Many prospective vegans are concerned that they may not get enough protein in their diets if they give up meat. However, there are plenty of delicious, plant-based protein sources to choose from! You only need a little planning and forethought to ensure you maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Proteins are an essential part of any healthy diet, yet many people do not know how much protein per day they need. Proteins help your body replenish muscles and blood, fight off infections, and much more. The recommended dietary allowance for protein is ~3.5 grams per 10 pounds of body weight. If you would like to see a more precise recommendation for your daily protein intake that takes into consideration your gender, height, weight, etc., check out this calculator from the USDA.
Simple, Natural Sources of Protein
I personally prefer natural sources of proteins, so we’ll start with them. They are often easier to introduce into your diet and in many cases don’t take much extra preparation to taste great!
1. Lentils (18 grams of Protein Per Cup!)
Lentils are a great source of protein. By weight they are ~25% protein, which is on par with many meats. When cooked, they provide a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup! They are also a great source of dietary fiber. One cup of cooked lentils provides 16 g of protein, 64% of your recommended daily intake (RDI). The combination of both high protein and high dietary fiber also means that you will feel full longer and may lose weight more easily.
Lentils are also easy to prepare and can be mixed with a large variety of different spices and vegetables to make some fantastic and hearty, vegan soups! Check out this vegan shepherd’s pie recipe for a more unique way to incorporate your lentils.
2. Chickpeas (a.k.a. Garbanzo Beans)
Chickpeas are small, round legumes with a delicious, nutty flavor. Like lentils, chickpeas are loaded with both protein and fiber, containing 15 grams of protein and 12 grams of dietary fiber per cup when cooked. Canned chickpeas are a good source of protein, but cooking them yourself will allow you to get all of the minerals that are usually lost during processing and canning. For instance, in one cup of chickpeas that you cook yourself, you will find 70% of your daily intake of iron, compared with 26% found in canned chickpeas. There are also large amounts of Vitamin B-6, magnesium, and potassium in fresh chickpeas.
Chickpeas are staple of many middle eastern dishes. If you simply blend chickpeas with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini (from sesame seeds), you can make your own homemade hummus! With their nutty, rich flavor, they also make a great meat substitute for many western dishes. We think they are the perfect base for our savory vegan mini tarts!
3. Quinoa (a Complete Protein Source)
While lentils and chickpeas are great sources of protein in terms of the sheer quantity of protein provided, they each alone do not contain all 9 essential amino acids your body cannot make on its own. Quinoa on the other hand does! It’s one of the only plant foods that contains all essential amino acids.
While quinoa is a whole grain, it’s naturally gluten-free, so if you have Celiac disease or are on a no gluten diet, quinoa is a great protein alternative for you. Quinoa is also a great source of magnesium, manganese, folate, and iron.
3. Nuts (Go Crazy!)
Nuts are fantastic, natural sources of protein. They are also packed with other great nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids for brain health, antioxidants to eliminate harmful free radicals, and fiber to keep you full and lose weight. Nuts are an excellent snack food and make great salad toppers. They can also be delicious when baked. Check out our vegan walnut wellington recipe for details on how to integrate them into your baking.
Here are the protein and nutritional benefits of different kinds of common nuts:
|Nut Type||Amt. of Protein (g/100g)||Additional Benefit|
|Peanut||26||Good Source of Iron (25% RDI)|
|Almond||21||Great Source of Vitamin E (37% RDI)|
|Pistachio||20||Fantastic Source of Vitamin B (85% RDI)|
|Cashew||18||Great Source of Magnesium (73% RDI)|
|Walnut||15||Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Brain and Heart Health|
|Pecan||9||Good Source of Dietary Fiber (40% RDI)|
Green peas are common in many different types of cooking, and are best known for being packed full of Vitamin C (66% RDI / 100 g), but they are also an excellent source of protein, with 5g protein/100 g. Compared to nuts and lentils, that might not look like a lot, but peas have much fewer calories and can fit into almost any meal as a side dish, which is why we think they’re a great protein alternative for vegans. We’ve incorporated them into several of our dishes!
Pea protein powder is also a great source of protein that can be mixed into soups, shakes, or sauces to supercharge your protein intake.
Mushrooms are another tasty source of protein for vegans to supplement other sources. With the right seasonings, they often taste just like meat! However, they aren’t on their own a great source of protein. With 3 g or protein / 100 g mushrooms though, they can still help bolster your daily protein intake while improving your meal’s flavor and providing other great health benefits. According to a recent study conducted at Penn State University, mushrooms contain more powerful antioxidants than most vegetables. These antioxidants help destroy harmful free radicals that may contribute to cancer and heart disease.
If you want an especially beefy flavor out of your mushrooms, then soak them in A1 steak sauce prior to cooking them. There are lots of different kinds of mushrooms. Don’t just stick with common white mushrooms. We used enoki mushrooms from Japan in our Tofu no Ankaka recipe, and they turned out to be delicious!
7. Nutritional Yeast (a.k.a. Nooch)
Nutritional yeast itself would not make a great main course, but it is an excellent seasoning that can improve flavor while also providing protein and other great nutrients that vegans need. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, so it is no longer alive. In addition to providing 5 grams of protein per tablespoon, it is also a fantastic source of Vitamin Bs. When fortified, it contains large amounts of niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is especially important for vegans, as it is found almost exclusively in animal products. Eating fortified nutritional yeast can help you avoid becoming deficient in this important vitamin that plays a role in DNA production, metabolism, and red blood cell production.
Nooch has a delicious cheesy flavor that makes it a great topping or sauce ingredient. It’s especially great as a popcorn topping!
We’ve all seen Popeye. We all know that spinach is loaded with protein, but what you may not know is spinach also contains a number of other great nutrients, including manganese, magnesium, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Spinach has other awesome benefits that make it a great protein alternative:
- The antioxidants in spinach have been shown in a scientific study to reduce the amount of exercise-induced oxidative stress and muscle damage your body experiences after working out.
- Another study further demonstrated spinach’s powerful antioxidative properties as well as its ability to potentially reduce inflammation.
- Spinach may also reduce your chances of contracting breast cancer (link).