
- Each them raw, or add them to smoothies.
- Sprinkle them on top of salads and vegetable platters.
- These seeds also make great thickeners – you can add them to your recipes as an egg substitute.
Other protein-rich nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pine nuts, pili nuts, pecans.
Cereals are plants that are similar to grass. These plants are also called cereal grasses, and their seeds are known as grains.
Some grains are excellent sources of protein. In this category, we’ve included grain-based vegan foods such as seitan.
Seitan is often lumped in with tofu and tempeh. However, seitan differs from those two foods in a key way:
- Tofu and tempeh are soy-based; seitan is made entirely with wheat gluten.
- That means that if you’re gluten-sensitive, seitan is not for you.
- Due to its main ingredient, seitan is sometimes called wheat meat or wheat protein.
This vegan food is rich in nutrients such as selenium and iron, and it’s a versatile ingredient. Marinate your seitan, bake it or use it as a substitute for ground beef. You can steam it, bread it or cook it in broth.
With 100 grams of seitan, you get a staggering 75 grams of protein.
Among grains, oat bran is one of the top choices for protein content. With every 100 grams of oat bran, you get a healthy 17.3 grams of protein. Each cup of oat bran provides you with 16.3 grams of protein.
Oat bran contains valuable nutrients:
- It’s loaded with thiamine, magnesium, phosphorus and iron.
- It’s a great source of antioxidants that can reduce harmful inflammation.
- Also, this food contains beta-glucans, a soluble fiber that can reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
You can cook oat bran to create a hot cereal. Another option is to eat it raw. It tastes great added to yogurt and smoothies.
Buckwheat isn’t technically a grain. However, it’s treated as a grain in the kitchen, so we’ve included it in that category on our list.
There isn’t any wheat in buckwheat, despite its misleading name:
- This food is not related to wheat.
- Instead, it bears a kinship to plants such as sorrel and rhubarb.
- Buckwheat is completely free of gluten.
This starchy plant-based food is high in carbohydrates and fiber. Fiber supports colon health. Buckwheat also contains ample amounts of copper, manganese, magnesium and iron.
You can eat your buckwheat raw, but it’s a good idea to soak or sprout it to optimize digestion. With 100 grams of raw buckwheat, you get 13.3 grams of protein. That translates into 22.5 grams of protein per cup.
Stir your buckwheat into salads and soups to boost the nutritional content of your meal. You can also combine this food with almond milk and eat it like a bowl of porridge.
Other protein-rich grains: rice bran, kamut, spelt, quinoa, wild rice, teff.
The legume family includes beans, lentils and peas. These foods are rich in nutrients such as calcium and iron.
In this category, we’ve roped in foods that are made with legumes – this includes tofu and tempeh.
Also known as soya beans, soybeans are native to East Asia. There are over 2,500 varieties of this legume. Edamame is a popular type of soybean.
Since they contain all nine essential amino acids, soybeans are classed as a complete protein. They keep you regular by providing lots of fiber, and they’re also rich sources of healthy fatty acids.
Soybeans contain abundant protein:
- Your best bet in this area is soy protein powder; 100 grams provides 88.3 grams of protein.
- This plant-based protein powder makes a nourishing addition to vegan smoothies. It’s a great substitute for whey protein.
- With dry-roasted soybeans, you get 43.3 grams of protein per 100 grams.
You can eat your soybeans roasted or boiled. Many soybeans are genetically modified (GMO). If you want to avoid GMO foods, look for soybeans that have been grown organically.
Tempeh is created with fermented soybeans. This food is similar in some ways to tofu, but it contains more fiber.
Here are some facts regarding tempeh:
- This vegan protein is rich in calcium and iron, and it’s a healthy addition to your plant-based diet.
- Many Asian recipes feature tempeh.
- Tempeh is especially delicious in stir-fried dishes and Thai salads.
With 100 grams of tempeh, you get 20.3 grams of protein. One cup of tempeh has a protein content of 31 grams.
Tofu is a soy product with origins in China. To make tofu, condensed soy milk is formed into white blocks.
This vegan food offers lots of nutrition:
- Tofu contains all nine essential amino acids.
- It’s low in calories and high in nutrients.
- Some studies show that compounds found in tofu can improve brain function and skin elasticity.
One hundred grams of firm tofu provides 17.3 grams of protein. This works out to 43.5 grams of protein per cup.
Since it’s a low-calorie food, tofu assists with weight management.
You can consume your tofu in many different ways:
- Eat it raw or cooked.
- Use it in place of eggs for a breakfast scramble.
- Include it as an ingredient in a tasty miso soup.
White beans have an earthy flavor that tastes great in soups, stews and chili. There are several different types. The range includes:
- Cannellini beans
- Navy beans
- Great Northern beans
All white beans are rich in nutrients such as copper, folate and iron. They also contain lots of magnesium, a mineral that supports the nervous system.
With 100 grams of cooked large white beans, you get 9.7 grams of protein. The protein content of a single cup of cooked large white beans is 17.4 grams.
Lentils are a common ingredient in Asian and North African dishes. They come in a host of colors: red, green, brown, yellow and black.
This vegan food provides ample nutritional value:
- Lentils are a rich source of B vitamins, and they also contain lots of fiber and folate.
- Additionally, these legumes are loaded with magnesium, zinc, copper and potassium.
- Lentils contain polyphenols that can help support healthy blood sugar levels.
- Finally, studies show that eating lentils may lower your overall risk of heart disease.
- A 100-gram serving of cooked lentils provides 9 grams of protein. With a single cup of these legumes, you get 17.9 grams of protein.
Use lentils to make a tasty vegan soup. They’re also great as part of a spicy curry dish.
Other protein-rich legumes: lupin beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, fava beans.
Green and blue-green algae
Many people supplement with green and /or blue-green algae.
These foods are among the oldest life forms on earth. Humans have consumed these algae for centuries.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that grows in fresh and salt water.
This vegan food can benefit your well-being in several ways:
- Spirulina contains compounds that support healthy brain function.
- It’s rich in antioxidants that can protect your cells from oxidative damage.
- Studies suggest that spirulina may also have anti-cancer properties.
One hundred grams of dried spirulina provides 57.5 grams of protein. That works out to 4 grams of protein per tablespoon.
Consume your spirulina as part of a green smoothie.
A protein-rich green algae: chlorella.
Meat substitutes look and taste like meat, but they’re completely plant-based. You can spice up your vegan eating plan with these foods. Some choices are rich in protein.
Below, we’ve listed a couple of brands that offer outstanding meat substitutes:
Based in Los Angeles, Beyond Meat is a brand offering a range of meat substitutes. The lineup includes the following products:
- A couple of veggie patties: Beyond Burger and Cookout Classic
- Two plant-based sausages: Beyond Sausage and Beyond Breakfast Sausage
- A couple of plant-based beef substitutes: Beyond Beef and Beyond Beef Crumbles
- Plant-based meatballs: Beyond Meatballs
The company’s foods are 100 percent vegan. A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that replacing animal-based meat with plant-based meat substitutes can have positive outcomes for heart health.
Beyond Meat’s products have a taste and texture that’s remarkably similar to animal-based meat. The brand’s foods include these ingredients:
- Pea protein, as well as protein from mung beans, brown rice and fava beans
- Fats such as cocoa butter and coconut oil
- Minerals such as calcium and iron
Flavors and colors come from natural sources such as beet juice extract and apple extract.
Beyond Burger is one of the brand’s most popular products. Each veggie burger contains 20 grams of vegan protein.
Fresh N’ Lean’s PLANT-BASED CHICKN
Here at Fresh N’ Lean, we’ve added an exciting new meat substitute to our menu: PLANT-BASED CHICKN.
The one thing that separates this meat alternative from the rest is its taste: It’s undeniably delicious. And unlike commercially raised chicken, our vegan meat substitute is free of hormones and antibiotics.
Our PLANT-BASED CHICKN has a short, wholesome ingredient list that includes soy protein, sunflower oil and a spice blend. Each 2.5-ounce serving contains 14 grams of protein.
Protein-rich vegan recipes
The vegan recipes shown below are delicious and easy to make. And there’s lots of plant-based protein in each yummy bite.
This vegan recipe brings in rolled oats and ground chia seeds to pump up protein content. Each serving contains lots of chocolatey goodness and a whopping 20 grams of protein.
This south-of-the-border sensation heats things up with lentils, red kidney beans and chopped tomatoes. You get 25 grams of protein with each serving.
As its name suggests, this mouthwatering recipe gets its protein from tofu. It also includes ingredients such as asparagus and ginger, and it provides 19 grams of protein with each serving.
A tofu scramble is a perfect way to start the day. This recipe includes firm tofu, sliced tomatoes and soy sauce, and each serving contains 36 grams of protein.
This plant-based treat includes almonds and soy milk. It’s creamy yet low in fat, and packs 22 grams of protein per serving.
This vegan recipe includes white beans and sesame seeds, and it gets its wonderfully cheesy flavor from nutritional yeast. Each serving provides 41 grams of protein.
Visit the grocery stock to stock up on vegan protein sources such as lentils, tofu and tempeh. Then, choose a recipe and whip up a protein-rich vegan treat.
If you’d rather skip the grocery shopping and cooking, subscribe to Fresh N’ Lean to have chef-prepared plant-based meals delivered to your door. Our Standard Vegan meal plan includes dishes made with vegan protein such as tofu and chia seeds. We also include our PLANT-BASED CHICKN as well as meat substitutes made by Beyond Meat in many of our vegan dishes.