19 Complete Vegan Protein Sources

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In our society, meat is synonymous with protein. So, it comes as a surprise to many people to learn that many plants are loaded with protein. Vegan protein sources are often superior to meat in many ways, such as containing more fiber and less (or no) cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats.

True, meat often does have more protein than vegan protein sources. If you are a bodybuilder who is benching 300 pounds in training, then this might be an issue for you. But, most of us don’t need that much protein. A typical woman needs 46 grams of protein per day, and men need about 56 grams. And if you happen to be a vegan bodybuilder, then that’s what vegan protein powders are for (which most omnivore bodybuilders also rely on).

Remember, if you eat too much protein, it just gets stored as fat!  Obesity anyone???

Your protein RDA varies depending on your body weight. It is calculated as:

0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per kilo of body weight (use the higher amount if you are in training; if you are in hardcore weight training, then aim for 1.3 to 2 grams per kilo of body weight)

In the sample meal plans at the following link, you can see how easy it is for vegans to get protein. But, it is still a good idea to educate yourself about vegan protein sources and try to get at least one good vegan protein in per meal. For example, I always put nuts in my morning cereal, seeds on my salads at lunch, and have a protein like tofu, lentils, or seitan with dinner. This approach not only ensures I get enough protein on the vegan diet, but also helps me feel full for longer.

In order to stay healthy, we need to consume ALL of the essential amino acids. This has led some to freak out and think they need to focus on eating vegetarian foods which are complete proteins. Really, it is pretty easy to get all of your amino acids so long as you eat a variety of foods: the amino acid lacking in one protein source will likely be present in another protein, so you end up getting all those essential aminos. No, you probably don’t need to follow any complicated system of combining proteins! Just make sure to eat a different type of protein at every meal (like some nuts in your morning cereal, some seeds on your lunch salad, and a heaping portion of plant protein for dinner).

See: How vegans get protein (in pictures)
Read: Top vegan sources of protein

Just in case you are still worried about getting all your amino acids, here are the vegetarian complete list of protein sources.

how
Click the image to see examples of how vegans get protein

Best Vegan Protein Sources

There is no one “best” vegan protein source, as each protein will have its potential downsides, like being low in fiber or certain nutrients. But, overall, here are the best vegan sources of protein.

1. Seitan

If we are talking about pure protein content, then seitan comes out at the top. It varies by brand, but a 100 gram serving (3.5 ounces) packs in about 20 to 30 grams of vegan protein. That’s about half your protein requirements for the day. Just be warned that seitan is not a complete protein as it lacks tryptophan. It also doesn’t have much in terms of vitamins and minerals.  And, obviously, seitan is the antithesis of the gluten-free diet.

seitain

2. Quinoa

Quinoa is technically a seed, though we eat it like a grain. At 8 grams of protein per cup cooked, it is a great source of protein. It is also a complete protein, meaning that it has all of the amino acids our bodies need. Quinoa is also loaded with iron, calcium, and other minerals, which makes it not only a great vegan protein source, but a vegan superfood.

quinoa

3. Whole Grain Products

If there is just one change you make to be healthier, let it be switching from white flour to whole-grain products. To make white flour, manufactures throw out the bran and germ parts of the grain and use just the endosperm. You are left with pretty much nothing more than empty carbs (which wreak havoc on your blood sugar and make you fat and hungry for sweets). By contrast, whole grains are loaded with fiber, nutrients like iron, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and protein. Yes, flour products can be a great vegan source of protein! Just look at these stats:

  • Whole-Grain Flour: 1 cup = 16-24 grams of protein (vs. 13 grams in white flour)
  • Whole-Grain Bread: 1 slice = 3-9 grams of protein (vs. 2 grams in white bread)
  • Whole-Grain Spaghetti: 1 cup cooked = about 7 grams of protein (which weirdly is about the same amount of protein as in regular spaghetti)

4. Soy Products

There are dozens of soy-based products you can be eating, and most are loaded with protein. Tempeh is one of the best vegan protein sources as it has about 22 grams of protein per 4-oz serving (plus lots of calcium, iron magnesium, and has the health benefits of being fermented). Tofu is a great vegan protein (10 grams of protein per half cup), and edamame makes for a great protein-packed snack (17 grams of protein per cup). Just watch out when choosing refined soy products like mock meats as these are often made with a creepy chemical process that involves the neurotoxin hexane (read about vegan processed foods here). Also, try to buy organic soy products whenever you can as soy is usually Genetically Modified.

soy

5. Beans

Depending on the variety, beans usually have around 15 to 20 grams of protein per cup, cooked. Don’t just limit yourself to the standard beans, like kidney, cannellini, garbanzo, and pinto beans. Mix things up by eating mung beans, adzuki beans, and fava beans.

beans

6. Lentils

I personally prefer lentils over beans as a cheap vegan protein source. They are much faster to cook (I buy mine dry and they are dirt cheap), don’t give you as much gas, have a much more appealing texture than beans, and are a lot more versatile. Lentils have about 17 grams of protein per cup cooked plus are a great source of iron. Remember there are many different types of lentils, with varying tastes and textures, so keep your dishes exciting by mixing it up!

lentils

7. Seeds

All vegans should probably work on incorporating seeds into their daily diets. Seeds aren’t just a great vegan source of protein, they also have nutrients which can be a tougher to find in the vegan diet, like calcium and iron. Some of the healthiest seeds you can eat include hemp seeds, chia seeds, pepitas, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. Pepitas are my favorite seeds as they pack in 9 grams of vegan protein per ounce and 23% of the RDA for iron. Plus, they aren’t as expensive as some superfood seeds like hemp.

seeds

8. Nuts

Want awesome skin and hair? Nuts are rich in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant which protects your tissues from damage by free radicals. Nuts also have the benefit of being loaded with protein and can fill you up. A handful of nuts in my morning oatmeal fuels me all the way through my midday workout. My top pick is almonds. They’ve got 6 grams of protein per ounce, and 6% of the RDA for calcium.

nuts

9. Peas

Peas are a great vegan protein source. Cooked green peas gives you 8 grams of protein per cup. Plus, they have the benefit of being super cheap and are available at just about every supermarket year round.

peas

10. Oats

Oats are another cheap vegan protein source. 1 cup of dry oats has 26 grams of protein and 1 cup of oatmeal has about 6 grams of protein. Oats are also a great vegan source of iron, so chow down on these for breakfast or enjoy a guilt-less oat treat like some vegan oatmeal cookies.

oats
Oats and nuts make a great protein-packed vegan breakfast!

11. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are one of the most nutritionally compete foods in the world. If you are worried about getting all your essential amino acids, then buy some hemp protein powder and eat it in your cereal or smoothies every day. Hemp is fairly expensive if you buy it in a health food store. I found bulk Organic Hemp Powder on Amazon

hemp


12. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds finally are getting the attention they deserve (at least for something other than use on pets). Aside from being a complete protein, chia seeds are great vegan sources of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber and potassium. Compared to hemp, chia is pricier as a source of vegan protein — but it tastes better and works really great in recipes like chia pudding.

chia


13. Pumpkin and Squash Seeds (Pepitas)

Throw these tasty seeds onto a salad, into mashed potatoes, or just eat them raw. They will give you all 9 amino acids plus TONS of iron (1 ounce = 23% of iron RDA), zinc (14% RDA) and lots of other minerals.

pepitas


14. Soy

Soy really is a miracle food. It can be turned into just about anything from milk to fake veggie burgers and is loaded with lots of nutrientsincluding all your amino acids. Just be wary of processed soy products because they often contain soy isolate. Soy isolate is made with a process that involves boiling soy in hydrochloric acid for days until it turns into a cousin of MSG. By the time you enjoy it as a soy dog or fakin bacon, it has little nutritional value left.

soy

15. Quinoa

There is good reason that quinoa has been hyped up as a superfood in the past few years. It is one of the only grains in the world which is a complete protein — and it is LOADED with protein. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein. It also has loads of iron (1 cup = 15% RDA), zinc, calcium, and numerous other minerals.

quinoa

16. Buckwheat

Buckwheat, also called kasha, often gets overlooked in light of quinoa as a source of protein. But this tasty (and cheap) grain is loaded with all 9 essential amino acids! Youll also get tons of fiber, iron, and a good amount of zinc too.

buckwheat

17. Spirulina

While you probably arent going to eat enough of it daily to meet your protein RDAs, spirulina is a vegan complete protein. One ounce of raw spirulina delivers 2 grams of complete protein – not to mention 44% of your iron for the day! I like to add spirulina powder to smoothies. If you really hate the taste of spirulina, you can take it in supplement form. I like the spirulina powder from NOW because it is non-GMO, organic, and 100% vegan (. The one from Nutrex Hawaii is also good, especially because it is one of the few spirulina powders which is sourced and produced in the US and not China ().

spirulina Spirulina will turn your smoothies bright green!

18. Eggs

There is a lot of controversy about whether eggs are healthy or not. When it comes to protein though, eggs do deliver. Theyve got all your essential amino acids. Note that both the white and the yolk are complete proteins.

19. Greek Yogurt

The European version of yogurt (which includes lots of fat and is traditionally eaten sour instead of sweet) is full of protein. It also has lots of healthy bacteria for your gut and is a great source of calcium. If you are vegan, check out these vegan sources of calcium instead.

Go Green With The Right Proteins

Leading a healthy lifestyle, be it vegetarian or vegan, comes with ovation and criticism. We’ve all experienced those pesky meat-eater questions, especially the ones pertaining to protein intake. Out of nowhere people become nutritionists and are concerned for your protein intake safety. Well, I am here to debunk the false-hearted, who may need to hear that “I told you so” when it comes to plant-based proteins and nutrients.

Proteins & Amino Acids

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Going Green Proteins — Hemp Seeds

Proteins and amino acids are essential in aiding in the growth and strength of the body from the inside out, including muscle and bone strength, along with boosting the immune and nervous systems. Amino acids come in a variety of 22 different types with only 9 being essential; leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and histidine. Of the many food options high in protein and aminos, the top choice plant sources are hemp, chia and sesame seeds.
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Omega-3’s

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Going Green Proteins — Chia Seeds

All protein and aminos aside, there are other vital sources of nutrients that are essential like healthy sources of fat, which come to us by way of Omega-3’s. There are 3 categories of Omegas; EPA, ALA, DHA. The least crucial of the 3 is ALA—our bodies don’t naturally produce them, but we can find them in many foods like hemp, chia and flax seeds, and oils. The 2 crucial Omegas are EPA and DHA, which are both found in fish and seaweed. EPA is used to reduce inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol, while DHA is categorized as a component of gray matter found in the brain, retina, cell membrane and the testis and sperm; which makes it also useful in preventing and treating prostate cancer.
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Vitamin B12

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Going Green Proteins — Quinoa

After protein intake, B-12 is another heightened topic of discussion. It is a vital nutrient that comes from micro-organisms and synthesizes and regulates the brain, nervous system, and metabolizes cellular function by converting carbohydrates into glucose that naturally energizes the body. You will hear people mention manmade supplements as an option, however natural sources come from spirulina, non-dairy milk, and fortified grains like hemp, quinoa, and amaranth.
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Vitamin D2 & D3

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Going Green Proteins — Mushrooms

When it comes to the discussion about Vitamin D intake, there is a debate between D3 and D2. Neither D3 nor D2 are biologically active within us and only become active through ingestion or absorbed through the skin. Of the two D2 is the healthiest option, unlike D3, which is derived from animals and manmade supplements; D2 can easily be obtained through foods like mushrooms, non-dairy milks, fortified grains, and UV rays of the sun.

The most important thing to consider when choosing any nutrients, whether they’re proteins, aminos, omegas or vitamins, is to use natural food-based options before resulting to manmade supplements. Perineal plant-based sources like hemp and chia are considered two of the greatest sources of proteins because they contain nutrients similar to those found in the body. Both hemp and chia contain the protein, amino acids, omega-3’s, B12, Vitamin D & K, along with calcium, iron and zinc, making them the greatest sources to implement in a vegan, vegetarian lifestyle.

Image credits:
Grain: By Jkwchui (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Seitan: Work found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/prideandvegudice/3612413551/ / undefined (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/)
Oatmeal: Work found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelhathaway/6835999820 / undefined (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Work found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/prideandvegudice/3725538350 / undefined (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/)
Chia pudding: Work found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/beaujohnston/14673942364 / undefined (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)Breakfast
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Diane Vukovic

Diane Vukovic is a vegan mom, health nut, and kitchen diva. When she's not deducing veggie nutritional facts, she's probably dancing crazily with her daughter or traveling somewhere in Europe.