In recent years, veganism and vegetarianism have become increasingly popular lifestyle choices. While both diets are centered around plants, vegans eliminate all animal products while vegetarians may consume dairy and eggs. However, a concern for many individuals following these diets is ensuring they are consuming enough protein. The recommended daily protein intake for adults is 46 to 56 grams. While it is possible to meet protein needs through plant-based sources alone, it does require some extra effort and attention. Luckily, there are many high-protein plant-based foods to choose from, and we’ve rounded up eight of the best.
Beans & Legumes
High in potassium, iron, magnesium, folate, and fiber, legumes are nutritionally dense seed pods. The most common examples include beans, peas, and lentils. However, the Fabaceae family is quite vast, with over 400 different bean varieties to choose from alone. Most types of beans carry an average of 15g of protein per cup, and lentils contain about 17g. Green peas offer about 8g, while split peas provide 16g per cup.
One type of bean in particular is perhaps superior to all others in terms of protein content. Soybeans are known as a whole protein, which means they contain all of the different essential amino acids. Not only this, but soy can be transformed into many forms, making it one of the most versatile vegan foods.
Edamame, which are boiled soybeans, can offer 12g to 17g of protein per cup. Meanwhile, a half-cup of tofu can give you 10g of protein. Tofu is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisines and can be stir-fried, baked, or added to noodle dishes or salads. Tempeh, a dense cake of cooked and fermented soybeans, can be used in similar ways and yields an impressive 31g of protein per cup.
Seitan is a meaty substance derived from gluten, the primary protein in wheat. Given this, those with gluten intolerance should not consume seitan or proceed with caution. It has a similar consistency to actual meat, which makes it an ideal meat substitute. Use it to make burgers, add the chunks to a marinade or stir fry, or make your own seitan meatballs. Because seitan opens up meat-based recipes to vegans and vegetarians, there are innumerable ways to use it. Seitan contains about 75g of protein for every 100g.
Grains are a monster category of foods made from the seeds of grass-like plants. Grains only contain a portion of the essential amino acids that our bodies need. However, you can turn it into a whole protein when you combine your grains with nuts, seeds, or legumes. Grains typically carry 4g to 10g of protein per cup. Below is a noncomprehensive list of whole, ancient, and gluten-free grains to incorporate into a healthy vegetarian diet.
Whole & Ancient Grains
- Brown Rice
- Wild Rice
- Hominy (corn)
Nuts & Seeds
A nut is a type of dry fruit with a hard outer shell. Offering 20g to 30g per cup on average, nuts are an excellent source of protein. They are also high in healthy unsaturated fats, which are known to be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Many also contain vitamin B, fiber, and a range of other crucial minerals: magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus. Next time you get the munchies, grab a handful of nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, or pistachios.
Most nuts are seeds, but some seeds do not have the characteristic protective outer shell of nuts. Compared to nuts, seeds are typically higher in fiber and protein, averaging about 30g of protein per cup, and lower in healthy fats. Be as heavy-handed as you want when pouring seeds like sunflower, hemp, pumpkin, chia, flax, and poppy over your favorite dishes.
Sprouted Grain Bread
The healthy bread craze started when whole wheat bread became a popular healthy alternative to white bread. Nowadays, there are countless types of bread available on the market, and sprouted grain bread is considered one of the healthiest. Sprouted grain bread is made from grains such as wheat, millet, barley, and spelt that have begun the sprouting process. As a result, the bread contains more nutrients, such as antioxidants and vitamins B, C, and E, as well as fewer carbs. Use two slices of sprouted grain bread for your next sandwich, and you’ll add 10g of protein total to your day’s requirement.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also known as brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast due to its use as a fermenting agent to make bread, beer, wine, and liquor. More recently, it has also come to be known as nutritional yeast and has curried favor in the vegan community for its high protein content.
Nutritional yeast is a fungus that has been deactivated with heat and dried. You won’t be able to make your own breads and brews, but you can add it to sauces, dressings, pastas, popcorn, and more. The yellow powder has a rich flavor similar to cheese and is high in B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and protein. A fourth cup provides up to 16g of protein.
If your mother always told you to eat your dark leafy greens because they would make you strong, she wasn’t kidding. Most people know that kale is considered a superfood, high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Yet few, perhaps, are aware of its high protein content, at least for a dark leafy green. One cup of kale contains nearly 3g of protein. Compare that to approximately 1g in spinach and cabbage and 0.5g in lettuce. Delicious as a salad base, sautéed as a side dish, or added to soups, stews, and casseroles – kale is as versatile in the kitchen as it is good for your body.
There are plenty of foods with high protein content outside of meat and animal products. Vegans and vegetarians need not worry about their protein intake as long as they can fill their diet with beans, legumes, soybeans, seitan, grains, nuts, seeds, sprouted bread, and even nutritional yeast. By choosing the right foods, anyone can enjoy a healthy and balanced plant-based diet and still meet their daily recommended amount of protein.