Whether you are looking to lose fat, gain muscle, or simply improve your health, protein is one of the best macros to support your goals. Higher protein intakes are associated with decreased appetite, reduced cravings, and improved body composition.
Protein also plays a major role in building and maintaining the cells in your body, including your lean muscle mass! Protein needs are most strongly determined by the amount of lean body mass you have.
Following a vegan diet will definitely support getting enough protein and there are many plant-based protein options available – each with their own unique nutritional profile and health benefits. Plants aren't traditionally protein-rich, even though they can contain some protein, so when it comes to adding protein into your vegan diet to optimize your goals choice and variety are key.
Vegan Protein Sources
In traditional diets, animal products make up the bulk protein consumption but vegan diets need plants to fill that role. Protein can be found in a wide variety of foods, even if it's not the featured macro
Plant proteins are not nearly as protein dense as a meat-based source making getting high amounts of protein from plants seem challenging at first. When following a vegan diet, it is important to find protein-containing foods you enjoy and aim to get them at every eating opportunity.
A few considerations when looking to add more protein to your vegan meal plan include.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Complete proteins are those that contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs in specific quantities. An incomplete protein is lacking in one or more essential amino acids.
All essential amino acids can be obtained by eating "complementary proteins" - two incomplete proteins that balance each-other out, or by getting all the essential amino acids throughout the day.
Food Allergies & Intolerances
Because vegan proteins are becoming more manufactured, this often leads to increased concerns around allergies and food intolerance - specifically those looking to avoid soy, or opt for gluten-free proteins. Luckily, even options that were traditionally made with soy or wheat, like tempeh and seitan, are now emerging with brown rice and lentil-based ingredients to address this growing concern.
To find options that meet your food preferences, be sure to check the label for gluten-free certification and the ingredients for anything that might impact your diet.
Best Vegan Proteins
The best sources of vegan protein for you should follow the following criteria:
- Be protein dense
- Be nutrient dense, containing vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, or fiber.
- Aligns with your nutrition, calorie and macro goals.
- Tastes good and makes you feel good from the inside out!
Some of our favorites include:
Lentils are a great whole food way to add significant fiber along with some vegan protein to your meals. Replace rice or other grains with lentils in soups, pilafs, or as the base for any dish to grab some nutrition benefits.
Lentils are also an excellent source of iron, vitamin B-6, potassium, and magnesium with one cup of cooked lentils providing 18 g protein.
Beans are probably one of the most well-known whole-food sources of vegan protein. Nutritionally dense, beans are naturally gluten-free and soy-free, and can be used in just about any recipe.
Using beans in place of other grains or starchy foods helps lower the carbohydrate content of a dish and pairing them with some lower-carbohydrate vegetables and perhaps other vegan proteins can help further balance out the macros for those needing a more specific balance.
Beans are also a source of healthy fiber, calcium, magnesium, and iron. A 1/2 cup portion of cooked black beans has almost 15 g protein and is a very good source of antioxidants. Black beans are one of the healthiest of all beans and contain less starch than many of their counterparts.
Preparing beans correctly is important to ensure you reap all the benefits - learn how to prepare your beans here
Nutritional yeast is a delicious cheese alternative for vegans that also contains a good amount of protein.
As a topping, it can be hard to get high amounts of protein from nutritional yeast, but when used as a main ingredient in a recipe, stirred into cooked whole grains, or blended with a tofu scramble, it can add significantly more
Nutritional yeast is also a great source of B-vitamins and folate and 1/4 cup portion contains 8 grams of protein.
Use nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute in your favorite high protein vegan recipes!
Tofu is made from soybeans that are ground, heated, and then thickened with added calcium, magnesium, and salt, tofu is a vegan staple. It takes on the flavor of anything you season with, can be found in soft to extra-firm textures.
½ cup of tofu provides 9 g protein.
Because tofu is often made with added calcium it is a solid choice for those following a vegan diet and avoiding dairy products and other meat-based sources of this mineral.
Nuts contain protein along with healthy fats and fiber. Almonds are one of the highest protein nuts along with being good sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Raw almonds and almond butter are both good choices for a little hit of protein with ¼ cup of almonds yielding 6 g protein.
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews and sunflower seeds are further good sources of protein and other essential nutrients such as zinc, iron and magnesium. You can eat them raw as snacks, add them to recipes and of course, as nut butters.
Read more on the benefits of nuts in this post
Broccoli is one of the most protein dense vegetables you could choose but is still best used as an additional protein boost to meals as opposed to your meal’s sole protein source.
Broccoli is low in calories, fat, and carbs, and works well to provide a small protein boost to meals without compromising your overall macro balance! 1 cup of broccoli contains about 2.5 g protein.
Grains are rich in iron, calcium, and B vitamins but also high in protein!
Brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, teff, buckwheat and freekeh all contain a decent amount of protein with 1 cup providing 10 g (or more, depending on the grain).
Read on here for more about the benefits of whole grains.
Powering your protein needs by eating plants can require a small amount of planning along with getting to know the protein-rich options you enjoy eating most. Getting good vegan meal prep is a great way to ensure you are always staying on top of your nutrition needs and health goals.
Feeling overwhelmed with planning, prepping, and balancing your vegan meals? Why not let us plan, prep, cook and do all the hard work for you. Choose your favorites and get protein-rich vegan meals delivered right to your door, ready when you are, no apron required. Order this week’s menu here>>>>>