Sound familiar? We lost count of how many times we’ve gotten this skeptical question and each time, our eyes roll farther back in our head.
A common myth surrounding the vegan diet is the lack of protein, but on average, vegans don’t have a problem getting enough protein. Several studies have been executed that validate the fact that eating a well balanced, plant-based diet provides more than enough protein to fuel the body. However, as vegans, we do need to watch out that we are getting enough of these three nutrients.
Thankfully, there are tons of vegan protein sources. In this article, we’ll cover what makes a complete protein as well as our favorite sources of proteins and how to eat them.
Drop your knives and pick up your forks because we’re getting started.
Most people have a skewed perception of how much protein their body requires. Health experts suggest that the average adult should consume between 0.36 to 0.86 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Active adults and athletes may need to consume more protein based on their activity levels.
A study from the World Resources Institute showed that the “Global average protein consumption was approximately 68 grams per person per day—or more than one-third higher than the average daily adult requirement.”
A protein is an essential macronutrient used by the body as a building block for building tissue as well as a fuel source. When it comes to vegan protein sources, there are some things we need to understand because not all protein sources are created equally.
A complete protein contains all nine amino acids essential to human life. Your body cannot make these amino acids, so you must consume them. There are other amino acids in foods, but they are considered to be non-essential, meaning your body can synthesize them.
Plant-based complete protein sources include soy, quinoa, chia, hemp, and amaranth. But remember, just because it has all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, doesn’t necessarily mean its a large amount of protein (chia seeds, we’re looking at you).
Incomplete proteins don’t contain all the essential amino acids; these are foods such as beans, rice, nuts, and wheat. When combined with one or more incomplete proteins, those incomplete proteins form a complete protein.
For example, combining nuts and whole grains or beans and rice will form a complete protein, but they don’t necessarily have to be combined in the same meal, as long as its consumed in the same day.
Now that we have a background in proteins, we’re ready to dive into 11, incredible and delicious protein sources you can eat today to ensure you’re getting not only enough protein but the right kind of protein.
Vegan Protein Sources
These vegan protein sources, some when combined, create complete proteins to fuel your body through the day, whether you’re running a marathon or running late.
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart….
Not a fan of beans on their own? We hear ya.
Try making a huge batch of veggie soup and throwing in a can or two. Add in some rice, and you’ve got a complete protein on your hands. If you’re cooking for kids or can’t bear the sight of the little guys, try pureeing those cans of beans with some vegetable stock and adding it to the soup to thicken it up for some protein-packed flavor.
1 c black beans = 15 g of protein
1 c baked beans = 12 g of protein
1 c kidney beans = 15 g of protein
2. Nut Butter
Looking for a quick breakfast or maybe a filling snack? Peanut or almond butter is our favorite sweet and salty go-to, especially when spread on a cracker or whole grain piece of toast.
Nuts are a great source of protein but aren’t complete until paired with something else. Throw a few pieces of wholegrain bread in the toaster and grab your jar of nut butter.
We love to top ours with a handful of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, chia) and sliced banana for an extra boost of flavor and nutrients.
2 tbsp peanut butter = 8g of protein
2 tbsp almond butter = 7g of protein
This outstanding soy product is a complete protein all by itself. Although it may seem bland, we like to think of it as a blank canvas in which you can apply any flavor to it.
Try it marinated and grilled--just be sure to press out all the liquid by squishing it between two paper towels.
5 oz of tofu = 12g of protein
4. Chia Seeds
These little seeds are an easy but small source of protein. They have provided the strength and energy of the Tarahumara people, a Native American tribe of Mexico, to run long distances thanks to drinking copious amounts of chia seeds mixed in water. The incredible Tarahumara people also eat little to no meat, and we think that’s pretty great. #plantpower
Add these little guys to your cereal, baked goods, pizza and pasta doughs, and smoothies for a little boost of energy and protein.
2 tbsp chia seeds = 4 g of protein
Hummus is a surprisingly easy combination of chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. This insanely delicious snack can even be combined with a creamy avocado to combine everyone's favorite snacks: avohummus.
Although we love it with raw carrot and celery sticks, eating a few scoops of hummus with tortilla chips, pita, or pretzels make a complete protein that is sure to power you through your day.
½ c hummus = 9.5 g of protein
6. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds may come from a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species, but it won’t give you a high. Hemp is a great source of a complete protein, performing better than chia or flax seeds. We love it as crunchy, nutty add-on in our oatmeal, acai bowls, and smoothies.
It can even be ground into doughs, cereals, and pasta for a secret protein boost.
2 tbsp hemp seeds = 11 g of protein
Another exceptional soy product is tempeh, which is fermented soybeans compressed into a loaf or cake form. The retention of the entire soybean increases the content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins than that of tofu.
Crumble and sautee it with stewed tomatoes to make a meatless bolognese, or marinate it and grill in on the barbecue like a steak or simply sear like a filet of fish and serve over a bed of garlicky kale and potatoes. From texture to flavor to nutrition, there’s nothing that tempeh lacks.
1 c of tempeh = 34 g of protein
Spirulina comes from a bacteria called cyanobacterium, buts it’s more commonly known as blue-green algae. It’s an acquired taste, but one of the sea’s best kept secrets. Spirulina contains all the necessary amino acids we need and is often considered a super-nutrient.
It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that it has lowered blood pressure, increased muscle strength, and improve endurance. It’s not only a great source of protein, but also a great source of vitamin B, copper, and iron. You even get in some omegas 3s.
Gram for gram, this may be the most nutritious food on the planet. This is definitely something you want to throw in your smoothie or acai bowl. Don’t like the taste, pop an easy to swallow supplement.
Protein Amount:2 tbsp spirulina = 8 g of protein
9. Rice and Pea Protein Powder
Hey weightlifters, trade in your whey protein for something just as powerful but way healthier.
Save the planet and your body by trying a rice and pea protein powder mix that provides you with a complete source of protein, since it’s already a mix. Combine it with water or your choice of dairy-free milk and feed your muscles with something that they’ll actually want.
2 tbsp protein powder = 16 g of protein
10. Chickpea Pasta
You’ve heard of rice pasta, you’ve heard of corn pasta, but we want to introduce you to chickpea pasta! This pasta has the texture of regular pasta, with a little extra nutty taste and a powerful punch of protein.
Top with a creamy avo pesto or a meat-free marinara and enjoy this secret protein source.
100 g cooked chickpea pasta = 21 g of protein
As the weather turns colder, we always turn to a nice hot and hearty soup. Our secret to staying full? Lentils, baby. Add in a can of chickpeas, and you’ve got one heck of protein bowl.
Here’s a sad statistic--only 10% of America eat legumes. That means 90% of people are seriously missing out on recipes like this.
1c cooked lentils = 18 g of protein
How Are You Getting Your Protein?
Are you getting all the protein you need? It’s a good idea to track your macros with a food tracking app to ensure you’re getting enough protein and nutrients in your vegan diet.
Did we mention any of your favorite vegan protein sources? Tag us on Instagram @wearefuturekind and show off your protein-packed vegan meals.
For more vegan health information check out our article, “3 Supplements Vegans Need To Take To Ensure A Healthy Body” and make sure your body is fueled properly.