Despite popular opinion telling you otherwise, plants are absolutely packed full of protein. Importantly, many of them also deliver many other nutritional benefits alongside protein as well as often being much lower in calories, making them really healthy alternatives to animal-based protein sources.
Since plant-based diets are predominantly made up of, you guessed it, plants, and all plants contain some level of protein, there are indeed plenty of vegan protein sources for you to get your daily requirements from.
In this article, I am going to take you through 11 of the best high-protein vegan foods that are proven to deliver strong doses of protein to your body, without the need for any animal sources of protein.
Why trust my article on high-protein vegan foods? Well, as a regular gym goer and weightlifting enthusiast, I consume quite a lot of plant-based protein every day. Much of it I consume without even having to try. I gain strength and size by eating a purely vegan diet with a variety of plants! So, I can show you just how easy it is to get enough protein on a vegan diet.
For each plant-based protein source, I mention below I talk about what it is, and how much protein it contains and I will also provide a protein-rich vegan recipe suggestion to eat it with. Before I take you through the 11 high-protein vegan foods I will go into more detail about protein itself.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of amino acids, the building blocks of the body. Our body requires it for various important reasons, mainly for maintaining and repairing the body, supporting our immune system, transporting molecules and providing energy. More specifically, our body requires protein for the following reasons:
- Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, including muscle, bone, skin, hair, and nails.
- Many enzymes and hormones in our body are made up of proteins, which play crucial roles in various biological processes.
- Antibodies that help protect the body from infections are made up of proteins.
- Some proteins act as carriers and help transport molecules in the body, such as oxygen and iron.
- When carbohydrates and fats are not available, the body can use protein as an energy source.
- Proteins help regulate the balance of fluids in the body, preventing swelling and oedema.
How much protein do we need?
The amount of protein that an individual needs can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, body weight, and physical activity level.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for healthy adults. This means that a person who weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds) would need about 56 grams of protein per day.
However, if you work out regularly like me, be it bodybuilding, weightlifting, cardiovascular exercises, or even yoga, then you may want to consider upping your protein intake to ensure your muscles recover effectively. This also includes pregnant or breastfeeding women and individuals recovering from illness or injury. It is recommended that endurance athletes consume 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, while strength athletes may need up to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (see scientific source).
You can easily increase your plant-protein intake by including more of the high-protein vegan foods mentioned in this article, or you can try out one of these incredible vegan protein powders, or snack on a vegan protein bar.
It’s important to note that while protein is an essential nutrient, consuming too much protein can also have negative effects on health. High-protein diets can lead to dehydration, kidney damage, and an increased risk of heart disease. Therefore, it’s recommended to consume protein in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Vegan versus animal protein
In order to fully understand the different sources of protein, plant-based and animal-based, you first need to know more about amino acids, the chains of molecules that make up a protein.
Our bodies are able to utilise 20 different amino acids to build protein, 9 of which are considered essential, meaning our bodies can’t produce them themselves. Therefore, we need to get these 9 proteins from our diets. The other 11 can be made in our bodies using the 9 essential amino acids.
Animal-based sources of protein are highly recommended due to them all being ‘complete’ proteins, meaning they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t get complete proteins from plant-based sources though. There are a few plants, like peas, quinoa, amaranth, spirulina, and nutritional yeast (all of which I’ve mentioned below), which are considered complete proteins. Moreover, by eating a varied diet of nutritious whole foods listed below, you’ll be able to eat a mix of incomplete proteins that make up a whole. For instance, you can eat rice and beans and you’ve got a complete protein. Simple really!
Therefore, despite many claims that we should eat animals in order to get complete proteins in our diet, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t get them in a vegan diet.
Here are 11 high-protein vegan foods
The following list highlights the best sources of protein in plant-based food sources. You should aim to eat a variety of these every week to ensure you get a good range of amino acids in your diet.
Beans are a type of legume that are widely consumed all around the world. You get many different types of beans including kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans, butter beans, and chickpeas.
Beans contain significant amounts of protein, making them a great choice for vegetarians and vegans looking for plant-based sources of protein. They are also low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, which makes them an excellent option for people who want to maintain a healthy diet.
In addition to their protein content, beans also contain a variety of important nutrients, including iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. They are also rich in antioxidants, which can help to protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation.
Additionally, they are an affordable and versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of dishes, making them an excellent addition to any healthy diet.
- Nutrition: Between 7-10g protein per 100g
- Serving suggestion: Use black beans to make this delicious vegan breakfast tray bake
Lentils are another type of legume that are a great source of plant-based protein. They are small, lens-shaped pulses that come in a variety of colours, including brown, green, and red.
Lentils are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, and protein, which makes them an ideal food for vegetarians and vegans. One cup of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, which is comparable to the protein content of animal-based products.
Lentils are also a good source of iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. They are low in fat and calories, making them an ideal food for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy diet.
Additionally, they are an affordable and versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of dishes, such as soups, stews, salads, and curries.
- Nutrition: Between 8-9g protein per 100G
- Serving suggestion: Use brown lentils to make this vegan mushroom ragu recipe
Quinoa is a seed that is often used as a grain and is native to South America. It has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its high nutritional value.
Quinoa is a complete protein source, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body needs to function properly. If you eat quinoa regularly then you can feel safe in the knowledge that your body is getting a good source of complete protein.
In addition to its protein content, quinoa is also a good source of fibre, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. It is also low in fat and calories, making it a healthy addition to any diet.
Eating quinoa has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, lower cholesterol levels, and better digestive health. It is also gluten-free, making it an ideal food for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Quinoa is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups, and stir-fries, and can even be used as a substitute for rice or pasta.
- Nutrition: 4g protein per 100g of cooked quinoa
- Serving suggestion: Serve quinoa on the side of this vegan green curry recipe in place of white rice
4. Tofu & tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are both soy-based products that are popular sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans. They technically fit within the ‘bean’ category above, but as popular products in of themselves I have given them their own section.
Tofu is made by curdling soy milk and pressing the resulting curds into blocks. It is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, including stir-fries, soups, and salads.
Tempeh, on the other hand, is made by fermenting cooked soybeans with a specific type of mould. This process gives tempeh a slightly nutty flavour and a firm texture that holds up well in stir-fries and sandwiches.
Both tofu and tempeh are rich in protein, which is essential for maintaining and building muscle mass. They are also low in saturated fat and high in fibre, making them a healthy choice for people looking to maintain a healthy diet.
In addition to their protein content, tofu and tempeh are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, and magnesium. Eating these soy-based products has been linked to a range of health benefits, including lower cholesterol levels, improved heart health, and reduced risk of certain cancers.
- Nutrition: 10g of protein per 100g of tofu and 20g of protein per 100g of tempeh
- Serving suggestion: Use tofu or tempeh to create this vegan katsu curry recipe
Peas are a type of legume that are high in protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to a balanced diet.
Peas are considered a good protein source because they contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein that our bodies cannot produce on their own. This makes peas a “complete protein” source, similar to animal-based proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
In addition to being a good source of protein, peas are also low in fat and calories, making them a healthy addition to any diet. They are also high in dietary fibre, which can help regulate digestion and promote feelings of fullness, making them a good food choice for weight management.
Overall, peas are a nutritious and versatile food that can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, salads, stews, and curries. Whether eaten fresh, frozen, or canned, peas can provide a host of health benefits, including improved digestion, increased satiety, and a boost in protein intake.
- Nutrition: approximately 7g of protein per 100g
- Serving suggestion: Add a handful of peas into this creamy vegan mushroom pasta recipe for an extra protein boost
Oats are a type of whole-grain cereal that are commonly consumed for breakfast in granola, porridge and muesli. They are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, and are considered to be a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Oats are a good protein source because they contain a high proportion of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Although oats do not contain all nine essential amino acids, they do contain a higher quality protein than other grains that are commonly consumed, like rice and wheat.
In addition to being a good source of protein, oats are also high in dietary fibre, which can help regulate digestion, promote feelings of fullness, and reduce cholesterol levels. Oats are also rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, which are essential for overall health and well-being.
Oats can be consumed in a variety of ways, including as porridge, baked goods, or in smoothies. They are also available in different forms such as rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and instant oats, depending on the desired texture and cooking time.
- Nutrition: 10g protein per 100g
- Serving suggestion: Use oats to make this nutritious vegan chia pudding for breakfast
7. Nuts & seeds
Nuts and seeds are plant-based foods that are rich in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are often used as healthy vegan protein snacks or added to recipes to provide a nutritious boost of flavour and texture. Examples of nuts include almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and brazil nuts. Examples of seeds include hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
Nuts and seeds are a good protein source because they contain a high proportion of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Different types of nuts and seeds have different amounts of protein, but they are generally considered to be a good source of plant-based protein. For example, almonds, pistachios, and peanuts are some of the nuts that are particularly high in protein, while seeds such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are also good sources of protein.
In addition to being a good source of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in healthy fats such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and heart health. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc, which are essential for overall health and well-being.
Nuts and seeds can be eaten on their own as a snack, added to salads and other dishes for added crunch, or used as a plant-based protein source in recipes such as nut butter, hummus, and energy bars.
- Nutrition: Around 3-5g protein per serving, depending on the nut or seed
- Serving suggestion: Use peanut butter in this vegan peanut butter cookie recipe for a protein-packed sweet treat
Grains are a type of plant-based food that are a staple in many cultures around the world. They are typically rich in carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are important for a healthy diet.
Other than quinoa and oats, which I gave a special mention in this article above, examples of grains include barley, spelt and amaranth.
Grains are a good protein source, although the amount of protein they contain can vary depending on the type of grain.
One of the reasons grains are a good protein source is that they contain a significant amount of the essential amino acids that our bodies need to build protein. While not all grains contain all nine essential amino acids, they can be combined with other protein sources, such as beans or nuts, to provide a complete protein. For example, you can add some beans to your rice to make a complete protein.
In addition to protein, grains are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, which provide energy and help regulate blood sugar levels. They are also high in dietary fibre, which can help promote feelings of fullness and aid in digestion.
Overall, grains are a nutritious and versatile food that can be consumed in many different forms, including bread, pasta, cereal, and rice. Incorporating a variety of grains into your diet can help ensure you are getting a range of important nutrients, including protein.
- Nutrition: Between 4-8g protein per 100g serving depending on the grain
- Serving suggestion: Use spelt to make this delicious spelt bread loaf with hemp seeds
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is considered to be a vegan superfood due to its high nutritional content. It is particularly known for being a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Spirulina is a good protein source because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. In fact, spirulina is one of the most protein-dense foods available, with up to 70% of its dry weight consisting of protein. This makes it an ideal protein source for vegetarians and vegans, as well as anyone looking to increase their protein intake without consuming animal products.
In addition to protein, spirulina is also rich in other important nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and vitamins B and C. It also contains antioxidants such as phycocyanin, which can help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
Spirulina is available in powder, tablet, and capsule form, and can be easily added to smoothies, juices, or other recipes. However, it is important to note that spirulina can be contaminated with toxins if it is not grown and harvested in a controlled environment, so it is important to purchase it from a reputable source. Additionally, individuals with certain health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases or phenylketonuria, should consult with a healthcare provider before consuming spirulina.
- Nutrition: 4g of protein per 1 tbsp of spirulina
- Serving suggestion: Blend a tablespoon of spirulina into your smoothie
10. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is a type of yeast that is grown specifically for its nutritional benefits. It is a popular ingredient in vegan and vegetarian diets due to its savoury, cheese-like flavour and high protein content.
Nutritional yeast is a good protein source because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It is also low in fat and carbohydrates, which makes it an ideal protein source for people looking to reduce their intake of these nutrients.
In addition to protein, nutritional yeast is rich in other important nutrients such as B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is important for nerve function and the formation of red blood cells. It also contains trace minerals such as zinc, copper, and selenium.
Nutritional yeast is often used as a seasoning or condiment and can be added to a variety of dishes such as salads, soups, and pasta. It is also commonly used to make vegan “cheese” sauces or sprinkle on top of popcorn.
It’s important to note that nutritional yeast is different from brewer’s yeast or active yeast, which are used in baking and fermentation. Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of yeast, meaning it will not cause bread dough to rise. Additionally, while nutritional yeast is generally considered safe for most people, individuals with yeast allergies or sensitivities should avoid consuming it.
- Nutrition: 8g of protein per 15g serving of nutritional yeast
- Serving suggestion: Sprinkle some nutritional yeast on top of your favourite pasta dishes or use it to create these cheesy vegan scones
Vegetables are a diverse group of plant-based foods that are rich in a variety of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. While vegetables are not typically considered to be a primary protein source, many vegetables do contain significant amounts of protein.
Some examples of vegetables that are good sources of protein include:
Spinach: Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that is a good source of protein, as well as vitamins A, C, and K, iron, and antioxidants. It is also low in calories and can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes, such as salads, smoothies, or sautéed as a side dish.
Broccoli: Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that is high in protein, fibre, vitamin C, and other important nutrients such as folate and potassium. It is also low in calories and can be eaten raw or cooked, making it a versatile addition to many meals.
Brussels sprouts: Brussels sprouts are another cruciferous vegetable that are high in protein, fibre, and vitamin C. They are also a good source of folate, vitamin K, and antioxidants.
While vegetables may not be as high in protein as other protein sources like meat, poultry, or fish, they are an important part of a healthy diet and can contribute to overall protein intake. In addition, many vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre, which can help promote feelings of fullness and aid in weight management.
- Nutrition: Approximately 1-3g of protein per serving depending on the vegetable
- Serving suggestion: Use broccoli to make this vegan ramen recipe or fill up this vegan quiche recipe with spinach
Frequently asked questions
Here are some FAQs regarding the best vegan sources of protein.
How can a vegan get 100g of protein a day?
Getting 100g of protein a day on a vegan diet is easily achievable.
Overall, I suggest you make sure to incorporate a good variety of plant-based sources of protein in your diet, including complete proteins like quinoa, nutritional yeast, peas, and amaranth. On top of this, prioritise eating high-protein snacks like nut butter and roasted chickpeas.
Here is an example of what you can eat to get 100g of protein every day:
- Breakfast: Oat and chia pudding topped with almond butter – 10g
- Snacks: A handful of nuts and seeds – 10g
- Drinks: Smoothie with protein powder and spirulina – 24g
- Lunch: Tempeh sandwich with wholegrain bread – 26g
- Dinner: Vegan bean & lentil chilli served with quinoa and nutritional yeast – 30g
Why do vegans struggle with protein?
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible for vegans to meet their protein requirements through a well-planned and balanced diet. However, some vegans may struggle to obtain enough protein in their diet due to a variety of reasons.
One reason is that many plant-based protein sources are not as dense in protein as animal-based sources. For example, one cup of cooked lentils contains around 18 grams of protein, while a 3-ounce serving of chicken contains around 28 grams of protein. This means that vegans may need to consume larger quantities of plant-based protein sources to meet their protein requirements. But considering that plant-based food is lower in calories, this is a lot easier to do!
Another reason is that some vegans may not be aware of the wide variety of plant-based protein sources available to them, and may rely too heavily on one or two sources. For example, if a vegan only eats tofu and beans for protein, they may struggle to meet their protein requirements if they do not eat enough of these foods.
Finally, some vegans may not consume enough calories overall, which can make it difficult to meet their protein requirements. This can be especially true for those who are new to a vegan diet and may not be familiar with the caloric density of plant-based foods.
In summary, while it is possible for vegans to meet their protein needs, some vegans may struggle due to the lower protein density of plant-based sources, a lack of awareness of plant-based protein sources, and not consuming enough overall calories.