Top 20 high protein vegan food sources
- 10 May, 2022
When it comes to following a vegan diet, protein is the first topic of discussion that pop-ups. How will someone who is vegan meet his or her protein needs on a plant-based diet? Are there any high-protein vegan foods available?
Before we dive into and discuss more about vegan protein sources, it is essential to understand -Why do we need the "bodybuilding" nutrient?
The word ‘protein’ is Greek and it comes from the word ‘proteios’ which means ‘primary’ or ‘holding the first place.’ Going by the endless bodily functions the nutrient needs to perform, it undoubtedly holds the first rank. Our skin, muscles, and organs -all need protein to be healthy.
Not to forget, even our immune system requires protein to help make antibodies that are required to fight infections. It also plays a role in blood sugar regulation, fat metabolism and energy function.
Speaking of Vegans, they don’t eat any animal products, including meat, fish, eggs and even milk and honey.
The traditional belief that animal proteins are better than plant proteins seems outdated now. With the growing trend around Veganism, there are plenty of high-protein vegan sources out there.
The findings of a study conducted at Harvard University, Boston suggests -that people who eat more plant protein and less animal protein may live longer even with unhealthy habits like heavy drinking or smoking. This means a plant-based diet not only provides us with enough high-quality protein but can also assist in lowering the risk of many chronic illnesses. A win-win situation.
How much protein do we need?
According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that the average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should eat about 46 grams. However, these values can definitely change with increasing or decreasing body needs.
Without a doubt, a vegan diet can help meet these digits and even more if required.
Best high-protein vegan foods
The right plant-based foods are a great source of complete protein and essential vitamins and minerals. As a vegan, all essential amino acids must be included in the diet to provide optimum nutrition.
The key to getting enough of it is to have a sufficient amount of each essential amino acid each day. Ensure there are some vegan protein foods present at every meal and snack.
The top 20 plant-based foods that are considered the best vegan protein sources:
1. Buckwheat (Kuttu)
Buckwheat is one of the best sources of plant protein. It is gluten-free and offers approx. 5 gm per 100 gm of the macronutrient.
Loaded with the goodness of fibre, minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, zinc, folate, and vitamin B6, buckwheat is an excellent addition to the high protein vegan foods list. Use it as buckwheat flour (kuttu ka atta), or choose buckwheat flakes, pasta or groats and make healthy plant-based recipes.
2. Tofu, tempeh and edamame
Search for the best plant-based protein -and tofu ranks first. The staples of vegan nutrition -tofu, tempeh or edamame are made from soybean and are amongst the best high-protein vegan foods.
- Tofu -the perfect meat substitute provides 8 gm protein per 100 gm. Add it to curries, soups or simply stir fry.
- Tempeh -made from fermented soybean, tempeh is not only high in protein but also a great source of prebiotics to add to the vegan diet.
- Edamame -edamame or young soybean, makes a great snack. The good news is whole soy is a complete protein, which means it provides all the amino acids one’s body needs. 100 gm cooked edamame offers 11 gm of protein.
Whether one chooses red, green or brown, lentils are a form of high biological value protein for vegans. Offering around 8-9 gm protein per 100 gm, lentils are a great and easy option to add to the bucket.
4. Chickpeas and Green peas
Roasted chickpeas, chickpeas salad, creamy-lemony hummus, herb spiced falafel -chickpea is a versatile ingredient to add to high protein vegan food lists. Boiled chickpeas offer an impressive amount of 8-9 gm protein per 100 gm.
Peas might hold a bad rap, but one cup of cooked peas has 8 grams of protein.
5. Nuts and seeds
It is true that big things come in small packages. Nuts and seeds are tiny powerhouses of nutrients and ensure an adequate supply of amino acids. Additionally, seeds are low-calorie plant proteins that stand out as an exceptional source of omega-3 fatty acids too.
Snack on some sesame or pumpkin seeds, these offer approx. 4 gm of protein in one tablespoon. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of chia seeds or hemp seeds on the morning oatmeal or prepare a chia pudding. Impressive 5 gm per tablespoon of hemp seeds, another great source of high-protein vegan food to add to the vegan diet.
Peanuts (although they are legumes), almonds, and walnuts are easy and on-the-go vegan snacks, they are amongst the best sources of plant protein available. One can also choose nut butter like almond butter or peanut butter to add good quality plant protein to the vegan diet. The protein content of various nuts:
- Peanuts: a handful of peanuts offer approx. 5 gm
- Almonds: every six almonds offer 3gm
- Peanut butter: one heaped tablespoon contains just over 3g
- Almond butter: approx. 4 gm per tablespoon
The superfood vegans need. Spirulina is one of the highest vegan protein sources. Having said so, this blue-green algae or cyanobacterium contains between 55 - 70% protein. Add a spoonful to soups, and smoothies or simply take it as a nutrition supplement, spirulina can do wonders to the human body, especially the ones on a vegan eating plan.
Pro tip: Have spirulina with grains, nuts or seeds to enhance the amino acid profile.
Whole grains like quinoa are complete proteins which means they provide an individual with all nine essential amino acids. Cooked quinoa contains 8 g of the macronutrient per cup making it a good source of vegan protein. Quinoa can be eaten as a main course or used in salads for good vegan nutrition.
8. Beans with rice
The simplest, easiest, and most accessible of all-vegan meals is beans with rice. This food combination is the best fit for protein perfection. Scientifically speaking, beans (black beans, kidney beans) with rice or lentils with rice is an excellent example of mutual supplementation where we combine two incomplete protein foods to form a perfect complete protein (lysine from beans and methionine from rice).
The combination of plant foods offers around 8 gm protein per cup serving.
9. Amaranth (Rajgira)
Lesser-known as amaranth, rajgira is yet another excellent source of all plant protein. Amaranth is again a vegan superfood that offers all twenty-two amino acids (including lysine and methionine). The grain is naturally gluten-free and can be used easily as a part of regular meals. 9 gm of complete protein per cup of cooked amaranth makes it a great addition to a plant-based diet.
10. Jowar (Sorghum)
Jowar provides 11 gm per 100 gm, making it one of the best plant-based proteins. One can make interesting recipes using jowar like jowar upma, jowar pancake, jowar roti, jowar cake, etc. A gluten-free high fibre ancient grain to add to the list of vegan foods.
Similar to the soy-derived products mentioned above, soybean itself is an excellent source of complete protein that is completely vegan too. It provides the human body with all essential amino acids. 100 gm of boiled soybean comes with 16 gm of the macronutrient, one of the best plant protein food available. It is a perfect vegan meat substitute available as soy chunks, granules to add to gravies and curries
12. Sprouted grains
Sprouted whole grains and legumes can be found in the form of wheat, barley, millet, lentils and soybeans. Sprouted grains provide the body with enough energy and are an exceptionally high biological value protein for vegans.
Studies suggest that sprouting increases the amino acid profiling of grains, improving the overall nutrition profile. Ezekiel bread is the best-recommended vegan bread made of sprouted grains. Above all, sprouted beans and lentils are easily accessible and are an essential component of the Indian thali.
13. Hummus and pita
Another amazing combination is hummus and pita. Wheat lacks only lysine. So, chickpeas come to the rescue, chickpeas have plenty of lysine.
A well-balanced combination of all amino acids for the win. A perfect vegan snack to ditch the evening cravings. And yes, it can be eaten for weight loss too.
The best low-calorie, protein-rich, low-carb food for vegans. Vegetables are often less-celebrated plant protein sources compared to other vegan foods. However, vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet corn and leafy greens (bok choy, watercress, spinach) do provide a modest amount of the macronutrient and are low in calories too. Check out below:
- Broccoli: 3 grams in 80 grams
- Brussels sprouts: 2 grams per 80g Brussels sprouts
- Watercress: 3 grams per 100 grams
- Sweet corn: 5 grams per cup of yellow sweet corn
Seitan is a low-carb, high-protein plant-based meat substitute. This protein-rich, low-carb food contains 75 grams per 100 grams of the macronutrient. Impressive, isn’t it?
This means even adding a lesser quantity of this meat substitute can enhance the protein content of a vegan meal. So, add a slice to sandwiches or use it as a meat substitute in pasta or tacos -be creative and use seitan to mimic everything from chicken gravy to paneer butter masala and relish the tender meaty texture.
Vegan top tip: cook it with soya sauce to reap the benefits of all essential amino acids (including lysine).
Word of caution: since it is made of wheat gluten, seitan is not gluten-free.
16. Plant beverages
Thanks to veganism going fully mainstream, there are plenty of high-protein vegan milk options available in the market. Off course, one can indulge in homemade options as well like homemade almond milk.
Plant-based milk options like soy milk, hemp milk, flax milk or pea milk are the best dairy-free milk alternatives. Just make sure to choose an unsweetened milk substitute. Below is a list of plant-based milk options with the amount of the macronutrient per cup:
- Soy milk: 6 grams per cup (approx. 240 ml)
- Pea milk: 8 grams per cup
- Oat milk: around 4 grams per cup of oats milk
- Hemp milk: 3 grams in 240 ml of hemp milk
- Flax milk: about 5 grams per cup
- Almond milk: 1 gm in 240 ml of almond milk
- Coconut milk: approximately 5 grams in one cup of coconut milk
17. Vegan meat/ Mock meat
Low-calorie mock meat options can help with an easier transition to vegan eating. Plant-based meat alternatives are specially crafted for vegans, these are low on carbs and certainly have a well-balanced amino acid profiling.
However, reading the nutrition label of these plant-based products is quite essential -one needs to look for any additives or preservatives added.
18. Vegan yogurt
Made from dairy-free milk alternatives, vegan yogurts are a real thing now. Though they are not the most abundant sources of protein, when combined with well-balanced vegan nutrition, vegan yogurts can offer a decent amount of the macronutrient.
19. Nutritional yeast
A great source of protein and B vitamins, nutritional yeast is the superhero of many vegan recipes. It provides all nine essential amino acids certainly with some impressive stats -9 grams of protein with 4 grams of fibre in a typical serving. Definitely, a double-win for vegans.
Mac and cheese for vegans? Yes! Vegan cheese pizza? Oh, for sure.
What about vegan pasta, vegan omelette, vegan butter? Yes, yes, yes. Nutritional yeast can make all of this possible for vegans.
Mycoprotein is made by growing a certain kind of fungus in vats and turning it into meat substitutes. Don’t worry, it only sounds gross. This is a source of complete protein and a novel substitute in the meat-free vegan sphere.
Sample One-day Indian Vegan Diet plan with approx. 50gm protein:
Meal (Kcal, Protein content)
Breakfast (220 kcal, 8.5 gm)
- 2 Besan chila
- 1 tablespoon green chutney
Mid-morning Snack (90 kcal, 4 gm)
- 5 soaked almonds
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
Lunch (430 kcal, 19 gm)
- 1.5 katori dal
- 1 katori cooked rice
- 1 katori mixed vegetable
Evening Snack (150 kcal, 7 gm)
- 1 medium katori kala channa chaat
Dinner (280 kcal, 13 gm)
- 1 katori lentil curry
- 1 roti
- 1 katori seasonal vegetable
Total calorie intake ~1200 kcal, 51 gm protein
Here are easy and tasty food combinations for every meal of the day to get the daily dose of all essential amino acids:
Breakfast: Oatmeal, tofu scramble, whole-wheat toast with nut or seed butter, or breakfast burritos, bengal gram (besan) chila, chia pudding,
Lunch: Lentil salad, hummus sandwich, tofu lasagna, veggie burger, dal-rice, roti with lentil, soy gravy and vegetable quinoa
Dinner: Homemade granola bar, roasted edamame, hummus, roasted nuts or seeds, baked chickpeas, tofu with sautéed veggies
Mid meal Snacks: Chili, curry, enchiladas, stir-fry with tofu or tempeh, kala channa or chickpea salad, poha or upma with roasted peanuts
A little effort and planning can help a vegan get his/ her share of complete proteins and essential amino acids very easily.
Make sure to add a variety of plant-based options from the list above, feel free to choose either plant-based complete proteins or incorporate a well-balanced combination of incomplete proteins from various sources.