Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians
- Finding the best protein sources for vegans and vegetarians can be tricky, since many of the foods highest in protein are animal-based, like meat and eggs. But don’t despair!
- There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian-friendly high-protein foods out there that will help you get all the protein you need to perform your best at the gym, build muscle mass, and stay healthy as you move toward your health goals.
In Best Protein Sources Legumes are a great source of vegetarian protein because they contain fiber, which keeps you full longer.
Beans like lentils or black beans also have a decent amount of protein per serving, at about 5 grams each. In fact, 1 cup of cooked beans has 15 grams of protein—making it an excellent vegetarian source!
Other plant-based sources include quinoa (8 grams per 1 cup), nuts (about 7 to 8 grams per 1/4 cup), seeds (4 to 5 grams per 3/4 tablespoon) and soy products like tofu (7 to 8 grams per 1/2 cup).
While not quite as high in protein as meat, dairy or eggs, these sources can be part of a healthy diet plan if you’re looking to increase your daily intake.
2) Non-Dairy Milk
Almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk—the number of non-dairy milks has grown exponentially in recent years. And it’s easy to see why:
Traditional dairy products can be hard to digest (especially if you’re lactose intolerant), while a glass of almond or soy milk is rich in protein, easy on your stomach and low in calories.
Just one cup provides 8 grams of protein. But how do they stack up nutritionally? Which type is right for you? It all depends on your personal taste preferences and dietary needs.
For example, unsweetened almond milk contains 60 calories per cup, compared with 90 for coconut milk and 100 for soy.
The same goes for carbs: Coconut milk contains 14 grams per cup, compared with 7 for soy and just 1 gram for unsweetened almond.
On top of that, coconut milk is also higher in saturated fat than other options at 5 grams per serving vs. 2 or less in most other types of non-dairy milks.
Soy milk contains 4 more milligrams of calcium than unsweetened almond but just as much vitamin D as coconut and almost twice as much potassium as either option.
3) Nuts & Seeds
While they may not be as high in protein as animal products, nuts are a great source of healthy fats. Almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts and flaxseeds are among your best bets.
Seeds like pumpkin seeds can also make a good snack. These contain all essential amino acids, making them your body’s go-to source for muscle repair.
However, only eat about two ounces at a time because your body does not need that much protein at once—unless you’re training hard. You should aim to consume between 15-20 grams of protein from nuts each day.
Just don’t add salt to them—most canned or pre-packaged nuts have plenty already added to them! Instead add spices like cinnamon or cayenne pepper for flavor.
4) Whole Grains
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, adding whole grains to your diet can be very beneficial. Whole grains contain all three parts of grain: endosperm, germ, and bran.
Grains are part of a healthy diet regardless of whether you’re following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle because they provide essential nutrients like protein, fiber, B vitamins (including B12), iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium.
Some good sources of whole grains include brown rice (wild rice is also great), quinoa, wheat berries, buckwheat groats and bulgur. For any vegetarians or vegans who do consume dairy products (that includes lactose-free milk products), opt for low-fat versions instead of full-fat ones.
Tofu is made by curdling soy milk, pressing it into a solid block, and then cooling it. Tofu comes in several different textures: silken tofu has a creamier consistency than soft or firm varieties.
Different forms of tofu can be used in many ways: marinated, baked, fried (like eggplant), or as an ingredient in main dishes.
Common products that include tofu are soy milk, veggie burgers, miso soup, or as an alternative to meat such as with Tofurkey . . . some vegans enjoy using tofu because it provides protein without animal products.
Quinoa is a good protein source for vegans and vegetarians. While it doesn’t provide as much protein as beans, soy or nuts, it does provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.
A single cup of cooked quinoa contains around 5 grams of protein. Quinoa also makes an excellent substitute in recipes that call for rice. It can be used to make pilafs, soups and even desserts.
It is gluten-free and has a mild flavor making it easy to incorporate into many different dishes. You can find quinoa at most grocery stores either in bulk bins or packaged on its own.
7) Heshi/Edamame Beans Section: 8) Seitan
Seitan, or wheat gluten, is one of those foods that some people are really into—and others really aren’t. You may have had it if you’ve ever visited a Chinese vegetarian restaurant.
This vegan protein source packs a whopping 18 grams of protein per serving. That might not seem like much compared to other meat substitutes on our list—but it’s actually pretty impressive for a vegetable product.
And with just 120 calories in each serving, seitan makes a good addition to any diet. It’s also an excellent source of iron and calcium.
Just be sure to check your labels when buying pre-made seitan products: Many brands add extra ingredients (like sugar) which can increase your calorie intake significantly. Instead, try making your own seitan at home!
9) Soy Yogurt, Kefir, Etc.
Although soy is technically a legume, and not a grain or dairy product, many vegetarians can still enjoy soy products in moderation.
Tofu, tempeh, meat substitutes (like veggie burgers), and even most commercial soymilk are excellent sources of protein.
And don’t forget plain old soy yogurt! It contains about 8 grams of protein per cup. Soy products can help you meet your body’s daily requirement for an essential amino acid called tryptophan.
This amino acid is essential to proper functioning of your nervous system because it aids in regulating serotonin production—which can help alleviate depression, anxiety, insomnia, as well as other conditions.
10) Other Vegan Proteins – Oats, Nutritional Yeast, Chia Seed, Spirulina
Many vegans also consume dairy and eggs, but non-vegans can often take advantage of these options, too. Oats are a particularly popular choice as they offer both complex carbohydrates that provide energy over time, as well as protein in its natural form.
Nutritional yeast is also a great option because it contains B vitamins (including B12), protein, fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, zinc, iron and even selenium.
Chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) which may help lower your risk of heart disease. Spirulina is another great source of plant-based protein: