If you are newly vegan or a veteran vegan who is interested in incorporating more protein in their diet, it’s important to know what vegan foods provide adequate protein. The chart in this article shows the best protein sources for vegans.
How much protein do vegans need daily?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 46-52 grams per day for those aged 14 and up. That being said, you may need more protein depending on your lifestyle. I discuss protein needs for certain populations in this article.
Along with this, it’s important to consider that plant based protein is less digestible compared to animal based protein. This means that even if two people consume the same amount of plant based or animal based protein, the person consuming only animal based protein would absorb more than the one who only consumed plant based protein.
This doesn’t mean plant based protein is “bad”. In fact, there is some research to suggest consuming plant based protein is more healthful than consuming animal based protein, despite its lower digestibility.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, it’s best to aim for a higher amount of protein than the RDA (0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight). If you are a 150 lb person, this would equal to about 55-82 grams of protein per day.
Do vegans need to supplement protein?
No, vegans do not need to supplement protein. But, that being said, most vegans should probably supplement since it’s rather difficult to get adequate protein from a vegan diet alone. If you carefully plan out your meals to ensure adequate protein intake, you should be able to meet adequate protein levels through food, but this can be hard to maintain long term.
There are plenty of ways to supplement your diet with plant based protein. You can find a variety of protein powders, bars and shakes online or in your local grocery store. Just be sure to check the label to ensure there are no animal products, particularly dairy or egg. Dairy products can be labeled as whey, casein or milk protein isolate.
Here are a few plant-based protein supplements I like:
What categories of vegan foods are highest in protein?
There are several categories of vegan foods that are particularly high in protein compared to others. It’s best to base all of your meals and snacks around these kinds of foods so that you can easily hit your protein goals.
Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes are going to be the best way to get protein into your diet. The amount of protein in beans depends on the variety, but for the most part, you should expect to get about 14 grams of protein per 1 cup of beans. This includes black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, white northern beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas, edamame, lentils, lima beans and more.
Tofu is a unique food that fits into this category as well. Tofu is made from soybeans in a process similar to cheese making. One black of extra firm tofu contains about 45 grams of protein. If you are vegan, adding tofu to your diet is a must (unless you are allergic to soy of course).
Another way to consume soy is soy milk, which is also rather high in protein. One cup of soy milk contains about 8 grams of protein.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are another great way to get protein into your diet. But, while these foods are often described as “high protein”, they are far higher in fat than other protein sources. For example, the calories in almonds are about 72% fat and 13% protein. That being said, they still do contain a good amount of protein and the fats come from unsaturated sources, which are healthier than their saturated counterparts.
Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains about 7 grams of protein, which is equivalent to one ounce of lean meat. Adding nut butters to toast, pancakes, oatmeal or desserts can be an easy way to boost your overall protein intake.
Whole grains can be another source of protein in a vegan diet. This being said, whole grains aren’t as great of a source as beans and legumes or nuts and seeds. But, by swapping out most of your refined grains with whole grains, you can easily add some extra protein in your diet.
For example, two slices of whole grain bread contains about 9 grams of protein. Pair with some almond butter, a banana and a cup of soy milk and you’ve got a 25 gram protein snack. Other types of whole grains include brown rice, whole grain pasta, popcorn, rolled oats, whole grain cereal, farro, barley and quinoa.
Is plant based protein as good as animal based protein?
This is a tough comparison because it depends on what metric you are looking at. For overall health, there is evidence to suggest plant based protein is better. But for overall absorbability and digestibility, animal protein seems to be better.
Protein digestibility can be compared using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score or PDCAAS. This score ranks different protein sources based on how well the body absorbs and digests them. The higher the score, the better.
Most animal proteins have a PDCAAS score near 1. Plant based protein PDCAAS scores vary depending on the source. Soy has an almost perfect score, while canola, potato and pea have scores between 0.8-0.9, lentils, chickpeas and quinoa have scores between 0.7-0.8, pinto beans, barley, fava and kidney beans have scores between 0.6-0.7 and corn, wheat, peanut, oat and rice have scores between 0.4-0.6.
So while plant foods contain protein, they are less absorbable than those in animal products. This doesn’t mean plant protein is “bad”, it just means you may need a bit more to reach your protein goals.
Overall effect on health
While plant based is less digestible compared to animal protein, it doesn’t mean it’s worse for your health. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that plant based protein provides more health benefits compared to animal based protein.
One review of studies found that consumption of plant based protein in whole food form can help reduce markers of metabolic syndrome, manage diabetes, reduce risk of certain cancers, improve digestive health and manage weight.
What are the symptoms of protein deficiency?
Protein deficiency is rare, but is more likely to occur in those who consume low protein diets, whether intentional or unintentional. Severe protein malnutrition is called kwashiorkor and is very uncommon in developed countries.
Symptoms of kwashiorkor include thin and dry skin, hypopigmented hair that easily falls out, edema, weak appearance, swollen belly, round face, low heart rate, low blood pressure, hypothermia and thin arms and thighs.
31 Best Protein Sources for Vegans Chart
|Beans and legumes|
|Falafel patty||4 ounces||11.6 grams|
|Tofu, firm||2 ounces||6.8 grams|
|Hummus||6 tablespoons||6.6 grams|
|Tempeh||1 ounces||5.8 grams|
|White beans||¼ cup||4.8 grams|
|Edamame||¼ cup||4.6 grams|
|Lentils||¼ cup||4.5 grams|
|Split peas||¼ cup||4.1 grams|
|Pinto beans||¼ cup||3.9 grams|
|Lima beans||¼ cup||3.7 grams|
|Navy beans||¼ cup||3.7 grams|
|Chickpeas||¼ cup||3.6 grams|
|Black beans||¼ cup||3.5 grams|
|Kidney beans||¼ cup||3.5 grams|
|Black eyed peas||¼ cup||3.3 grams|
|Refried beans||¼ cup||3.1 grams|
|Baked beans||¼ cup||3.0 grams|
|Fava beans||¼ cup||2.2 grams|
|Nuts and seeds|
|Pumpkin seeds||½ ounce||4.2 grams|
|Squash seeds||½ ounce||4.2 grams|
|Peanuts||½ ounce||3.7 grams|
|Peanut butter||1 tablespoon||3.6 grams|
|Almond butter||1 tablespoon||3.3 grams|
|Almonds||½ ounce||3 grams|
|Pistachios||½ ounce||3 grams|
|Sesame seeds||½ ounce||2.9 grams|
|Sunflower seeds||½ ounce||2.9 grams|
|Cashew butter||1 tablespoon||2.8 grams|
|Sunflower butter||1 tablespoon||2.8 grams|
|Cashews||½ ounce||2.6 grams|
|Flax seeds||½ ounce||2.6 grams|
|Tahini||1 tablespoon||2.5 grams|
|Chia seeds||½ ounce||2.3 grams|
|Walnuts||½ ounce||2.2 grams|
|Brazil nuts||½ ounce||2.0 grams|
|Whole wheat bread||1 slice||4.5 grams|
|Whole wheat pasta||½ cup cooked||4.2 grams|
|Quinoa||½ cup cooked||4.1 grams|
|Farro||½ cup cooked||3.3 grams|
|Whole wheat tortilla||1 small (6” diameter)||3.2 grams|
|Popcorn||3 cups, popped||3.1 grams|
|Brown rice||½ cup cooked||2.8 grams|
|Oatmeal||½ cup cooked||2.8 grams|
|Whole wheat bagel||2” mini bagel||2.6 grams|
|Whole wheat chapati or roti||1 small (6” diameter)||2.3 grams|
|Whole wheat crackers||5 crackers||2.2 grams|
|Whole grain cereal||1 cup, flakes or rounded||Varies|
|Fruits and vegetables|
|Green peas||1 cup||8.2 grams|
|Brussel sprouts||1 cup||5.7 grams|
|Spinach||1 cup cooked||5.3 grams|
|Artichoke||1 cup (5-6 hearts)||4.8 grams|
|Asparagus||1 cup||4.3 grams|
|Guava fruit||1 cup (3 guavas)||4.2 grams|
|Corn||1 cup||3.8 grams|
|Kale||1 cup||3.5 grams|
|Mushrooms||1 cup||3.4 grams|
|Potatoes||1 medium||3.2 grams|
|Sweet potato||1 medium||3.0 grams|
|Jackfruit||1 cup||2.8 grams|
|Avocado||1 medium||2.7 grams|
|Apricot||1 cup||2.2 grams|
|Blackberries||1 cup||2.0 grams|
High Protein Vegan Meal Plan Examples
Knowing what vegan foods are high in protein is one thing, but being able to create a meal plan that has enough protein, but also tastes good, is another challenge. Here are a few daily meal plans that provide adequate protein. These are purely for inspiration, but feel free to steal a few of these meals if they sound appealing to you.
Breakfast: Smoothie with 1 cup soy milk, 1 banana, 1 cup strawberries, 2 tbsp almond butter and ½ cup rolled oats
Lunch: 1 cup lentil soup topped with 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds and 1 medium whole wheat roll
Snack: 3 cups air popped popcorn with 1 cup blackberries and ½ cup roasted chickpeas
Dinner: 2 oz of teriyaki tofu with 1 cup brussel sprouts and 1 cup brown rice
Dessert: 1 serving vegan ice cream with 2 tbsp honey roasted almonds
- Energy: 2000 calories
- Protein: 80 grams
- Carbohydrates: 300 grams
- Fat: 68 grams
Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oatmeal made with soy milk with 1 cup raspberries, 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds and 1 tbsp honey
Lunch: 1 large whole wheat flour tortilla with ½ cup refried beans, 2 tbsp pico de gallo, ½ cup corn, 2 tbsp guacamole and ½ cup cooked mushrooms
Snack: ½ cup hummus with 1 small whole wheat pita and 1 cup carrots
Dinner: 1 cup whole wheat pasta with 1 cup tofu bolognese and 1 cup salad with dressing
Dessert: ½ cup vegan chocolate covered almonds
- Energy: 2100 calories
- Protein: 72 grams
- Carbohydrates: 310 grams
- Fat: 76 grams
Breakfast: Chia seed pudding made with ¼ cup chia seeds, 1 cup soy milk and 1 tbsp honey served with 1 cup strawberries and ½ a salted avocado
Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 2 tbsp almond butter, 1 tbsp honey, 1 banana and a side of 1 cup raw sliced red bell pepper
Snack: 1 cup corn flakes with ½ cup soy milk, 1 apple and 2 tbsp of peanut butter
Dinner: 3 oz of tempeh, 1 cup of stir fried vegetables and 1 cup brown rice
Dessert: 1 vegan chocolate chip cookie
- Energy: 2000 calories
- Protein: 70 grams
- Carbohydrates: 280 grams
- Fat: 81 grams