The 20 Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

Proteins, also known as the building blocks of our body, are essential for the formation of our organs, muscles, tendons, and skin. A diet rich in proteins helps in elevating satiety, increasing muscle strength and promoting weight loss by reducing appetite.

A bit of diet-planning can be greatly beneficial in ensuring you consume more foods that have high protein content. Individuals on a diet rich in animal products like meat, eggs or fish are less prone to become deficient in proteins as animal proteins contain all the necessary amino acids in the right proportion.

Vegans and vegetarians, on the other hand, may find it challenging to meet the required protein intake through their diet. But the truth is, there are plenty of protein-rich foods that can be added to vegan diets and the combination of different vegan protein sources will ensure you get all the essential amino acids in adequate quantities.

Here are 20 protein food sources that can be easily included in the diet of vegans and vegetarians:

Lentils

Lentils

Known as an excellent source of protein, lentils find their way into different cuisines in the form of spicy gravies, salads, and soups. One cup of cooked lentils provides around 18 grams of protein and about half the quantity of dietary fiber essential for our body per day.

As lentils have a fairly good amount of gradually digested carbohydrates, they help in reducing your appetite thereby, aiding in weight loss. Being rich in prebiotic carbohydrates, lentils keep the gut healthy.

They provide high nutritive value by being a good source of antioxidants and minerals like manganese, folate, and iron. Adequate consumption of lentils is strongly related to reduced incidence of diabetes, cancers, heart problems and obesity.

Summary: Lentils offer a host of health benefits as they provide high protein and fiber levels. They are rich in a few essential minerals such as iron and manganese.

Soy Milk

Soy Milk

Soy milk, an excellent alternative to dairy milk, is another vegan favorite that provides around 7 grams of protein in a single cup (240ml). Calcium and Vitamin D are other essential nutrients in soy milk.

It can be used for a huge variety of baking and cooking preparations just like cow’s milk. It is highly recommended to choose only fortified packs of soy milk as Vitamin B12 is absent in soybeans and soy milk. If you need to keep a check on your sugar consumption, feel free to choose the unsweetened type.

Summary: Soy milk is a great plant-based substitute for cow’s milk and can be used in multiple ways.

Nutritional Yeast

nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast, available commercially in the form of yellow flakes or powder, is a very common ingredient in a vegan household. It is from a yeast species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Owing to its cheesy flavor, it is used to spice up different pasta preparations or in scrambled tofu. It serves as a great topping on popcorn and mashed potatoes.

Studies indicate that one ounce of nutritional yeast is packed with around 14 grams protein and about 7 grams of fiber. To counter nutritional deficiency, the fortified form of nutritional yeast is enriched with all members of Vitamin B complex including B12 and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc.

Summary: Nutritional yeast, a plant-based product, tastes like cheese and is packed with protein and fiber. It is rich in different nutrients like vitamin B12 when fortified.

Seitan

Seitan

Seitan, composed of gluten, is a great vegetable protein source. As it provides the look and feel of cooked meat, it is also called wheat meat.

Every 100 gm of seitan provides a whopping 25 grams of protein, and hence, has been ranked high in the list of richest protein sources for vegans and vegetarians. It also provides a good amount of selenium whereas calcium, phosphorus, and iron come in little quantities.

It is easily available in the refrigerated section of any health food store. You can prepare seitan on your own by washing off the starch from the wheat dough so that you are left with wheat gluten alone. It can be grilled, sautéed, roasted, and fried. Those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease should avoid it.

Summary: Seitan is chewy, meat-like, rich plant protein composed of wheat gluten. It is versatile as it takes the taste of what it is cooked with.

Tofu, Edamame & Tempeh

Tofu Edamame Tempeh

Tofu, edamame, and tempeh are high in vegetarian protein and are derived from soybeans. Therefore, they are a good source of all the essential amino acids to our body.

Tofu, with a texture quite similar to cheese, is prepared by coagulating soy milk. It doesn’t have its own taste but it takes up the flavor of the dish in which it is used as an ingredient.

Edamame is a shiny green soybean that is harvested just before it matures. They are filled with vitamin K, folate and plenty of fiber. Sweet and buttery, they are available as frozen, fresh, within-pod or separated-from-pod forms. They serve as a great appetizer in podded form, can be eaten raw or boiled or steamed before adding into various salads or soups.

Tempeh, popular for its unique nutty flavor, is a fermented form of soybeans that are pressed to form a thin cake. It is used in several culinary preparations. It is rich in probiotics, magnesium, phosphorus, and all B vitamins.

Being iron-rich, these soy derivatives provide calcium and at least 10 to 19 grams of protein in every 100 grams.

Summary: Tofu, edamame, and tempeh are soybean derivatives. They are a wholesome source of protein, provide fiber and other minerals and are used in different recipes.

Green Peas

Green Peas

Green peas or garden peas are packed with fiber and nutrients like folate, thiamine, phosphorus, copper, manganese, zinc and magnesium. They are a great source of almost all vitamins including A, K, B, and C.

Each cup of cooked green peas provides 9 gms of protein. They can be found in both fresh and frozen stores and are an essential ingredient in soups and other vegetable dishes.

Summary: Green peas provide a high dose of proteins along with essential minerals and vitamins. A cup of cooked green peas offers 9 grams of protein.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas

Chickpeas, another popular legume, is rich in vegetable protein. A single cup of cooked chickpeas provides a whopping 15 grams of protein.

It serves as a great source of potassium so it helps lower blood pressure. The rich fiber content makes it a must-have in a diabetic meal. High levels of iron and calcium help in strengthening bones. As it is rich in folate, selenium, manganese, and potassium does not contain cholesterol, it maintains good heart health.

Summary: Chickpeas is rich in plant protein and also helps in promoting overall health by providing fiber and important minerals and vitamins.

Chia Seeds

chia seeds on spoon

These tiny seeds are loaded with nutrients apart from being an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds come from a plant called Salvia Hispanica that is found in Mexico and Guatemala.

Every ounce of chia seeds supplies 4.4 grams of protein and 10.6 grams of fiber. They are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and various other plant-based compounds.

When put in water they swell up into a gel-like consistency. They taste bland so it can be added conveniently to different recipes like smoothies or puddings.

Summary: Apart from being a rich source of plant protein, chia seeds are a complete package of minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.

Wild Rice

Wild Rice

Wild rice, a white rice alternative, is proteinaceous as it provides about 7 grams of protein per cup of cooked wild rice which is almost 1.5 times more than rice types like basmati or brown rice.

As it has the bran layer intact, it is loaded with dietary fiber and minerals like magnesium, manganese, copper, Vitamin B complex and phosphorus.

A common concern with wild rice consumption is arsenic toxicity. Arsenic, a trace element, deposits in the bran of rice and can cause different health issues when consumed over a long time. Cooking wild rice after a thorough wash and boiling it in lots of water can help eliminate the arsenic levels by 57%.

Summary: Wild rice is a nutritious and tasty staple food as it is full of proteins and dietary fibers mainly. Washing thoroughly and boiling the rice helps avoid arsenic poisoning.

Spirulina

Spirulina

This is a kind of cyanobacteria that is extremely rich in nutrients. Spirulina is popular as it strengthens our immunity, reduces blood pressure and helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Consumption of merely 2 tablespoons can enrich you with about  8 grams of protein and provide you with about a fifth of your recommended daily dose of thiamine and iron and around 42% of the required per day dose of copper.

Magnesium, manganese,  riboflavin, potassium, and essential fatty acids are other essential nutrients spirulina is rich in. Besides, phycocyanin pigment is known for its anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Summary: Spirulina, a blue-green algae is packed with lots of proteins and minerals and is well known for its various health benefits.

Oats 

Oats

Oats are one of those delicious cereals that can make your diet protein-rich. If you have a cup of dry oats you are feeding your body with almost 8 gms of fiber and 12 grams of protein. Apart from that, you nourish yourself with a fair amount of minerals like zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and folate.

Although not a source of complete protein, oats are packed with proteins of superior quality as compared to those in wheat and rice. There are plenty of recipes that oats find a place in as an ingredient like pudding, pancake or simple nutritious dosa.

Summary: Oats is a quick way of infusing protein to your vegan diet and is loaded with various minerals and fiber.

Hemp Seed

Hemp seed, derived from the Cannabis sativa plant (more famous as the family of the marijuana plant), provides a range of health benefits but its importance is undermined owing to its origin. Due to the presence of only minute quantities of THC, it has no mind-altering effect at all.

The most interesting fact is that each ounce of hemp seed contains 10 grams of wholesome protein which is almost half more than what flaxseeds or chia seeds can provide. It provides healthy fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Studies reveal that hemp seed is helpful in treating skin ailments, has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces the symptoms of PMS. It has the potential to reduce the complications of menopause.

Sprinkle these small brown seeds on a bowl of your favorite breakfast cereal like oats or muesli or add it in your smoothie or salad.

Summary: Hempseed is a great source for complete protein that can be digested with ease and promotes health through a healthy ratio of fats.

Beans

Beans

Beans, a broad term used for podded seeds of legumes, serve as an excellent source of plant-protein. Black, pinto, kidney and navy are few examples of beans.

They are unique due to the high content of proteins they provide like pinto beans provide 9 grams of protein in every 100 gms. It is rich in micronutrients like folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, selenium and manganese.

Being low in fat, they help in weight loss or maintenance of body weight. Beans are must-haves if you love to have a small waistline. It also helps in reducing blood pressure.  They help reduce the risks of heart diseases and stroke.

Summary: Beans are an inexpensive means of achieving a decent amount of vegetable proteins and micronutrients such as magnesium, iron, copper, and selenium.

Sunflower, Sesame, and Poppy seeds

Sunflower seeds are extracted from the sunflower heads and can be consumed in roasted form or as an ingredient in multi-grain bread. Known for their nutty flavor,  these seeds provide 5.5 grams of protein per ounce. Having high quantities of selenium and Vitamin E, sunflower seeds protect the body cells from the attack of free radicals.

Sesame seeds are rich in dietary fiber and provide 25.5 grams of protein in every cup (144gram). Lignans and phytosterols (plant compounds in sesame) help in lowering triglycerides and bad cholesterol levels, thereby, help in maintaining a healthy heart.

Poppy seeds are other oilseeds derived from opium poppy plants but do not cause any of the harmful effects of opium. Every 100 grams provide 18 grams of protein and 19.5 grams of dietary fiber.

Summary: Sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds have high nutritional value owing to the decent amount of proteins and essential minerals they provide.

Spelt & Teff

Spelt Teff

Spelt and teff are called old or ancient grains. Spelt belongs to the wheat family but has a harder husk. Teff belongs to the family of lovegrass and is gluten-free, unlike spelt.

Every 100 grams of cooked spelt and cooked teff contains 5.5 grams and 3.9 grams of protein respectively. Both old grains have a fair amount of B vitamins, selenium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.

Spelt can be used in protein bars as it has a delicious nutty flavor whereas teff is more popular in baked food products like pancakes.

Summary: Spelt and teff are great plant-based protein sources and are rich in other essential micronutrients also.

Quinoa and Amaranth

Quinoa

Amaranth, native crop of Peru is a pseudocereal and hence, is gluten-free. It can be used as a thickener in soups and jellies or can be cooked just like pasta or rice or can be consumed as a crunchy snack. It provides 3.8 grams of proteins in every serving of 100 grams and is rich in manganese.

Quinoa, another pseudocereal, is loaded with protein and has adequate quantities of all the important nine amino acids. Every 100 grams of this gluten-free edible seed provides 4.4 grams of protein.

Both these pseudocereals are rich in dietary fiber and provide iron, magnesium, and phosphorus in decent amounts to the body.

Summary: Quinoa and amaranth have found their way in the diet of health-conscious individuals owing to their great nutritional profile.

Nuts and Nut Butter

Nuts

Nuts and nut butter are a delicious means of adding flavor and a good amount of protein and dietary fiber to anything.

Protein content ranges from 5 to 7 grams per ounce (28grams) depending on which nut is consumed like each ounce of walnuts and pistachios contain 6.7 grams and 5.8 grams of protein respectively.

Healthy fats, antioxidants, and dietary fiber are other beneficial products provided by nuts or nut butter. They are rich in calcium, iron, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamins E and B.

While purchasing nuts, try to get those that are raw as processing procedures like blanching or roasting strip them off from their nutrients. Pick natural versions of nut butter as the rest of them may be loaded with excess sugar, salt or oil.

Summary: Nuts and nut butter is a great source of vegan protein and is best when consumed in raw form.

Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread is produced from sprouts of organically grown legumes like soybeans and lentils and grains like wheat, barley, spelt and millet.

The protein and dietary fiber content are  11.8 grams each per 100 grams. Through sprouting the nutrition level of grains and legumes increases. There is a hike in amino acid content also like the content of lysine increases through sprouting thereby, improving the quality of proteins on a whole. When the grains and legumes are added together, the overall amino acid levels of the bread gets enhanced.

Another benefit of sprouting is that the dietary fiber, vitamins like C and E vitamins, folate, and beta-carotene rise in their levels whereas the content of gluten gets lowered.

Summary: Ezekiel bread is unique as it is prepared from sprouts of grains and legumes. It is filled with protein and dietary fiber along with several other vitamins and minerals.

Broccoli and Spinach

Broccoli, a high protein vegetable, is popular for its enormous list of health benefits. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Broccoli

Along with providing 2.8 grams of protein per 100 grams, broccoli is rich in glucosinolates that have anti-cancer properties. As broccoli is rich in flavonoids it imparts anti-inflammatory and antioxidants benefits as well.

Spinach, a leafy green vegetable, provides 2.9 grams of proteins per 100 grams and 2.2 grams of fiber every 100 grams. The phytochemicals within spinach contribute to its anti-cancer, anti-obesity, hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic properties.

Summary: Broccoli and spinach offer numerous health benefits along with a decent amount of proteins, fiber, and minerals.

Guavas and Bananas

Guava

Guava, known as a ‘superfruit’, contains 2.9 grams of protein in every 100 grams of the fruit. It is a rich source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A and serves as an excellent bulk laxative due to the high content of soluble fiber (5.4grams/100grams).

Bananas, known for their high potassium content, are also a great source of dietary fiber and protein. They contain 1.1 grams of protein and 2.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams of ripe and boiled bananas.

They contain folate and Vitamin C and are known for their antioxidant properties. The high potassium levels help in reducing blood pressure and promoting heart health.

Guavas and bananas can be sliced to be eaten raw or blended to prepare a smoothie. Bananas are used in different cakes, cookies or muffins recipes as well.

Summary: What can be an easier way of increasing protein intake than eating fruits like guavas and bananas regularly!

The Final Note

The importance of proteins is paramount to the smooth functioning of our body systems. The above-given foods are good sources of protein.

Though some of them may not have all the essential amino acids, adding different protein choices will help ensure you get the complete protein profile. Some examples are rice and beans, hummus which combines chickpeas and tahini. and whole wheat bread with peanut butter. Soy and hemp are two vegan sources of complete proteins as they offer you all the nine essential amino acids.

It is quite rare for vegans or vegetarians to develop severe protein deficiencies. Nevertheless, mindful tweaking of diet plans with the aim of maximizing protein intake can be extremely beneficial in maintaining good health.