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Vegan Protein: 30 Best Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources for Health


More people now opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet, whether it’s for health purposes, animal welfare, or religion. Before making the change, the most prominent worry is generally how to get enough protein.

Protein comes primarily from animal products, but thanks to the advances in plant-based nutrition, more vegan protein options are now available.

In this post, we go through the vegan diet and what food sources you need to ensure that the nutrient and protein content is sufficient.

What Can Vegans Eat?

 

Vegans avoid any animal products, including eggs, honey, and dairy. However, this doesn’t confine them to tofu and bland veggies.

Vegans can eat almost any dish, as long as it’s adjusted to plant foods. Some everyday recipes that are plant-based or are easy to adjust include burgers, pizzas, burritos, smoothies, hummus, wraps, pasta dishes, sandwiches, and nachos.

You can switch animal-based ingredients with any of the following plant foods:

  • Lentils
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Tofu
  • Beans

For a plant-based diet, you can replace dairy products with plant-based milk. Instead of eggs, go for tofu, flax or chia seeds.

To replace honey, there are plant-based sweeteners such as maple syrup or molasses.

Furthermore, vegans also compensate by consuming whole grains and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

Veganism is defined as a lifestyle as opposed to merely a diet. People living the vegan lifestyle try to avoid any forms of animal exploitation and cruelty. This includes the clothes they wear, certain activities, and of course, food.

Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?

When looked at from a whole, the vegan diet is very healthy. Still, it’s only beneficial when implemented correctly and planned accordingly.

Like any diet plan that restricts specific food groups, vegan nutrition plans can lack essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and of course, protein [1].

That said, if planned correctly and supplemented as needed, the vegan diet can be very healthy. However, that’s not to say becoming vegan is the only option for a healthy lifestyle. It’s also important to note that a vegan diet isn’t suitable for everyone.

Going vegan can be harmful to those with chronic alcohol addiction or conditions, like Crohn’s disease, cancer, diabetes, and celiac disease. This is because these have an increased risk of zinc deficiency, and once you’ve developed a deficiency, cutting out animal products can negatively impact your health [2].

Vegetables and Legumes

Vegetables and legumes are often the first food groups people think of when talking about the vegan diet. There’s an abundance of options available to fill your meal plans and compensate for animal products. Here’s an overview:

Protein-Rich Veggies

There are several vegetables, especially dark-colored, leafy greens, that contain a lot of protein. Eaten alone, they may not be sufficient, but if you combine them with other vegan protein-rich sources, you could create wholesome meals.

1. Broccoli

Broccoli is a famous vegetable that’s often loved by adults and hated by children. However, this tiny veggie tree contains protein and all the essential amino acids. It comprises the following:

  • 100 grams of broccoli comprises 2.8 grams of protein and 34 calories.
  • One cup, around 8.8 grams of chopped broccoli, provides 2.5 grams of protein.
  • 33 percent of the calories in broccoli consist of protein.
  • Broccoli is high in vitamin C and K, folate, amino acid, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.

Broccoli is also a versatile vegetable; you can eat it raw or cooked. There are various ways to prepare it, such as boiling, steaming, and baking.

2. Spinach

Popeye wasn’t wrong when he swallowed a can of spinach; it’s one of the most nutrient-dense leafy green veggies you can eat.

Spinach contains the following:

  • One cup of raw spinach, approximately 25 g, consists of 0.7 grams of protein and 121 mcg of vitamin K.
  • 100 grams of spinach amounts to 2.9 grams of protein and 23 calories.
  • 50 percent of the calories found in spinach consists of protein.
  • The protein found in spinach comprises all the essential amino acids.

In addition to this, spinach is rich in vitamin A and C, folate, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. It also provides all essential amino acids.

3. Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts are low-calorie veggies but rich in nutrients. It contains the following:

  • You’ll consume 1.3 grams of protein in a cup, roughly 33 grams, of alfalfa sprouts.
  • 100 grams of alfalfa sprouts comprises 4 grams of protein and only 23 calories.
  • Alfalfa sprouts are rich in vitamin K, folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin C, and copper.

Besides being a rich source of nutrients, alfalfa sprouts may help reduce cholesterol levels due to their high saponin content. Saponins are compounds that can lower cholesterol, as shown in some studies [3].

5. Asparagus

Asparagus is another significant source of protein:

  • You’ll consume 3 grams of protein in a cup of asparagus, about 134 grams.
  • From 100 grams of asparagus, you’ll consume 2.2 grams of protein and 22 calories.
  • It’s a rich source of folate, vitamin K and A, riboflavin, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Asparagus also comprises some anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties [4]. Additionally, it contains fructooligosaccharides, which provide prebiotic benefits that stimulate the growth of good intestinal bacteria [5].

It’s an easy vegetable to prepare—people boil, pan-fry, steam, and grill asparagus. You can combine it with salads or serve it as a side dish.

6. Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)

Bok choy or napa cabbage, more famously known as Chinese cabbage, contains a high protein count per 1 calorie:

  • There are 1.1 grams of protein in a cup of shredded Chinese cabbage, roughly 70 grams.
  • In 100 grams of Chinese cabbage, you get 1.5 grams of protein and 13 calories.
  • Protein amounts to 46 percent of its calorie count.
  • It’s rich in vitamins A, K and C, as well as folate, calcium, and potassium.

Bok choy is an excellent addition to many Asian recipes, including kimchi, soups, spring rolls, and stir-fries.

7. Mustard Greens

Mustard greens come from the Brassica family. They’re similar to kale in appearance but have more of a mustard flavor, hence the name. Mustard greens contain the following protein:

  • One cup of chopped mustard greens, about 56 g, provide 1.6 grams of protein.
  • With 100 grams of mustard greens, you’ll get 2.9 grams of protein and only 27 calories.
  • A cup of mustard greens provides 144 mcg of vitamin K, which is more than the daily needs.

Mustard greens comprise a decent amount of vitamin C and E, as well as vitamins B. They also provide calcium, potassium, and phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant properties [6].

You can eat mustard greens raw or cooked. They’re easy to prepare by either boiling, steaming, or saute.

8. Cauliflower

Cauliflower, like broccoli, contains high amounts of nutrients considering the number of calories:

  • You’ll get 2 grams of protein in a cup of cauliflower, about 107 grams.
  • In 100 grams of cauliflower, there are 1.9 grams of protein and 25 calories.
  • About 31 percent of the calories in cauliflower is protein.

Cauliflower is high in vitamin C and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. Similar to broccoli, it’s a versatile vegetable that you can eat both cooked and raw. It’s easy to prepare by baking, steaming, boiling, or baking.

9. Soy Products

Soy products are an excellent source of protein and the nine essential amino acids. Some of the most popular soy products include tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, and soy milk.

Exactly how much soy protein you’ll get depends on how the manufacturer prepared the soy product. For instance, half a cup of firm tofu—soybean curds—provides 10 grams of plant-based proteins.

Whereas with edamame beans—immature soybeans—just a half cup will give you 8.5 grams of protein. Half a cup of tempeh, on the other hand, contains 15 grams of protein.

10. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are great sources of protein. Although they require cooking, you can eat them cold or hot and are excellent additions to stews, curries, or even as a replacement for tuna. You can also blend them, making a delicious hummus dip.

How Many Grams of Protein per 1 Cup Does It Contain?

Half a cup of cooked chickpeas contains approximately 7.25 grams of protein.

11. Peanuts

It may surprise you, but peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts, but they’re still delicious, healthy sources of protein.

How Much Protein Do Peanuts Contain?

Per half-cup of peanuts, you’ll get a staggering 20.5 grams of protein. In a tablespoon of peanut butter, you’ll get 8 grams of protein. Be mindful, though, of the sugar and sodium in some commercial peanut butter.

12. Green Peas

Green peas are fantastic vegan protein sources. You can easily include them as a side dish at mealtime to get a boost of pea protein.

How Much Pea Protein Does It Contain?

Per cooked cup of green peas, you get 9 grams of protein—slightly more than from a glass of milk. Additionally, they contain fiber, vitamin A, C and K, folate, thiamine, and manganese.

13. Lentils

Both red and green lentils are fantastic plant-based protein sources, and both comprise plenty of nutrients, making them great additions to your meal plans.

How Much Protein Does It Contain?

From a cup of cooked lentils, you’ll get 18 grams of protein.

14. Beans

Beans, such as kidney and black beans, are similar to chickpeas and are also excellent sources of fiber, iron, and complex carbs.

How Much Protein Do BeansContain?

Per mug of cooked beans, you’ll get about 15 grams of plant protein.

Grains, Cereals, and Pseudocereals

Grains and cereals are popular plant-based vegan protein sources used in the vegan diet. Pseudocereals are non-grasses, used in much the same way as cereals, though they aren’t true cereals.

15. Spelt

Spelt comes from a group known as ancient grains, which also includes einkorn, sorghum, and barley. It’s a type of wheat that contains gluten.

How Much Protein Does SPelt Contain?

In a cup of cooked spelt, there are between 10 and 11 grams of plant protein. It’s one of the ancient grains that contain the most protein.

16. Teff

Teff is another plant belonging to the ancient grains group. It’s similar to spelt, but it’s gluten-free.

How Much Protein Does Teff Contain?

Teff contains the same amount of plant protein per cup as spelt. You’ll get 10 to 11 grams of protein a cup.

17. Amaranth

Amaranth is a pseudocereal, although many often refer to it as an ancient grain or gluten-free. It doesn’t grow from grasses as typical cereal grains do, though we often use it in similar ways.

How Much Protein Does Amaranth Contain?

A cup of cooked amaranth provides between 8 to 9 grams of protein. It’s considered a complete source of protein, a great addition to a plant-based diet.

18. Oats

Oats are not only delicious, but they’re high protein sources for a plant-based diet. Although not considered a complete protein source, they contain higher-quality nutrients than other types of grains, such as wheat and rice.

This super grain is a common ingredient in some of the healthiest protein bars due to its subtle taste, texture, and high content of nutrients.

How Much Protein Do Oats Contain?

In half a cup of dry oats, you get approximately 6 grams of plant protein and 4 grams of fiber for your daily value. They’re also a good source of zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and folate.

19. Seitan

Seitan is famous for being a “mock meat,” meaning that it resembles the look and texture of meat. However, it’s very high in wheat gluten, so it’s not recommended if you have celiac disease or any gluten sensitivity.

How Much Protein Does Seitan Contain?

Seitan provides about 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces. Additionally, it also comprises selenium and moderate amounts of calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

20. Wild Rice

Among all the rice varieties, wild rice contains the most nutrients. Wild rice still holds its bran, unlike white rice that is stripped. This means that many of the nutrients remain in the rice corn, such as manganese, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and vitamin B.

Remember to wash it thoroughly before cooking to remove any potential traces of arsenic [7].

How Much Protein Does Wild Rice Contain?

The protein content of wild rice is 7 grams per cup.

21. Quinoa

Quinoa is another pseudocereal that’s high in protein and considered a complete protein source. We often use it as a healthy alternative to pasta, but it also works wonders sprinkled over a salad.

How Much Protein Does Quinoa Contain?

Cooked quinoa comprises 8 grams of protein per cup. Additionally, it includes magnesium, fiber, iron, and manganese.

22. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are often considered complete proteins. They’re easy to add to dishes for some extra plant-based protein and amino acid or simply as a snack to indulge in.

23. Almonds

Almonds are a good source of nutrients, and they’re very versatile; they can go in desserts, savory dishes, and eaten raw.

How Much Protein Do Almonds Contain?

With 64 grams of almonds, there are about 16.5 grams of protein. Besides this, they’re a fantastic vitamin E source, promoting eye and skin health [8].

24. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a complete source of protein; they’re also a super healthy plant-based food, containing adequate amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Per 1.25 ounces of chia seeds, you’ll get 13 grams of fiber. They’re easy to add to your food—you can sprinkle them on yogurt, make pudding, or add to your smoothie.

How Much Protein Do Chia Seeds Contain?

Chia seeds offer about 2 grams of protein per tablespoon.

25. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are also plant-based protein sources and considered a complete protein source. Similar to chia seeds, you can add them to a variety of dishes and drinks.

How Much Protein Do Hemp Seeds Contain?

Hemp seeds provide 5 grams of protein per tablespoon.

Other Protein-Rich Vegan Foods

Vegetables, nuts, legumes, and soy aren’t the only plant-based foods we can eat to increase our protein intake. Here are three examples:

26. Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein might sound foreign to non-vegans and vegetarians. However, it’s a fungus-based nutrient which products are often sold as meat substitutes. It’s available in various forms, such as “chicken” cutlets or nuggets. That said, check the label, as some products do contain egg whites.

How Much Protein Does Mycoprotein Contain?

Mycoprotein products comprise approximately 13 grams of protein per half-cup serving.

27. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a type of deactivated strain from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, generally sold as a yellow powder or flakes. It contains some sodium, so be mindful of your intake.

How Much Protein Does Nutritional Yeast Contain?

Nutritional yeast provides 14 grams of protein per ounce. It’s also rich in fiber, and fortified options are available that contain added zinc, copper, manganese, B vitamins, and magnesium.

28. Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread is a healthier alternative to traditional bread as it’s very nutrient-dense. It consists of wheat, lentils, barley, spelt, and millet—you’ll get ample nutrients per 1 serving.

How Much Protein Does Ezekiel Bread Contain?

From one slice of Ezekiel bread, you’ll get 4 grams of protein. You can pair it with another protein source, like peanut or almond butter.

Vegan Supplements Based on Plant Foods

In addition to foods, there are also plenty of vegan-friendly supplements that you can take to increase your protein intake. These include:

29. Vegan Protein Powder

There are lots of vegan protein powders that present excellent ways to increase your protein intake. Be mindful when searching for protein powders, as some do contain high amounts of sodium and sugar to improve the taste. You can read more about the best vegan protein powders in our guide.

How Much Protein Do Vegan Protein Powders Contain?

It varies depending on the recipe and which plants were used to make the powder. Some may provide complete proteins, while others are incomplete. It’s also fair to note that meeting your nutritional needs through the foods you eat is optimal, rather than relying on protein powders.

30. Spirulina

Spirulina is green or blue algae often sold as either a powder or supplement that you can add to water, smoothies, protein powder drink, or juices. It’s high in protein and amino acids. A similar supplement you may try is Sacha Inchi, a super seed from the rainforest.

How Much Protein Does Spirulina Contain?

Spirulina algae contain roughly 8 grams of protein per two tablespoons.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

Ensuring that you get enough protein is vital as it’s an indispensable nutrient for the body whether you’re vegan or vegetarian. It provides all the nine essential amino acids needed for us to be healthy, and if you don’t get enough, it will impact your health and body composition.

It’s currently recommended that you consume 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight [9]. This may look like the following:

  • 46 grams daily for the average sedentary woman.
  • 56 grams daily for the average sedentary man.

This is enough to prevent a protein deficiency, but you may need more or less depending on your age, activity level, muscle mass, and overall health.

Conclusion

The vegan lifestyle has increased in popularity in the 2010s, and there are now plenty of vegan protein foods available. This includes vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other foods, like nutritional yeast and Ezekiel bread.

Protein is an essential nutrient for the body, and before going vegan, it’s crucial to plan out your diet to ensure you get the best vegan experience. If you’re in doubt, you can always consult your doctor.

References

1. Tuso, Philip J, et al. “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.” The Permanente Journal, The Permanente Journal, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/.

2. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “Office of Dietary Supplements – Zinc.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/.

3. Harwood HJ;Chandler CE;Pellarin LD;Bangerter FW;Wilkins RW;Long CA;Cosgrove PG;Malinow MR;Marzetta CA;Pettini JL; “Pharmacologic Consequences of Cholesterol Absorption Inhibition: Alteration in Cholesterol Metabolism and Reduction in Plasma Cholesterol Concentration Induced by the Synthetic Saponin Beta-Tigogenin Cellobioside (CP-88818; Tiqueside).” Journal of Lipid Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8468523/.

4. Plangsombat, Nathsiree, et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Liposomes of Asparagus Racemosus Root Extracts Prepared by Various Methods.” Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, D.A. Spandidos, Oct. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5038339/.

5. S;, Sabater-Molina M;Larqué E;Torrella F;Zamora. “Dietary Fructooligosaccharides and Potential Benefits on Health.” Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20119826/.

6. Pourreza, Nahid. “Phenolic Compounds as Potential Antioxidant.” Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products, DOCS, Nov. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941893/.

7. Potera, Carol. “U.S. Rice Serves up Arsenic.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, June 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892142/.

8. Keen, Mohammad Abid, and Iffat Hassan. “Vitamin E in Dermatology.” Indian Dermatology Online Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4976416/.

9. G;, Wu. “Dietary Protein Intake and Human Health.” Food & Function, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26797090/#:~:text=Based%20on%20short%2Dterm%20nitrogen,weight%20(BW)%20per%20day.

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