disclosure: always ask your doctor about your specific nutritional needs
“Oh hey, so, going vegan sounds great and all, but really, when you don’t eat meat or eggs or fish ….. where do you get your protein?”
Eesh. It may be 2019, aka the era of the Beyond Whopper and vegan KFC, but still, people ask me this question quite often. Today, I want to answer it.
The short answer: Protein is in everything. Plants included! And certain plants like legumes, nuts, seeds and some veggies pack a huge protein punch.
The Game Changers
If you want some hardcore facts on vegan nutrition and specifically protein, fitness, weight training, being a vegan athlete and so much more – definitely watch the recent documentary The Game Changers. I enjoyed it and learned some pretty cool fun facts like this.. Did you know that the Roman Gladiators were primarily vegetarian?
When I Was a Kid. Oh, How Things Have Changed.
When I was in grade school it was all about the four food groups. And furthermore, if you did use plant sources for a meal you had to “combine proteins.” For example, the old beans and rice myth. And yes, it is a myth! Forks Over Knives does a great job explaining the myth of complementary proteins. Basically, I grew up thinking that protein came from meat. And meat made you strong.
Protein came from animals, duh. However, that thinking is very outdated. Sure, most animal products are rich in protein and other nutrients, but that certainly doesn’t mean that plants are not also an excellent source of protein. And bonus! Choosing a vegan diet is good for 1) the planet 2) animals 3) people! So many wins here.
Also bonus, plants contain healthy nutrients – like fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, for instance.
Let me share my favorite example of how to explain to people that protein comes from plants.
Let me ask you this. What do the cows, chickens and pigs eat? What does your meat eat? Meat? Nope. They eat plants! Greens, grains, seeds.. And what do some of the strongest creatures on the planet (gorillas, elephants, rhinos) eat? They eat plants! Go ask a 400-lb gorilla munching on his daily supply of veggies where he gets his protein.
And one of my favorite protein-rich vegetables is broccoli. I think it’s such a cool fact how one bunch of broccoli contains 17g protein! This cheezy broccoli-potato white bean soup makes a delicious protein-packed meal.
Here are a few more protein-packed plant-based foods!
Plant-Protein-Rich Foods | Vegan Protein Sources:
- Seitan – Seitan is made using vital wheat gluten and is packed with protein. It has a meaty texture. 100g seitan = 75g protein
- Lentils – 1 cup = 18g protein, 16g fiber and 36% RDA iron. Use lentils in soups stews, salads, veggie burgers and more.
- Hemp – 3 Tbsp hemp seeds = 10g fat, 3g fiber, 170 calories, 10g protein. Hemp seeds are rich in magnesium, zinc and manganese. Sprinkle hemp seeds on salads or add them to smoothies or DIY granola bars. Hemp protein powder is also available.
- Seeds – Aside from hemp seeds, which are mentioned already, seeds like pumpkin, chia, flax and more are sources of protein. Chia 2 Tbsp = 5g protein. Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup = 7g protein. Pumpkin seeds have 8g protein per 2oz.
- Broccoli – Yup! Veggies contain protein! Actually one bunch of broccoli contains
17g protein. Wow, right? As for spinach, 2 cups contains about 2g protein.
But wait, there’s more!…
- Soy – Soy can be found in milk, whole beans like edamame, tofu, yogurt and tempeh. Soy is a great protein source! For instance, tofu contains 20g protein per cup and is rich in iron, calcium and magnesium. Tempeh is less processed than tofu and is also fermented. It has 16g of protein in a 3oz serving. Choose non-GMO and organic soy when possible.
- Nuts – Nuts usually contain about 5-6g of protein per ounce. Peanuts are actually a legume, but as far as “nuts” go, they contain the most protein per serving. Peanut butter = 7g protein in 2 Tbsp. Oh, and 1 avocado contains about 4g protein.
- Peas – 1 cup cooked peas = 8g protein. You will often find pea protein in smoothie powders. Pea milk, a la Ripple, is also a thing.
- Beans – Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans and more. Beans contain protein, fiber, vitamins. 1 cup cooked chickpeas = 13g protein.
- Whole Grains – Oats, rice, barley, farro, wheat. 1 cup rolled oats = 11g protein. 2oz wheat pasta = 7g protein.
- Quinoa – Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain. It can be served as a fluffy side dish or add- ed to soups or salads. Quinoa contains nearly 8g per cup.
- Pumpkin Seeds – 12g protein in 1 cup.
So to make sure your are consuming enough protein on a vegan diet, just make an effort to eat a variety of these foods – or at least a few of these foods – on a daily basis…
Vegan Protein Sources:
- 36g = 1/2 cup – seitan
- 20g = 1cup – tofu
- 17g = 1 bunch – broccoli (yay fave green veggie!)
- 16g = 3oz – tempeh
- 15g = 1 cup – black beans
- 13g = 1 cup – chickpeas
- 11g = 1 cup – rolled oats
- 11g = 3 Tbsp – hemp seeds
- 10g = 1 bunch – spinach
- 9g = 1cup – soy milk
- 9g = 3 Tbsp – nutritional yeast
- 8g = 1cup – quinoa
- 8g = 1cup – peas
- 7g = 2 Tbsp – peanut butter
- 5g = 2Tbsp – chia seeds
- 3g = 1cup – avocado
Plant power. So cliché, however so real.
Maybe it’s not protein.
If you are struggling health-wise in your vegan diet, here are a few tips. First, reach out to a professional. Then consider other issues besides protein. For most vegans I have talked to, nutrients like iron, vitamin D, B vitamins are much more likely to need your attention. Ask a doctor. Hopefully they will work with you to find a solution.
I used to talk a lot about protein powder on this blog. I even did a big review of a few brands. However, I don’t even buy them these days. Sure, once in a while I buy one that is packed with other good stuff like phytochemicals from greens or vitamins and minerals – all around nutrition boost.
However, straight up protein powder just isn’t something I supplement with these days. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with adding a boost of plant-protein to your smoothie via a powder, but whether or not you actually need that extra scoop, is probably only up for your dietitian to decide.
Nutritional Considerations for Vegans?
If you have any questions about the nutritional side of your vegan diet and getting enough protein on a vegan diet, I encourage you to connect with a vegan-friendly dietitian. Or even ask your doctor for help. For me personally, I never have to worry about protein, however I do watch my iron and vitamin D levels. I supplement when necessary. I have never been deficient in B12 either. But seriously, ask a professional. Get a blood test. Your health is not something to “guestimate” with.
Some of my fave vegan dietitians online to connect with..
- Gena of The Full Helping
- Alex of Delish Knowledge
- Ginny, The Vegan RD
- Julieanna, The Plant-based Dietitian
- and more!
I will leave you with a few of my fave plant protein-loaded recipes:
- All my Bean-infused recipes
- Like Cowgirl Baked Beans
- Buffalo Chickpeas
- All my Tofu-infused recipes
- I adore this Creamy Cashew Tofu Pot Pie
- Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese with broccoli
So in conclusion, if you learned anything from this post it should be that every recipe on this site contains some protein – vegan protein sources are easy to spot because they are simply, all plants. All plants contain some protein. And most “meat” sources are in fact vegetarian animals. And if you crave an extra boost of plant protein, make sure your recipe has one of those ingredients listed above!
Hope that helps! Feel free to forward this post to anyone who might need these resources.
disclosure: always ask your doctor about your specific nutritional needs.