Incorporating protein into a vegan diet can be difficult. Although many individuals resort to consuming processed foods to imitate their previous diet when transitioning to a vegan diet, we suggest an alternative method of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates are typically the main macronutrient for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Fortunately, foods high in complex carbohydrates usually also contain a significant amount of protein.
To determine the appropriate amount of protein to add in your meal plan, it’s beneficial to consult a dietician or nutritionist. You can increase your protein intake by consuming small portions of nuts, seeds, protein powder, and plant-based meat substitutes. Additionally, ensuring that you consume adequate healthy calories throughout the day can also fulfill your protein needs. We have provided a list of vegan protein sources that can further enhance your protein intake.
Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
Soybeans are the source of tempeh, tofu, and edamame, which are all vegan protein sources derived from soy. A 4oz serving of tofu or tempeh offers 14 grams of plant-based protein. Tofu is available in various types like silken, soft, firm, and extra firm, depending on what you want to prepare.
Are you planning to blend it into a smoothie or use it in a sauce? Silken tofu has the perfect texture to create a smooth and silky consistency while still containing high levels of protein. For dishes where tofu is the main ingredient, firm or extra firm tofu is ideal.
Tempeh is often sold in blocks and can be crumbled, cooked in pieces, or chopped and used in a variety of recipes. Tofu and tempeh are excellent vegan protein sources because they absorb the flavors of the ingredients they’re cooked with. Both tempeh and tofu are also rich in calcium and iron, which may be challenging to obtain on a plant-based diet.
A cup of shelled edamame contains approximately 17g of protein (0.5P) and 15g of carbohydrates (1S) due to its bean nature. Edamame can be included in meals in various ways, such as eating them as a standalone snack or adding them to stir-fries. Roasting edamame with soy sauce and garlic is also an excellent option for snacking.
Edamame is an excellent source of protein that contains all the necessary amino acids. Additionally, it is loaded with fiber, antioxidants, folate, and Vitamin K.
You can eat one of the best sources of plant-based protein by consuming the adaptable soybean. Soy contains various nutrients, including iron, magnesium, and several B vitamins, in addition to its high-quality protein content.
In earlier times, soy was a topic of dispute due to insufficient research conducted on animals and test-tubes claiming that it may lead to higher chances of cancer and other health issues. Nevertheless, the majority of credible scientific studies conducted on humans regarding soy postulate that it is secure, and in certain instances, may lessen the likelihood of disease, rather than elevate it.
Eating soy seems to be more advantageous than detrimental, particularly for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
For those on a plant-based low-carb diet, soy is a beneficial source of protein as it has a high content of protein and a low amount of net carbs, which sets it apart from other legumes. It is advisable to opt for non-highly processed soy products like edamame, tofu, soybeans, tempeh, rather than soy protein powders and other similar products.
The following information lists the protein percentages, protein grams, fiber grams, and net carb grams per serving of soy. Please note that serving sizes differ depending on the specific food.
- Tofu (extra firm):
Protein percentage: 48%
24 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of net carbs per 8 ounces (240 grams); approximately one cup
- Canned black soybeans:
Protein percentage: 46%
21 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of net carbs per 4 ounces (120 grams); approximately two-thirds cup
Protein percentage: 40%
20 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of net carbs per 3.5 ounces (100 grams); approximately two-thirds cup
- Edamame (green soybeans):
Protein percentage: 40%
19 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of net carbs per 5.5 ounces (155 grams); approximately one cup
Seitan, also called vital wheat gluten, is a fantastic choice if you want a vegan protein with a texture comparable to ground meats. It is a high-protein food that you can use just like ground meat for both taste and consistency. A single serving of seitan is highly nutritious. You’ll receive 21 grams of protein in a 4oz serving.
Beans, Lentils, Legumes
Although commonly thought of as a starch or carbohydrate, beans, legumes, and lentils are also fantastic sources of vegan protein. Whether you’re perusing vegan recipes or planning meals, you’re likely to come across one of these three foods. They not only offer protein, but also fiber, helping to improve cholesterol levels, gut bacteria, and lower blood sugar. A single serving of beans, legumes, or lentils provides 14 grams of protein. Examples of different types of beans include chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
½ cup Nuts or ½ cup Hummus
If you’re seeking an unconventional protein source to add to your vegan diet, a smart option would be incorporating hummus and nuts. These can act as high-protein snacks between meals, with both hummus and nuts containing 15g of protein in a ½ cup serving. It’s important to keep in mind that both nuts and hummus possess higher fat content compared to other vegan protein alternatives, so it’s best to be conscientious about how frequently you consume them.
Sold as a yellow flaky powder, nutritional yeast is an inactivated yeast strain that has a cheese-like taste, making it a popular addition to dishes among vegans and vegetarians. The powder can be sprinkled on top of pasta, used as a base for vegan cheese sauce, or even enjoyed as a popcorn topping. Nutritional yeast is a complete source of protein when fortified and contains significant amounts of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and all B vitamins, including B12, which is often insufficient in a vegan diet. For every two tablespoons, nutritional yeast contains eight grams of protein.
Spelt and teff, which are ancient grains, have a protein content of approximately 10-11g per cooked cup, making them superior in terms of protein when compared to other ancient grains. They are both a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. However, it’s worth noting that these grains are rich in carbohydrates, with each grain containing approximately 51g of carbs for every cup of spelt or teff that’s cooked.
Amaranth and quinoa, similarly to spelt and teff, are gluten-free ancient grains that offer 8-9 grams of protein per cooked cup. Both of these grains are complete protein sources and contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Peas, being part of the legume family, possess many resemblances to lentils and beans. To illustrate, they offer comparable minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Peas can also act as a source of vegan protein, which can provide a feeling of fullness and satisfaction.
Most beans contain more protein per serving than peas, which have lower protein percentages. Moreover, peas are rich in net carbs. If you are on a keto or very low-carb diet, it is best to consume peas in moderation, while those on a plant-based lifestyle may enjoy them but in small portions.
The protein percentages and quantities of protein, fiber, and net carbs in one cup (160 to 190 grams) of cooked beans and lentils are provided below.
- Split peas
Protein percentage: 37%
16 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber, and 25 grams of net carbs per serving
- Green peas
Protein percentage: 35%
9 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber, and 16 grams of net carbs per serving
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Protein percentage: 26%
15 grams of protein, 12 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of net carbs per serving
Although often associated with nuts, seeds originate from a variety of sources such as vegetables, fruits, and specialty crops like chia and hemp, making them a diverse group of plants. Notably, wild rice and “pseudocereals” such as quinoa and buckwheat are considered seeds in a technical sense.
Fiber and various minerals such as iron and zinc can be obtained from seeds.
Although the majority of seeds contain high levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates, wild rice, quinoa, and buckwheat are the exception with high levels of carbohydrates and low levels of fat. Nonetheless, all seeds have low protein content and do not offer a significant protein amount per serving.
You can still fulfill your daily protein requirements through seeds, but be sure to consume a sufficient amount of vegan foods with high protein from the rest of the categories featured in this guide.
The protein percentages and grams of protein, fiber, and net carbs per serving of seeds are listed below. However, please note that serving sizes may differ, so please refer to the specific food item.
- Hemp seeds, hulled (also called hemp hearts):
Protein percentage: 22%
10 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber, and 1.5 grams of net carbs per ounce (30 grams); approximately three tablespoons
- Pumpkin seeds:
Protein percentage: 22%
9 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of net carbs per ounce (30 grams); approximately one-quarter cup
- Sacha inchi seeds:
Protein percentage: 20%
8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of net carbs per ounce (30 grams); approximately one-quarter cup
- Chia seeds:
Protein percentage: 18%
5 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of net carbs per ounce (30 grams); approximately two tablespoons
Protein percentage: 16%
8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 34 grams of net carbs per 6 ounces (185 grams) of cooked quinoa; approximately one cup
- Wild rice:
Protein percentage: 16%
7 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of net carbs per 5.5 ounces (164 grams) of cooked buckwheat; approximately one cup
Protein percentage: 16%
6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 29 grams of net carbs per 5.5 ounces (168 grams) of cooked buckwheat; approximately one cup
- Sunflower seeds:
Protein percentage: 14%
6 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of net carbs per ounce (30 grams); approximately one-quarter cup
How much protein do you need?
When following a plant-based or vegan diet, it is crucial to give priority to protein consumption as your body finds it more difficult to digest and absorb most plant-based proteins compared to animal proteins.
What is the recommended amount? To give a rough idea, women of average height and build should consume a minimum of 100 grams of protein daily, while men should aim for 140 grams. If you are taller than 6 feet (183 cm) or a woman taller than 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm), or if you lead a highly active lifestyle, try to consume more protein. Conversely, if you are shorter or have a smaller frame, aim for less protein.
Plant foods are listed in this guide along with their protein percentages and grams per serving. It should be noted that the figures provided are average values, which may differ due to factors such as food processing, preparation, and other variables. Additionally, there may be variations in protein percentages and gram amounts among different brands of prepared foods.