Becoming a vegan can be a life-changing decision. But the common notion that vegans do not get enough protein is a myth. How else would vegan athletes like Austin Aries (wrestler), Alexander Dargatz (bodybuilder), Carl Lewis (Olympic sprinter), Cody Elkins (racquetball player) and many more look so fit and amazing?
For sure, you too can build muscle and have athlete-level fitness if you know where to source your vegan protein from. Read on to know about the 15 best vegan protein sources, how to consume, and how much to consume, which will help you love your new diet more than you love animal sources of protein. But first, let us do some fact check about protein and its requirements. Swipe up!
Why Do We Need Protein?
We need protein for our body to function properly. Proteins are complex molecules made of amino acids and play a vital role in the body’s structure, function, and regulation of various physiological processes (1). They are an essential macronutrient and make up about 17% of the body weight.
They help in various functions like metabolism, immunity, molecule transportation, cell growth and differentiation, muscle, nails, and hair growth, skin repair, and transmission of nerve impulse (2).
But what is a complete protein and why is it important? Find out next.
What Is A Complete Protein And Why Is It Important?
A complete protein is a source of protein that contains all the nine essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total, and joining different/same amino acids in various combinations creates different proteins as per the body’s requirement.
Depending on whether our body can synthesize amino acids or needs an external source of food for a particular amino acid, the amino acids are divided into essential and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are those that we need to acquire from a food source, and non-essential amino acids are those that can be synthesized in the body (3). There are nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot synthesize.
Both essential and non-essential amino acids are required for proper functioning of the body (4). So, how much protein do you actually need per day to not be deficient in protein? Scroll down to find out.
What Is The Recommended Amount Of Protein Per Day?
The recommended amount of protein per day is 0.8 g – 1.6 g of protein per kg body weight (5). Protein intake depends on whether you lead a sedentary or an active lifestyle. Most athletes consume more protein than DRI as they are highly active and need more protein (6).
So, if you weigh 120 pounds or 54.4 kg, you will consume 43.5 g protein or about 10% of the daily calories you consume per day (7). However, those who are highly active can consume about 1-2 g protein per kg body weight.
Now that we have a basic idea about proteins, functions, and daily recommended amount, let me reveal the list of 20 best vegan protein sources that you can. Take a look.
15 Best Vegan Sources Of Protein
- 18 g protein per 1 cup
Lentils are great sources of plant protein. They are also good sources of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and niacin, and minerals like folate, calcium, zinc, potassium, and selenium (8). They also have antioxidant and anticancer properties, help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, reduce inflammation, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and control blood pressure (9).
You can consume the following lentils:
- Split pigeon peas (toor daal)
- Pink lentils (masoor daal)
- Mung beans (hare moong)
- Indian brown lentils (whole masoor daal)
- Black gram lentils (whole urad daal)
- Husked and split black gram (urad daal)
- Split chickpeas (chana daal)
It is best to consume mixed lentils to get different nutrition from each one of them. Also, add some veggies and make lentil soup with minimum spices and salt.
2. Tofu And Tempeh
- 10 g protein per ½ cup of firm tofu
- 15.5 g protein per ½ cup of tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are soy products and a great way of providing protein, vitamins, and minerals to your body (10), (11). Soy contains a good amount of polyphenols, phytoestrogens, phytic acid, and saponins, which have a lot of health benefits (12).
Consume them by grilling or pan-frying and adding them to salads and sandwiches or making curry.
- 21 g protein per 1 ounce
Seitan is the main wheat gluten and closely resembles cooked meat. Hence, it is also known as wheat meat. It is also a great source of calcium, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and iron (13).
You can cook it like meat and consume it. However, avoid it if you have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
4. Seeds And Nuts
- 1-5 g protein per 1 tablespoon
Nuts and seeds like hemp seeds, almonds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, melon seeds, walnut, and pistachios are great sources of protein and healthy fats. They are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals, and contain minerals like selenium, calcium, iron, zinc, and potassium. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (14). Here’s a list of nuts and seeds that you can consume:
- Hemp seeds – 5g protein per heaped tablespoon
- Pumpkin seeds – 4g protein per tablespoon
- Sunflower seeds – 6 g protein per ounce
- Ground linseed – 3 g protein per tablespoon
- Almonds – 1 g protein for every six almonds
- Walnuts – 3 g protein for every three whole walnuts
- Cashew nuts – 3 g per 10 cashew nuts
- Pistachios – 1 g of protein per 10 pistachios
Add them to your breakfast bowl, smoothies, and salads or have a handful of them when you want to snack.
- 8 g protein per 1 cup
Kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, sprouting beans, green beans, pinto beans, peas, white beans, and soybeans are loaded with proteins, vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids (15). Consuming them regularly can help reduce belly fat and LDL cholesterol and protect you from diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (16). Black beans have shown to lower the GI of the food to which they were added (17).
Add two types of beans along with lentils and make a delicious soup for lunch or dinner. You can also make kidney bean chili and enjoy it with a small cup of veggies and brown rice.
6. Ezekiel Bread
- 12 g protein per 100 g
Ezekiel bread is sprouted bread made of whole grains and legumes. It is loaded with proteins, dietary fiber, vitamin B1, niacin, phosphorus, and magnesium.
However, Ezekiel bread is not gluten-free and should be avoided if you are sensitive to gluten and suffer from Celiac disease. Others can consume it like regular bread as toast, sandwiches, etc.
7. Amaranth, Quinoa, And Teff
- 4 g protein per 100 g amaranth
- 4 g protein per 100 g quinoa
- 4 g protein per 100 g teff
Quinoa and amaranth belong to the amaranth family and have similar nutritional values. Teff belongs to the grass family and looks like quinoa, but the grains are smaller. All the three grains are pseudocereals that are gluten-free and loaded with proteins, vitamins, dietary fiber, minerals (18), (19), (20). They are low in calories and contain essential amino acids like leucine and threonine.
You can consume amaranth, quinoa, and teff by cooking them with other veggies and tossing in some toasted nuts and herbs. And your meal is ready!
- 11 g protein per 100 g
Edamame is soybeans in the pod. Edamame is a Japanese word that means stem beans, as they are sold with the stem. Apart from being a good source of proteins, edamame is also rich in vitamins C, K, and folate and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc (21).
It is mostly eaten boiled or blanched and can be added to salads. It is a good substitute for rice. You can also have it as a healthy snack.
- 3 g protein per 100 g
Bulgur is a cereal made from pre-boiled hulled kernels of wheat, rye, oats, and barley. It is commonly eaten in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. Bulgur is a good source of folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein, and dietary fiber (22), (23).
You can make bulgur and lentil salad, bulgur pilaf, and bread.
- 57 g protein per 100 g
Spirulina is a filamentous, edible microorganism that is rich in protein. It is also a good source of vitamin E, vitamin B complex, antioxidants, gamma-linoleic acid, trace elements, and a number of bioactive compounds. The protein-rich and nutrient-dense spirulina has antibacterial, antiviral, antidiabetic, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties (24).
You may consume 1 g- 4 g spirulina daily BUT first, get your doctor’s approval about the dosage.
- 3.5 g protein per ½ cup
Wheatberry is the whole wheat with the endosperm, bran, and kernel. And that’s why wheat berry has higher nutritional value. Whole grains consumption was found to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (25).
You can make salads and pilaf with wheat berry.
- 4 g protein per 1 cup
Barley is a cereal grain that belongs to the grass family. It is a good source of vitamins A, K, folate, riboflavin, and choline, and minerals like selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus. Consuming barley can help lower blood glucose levels and protect you from diabetes type 2. It also boosts the immunity, alleviates fatigue, promotes proper bowel movement, reduces inflammation, and has the potential to fight various types of cancer (26), (27).
Consume barley water, add it to soups or salads, or make barley risotto.
- 17 g protein per 100 g
Oats are cereal grains, enjoyed in the form of oatmeal, instant oats, and rolled oats. They are a rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help build lean muscle mass and reduce inflammation. They are also loaded with folate, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron (28).
Make a filling oatmeal bowl for breakfast or lunch. You can also add oats to smoothies.
- 23 g protein per 1 cup
Buckwheat is neither wheat nor derived from wheat. It is related to sorrel and rhubarb, and like amaranth and quinoa, buckwheat is a pseudocereal and gluten-free. It is a great source of niacin, folate, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium (30). Buckwheat helps lower blood glucose and blood lipid content and may help treat Alzheimer’s disease (31).
You can add it to salads, pilafs, and soups.
15. Vegan Protein Powder
- 20 – 30 g protein per serving
There are many vegan protein powders available on the market. They are made of various plant protein sources. There are also gluten-free and GMO-free vegan protein powders available that will help you build muscle if you like to bulk up and strengthen your bones and muscles.
So, you see, you can get an adequate amount of protein from plant sources. Mix various plant-based proteins to get complete protein, and you will start to feel healthier than ever and be as fit as someone who consumes animal protein. The best part is, you will save the animals and the planet. Get your vegan protein sources today and start making a difference. Cheers!
- “What are proteins and what do they do?”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Protein Structure and Function”, Biochemistry, W.H. Freeman
- “Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids”, UT Health Science Center
- “Protein”, FDA
- “How much protein do you need every day?”, Harvard Medical School
- “Lentils Nutrition Facts”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Nutritional and health benefits of pulses.”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Tempeh Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Tofu Nutrition Fact & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Vital Wheat Gluten Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Nuts and seeds”, Better Health Channel, Victoria State Government
- “Beans Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans.”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Glycemic Response to Black Beans and Chickpeas as Part of a Rice Meal: A Randomized Cross-Over Trial”, Nutrients, MDPI
- “Amaranth grain, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Quinoa, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Teff, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Edamame Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Bulgur, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Bioactive healthy components of bulgur.”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Peanut Butter, without salt Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Peanuts as functional food: a review”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Tree nut, peanut, and peanut butter intake and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer: The Netherlands Cohort Study”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals.”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Therapeutic value of barley in the management of diabetes.”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Preventive and Therapeutic Role of Functional Ingredients of Barley Grass for Chronic Diseases in Human Beings”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Oats Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Wholegrain Oat Intake on Weight Management and Glucolipid Metabolism in Overweight Type-2 Diabetics: A Randomized Control Trial”, US National Library of Medicine
- “Buckwheat Nutrition Facts & Calories”, SELFNutrition Data
- “Buckwheat phenolic metabolites in health and disease.”, US National Library of Medicine
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