The 10 Best Vegan Protein Sources
Eating vegan or vegetarian is becoming a more common dietary choice, and that means more and more people have questions about getting enough nutrients—like protein—in their plant-based diet. Here's the good news: It's easy to meet your daily protein requirements as a vegan. The secret? It's all about balance.
Part of maintaining balance with a vegan diet is to avoid becoming a "junk food vegan," which may land you with low energy and a protein deficiency. For example, a diet consisting purely of frozen vegan waffles and chips won't supply enough protein (or practically any other nutrient) for your body's energy needs. But if you take full advantage of a plant-based diet and fill your plate with colorful produce, hearty grains and satisfying spuds, then you should have no problem meeting your daily protein goal.
How to Determine If You're Eating Enough Protein as a Vegan
Those who aren't sure they're meeting their protein goals can easily figure that out. Download a food tracking app, such as Cronometer or MyFitnessPal, and record your regular diet for several days. Keep an eye on your protein intake and see if you're hitting your daily number. In general, the recommendation is to get 10-35% of your total calorie intake from protein, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That's about 200 to 700 calories for a 2,000-calorie per day diet.
If you find you aren't getting enough protein, try incorporating more of the suggested foods below into your meals. Remember, if you have another reason to need extra protein, such as being pregnant or following a rigorous training schedule at the gym, then it's a good idea to consult a registered dietitian and pay closer attention to tracking your protein intake.
Best Vegan Proteins
Free of dairy, eggs and meat, this extensive guide highlights some of the best vegan protein sources available. You will see some classics on this list, like beans and tofu, as well as often-overlooked foods like green peas and wild rice that also pack some serious protein punch.
Try These: Healthy Vegan Dinner Recipes
Pictured Recipe: Beefless Ground Beef
The ubiquitous vegan protein is often associated with processed patties or mystery "meat" loaf, but it doesn't have to be. Soy protein can be a part of a healthy plant-based diet. Foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame and even soy milk are great options for adding protein to your diet. Try cooking up a stir-fry featuring tempeh or tofu, steaming some edamame for an easy appetizer, or topping your morning cereal with soy milk.
According to a 2016 review in Nutrients, many of the health benefits of eating soy are associated with 2-4 servings of soy foods a day. Here is how much protein is in common soy foods, per the USDA:
2. Nutritional Yeast
Don't let nutritional yeast's scientific-sounding name throw you off. Affectionately nicknamed "nooch" by the vegan community, it's an inactive yeast that is yellow in appearance and has a unique cheesy, umami-rich taste. It has 4 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, according to the USDA, and as a bonus, is a great vegan source of vitamin B12.
Most food sources of vitamin B12 are animal sources, so many vegans need to supplement. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you're getting enough if you eat a vegan diet. Enjoy nutritional yeast in sauces or dressings, sprinkled on your next pasta dish or tossed into a bowl of popcorn.
Pictured Recipe: Dan Dan Noodles with Seitan, Shiitake Mushrooms & Napa Cabbage
Seitan is a staple in plant-based diets. It is created with vital wheat gluten, the main protein in wheat, which results in a chewy and hearty texture that really mimics meat in some dishes. It's important to note that because seitan is made with wheat gluten, it is not gluten-free.
A 3-ounce serving of seitan contains 20 grams of protein, per the USDA. You can make seitan yourself by purchasing vital wheat gluten or find it precooked next to the tofu in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket or natural-foods store.
4. Whole Grains
Pictured Recipe: Quinoa Avocado Salad
Even though we typically think of them as carbohydrate sources, whole grains can sneak extra protein into any meal. Many varieties are naturally high in protein—not to mention they deliver fiber, vitamins and minerals to your diet. To boost your daily grain intake, start your day with a warm bowl of oatmeal, keep lunch fresh with a quinoa salad or end your evening with wild rice-stuffed peppers for dinner.
Here's a short list of whole grains and how much protein they contain, per the USDA. All measurements are for cooked grains.
5. Green Veggies
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Gnocchi & Brussels Sprouts with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Often overlooked when it comes to protein, green vegetables offer more than just vitamins and minerals. Foods like spinach, Brussels sprouts and green peas all contain decent amounts of protein to balance out your plate. Not to mention, greens are antioxidant-rich, full of fiber and low in calories. Try adding cooked spinach to pasta, mixing green peas into a curry or roasting up Brussels sprouts for an irresistible crispy side.
Here's a sampling of green veggies and amounts of protein for each, per the USDA. All measurements are for cooked vegetables.
6. Sprouted Bread
Pictured Recipe: West Coast Avocado Toast
Sprouted grain bread, also sometimes called Ezekiel bread due to the popular brand name, is a whole-grain baked good that has a hefty amount of protein too. Depending on the brand you purchase, one slice contains 4 to 5 grams of protein, per the USDA. That means that if you make a sandwich with two slices of bread, you're already starting with a whopping 10 grams of protein before you even add the fillings. Other ideas for using sprouted-grain bread include toast, breakfast strata or breadcrumbs.
Pictured Recipe: Loaded Sweet Potato Nacho Fries
The humble spud isn't always thought of being a health food due to its many unhealthy incarnations (looking at you, french fries and loaded potato skins), but it's actually a wholesome addition to your diet. Just one large russet potato with the skin contains 8 grams of protein, per the USDA—that's more potassium than a banana—and it's a good source of fiber. Other varieties, like red or sweet potatoes, don't contain as much protein (7 grams and 2.5 grams respectively), but they still can contribute to your daily intake goal. Try potatoes of all types mashed, roasted, baked or scalloped. Here's a recap of protein amounts in potatoes, according to the USDA:
Try These: Healthy Potato Side Dish Recipes
A go-to for vegans looking to bulk up their protein intake, legumes are the budget-friendly base of many plant-based dishes. The category of legumes includes beans and lentils, both powerhouses when it comes to plant protein. Different lentil varieties can contain up to 18 grams of protein per cup (cooked), while beans can range between 10 and 18 grams per cup depending on the type. Use lentils as taco filling, in chili or as a curry base. Beans are extremely versatile; some of our favorite ways to use them are blended into hummus, formed into fritters or as baked potato toppers.
Here's a brief rundown of lentils and beans and how much protein they contain, per the USDA. All measurements are for cooked legumes.
Seeds aren't just for the birds. From sesame seeds whirred into tahini to flax seeds sprinkled onto oatmeal or baked into bread, seeds can be a rich source of protein and fiber in a vegan diet. Flax, chia and hemp are also good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats. Seeds are an especially nice protein option for anyone with nut allergies. Spread sunflower-seed butter on toast, blend tahini into a salad dressing or make a chia seed pudding.
Here are a few seeds and seed butter, including how much protein each contains, per the USDA:
No plant-based pantry would be complete without several varieties of nuts, which are equally easy to snack on or to incorporate into recipes. The American Heart Association recommends eating 1.5 ounces of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butters several times a week. Although the serving sizes are minimal, each contains a hefty dose of protein. Easy uses include packing up pre-portioned baggies of almonds for grab-and-go snacks, whisking peanut butter into sauces and adding a sprinkling of walnuts to your next salad. Here's a sampling of nuts and nut butter and how much protein each contains, per the USDA:
Try These: Healthy Nut & Seed Recipes