If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ve probably been asked time and time again “What are you going to do for protein?” The reason being is that many people are unaware that plant-based protein exists.
The truth is, many plant-based foods can provide excellent protein content. Check out this plant-based list of foods that are packed with the protein your body needs. Also, discover some protein-rich vegan recipes.
Eating On A Vegetarian And/Or Vegan Diet: The Ultimate Plant-Based Protein List
So, how much protein does your body actually need? Well, believe it or not — it’s not as much as you might think.
That’s not to say you don’t need complete protein sources. You do. Your body needs protein for a variety of reason including to support the health of the following:
- Connective tissue
But you don’t need to devour massive amounts of protein every day. If you’re a somewhat active adult, the daily protein intake to meet the recommended dietary allowance (or RDA) would likely only supply about 10% of your total daily calories.2
In fact, did you know the recommended dietary allowance for protein is only 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight? That’s all you need to meet the basic nutritional requirements that would keep you from putting your health at risk (in theory).3
But contrary to popular belief, protein content doesn’t just come from animal and dairy products. Protein can also come from grains, vegetables, and even certain kinds of fruit.
A Note About Amino Acids
Amino acids are organic compounds that make up the building blocks of protein. All protein, whether it comes from a plant or an animal, is made up of a chain of amino acids. There are almost 20 common amino acids — and they happen to be present in both plant-based foods and animal protein.4 Amino acids can be divided into three categories: essential, nonessential, and conditional.
Essential amino acids cannot be made by your body. They can only come from some external source — like food or supplements.5
The amino acids your body can naturally make are called nonessential amino acids. These are the amino acids your body doesn’t need to get from food.6
Finally, conditional amino acids are those you only need under specific circumstances — like if your body is fighting an illness or stress.7
Amino acids may help —
- Support muscle growth and repair
- Fight oxidative stress
- Support healthy digestion8,9
So, make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and get all the amino acids your body needs.
Are Plant Proteins Complete Proteins?
Complete proteins possess all of the essential amino acids needed to produce a single molecule of protein. While animal sources generally provide complete protein, vegetable sources may lack one or two of the essential amino acids. However, even though animal proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, doctors and researchers are concerned about how many saturated fats these foods contain — especially compared to vegetable protein sources.10
So, as a vegan, you should combine your foods and do your best to consume grains, vegetables, pulses, nuts, and seeds to ensure you’re getting the complete amino acid profile your body needs. Needless to say that if you do eat enough of these healthy foods, you will naturally get all of the essential amino acids you need.
And here’s one more tip: Just 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast can yield up to 8 grams of protein.11 So grab some nutritional yeast and sprinkle it over your soups, salads, and whole-grain pasta for a protein-packed punch.
High Protein Foods To Include In Your Plant-based Diet: Seeds, Nuts, And Beans
If you want to eat a healthy diet, it’s important that the bulk of your diet come from vegetables, plant-based fats (like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and tahini), and whole grains or starchy vegetables (think brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and spaghetti squash).13
You may have grown up with meat as the focal point of your meals. Dinner is often centered around an animal protein and something to go with it. But that’s an old idea. You can disrupt that old habit by replacing animal meat with pulses.
Pulses are plant seeds you can eat and they come from the legume family. They grow in pods and can be various colors, sizes, and shapes. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) verifies the following different kinds of pulses —
- Dry beans — black beans, navy beans, red kidney beans
- Dry peas — yellow peas and green peas
- Chickpeas — Kabuli and Desi chickpeas
- Lentils — green lentils, red lentils
- Dry broad beans — Fava beans
- Bambara beans
- Pigeon peas
As far as high protein nuts and seeds go, the list below covers some of the most reliable protein sources. The amount of protein listed is per ounce.
- Hemp seeds (9 grams of protein)
- Pumpkin seeds (8.5 grams protein)
- Sunflower seeds (5.5 grams protein)
- Flax seeds (5.2 grams of protein)
- Sesame seeds (4.8 grams protein)
- Chia seeds (4.7 grams of protein)
- Peanuts (6.9 grams of protein)
- Almonds (6 grams of protein)
- Pistachios (6 grams of protein)
- Cashews (4.3 grams of protein)14
High-Protein Vegetables: Kale And Broccoli
Again, plant-sourced, protein-rich foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, soy foods, and whole grains. But you can also reap in the protein from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and leafy green vegetables like kale.15
Not only is kale a good source of protein, but recent research has revealed kale’s potential to be one of the healthiest foods when it comes to vitamin and nutrient value. Kale is thought to contain certain micronutrients and dietary fibers that also act as prebiotics in your gut and can help support your body’s overall nutrient absorption.16
High Protein Fruits: Avocado And More
When you think of high protein foods, fruits don’t usually come to mind. Fruits usually don’t make the list. Yet, there are a few surprises in the fruit department.
Avocado — Don’t discount the all-powerful avocado. Just one avocado has about 4 grams of protein.17 Remember, avocado is a fruit and a versatile superfood that is great when combining foods to meet your daily protein needs. Spread it on toast, add it to salads, or simply pour some olive oil and lemon juice on the meat of an avocado and scoop it out with a spoon. Yum.
Guava — Guava is actually another great fruit at the top of the list with a whopping 4.2 grams of protein per cup. Guava can also provide 4 times your daily value of vitamin C in a single serving. Guava is also filled to the brim with antioxidants and is a wonderful source of fiber. How’s that for a superfood?18
Jackfruit — Jackfruit is becoming more popular in grocery stores throughout the country. Not only that, but jackfruit packs almost 3 grams of protein per cup. It happens to be up there in the vitamin C and potassium departments too.19
Apricots — Apricots are protein-filled clocking in at 2.2 grams of protein per cup. Try snacking on dried apricots for a delicious snack. Whether you top granola with dried apricots or just pop a few in your mouth for a midday snack, apricots are another choice fruit when it comes to protein powder.20
In The End
Veganism and vegetarianism have some great health benefits. Once you know which plant foods contain the most protein, you’ll find it easy to give your body the protein it needs.
Vegans don’t need to worry about not being able to find enough protein, but you should be conscious about including protein-rich plant foods in your diet. If you eat enough of the right fruits, grains, and veggies you will likely meet your required protein intake. And as always, remember to get your doctor’s approval before making any changes to your diet. Your doctor can also help you come up with a plan for how much protein you should be getting and the best sources of protein for you.