Getting enough protein has probably been on your radar since you’ve started focusing more on improving your nutrition and fitness. It’s no secret that protein is essential to cell production and circulation, tissue growth and repair (read: muscle gains!), and managing weight and body fat percentage.
Alright, so we know that we need an adequate amount of protein to function. Easy, right? You’ve got your chicken breast for lunch, a burger for dinner, and your protein needs are taken care of. But what about those plant-based diets you keep hearing about?
When switching to a vegan diet, one of the first questions you might get is a concerned, “but how will you get your protein?!” Don’t fret. We’ve compiled some of the best vegan protein sources for you. In fact, all protein is actually initially made by plants.
Only plants have the ability to pull nitrogen from the air, break the molecules apart, and incorporate that nitrogen into the amino acids needed to make protein. Vegan protein sources have a much more favorable effect on our physiology because they’re not only loaded with protein, but also with fiber (something which many more people tend to be deficient in than protein), and vitamins and minerals.
So, how do vegans get protein?
It shouldn’t surprise you to read that switching to a vegan diet will not automatically make you the picture of health. You’ll still need to make sure that you’re getting enough of the macro (carbs, fat, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) you need to feel and look your best.
The good news is that this won’t be as difficult as you may have been led to believe. Think about it: you’ve been conditioned to think that eating meat is the best way to become strong. But what do those animals eat to reach their size and muscle mass? That’s right––plants!
Want to learn more about the lifestyle? Here's everything you need to know about veganism.
15 Best Vegan Protein Sources
Lentils are one of our absolute favorite high-protein vegan foods in terms of both versatility and flavor. These legumes come in an array of different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they typically cook quickly without much need for preparation. In addition to being quick and easy to prepare, they’re also affordable. They’re a great staple to keep on hand for soups, stews, and dips. Plus, the type of fiber found in lentils helps promote a healthy gut and can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Lentils are also rich in folate, manganese, and iron (which vegans tend to be deficient in).
Nutrition facts (1 cup, cooked): 17g protein, 14.5g fiber
Chickpeas are another great source of protein and fiber. They also contain folate and zinc which are important for helping the body effectively produce new cells and improving immune function. Another beneficial nutrient in chickpeas is selenium which helps the liver work properly, decreases inflammation as well as cancer-causing compounds in the body. Chickpeas can also make a delicious high-protein vegan breakfast.
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 11g protein per cup, 10g fiber
Crunchy Chickpea Breakfast Bowl
- ½ cups bell peppers (any color, chopped) (~2 ½ oz)
- 2 cups spinach leaves (raw) (~2 oz)
- 1 onion (medium sized) (~4 oz)
- 1 cup chickpeas/garbanzo beans (canned and drained) (~5 oz)
- 2 tsp sunflower seeds (~⅓ oz)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- a pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp paprika (dry)
- Wash spinach.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the spinach and toss to coat. Cook the spinach until it begins to wilt, about 4 minutes. Remove the spinach to a bowl, leaving remaining oil in the pan.
- Peel and chop the onion, and wash and chop the pepper.
- Add the onion, peppers and seasonings to the pan. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
- Drain the chickpeas and add to the pan, mixing together and cooking for another 3 minutes.
- Combine with spinach and top with sunflower seeds. Enjoy warm.
Other recipes with chickpeas
Beans (kidney, black, pinto, white) all contain high amounts of protein and are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, and antioxidants. These legumes can also help manage cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar, and help manage weight due to their blood sugar-regulating abilities. You’ll also find that beans are packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
Nutrition facts (1 cup, black beans): 7.2g protein, 8.3g fiber
Avocado Black Bean Burger
- 1 avocado (~7 oz)
- ¾ cups black beans (cooked and drained) (~6 oz)
- ½ onion (medium sized) (~2 oz)
- 3 Tbsp rolled oats (uncooked) (~¾ oz)
- 3 Tbsp sweet corn (cooked) (~1 oz)
- ½ tomatoes (~1 ¾ oz)
- 1 ½ oz cheddar cheese
- 3 Tbsp Greek yogurt, plain (full-fat) (~2 oz)
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cumin (dry)
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- ¼ lime (~⅔ oz)
- a tiny bit of salt
- a tiny bit of black pepper
- ⅓ tsp sesame seeds (~⅛ oz)
- Heat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Peel and roughly chop onion. Add to a blender with drained (unrinsed) black beans, garlic powder, chilli, salt, pepper, cumin, rolled oats and yogurt.
- Pulse gently to make a patty mixture, keeping a bit of texture. Add the sweet corn and blitz for a few more seconds.
- Spoon the mixture onto baking paper and flatten with a spoon or with your hands (tip: if you have too much mixture, make more than one patty). Put in the oven for 10-12 mins (or until cooked and slightly crisp). Add a slice of cheese over the patty for the last minute.
- Meanwhile, wash and slice the tomato.
- Carefully peel and slice avocado to make two “buns”. Stack ingredients as desired.
- Squeeze some lime over the avocado, then sprinkle some sesame seeds. Enjoy half or share with a friend!
Eating one cup of green peas satisfies 10% of your daily protein requirement. They also help regulate the pace of digestion and keep blood sugar levels steady. Peas are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant-rich nutrients, both of which help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. On top of that, the vitamin C found in peas is quite impressive, filling your body’s daily requirement.
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 7.8g protein, 7.4g fiberBonus: Green peas are a very environmentally friendly food due to their ability to take nitrogen gas in the air and convert it to usable forms.
Get more in: Traditionally peas are served up as a classic side vegetable to any meat or fish dish. But you can switch it up a bit and fill salads out with it, make a yummy green soup, or throw them into any type of rice dish or Indian-style curry. Peas are versatile and pair well with feta, mint, prosciutto, and potatoes.
Soybeans, also called edamame beans, come in green pods and are a staple in Japanese restaurants. Eating edamame fresh-cooked and removed from the shell is the best form of soy you can get since they haven’t been processed. They contain all of the essential amino acids along with calcium and iron.
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 22g protein, 7.6g fiber
Tofu is made from soybeans. It comes from the bean curd of the soy milk when the curds are formed into blocks. It can be soft, firm, or extra firm and sometimes contains added seasonings. Aim for fermented soy products like tofu, tempeh, and unsweetened soy milk, and avoid processed products such as vegetarian “meats.” Since soy tends to be genetically modified, it’s best to buy the non-GMO types.
Soy products are also a great source of protein and another excellent source of iron and calcium, which helps to carry oxygen in your blood and strengthen bones. Finally, soy is a good source of fiber, which can help lower levels of unhealthy cholesterol (LDL).
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 16g protein, 2g fiberHailing from Indonesia, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a unique texture and flavor of its own. Although it comes from the same source as tofu, the finished product is entirely different. Traditionally, people make tempeh by wrapping boiled soybeans in banana leaves before allowing them to ferment between 24 and 36 hours.
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 30g protein, 0g fiber
Sesame tofu and vegetable bowl
- 1 ½ cups broccoli (chopped) (~5 oz)
- 5 oz tofu (raw, firm)
- 1 tomatoes (~3 ½ oz)
- 1 ½ tbsp sesame seeds (~½ oz)
- 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- ¼ tsp curry powder (dry)
- 2 tsp soy sauce, without sugar
- Wash the broccoli thoroughly, pick and remove free leaves from it. Cut the broccoli crowns into small pieces.
- Cut tofu into small cubes. Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Film a skillet with olive oil and set over high to medium-high heat. Add the broccoli, tofu, curry powder and soy sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, for around 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, wash the tomato(es) and cut into cubes. Add to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes.
- Serve in a bowl topped with sesame seeds.
Whole grain breads
Whole grain breads (wheat, barley, spelt) contain excellent sources of protein. Make sure to read the label and look for versions that have 100% whole grain ingredients.
Nutrition facts (50g slice of 100% whole grain bread): 6g protein, 4g fiber
Want more grains? Check out some of our favorite high-protein grains.
Believe it or not, oats can do a whole lot more than fill you up. They’re also a good source of protein as well as other nutrients like zinc, phosphorus, folate and magnesium, and fiber––which is one reason they’re so filling.
Nutrition facts (1 cup, dry): 12g protein, 10g fiber
Oat Milk Recipe
- 1 cup of oats
- 4 cups of water
- A pinch of sea salt
- 2-3 dates (optional)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract or cinnamon
- Add the oats, water and sea salt to your blender.
- If you want to sweeten the blend, add the dates, cinnamon and vanilla, then blend for one minute.
- Use a sieve or cheesecloth to drain the pulp from the milk.
- Discard the pulp or add it to your compost.
- Transfer the oat milk to a pitcher.
- Store the milk in the refrigerator and enjoy within two to three days.
More recipes with oats
If you haven’t tried spelt yet, you’re in for a treat. Cultures around the world have been cultivating this ancient grain since around 5000 BC. It can be cooked and eaten like rice, turned into a flour or even be used as the base for bread and treats. And if you want to create super-healthy baked good, try sprouting it beforehand. Spelt is an excellent source of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
Nutrition facts (1 cup, cooked): 11g protein, 7.6g fiber
Pistachios contain the healthy fats, fiber, and protein needed to manage hunger between meals. They contain higher amounts of protein than other nuts including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, and walnuts. Pistachios are also a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants, making them helpful for decreasing inflammation and improving heart health.
Nutrition facts (1 oz.): 6g protein, 3g fiber
Almonds are another vegan protein source that can also help increase satiety, keeping you happy and full. They are rich in healthy fats (omega-3s) that protect your heart and boost brainpower.
Nutrition facts (1 oz.): 6g protein, 3.5g fiber
Thirsty? Here's how to make almond milk.
Walnuts contain healthy amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which all reduce blood pressure. They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that helps improve cardiovascular function (including blood pressure). Walnuts are exceptionally rich in antioxidants which are concentrated in the brown outer layer.
Nutrition facts (1 oz.): 2.5g protein, 1.5g fiber
Quinoa, which is often thought of as a grain, is actually a seed. It contains almost twice as much fiber and protein as most other grains. It’s also considered to be a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Try it in a salad or even as a breakfast cereal.
Nutrition facts (1 cup, cooked): 8g protein, 5g fiber
- ½ cup water
- ½ spring onion
- 1 whole egg
- ¼ cup quinoa (uncooked)
- ½ cucumber
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ¼ cup Greek yogurt, plain (low-fat)
- a tiny bit of salt
- 1 tsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- ¼ cup ground almonds/almond flour
- 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- ½ bell pepper
- 1 tsp curry powder (dry)
- 1 garlic clove
- Rinse the quinoa thoroughly. Place two parts water to one part quinoa in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Simmer the quinoa for about 15 minutes. Take the quinoa off the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Wash the bell pepper and spring onion, remove seeds from the bell pepper and chop finely with onion. Peel the garlic and chop it into small pieces.
- In a large bowl, mix quinoa, ground almonds, egg, spring onion, bell pepper, curry powder, half of the parsley and half of the garlic.
- Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Form patties out of the quinoa mixture. Heat until golden brown (around 6 minutes) and flip carefully. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- In another bowl, mix greek yogurt with the remaining parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Wash the cucumber and cut into thin slices.
- Serve the patties on a plate, top with Greek yogurt dip and enjoy with fresh cucumber.
Quinoa curious? Read more about the health benefits of quinoa.
Pumpkin seeds are a gold star of seeds because they contain protein alongside a healthy dose of zinc, a mineral that helps improve immunity. Pumpkin seeds are full of antioxidants which can help prevent certain types of cancers and disease.Nutrition facts (1/2 cup): 14g protein, 24g fiber
Don’t forget to add these high-protein vegetables to your next dinner. Even though vegetables may not seem to be high in protein compared to other foods, many of them actually contain substantial amounts of protein relative to their calorie content and are high in many other nutrients, making them a valuable addition to any meal.