The Best Vegan Protein Sources to Stay Healthy and Energized
Vegan diets don’t have to be low in protein. Check out these top vegan foods, ranked from lowest to highest protein value.
Vegan protein source #9: Quinoa
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Though touted as a “high protein grain,” quinoa is actually a seed and is not as high in protein as you might think, although it is on the list of complete proteins that aren’t meat. One-half cup of cooked quinoa contains 4 grams of protein. Quinoa is typically used as a replacement for rice, which has half the amount of protein for the same portion, so quinoa is a better choice. Naturally gluten-free, it’s perfect in salads, sides, and more delicious vegan dishes. Try quinoa-stuffed bell peppers as a tasty dinner entrée, or experiment with other creative quinoa recipes. Quinoa also works well in baked goods.
Vegan protein source #8: Farro
This ancient grain packs a decent amount of protein when compared to other grains in the American diet. One-half cup of cooked farro provides 7 grams of protein and a whopping 7 grams of fiber. Naturally rich in iron, a nutrient even nutritionists don’t get enough of, farro is an excellent source of nutrition for vegans. Use farro like you would use any other cooked grain—as a base for cooked Asian vegetables, an addition to your favorite soup, or topped with berries and almond milk for a delicious breakfast.
Vegan protein source #7: Nuts
All nuts are not created equal when it comes to protein content. Almonds are high, with 8 grams per ¼-cup serving, while walnuts are lower with 4 grams (but high in omega-3s). Nuts are an easy-to-grab protein-rich snack, but don’t overdo it; they are calorie dense. Almonds provide nutritional bonuses such as linoleic acid, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and riboflavin. Include the top 5 healthiest nuts in your morning oatmeal or your afternoon trail-mix snack for a dose of protein and healthy fats.
Vegan protein source #6: Tofu
Lower in protein than its cousin, tempeh, tofu still provides a good source of protein for a vegan diet. It comes in three main varieties: soft, firm, and extra firm. Three ounces of tofu provides 8 grams of protein and is a great source of essential minerals, like calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Tofu takes on the flavor of the dish it’s cooked in, so spicy Indian- or Mexican-inspired dishes work well. Just check out these mouthwatering vegan recipes from cook Mark Brittman. Silken tofu can be pureed and used as a base for cream sauces. Firmer versions are perfect additions to stir-fry dishes, kabobs, breaded and fried like chicken nuggets, or in a breakfast scramble in place of eggs.
Vegan protein source #5: Beans
Pintos, black beans, and chickpeas are nearly identical in their nutritional profiles—here are all the health benefits of beans—and all of them are excellent vegan sources of protein, providing about 8 grams in ½ cup. Because they are also rich in fiber, beans are satisfying as the star of a plant-based meal. (If you primarily eat a plant-based diet, these are the most important nutrients you need.) Incredibly versatile, beans are obvious choices to add to your favorite stews, chilis, curries, and salads. Mash them for a healthy sandwich spread, or puree them and use them in baked goods to replace part of the oil.
Vegan protein source #4: Edamame
The winner of the most nutritious choice among the bean family: edamame! As one of the healthiest foods you can buy, these delicious green babies are perfect as a snack on their own or included in stir-fry dishes and veggie salads. One-half cup serving provides 8 grams of protein, like other beans. What sets edamame apart? They’re an incredibly rich source of folate, providing 60 percent of your daily needs. Inadequate folate intake can cause a certain type of anemia, and it’s vital for proper development in pregnancy. Edamame also contain 23 percent of your daily needs for vitamin K, an essential nutrient involved in the blood clotting process. Edamame also earns a spot on the list of most potassium-rich foods.
Vegan protein source #3: Lentils
Of all the pulses (the dried seeds of the legume family), lentils are the richest source of protein with 9 grams in just ½-cup. These unsung heroes of vegan cuisine are quick-cooking, which makes them perfect for busy weeknight dinners. Lentils are a great addition to slow cooker dishes, so cook up a batch over the weekend. You can also add the cooked lentils to salads, soups, or sandwiches. Lentils provide 43 percent of your daily need for folate, and, better still, pulses can help you lose weight! They curb cravings and have even been tied to a 50 percent boost in post-meal calorie burning.
Vegan protein source #2: Peanuts
While peanuts are classified as a legume in the botanical sense, we typical eat them as a nut. As far as nuts and beans go, peanuts boast the highest protein content, with 10 grams in a handful (1/4 cup). Peanuts can be a snack all by themselves, obviously, but consider sprinkling them into your yogurt parfait or atop a green salad or stir fry. Rich in the antioxidants linoleic acid and vitamin E, peanuts are a smart vegan protein choice. Nutritionists are loving peanut butter powder, a natural way to amp up the protein in your meals.
Vegan protein source #1: Tempeh
Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake that comes in a brick-like form, has been eaten in Asia for centuries. Slices of tempeh can be marinated and cooked in a variety of ways. Without much taste of its own, tempeh will inherit the flavors of the marinades, spices, and seasonings you add. Or try it crumbled into marinara sauce or chili for a vegan protein burst. With 15 grams of protein in just 3 ounces, tempeh packs a serious protein punch for the vegan diet and can clear up your acne with its probiotics. It’s also rich in fiber and a good source of zinc, riboflavin, copper, and phosphorus. Learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet and how to avoid any pitfalls.