by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
One thing remains certain in a world where dietary choices are as diverse as the people who make them: our bodies need protein to survive. For those who have embraced the vibrant world of veganism, the search for the best protein sources for vegans is a delicious adventure waiting to unfold.
The vegan lifestyle is gaining immense popularity as more individuals make the switch to plant-based eating. This shift has also been associated with reduced cancer risk, improved blood sugar regulation, and relief from arthritis pain.
Yet, a common challenge faced by those opting for plant-based diets is ensuring an adequate intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Having a well-balanced vegetarian diet is the key to a vibrant and healthier life, ensuring ample nourishment from plant sources.
In this article, we will dive deeper and look at the 12 best protein sources for vegans.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before making any changes to your nutrition or weight loss program.
12 Best Protein Sources for Vegans
Plant-based foods provide valuable protein sources, benefitting omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike while also reducing reliance on animal products.
Below are 12 of the best protein sources for vegans:
1. Soy products
Soybeans offer a complete protein source, supplying all essential amino acids. Popular soy products like edamame, tofu, and tempeh contain 15-20 grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
Edamame is rich in folate, vitamin K, and fiber, aiding digestion, while tempeh, a fermented soybean product, provides probiotics, B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus. These benefits, along with the protein content, make soy products a valuable addition to a weight-conscious diet.
2. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
Soy products stand out as one of the plant-based diet’s richest protein sources, and their protein content varies depending on the preparation:
- Firm tofu (soybean curds) offers about 10 grams of protein per ½ cup.
- Edamame beans (immature soybeans) provide 8.5 grams of protein per ½ cup.
- Tempeh boasts approximately 15 grams of protein per ½ cup.
Red and green lentils are protein-packed, fiber-rich, and brimming with essential nutrients like iron and potassium.
In just ½ cup of cooked lentils, you’ll find 8.84 grams of protein. These versatile legumes can elevate any meal, from stews and curries to salads and rice dishes, making them an excellent protein addition to your lunch or dinner routine.
Beans, available in various enticing varieties like kidney, black, pinto, chickpeas, lima, mung, and fava, pack a powerful protein punch in every serving. Approximately 20 grams of protein is found in each 100-gram serving of beans.
Beyond protein, beans are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, folate, phosphate, potash, manganese, and valuable plant compounds.
Seitan, a plant-based protein made from vital wheat gluten, offers a meaty texture but is not gluten-free. A 3-ounce serving contains 20 grams of protein, making it a protein powerhouse. You can find it pre-made at your local supermarket or make it yourself using vital wheat gluten.
Peanuts are a protein-packed, heart-healthy option, brimming with healthy fats. With 3.6 grams of protein per tablespoon, peanut butter elevates the classic peanut butter sandwich into a nutritious, complete protein snack.
7. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are a nutritional powerhouse, boasting high levels of protein, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These tiny seeds are also packed with antioxidants and other valuable plant compounds. It is important to note that they provide a complete source of protein, delivering 2 grams per tablespoon.
Mycoprotein is a plant protein that has antimicrobial properties. Hence, it is used to make alternatives for meat. For example, mycoprotein is used to make beef hamburgers, lamb chops, steaks, and fillet alternatives. This product provides 15-16 grams of protein per 100-gram portion.
Nutritional yeast is a type of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast that has been rendered inactive and is commonly found in the market as flakes or a fine yellow powder. It provides 50 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving.
Consuming oats can be delicious and a direct approach to boosting protein intake in any diet. A 100-gram portion of oats has around 13 grams of protein on average. Oats are also high in zinc, magnesium, folate, and phosphorus.
11. Plant-based milk
Soy milk and almond milk are among the widely enjoyed choices in the world of plant-based milk. These dairy-free alternatives have garnered popularity not just among vegans but also among individuals with lactose intolerance, dairy allergies, or those seeking healthier beverage options. They provide essential vitamins and minerals and contain around 3 grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
Spelt is an ancient grain renowned for its protein content. In a 100-gram serving, it provides approximately 6 grams of protein, making it one of the more protein-dense ancient grains.
Alongside protein, Spelt offers various essential minerals like phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and manganese. It also contains B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and complex carbohydrates, making it a valuable addition to a balanced diet.