15 Plant-Based Sources Of Protein That Might Surprise You

As long as people keep wondering about it, we’ll keep talking about protein. The topic is a never ending black hole of conversation when it comes to it vegan diets, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. A vegan diet can contain a lot of protein sources, and you don’t have to worry about developing a protein deficiency or experiencing a lack of variety in meals (check out these High protein vegetarian recipes). All whole foods contain protein (we’ll repeat that later, because it’s worth repeating), and here are the best plant-based protein sources to meet your daily needs and satisfy the relentless questions from carnivores about where vegans get their protein.


How much protein do you need?

Protein deficiency is usually not a problem in first world countries. This is not to say that protein is not important, as it is absolutely essential for optimal life and health, but industrialized nations tend to focus too much on an issue they don’t really affect. America’s obsession with protein is a bit like Southern Californians worrying about hypothermia — it’s not entirely improbable during a cold January night, but totally improbable. For the vast majority of people, it is not necessary to calculate your protein intake, but if you are curious, it is very easy to calculate. The USDA’s recommended daily allowance is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To calculate your protein needs, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, and the result is the number of grams of protein you need each day. For example, a 130-pound woman should aim for 46.8 grams of protein per day, and a 170-pound man should aim for 61.2 grams of protein per day. Note: This formula is for the “average” individual – someone who may exercise occasionally but not at a high intensity nor most days of the week. Those who are more active — who do moderate to high-intensity exercise at least four days a week — should aim for 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is the general guideline – to really improve performance, a vegan dietitian can help adjust your exact protein needs based on your activity level.


Are plant proteins complete proteins?

Complete versus incomplete protein is not discussed much in the vegetarian community other than in response to carnivores trying to make plant proteins appear inferior to animal protein. Most people – whether they eat meat or not – don’t care how much complete versus incomplete protein they consume on a daily basis, but once someone becomes a vegetarian, it becomes a major concern for those looking at it from the outside. Distinguished Doctors – including Dr. Neil Barnard, Dr. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Michael Greger emphasized the fact that as long as one eats enough calories and changes their diet, they will meet their protein needs regardless of whether they consume complete or incomplete protein.

If you’re suddenly wondering whether the foods you enjoy are whole or incomplete, here’s what you need to know. Protein is made up of 20 different building blocks known as amino acids. The human body can make 11 of these amino acids on its own, but the other nine must be obtained from food sources. These nine building blocks are called essential amino acids. Not all foods contain all nine amino acids. These are called incomplete proteins. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. With the exception of foods like soy, hemp, quinoa, chia seeds, pea protein, and buckwheat, most plant foods are lacking in a few essential amino acids. This does not mean that they are inferior quality sources of protein, because people eat a variety of foods, and incomplete protein sources naturally complement each other. Think rice, beans, hummus, pita bread, peanut butter sandwiches… the list is endless. Eat a varied diet, eat enough calories to maintain your body, and you don’t have to worry about complete versus incomplete protein.


Best sources of plant protein

Every whole food contains protein, but some have much more than others. This list isn’t exhaustive—you’ll need a textbook to list them all—but here’s a list of some of the best high-protein plant foods.

1 seitan

This staple vegetable is made mostly of vital protein-rich wheat gluten. There are 18 grams of protein in a 2-ounce serving of seitan. Many plant-based meats rely on seitan for its chewy texture, but you can also buy it in its original form and season it to your taste (try Upton Naturals). Those who enjoy DIY can make their own seitan fairly easily. This is a recipe If you are into it.

2 Bean

Beans are not a single food – they are a category. While many stick to just a few varieties, there are dozens of types of beans that all have a unique taste and texture — not to mention a hefty amount of protein. Lima, fava, black, pinto, kidney, cannellini, and garbanzo beans contain 12 to 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. Although not called beans, black-eyed peas are high in protein, weighing in at 13 grams per cup.

3 tofu

Protein content in tofu It fluctuates a bit, as it depends on the type of tofu you buy. The firmer the tofu, the higher the protein content, since firm tofu is more concentrated than softer options. For example, a three-ounce serving of firm tofu has nine grams of protein, while silken tofu hovers around four grams. Several brands (such as Wildwood) also offer a high-protein variety, which contains upwards of 14 grams of protein.

4 tempeh

Finish your bacon – it’s rich in protein. Also made with soy, tempeh naturally contains a ton of protein – a three-ounce serving contains 18 grams! This crumbly, meaty vegetable protein source is an excellent base for a good seasoning. Try it yourself with this Smokey Tempeh Peanut Satay Recipe.

5 protein powder

Although it is not a whole food, there is no denying that plant-based protein powder will help you reach your daily quota. Most plant protein powders contain between 15-20 grams of protein. If you are looking for a complete protein product, choose soy or pea protein based brands like 22 day feeding or novix.

6 Spirulina

This dried algae does more than turn bowls of smoothies a beautiful blue color – it’s a highly concentrated protein source. One tablespoon contains just four to six grams of protein (the green variety is lower on the scale, while the blue spirulina has slightly more protein). The next time you’re at the smoothie bar, opt for the menu item with Spirulina (or Blue Majik, as some call it) for an extra dose of protein.

7 vegan milk

The most recent US Dietary Guidelines – revised in late 2020 – now indicate that fortified soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. This is huge, because it completely undermines one of the dairy industry’s strongest arguments for drinking milk. Cow’s milk contains eight grams of protein, which is true, and so does soy milk. Pea milk also contains eight grams of protein, and some brands (like California Farms and Silk) fortify plant-based milks with more protein—up to 10 grams per eight ounce serving. paying off This guide To find the right high-protein plant-based milk for you.

8 Nuts, seeds and butter

Like beans, the category of nuts and seeds is huge. When looking for the seeds with the most protein, go for 30 grams of hemp seeds (12 grams), chia seeds (seven grams), and flax seeds (nine grams). High-protein nuts include peanuts (7 grams), almonds (6 grams), Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios (4 grams) per 1-ounce serving. Nut and seed butters have similar protein profiles.

9 food yeast

Fondly referred to as a “nooch” in vegetarian circles, these yellow chips are packed with nutrients. Two tablespoons of this cheesy condiment packs up five grams of protein. Not sure what to do with a notch can? paying off 16 ways to use nutritional yeast.

10 Non dairy yogurt

Like plant-based milks, dairy-free yogurt can contain a good amount of protein, depending on the brand. For the largest dose of protein, look for a product with added protein, such as Kite Hill Protein (11 grams) or Chobani Oat (seven grams).

11 quinoa

If you are looking to increase your protein intake, replace rice with quinoa. This powerful bean contains eight grams of protein per cooked cup. Quinoa also makes a wonderful, filling porridge. Change your bowl of oatmeal to the next in the morning for a belly warmer Quinoa breakfast bowl with sticky banana bread.

12 lentil

No matter the color – green, brown, yellow or red – lentils are a great source of protein. 1/4 cup (dry) provides 10-12 grams of protein, depending on the variety. Not sure how to prepare it? Get started so easy Kale and vegan French lentil broth.


The cartoon may have exaggerated the protein powers of spinach a bit, but there was some truth to Popeye the Sailorman’s screeching spinach philosophy. The green leaves provide just over five grams of protein per cooked cup. Go ahead and be liberal with it. We love adding it to smoothies, soups, pizza, pasta, and large salad bowls.

14 bread

Except for the white varieties (sorry, sourdough lovers), bread can top your daily protein quota. Varieties such as whole wheat and Ezekiel bread contain four and eight grams of protein per slice, respectively. Don’t be afraid of baking, just choose the top protein options.

15th vegetables

Spinach is not the only vegetable that contains the right amount of protein. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus all hover around four grams of protein per cup; Green cabbage contains five grams of protein per cup; A large potato comes with less than eight grams of protein. There is more than one reason to eat vegetables!

To learn more about healthy plant-based eating, read:
9 great ways to make tofu
Is soy milk making a comeback?
5 great ways to eat more calcium

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