“where do you get your protein?”
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, I bet you’re tired of this question.
Or, have you heard that plants are incomplete proteins?
In this article, you’ll learn the best vegan protein sources. And how plants can provide more than enough complete protein.
Keep reading to find out how vegan protein can be superior to animal protein for weight loss and building lean muscle.
First, do you want to know how much protein you need per day?All plants are complete proteins and contain all nine essential amino acids. There are many reasons not to go vegan, but don't let the fear of protein deficiency be one of them.
Table of Contents
- How Much Protein Do I Need Per Day?
- Do Vegans Get Enough Protein?
- Are plant proteins incomplete?
- 17 Best Vegan Protein Sources
The average adult needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But after controlling for body weight, the amount you need generally depends on your activity level. Also, those recovering from injury (2) and the elderly (3) may benefit from extra protein.
The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for average adults is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams per kilogram per day (4).
The DRI for endurance athletes is 0.5 – 0.65 grams per pound of body weight or 1.2-1.4 grams per kg per day (5).
The DRI for strength athletes is 0.65 – 0.8 grams per pound of body weight or 1.4-1.8 grams per kg per day (5).
A vegan or vegetarian diet consisting of a wide variety can easily provide enough protein as long as energy needs are met (6). A study of over 70,000 subjects found that vegetarians and vegans get over 70% more protein than they need (7).
Further, only less than 8% of the general population doesn’t meet the minimum required protein needs (8).
Fiber intake is a greater concern. Less than 3% of Americans eat even the minimum recommended amount of fiber (9). Further, the average is less than half of what is recommended.
Lastly, there is no fiber in meat, only in plants.
Learn more in the short video below from Michael Greger M.D.
It’s only a myth that plant proteins are incomplete. Proteins, or amino acids, come from plants and micro-organisms, and “Plant foods have a complete amino acid composition” (1). So all plants are complete proteins and contain all nine essential amino acids.
Proteins consist of 20 amino acids. Nine are essential amino acids, meaning your body can’t make them and must get them from your diet. Animals, like humans, can’t make essential amino acids.
In this article, I refer to some plants as complete proteins, this means that they have a significant amount of each amino acid.
In the next section, you’ll learn how your body can get enough complete protein from plants that lac significant amounts of each amino acid.
Do You Need To Combine Plant Proteins?
You don’t have to combine different plant proteins at every meal as long as you eat a wide variety of foods from day to day (6). Your body maintains a reserve of amino acids to complement dietary protein needs. The only way to become deficient in an amino acid is to not eat enough of it on a regular basis.
This is a list of the top 10 non-meat protein sources ranked by protein content per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). I’ve included some other nutrients, health benefits, and recipes.
Each of the 10 plants includes similar examples. The last several foods on the list have less protein but have many other important nutrients for weight loss and muscle building.
1. Vital Wheat Gluten (Seitan)
Seitan, also known as wheat meat, is made from wheat gluten, the main protein in wheat. It’s popular among vegans and vegetarians for its high protein content.
Vital wheat gluten (seitan) contains about 75 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (10).
Seitan is also a good source of the following (per 100 g):
- Selenium: 57% DV
- Iron: 29% DV
- Phosphorus: 26% DV
(DV is the recommended daily value)
You can buy seitan in the refrigerated section in health food stores. Alternatively, you can make it at home with these vegan seitan recipes. It is ideal for marinating or stir-fried and has a chewy, meat-like texture, similar to beef or chicken.
Caution: those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid seitan.
Spirulina, blue-green algae, is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Spirulina contains 57.5 grams of complete protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (11). Spirulina is also rich in the following:
- Copper 305% DV
- Riboflavin 216% DV
- Thiamin 159% DV
- Iron 158% DV
- Manganese 95% DV
- Niacin 64% DV
- Magnesium 49% DV
- Potassium 39% DV
- Dietary Fiber 3.6 grams, 14% DV
- Essential trace minerals
3. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that is sold in the form of flakes or yellow powder. Its cheesy flavor makes it ideal for a vegan cheese substitute. It is also a popular butter replacement for popcorn.
Nutritional yeast is a complete protein source and contains 50 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (19). A serving size of 16 grams (about half an ounce) contains 8 grams of protein.
Nutritional yeast is also a good source of the following (per 16 grams):
- Thiamin 640% DV
- Riboflavin 570% DV
- Vitamin B6 480% DV
- Niacin 280% DV
- Folate 60% DV
- Dietary Fiber 4 grams, 16% DV
Visit Veganela for vegan nutritional recipes and meal ideas.
4. Hempseed and Hempseed Milk
Hempseed contains (20) 33 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). Further, hempseed is a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids.
Although hemp seed comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, it contains only trace amounts of THC, the principal psychoactive in marijuana.
Hempseed is an excellent source of the following:
- Manganese 500% DV
- Vitamin E 275% DV
- Magnesium 268% DV
- Phosphorous 145%DV
- Zinc 120% DV
- Iron 77% DV
- Dietary fiber 7 grams (28% DV)
Hempseed is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with a ratio between 2:1 and 3:1, the optimal ratio for humans (21).
Some studies show that eating hemp seeds can help reduce inflammation (22).
You can use hempseed in smoothies, oatmeal, homemade protein bars, or hempseed milk. Try this recipe for homemade hempseed milk.
5. Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butter
Seeds and nuts are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also high in calories, but a significant amount is trapped in the fiber and escapes absorption.
Below, are some of the highest protein-content seeds and nuts, per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
- Pumpkin seed kernels have 24.5 grams of protein (23)
- Walnuts 24.1 grams (24)
- Almond 21.2 grams (25)
- Sunflower seed kernels 20.8 grams (26)
- Pistachio 20.6 grams (27)
- Flaxseed 18.3 grams (28)
- Cashew 18.2 grams (29)
- Sesame seed 17.7 grams (30)
Seeds and nuts are rich in fiber, healthy fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, phosphorous, and Vitamins E and B.
Eat raw seeds and nuts when possible, as blanching and roasting can damage their nutrients (31).
When buying seed and nut butter, check the ingredients for added oils, salts, and sugars. Also, avoid any personal food allergies.
Recently, misinformed people have spread rumors that eating seeds and nuts are unhealthy. Some of the longest-living populations eat seeds and nuts every day.
6. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are small gray oval seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant, in the mint family, native to Central America (32).
Chia seeds contain 15.6 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces)(33). Chia is also a rich source of the following:
- Dietary fiber 37.7 grams, 151% DV
- Manganese 108% DV
- Phosphorous 95% DV
- Calcium 63% DV
- Zinc 23% DV
- Copper 9% DV
- Potassium 5% DV
Chia seeds absorb up to 12 times their weight in water and expand and form a gel-like substance. They also absorb the flavor of other foods, making them perfect for smoothies, baked goods, and desserts.
Check out this recipe for chocolate chia seed pudding.
7. Oats and Oatmeal
Oats have been a staple for champion horses and a popular breakfast for athletes.
Oats contain 13.1 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (36), they’re also a significant source of the following:
- Manganese 181% DV
- Selenium 41% DV
- Phosphorous 41% DV
- Dietary fiber 10.1 grams, 40% DV
- Magnesium 34% DV
- Zinc 24% DV
- Copper 20% DV
I make a huge bowl of oatmeal (almost 200 grams) with berries and vegan protein powder. Oats are also perfect for making homemade granola, milk, veggie burgers, or ground into flour for baking.
8. Tofu, Tempeh and Edamame
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame all come from soybeans. Soybeans are a complete protein as they have significant amounts of all essential amino acids.
Edamame is an immature soybean that is greener and sweeter than mature soybeans. They’re sweeter because they contain more sucrose and greener because they contain more ascorbic acid (37). This is important because beneficial amino acids also degrade as the soybeans ripen and expand.
Edamame is usually steamed or boiled and it’s perfect for soups and salads or as a main dish. Check out this recipe for edamame stew.
Edamame contains 10.3 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). It is also a significant source of the following (38):
- Folate 76% DV
- Manganese 51% DV
- Vitamin K 39% DV
- Fiber 4.8 grams (19% DV)
Tofu is made by condensing soymilk and pressing the bean curd into patties. Tofu is relatively tasteless and it absorbs the flavors of other ingredients.
Tofu contains 15.8 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (39). It is also a significant source of the following:
- Calcium 68% DV
- Manganese 59% DV
- Selenium 25% DV
- Fiber 9% DV
Tempeh is made by cooking whole fermented soybeans and pressing them into patties. Tempeh has more of a chewy texture and a nutty flavor compared to tofu.
Tempeh contains 18.5 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (40). It’s also a good source of the following:
- Manganese 65% DV
- Copper 28% DV
- Phosphorous 27% DV
- Riboflavin 21% DV
- Magnesium 20% DV
Because tempeh is fermented, it’s also a good source of probiotics.
You can use tofu or tempeh in burgers, chilies, and soups. Check out this recipe to make smoky tempeh.
Lentils are small legumes packed with protein and other nutrients.
Cooked lentils contain 9 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces)(41). Lentils are also rich in the following nutrients:
- Folate 45% DV
- Dietary Fiber 7.9 grams (32% DV)
- Manganese 25% DV
- Iron 19% DV
They help prevent cancer, reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and promote weight loss (42).
Lentils can be used in salads, soups, and stews. Check out this vegan lentil stew recipe for ideas.
10. Chickpeas, Beans, and Legumes
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are another protein-rich legume.
Chickpeas contain 8.9 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (43). They’re also a great source of the following:
- Manganese 52% DV
- Dietary Fiber 7.6 grams (30% DV)
- Folate 43% DV
- Copper 18% DV
- Phosphorus 17% DV
- Iron 16% DV
Chickpeas can be used in salads, chili, soups, or made into hummus. Try making homemade hummus with this vegan hummus recipe.
Beans and Protein Per 100 Grams (3.5 Ounces)
- Pinto Beans: 9.3 grams (44)
- Chickpeas: 8.9 grams (43)
- Black beans: 8.9 grams (45)
- Kidney beans: 8.7 grams (46)
Health Benefits of beans
Beans are a cheap and lean healthy protein source. Studies show that eating beans and legumes can help with the following:
Further Reading: How To Lower Blood Pressure | 21 Lifestyle Changes
11. Spelt, Teff, and Ancient Grains
Ancient grains are a category of grains that have been minimally changed through selected breeding. These grains include barley, einkorn, farro, sorghum, spelt, and teff.
Modern grains, such as corn and wheat, have been modified to increase production. This unnatural modification has caused intolerances and sensitivities in many people. Ancient grains offer a natural and healthy alternative.
Ancient Grains Protein Content (cooked)
- Sorghum 11.3 grams of protein per 100 grams, 21.7 grams per cup (51)
- Spelt 5.5 grams of protein per 100 grams, 10.7 grams per cup (52)
- Teff 3.9 grams of protein per 100 grams, 9.8 grams per cup (53)
- Barley 2.3 grams of protein per 100 grams, 3.5 grams per cup (54)
Ancient grains are an excellent source of B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc.
You can use ancient grains in baked goods, polenta and risotto. Or, try these vegan ancient grain recipes.
12. Bread Made from Sprouted Grains (Ezekiel Bread)
Ezekiel 4:9 bread is made from organic sprouted whole grains and legumes. This bread is inspired by the Bible verse Ezekiel 4:9, “Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils and millet, and spelt and put them in one vessel…”
Sprouting, allowing grains to germinate before being ground into flour, enhances the quality of certain nutrients (55). These nutrients include fiber, folate (56), Vitamin C and E, and beta-carotene (57). Further, studies show that sprouting increases the amino acid content, especially lysine and tryptophan (58).
Sprouting also degrades the antinutrients that are designed to protect the seeds against predators (59). It also reduces the gluten content which may make Ezekiel bread more tolerable for those with gluten sensitivity (60).
Ezekiel bread has all 9 essential amino acids and contains 11.8 grams of protein per 100 grams, or about 8 grams for two slices (61). It also contains 11.8 grams of dietary fiber (47% DV) per 100 grams.
13. Green Peas
Pea protein is becoming a popular vegan protein source.
Garden peas (green peas) have 5.4 grams (62) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). Peas are also an excellent source of the following (per 100 grams):
- Vitamin K 32% DV
- Manganese 26% DV
- Vitamin C 24% DV
- Dietary Fiber 5.5 grams (22% DV)
- Thiamin 17% DV
- Folate and Vitamin A 16% DV
- Phosphorous 12% DV
- Vitamin B6 11% DV
- Magnesium 10% DV
14. Amaranth and Quinoa
Amaranth and quinoa are called “pseudocereals” because they are similar to cereal grains, but don’t grow from grasses.
These “pseudocereals” can be used as similar to other grains like wheat and rice. Or they can be ground into a gluten-free flour alternative.
- Manganese 43% DV
- Magnesium 16% DV
- Phosphorus 15% DV
- Iron 12% DV
- Dietary Fiber 2.1 grams, 8% DV
Read these vegan quinoa recipes for inspiration.
15. Wild Rice
Wild rice contains 4 grams of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) (65), about 50% more than other rice varieties. Wild rice is also a decent source of the following:
- Manganese 14% DV
- Zinc 9% DV
- Magnesium 8% DV
- Phosphorous 8% DV
- Dietary fiber 1.8 grams, 7% DV
- Copper 6% DV
- Niacin 6% DV
Rice bran, which is stripped from white rice, contains a significant amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (66).
Unfortunately, arsenic can accumulate in rice bran grown in polluted areas. Ingesting even trace amounts of arsenic over long periods is associated with certain cancers (67), cardiovascular diseases (68), and diabetes (69).
One study found that washing rice before cooking and discarding excess water removes (70) up to 57% of the arsenic content
Try this vegan wild rice soup recipe and make sure to wash the rice and discard the water before cooking.
16. Protein-Rich Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and even some protein. They are also low carb, low calorie, and low fat relative to other protein-rich foods.
Below are some of the highest protein-content vegetables, per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
- Sweet corn (technically a grain) has 3.3 grams of protein (71)
- Spinach 3 grams (72)
- Artichoke 2.9 grams (73)
- Potato 2.5 grams (74)
- Brussels sprouts 2.5 grams (75)
- Broccoli 2.4 grams (76)
- Asparagus 2.4 grams (77)
- Sweet potato 2 grams (78)
17. Protein-Rich Fruits?
Fresh fruits provide protein, but they generally contain less protein than other food groups. Below are some of the highest protein-content fruits, per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
- Guava 2.5 grams (79)
- Cherimoya 1.7 grams (80)
- Mulberries 1.4 grams (81)
- Blackberries 1.4 grams (82)
- Nectarines 1.1 grams (83)
- Bananas 1.1 grams (84)
Where Will You Get Your Vegan Protein?
You can get plenty of complete protein on a vegan diet.
Every plant has all nine essential amino acids. Also, there is no need to combine proteins as your body stores essential amino acids. As long as you are eating a variety of plants consistently, you will not lack protein.
Further, these vegan foods are rich in nutrients lacking in animal products such as fiber.
There are many reasons to not try a vegan diet, but don’t let the fear of protein deficiency be the reason.
The largest, strongest, and longest-living animals on the planet don’t eat meat and get all the protein they need from plants.The largest, strongest, and longest living animals on the planet don't eat meat and get all the protein they need from plants.
Are you vegan, vegetarian, or eat a plant-based diet? Or, are you considering making a change? What are your favorite vegan protein sources?
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