Proteins are the building blocks of body tissue. This macronutrient give the body the energy it needs to grow and develop properly.
When protein is digested, it breaks down into amino acids.
The Institute of Medicine says that women need at least 46 grams of protein a day, and men need at least 56 grams a day.
When we think of the main sources of protein, the foods that come to mind are decidedly not vegan: meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.
This does not mean that vegans cannot get the proper amounts of protein.
Far from it!
Almost all foods have some protein, except for very processed foods, alcohol and oils, and some vegan protein sources are actually quite surprising!
There are actually many good things about not eating meat for protein. Meat is linked to all kinds of health ailments.
Getting your protein from plant sources, for example, can help you stay away from the high saturated fat and cholesterol level that is in animal-based protein.
It is also good for the environment to rely on plant foods for your protein and helps you save money, because lentils and chickpeas are so much cheaper than beef and poultry.
But protein sources don't end there.
There are many vegan protein sources that you can add to your diet.
It can be hard to get all the protein you need from one place, but if you use a few foods that are full of protein in your diet, you can reach the amount you need every day, and boost your health with the wide range of other vitamins and nutrients that are offered by vegan protein foods.
Here are the top ten sources of vegan protein:
Broccoli is not only a great source of fiber, but its protein content is surprising!
Who knew this ubiquitous veggie packed a protein punch?
And you can't go wrong with a vegetable that has been proven to contain cancer-fighting compounds. Per calorie, broccoli has more protein than beef! This power food contains about 4.5 grams of protein per 30 calories.
Broccoli is also packed with essential amino acids and fiber and vitamin B6, which is known to improve your mood. All of this makes broccoli a great vegetable option to serve with your dinner.
Tempeh absorbs any flavor, making it a great choice for a number of festive recipes.
It can also be fried, baked, sauteed or grilled.
You can add it to sandwiches, pasta, tacos, chili and many other dishes.
Tempeh contains probiotics, vitamin B, and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus.
Potatoes are another amazing - and surprising - source of protein.
A medium-sized spud contains a good amount of it, along with 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance of potassium.
just one russet pot contains 8g protein, more potassium than a banana, and is a great source of fiber.
Potatoes can be cooked in an endless number of ways. Try them mashed, roasted, baked or scalloped.
With 18g of protein per cooked cup, the humble lentil is an invaluable protein source for the vegan.
These legumes can be added to tacos, burritos, stews and salads.
Lentils can also be combined with other ingredients, such as walnuts, to make faux meats like taco ground "beef" and vegan burgers.
Lentils are a good choice for protein, but they are not a complete protein food because they don’t have all nine important amino acids.
There are many good health reasons to eat lentils. Lentils give energy, lower the risk of heart disease, help keep normal body weight and keep the digestive system healthy.
They're also cheap, fast to prepare and don't take up much room in the pantry.
Nuts, seeds and their derived products are great source of protein.
One ounce, about 28g, contains about 5-7g of protein depending on the variety.
There is a large variety of nuts, and they are all versatile and delicious.
You can make vegan cheese sauces, nut milk and butter, and even faux meats from different types of nuts.
Some of our favorite uses are walnuts blended with lentils and spices to make delicious taco fillings, and cashews soaked and blended up to make creamy sauces (sweet or savory, you choose!).
There are 21g of protein in one cooked of cooked beans.
They fill you up and build muscle and boost digestion. Pair them with rice, hummus or wholegrain bread for a whole meatless meal.
Black beans are also packed with heart-healthy fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B and a range of phytonutrients.
These are another great source of protein. One cup of boiled kidney beans has 15 grams of protein.
They have all nine essential amino acids, but they are not a complete protein because they don’t have a lot of methionine, a proteinogenic amino acid.
Kidney beans have a lot of fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins K and B6. They are also low in fat and cholesterol.
Far from humble, the bean comes in a wide variety of tastes and flavors and can be used to make a number of satisfying vegan dishes that you won't regret making, or eating.
These tiny little protein powerhouses are 19 percent protein.
They are similar to other seeds, but contain more protein than most cereals and grains. They are also chock full of fiber and omega 3s.
Like hemp seeds, they are nutrient-dense. These are yet again, another great source of protein.
Two tablespoons of chia seeds will give you 9.4 grams of protein. They are also one of the best plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds can help with digestion, treat anemia and give you energy, control blood sugar, stop aging signs and boost brainpower.
We love chia seeds in overnight pudding, chia seed jam to spread on whole-grain toast or dollop onto a serving of breakfast oatmeal.
You can also add them to smoothies for a bit of a protein boost. You can't go wrong with this miraculous little seed.
Just 100 g of tofu provides 8g of protein. This versatile vegan protein staple can be cooked in many ways.
You can marinate it, saute it, bake it, mash it or blend it.
It will absorb any flavor you put on it. Tofu is a soy milk product and is also a good source of protein. One half a cup of tofu has 10 grams of protein.
Tofu has eight essential amino acids and a lot of iron and calcium.
It also has manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
We love tofu scrambled up into a breakfast dish (add some broccoli and nutritional yeast for an additional protein boost), made up into a vegan quiche, fried and served with green beans or sauteed into a flavorful sofrito for wrapping up into a soft tortilla and eating like a taco.
There are few vegan ingredients as versatile as this one!
With more than 8 grams of vegan protein per cooked cup, you can use quinoa anyway you would use rice to boost your protein intake.
Prepare it as a side dish, mix it with veggies, wrap it in a burrito or salad or use it to form burger patties.
Quinoa has all nine important amino acids and is a full protein source.
Quinoa also has fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and folate.
Eating quinoa every day can lessen swelling, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer.
It can also help your digestion and help you keep healthy body weight.
Seitan is a popular protein source for many vegans. It's made from gluten, the main protein in wheat.
It's also extremely low in carbs since all the starch normally found in wheat flour is washed away during production of seitan.
One serving contains just 4g of carbohydrates. Seitan is one of the highest sources of plant-based protein, packing 20g of protein per 3-ounce serving.
So that concludes our list of the top 10 vegan fods in terms of protein content, but there are many other vegan foods that you can add to your diet if you want to give your vegan protein intake a boost.
Here are a few more than you should consider:
Edamame is another of the complete protein foods, which means that it has all the important amino acids you need in your diet.
Edamame has 17 grams of protein per cooked cup. Edamame beans have fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
These beans are also naturally gluten-free and don’t have a lot of calories. And did we mention they are delicious?
Eaten hot straight out of the pod, edamame is a nutritious treat that is on the menu at most Asian restaurants.
The original plant-based milk substitute, soy milk is used instead of milk by a lot of vegans.
It is full of protein and has vitamins A, B12 and D.
Soy milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup, is delicious by itself or over cereal, and can be used to make creamy soups, smoothies and oatmeal.
Blend up some soy milk with fresh fruit and freeze in a popsicle maker for protein-rich, heart-healthy vegan frozen treats.
One of the best sources of vegetable protein is green peas or any peas for that matter.
Green peas also have fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins B, C, A, and K. They are also low in calories.
Peas contain 8 to 10 grams of protein per cooked cup. Green peas can help lower the risk of heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.
This is a great reason to grow some peas in your backyard veggie patch (and don't forget the early spring pea shoots, which are a delicious treat on salads).
Peanut butter is a tasty treat and full of protein. This nut butter is a good source of monounsaturated fat and fiber. It is also full of vitamins.
Just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter have 8 grams of protein.
If you are careful not to eat too much of it at once, this butter can help lower high cholesterol and help keep a normal weight.
Nutritional yeast (nooch) is a beloved condiment among vegans.
Prized for its cheesy flavor (and thus used in sauces, mashed potatoes and dishes, like tofu quiche, that traditionally have cheese in them), this ingredient is also an excellent source of protein.
It packs 14 grams of protein per 28-gram serving! That same serving size also contains 7 grams of fiber, making it an exceptionally nutrient-dense food.
Fortified nooch also packs a lot of vitamin B12 (but check the label to make sure yours is fortified before relying on it for this vitamin).
Try nooch sprinkled on popcorn, salad and pasta, or as a topping for steamed or roasted vegetables.
Hemp seeds contain 10 grams of complete protein per ounce, as well as magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc and calcium.
Want omega 3 fatty acids?
Hemp seeds have those too. This power food is also thought to reduce inflammation and reduce symptoms of some skin maladies.
Hemp seeds are easy to use as they have a mild flavor.
Also known as hemp hearts, this ingredient should be a pantry staple in all plant-based kitchens.
You can sprinkle them into smoothies or on salads and soups.
Use them as an ingredient in granola or eat them over a bowl of plant-based yogurt to boost your protein intake for the day.
Bet you thought oats were just a carb. True, they are, and they contain fiber, but they also contain 12 grams of protein per cup (and 8 grams of fiber).
This is a great reason to start your day with a bowl of oatmeal.
You'll get magnesium zinc, phosphorus and folate in your diet as well. And oats aren't only for breakfast.
They make a great binder for legume- or bean-based vegan burgers or faux meatloaves, and you can grind them into flour and use to bake breads or muffins.
Spirulina is a type of algae - a tiny little creature that packs a huge nutritional wallop. Just two tablespoons of the stuff delivers 8 grams of complete protein.
That much spirulina also takes care of 22 percent of your recommended daily intake of iron.
Spirulina provides magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and potassium, as well as smaller amount of other nutrients.
It's thought to be antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and includes cancer-fighting agents.
Spirulina is great in smoothies or baked goods, and as a fun side-effect, turns things a beautiful blue-green color.
This is a great ingredient to have on hand if you need to naturally dye something green. We hope you've enjoyed this round-up of essential vegan proteins.
Maybe you're already a vegan nutritional rock star, or maybe this list gave you some ideas you haven't currently tried.
Whatever the case is, keep experimenting with new recipes - there is a world of vegan flavors out there waiting to be discovered!
A vegan freelance web designer and blog writer based out of Austin, Texas USA.
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