There are a plethora of vegan protein sources available for those following a plant-based diet. Eating a combination of these foods daily can help provide complete protein and keep meals interesting.
Vegan protein sources are crucial for those on purely plant-based diets. The amino acids in proteins are the building blocks for muscles, tissues and assist with immune function, so consuming several protein-rich ingredients is critical. It can be a challenge to obtain all of the nine essential amino acids from single types of plants alone. That’s why it’s necessary for those on a vegan diet to incorporate a variety of food sources that are high in protein and healthy fats to receive all the required nutrients for normal body function.
The good news is there are many tasty ways to enjoy vegan sources of protein. Ranging from nuts and seeds, soy products, legumes and grains which all vary in the amount of protein. This guide provides non-animal-based protein options, many being gluten-free, for those who live a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle or would like to incorporate more plants into their diet.
Types of Vegan Protein Sources
These inexpensive and versatile legumes are packed with protein and fiber. It takes a while to make them on the stove top, but canned beans are an excellent convenience product when short on time. With so many options, the most popular being black bean, pinto, kidney, and cannellini, I love to add them to burgers, soups, stews, salads, tacos, and dips.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/2 cup (130g) – 150 calories, 10g protein, 1.50g total fat, 23g carbohydrates, 10g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 341 mg sodium, 40 mg calcium, 3.6 mg iron. (Reference: Canned black beans)
Also referred to as garbanzo beans, this staple legume in the Mediterranean and the Middle East are a source of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. Most often beige with a mealy texture and mild flavor, chickpeas have become a favorite snack when baked until crispy or added to salads and dips like hummus. The liquid from canned garbanzo beans is often used as an egg replacer called aquafaba.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/2 cup (120g) – 106 calories, 6g protein, 2.3g total fat, 16g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 42 mg calcium, 1.5 mg iron. (Reference: Canned garbanzo beans)
Lentils are available dried and vary in color and size. There are many types of lentils ranging from brown, green, Lentilles du Puy, red, yellow and black and they all have different textures and tastes. Learning how to cook lentils is easy, and each type lends well to be used in soups, stews, sides or salads.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (50g) – 180 calories, 13g protein, 0.50g total fat, 30g carbohydrates, 15g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.5 mg iron. (Reference: Raw green lentils)
Pea protein, especially in powder form has become commonplace to add as a vegan and vegetarian source. You will often find it in protein powders. Eaten fresh, frozen, or canned, peas also have additional benefits as the nutrients and fibers are retained in the whole plant. They are easy to add to soups, stews, rice dishes and more!
Nutritional Profile: Per 1 cup (98g) – 26 calories, 1.76g protein, 0.13g total fat, 4.76g carbohydrates, 1.6g dietary fiber, 2.52g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 27 mg calcium, 2.1 mg iron. (Reference: Raw podded peas)
Globally, soybeans or soya beans are the highest consumed food and for a good reason. They contain a significant amount of protein and provide all nine essential amino acids. These oval beige oilseeds are often used to make soy milk, tofu, tempeh and textured vegetable protein.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (43g) – 170 calories, 15g protein, 8g total fat, 14g carbohydrates, 10g dietary fiber, 3g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 129 mg calcium, 7.25 mg iron. (Reference: Shiloh Farms uncooked soybean)
Tofu is made from soymilk by pressing the curds into solid slabs. The press time, amount of coagulant and whey removed will result in different types of tofu; silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm tofu textures. This soy-based high protein source has a lightly sweet and nutty flavor and is versatile in many culinary applications. Cut into cubes and baked, fried, marinated, grilled, sauteed or stir-fried, the options are endless.
Nutritional Profile: Per 4 ounces (112g) – 96 calories, 12g protein, 4.70g total fat,1g carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 0.4g sugars, 36 mg sodium, 166 mg calcium, 1.9 mg iron. (Reference: House Foods firm tofu)
Often used in Japanese cuisine, edamame is immature soybeans. They come in their pods, and the green tender beans can be enjoyed once boiled or steamed. An excellent protein snack, add to salads, sides or stir-fries.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/2 cup (75g) – 120 calories, 9g protein, 5g total fat, 11g carbohydrates, 8g dietary fiber, 2g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 40 mg calcium, 1.64 mg iron. (Reference: Ito boiled shelled edamame)
This rectangular shaped pressed cake is made from fermented cooked soybeans. It often contains a mixture of grains with flavoring agents. However, soy free versions are also available. It has a robust nutty flavor and holds its shape well during cooking. It can be marinated and used in stir-fries, sandwiched or cut in in slabs to make seared or grilled steaks.
Nutritional Profile: Per 8 ounces (227g) – 460 calories, 42g protein, 16g total fat, 32g carbohydrates, 24g dietary fiber, 2g sugars, 20 mg sodium, 159 mg calcium, 8.6 mg iron. (Lightlife Tempeh Original)
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
These crunchy soybean flakes are used as a meat extender or, vegetarian meat substitute. Stir them into mixes for tacos, chili, sandwiches, meatballs or meatloaf. It’s a versatile gluten-free meat alternative.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (24g) – 80 calories, 12g protein, 0g total fat, 7g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 3g sugars, 2 mg sodium, 80 mg calcium, 5.63 mg iron. (Reference: Bob’s Red Mill high protein textured vegetable protein)
Also known as “wheat meat,” seitan is made from wheat gluten. The texture is very chewy, mimicking chicken or beef. Often sold in slabs, pre-cut slices, cubes, or pre-seasoned. Lends well to marinating, coating and fried, or stir-fried.
Nutritional Profile: Per 8 ounces (227g) – 280 calories, 56g protein, 4g total fat, 10g carbohydrates, 0g dietary fiber,0g sugars, 800 mg sodium, 0 mg calcium, 0 mg iron. (Reference: Sweet Earth Natural Foods Traditional Seitan)
Bulgar is made from the golden grains of parboiled or steamed wheat kernels or berries. It’s then dried, with some of the bran removed, and then further ground. The neutral-tasting grain cooks relatively quick, depending on if it’s medium or coarse ground, and should be rinsed before cooking to remove excess starches. It’s a popular grain used in tabbouleh.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (42g) – 150 calories, 3g protein, 0.6g total fat, 34g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 0 mg calcium, 0.77 mg iron. (Reference: Finest Food Distributing Co. Uncooked bulgur wheat)
Wheat berries are the whole kernels of wheat that have not been processed. They have a chewy texture and take longer to cook but provide proper nutrition. It can be added to salads, soups or as a side dish.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/2 cup (82g) – 280 calories, 9g protein, 1.50g total fat, 62g carbohydrates, 10g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.47 mg iron. (Reference: Gretchen’s Grains uncooked wheat berry)
This olive green grain with nutty and smoky flavors is made from immature durum wheat. It has three times more fiber and two times more protein than white rice, rivaling quinoa in macronutrient profile. It can be purchased whole or cracked and boiled until tender. It’s often eaten in eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines like salads and pilafs.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (46g) – 170 calories, 7g protein, 1g total fat, 33g carbohydrates, 8g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 74 mg calcium, 6 mg iron. (Reference: Bob’s Red Mill organic cracked freekeh)
Barley is a nutty cereal grain famous for its use in beer making but can be eaten for its protein and fiber content. It can be purchased with is bran intact (hulled) or removed (pearled) which cooks quicker. It’s easy to add to salad, soups or a nice alternative to rice for risotto.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (50g) – 180 calories, 15g protein, 0.50g total fat, 39g carbohydrates, 8g dietary fiber, 10g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 0.76 mg iron. (Reference: Uncooked pearled barley)
Oats are a cereal grass that has found its way into breakfast and desserts. The hallmark of oats is the soluble and insoluble fibers, and beta-glucans. They also have a balance of protein, fat, and carbs and known as a whole-grain food. They are sold as steel cut that is partially cooked and cut into small rounds, old-fashioned which are hulled, steamed and pressed flat, or instant that is precooked and dried. Eat them as a porridge, soak them overnight for a ready to go breakfast, make oat milk or add them to snacks like energy bites.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/2 cup (48g) – 190 calories, 7g protein, 3.50g total fat, 32g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.25 mg iron. (Reference: Bob’s Red Mill uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats)
Depending on the variety you choose, there will be a different taste, textures and nutritional value. The rice grain is mainly endosperm and may contain the germ, bran, and husk if not removed. White rice is more tender because it has been husked, while brown rice still has not and takes longer to cook, but it has more nutrients retained. Long, medium and short grain rice are available that yield different textures when cooked. Red and black rice are also available that have additional antioxidants.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1 cup (195g) – 218 calories, 4.5g protein, 1.6g total fat, 46g carbohydrates, 3.5g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 1 mg sodium, 10 mg calcium, 0.5 mg iron. (Reference: Cooked brown rice)
Amaranth is a gluten-free and protein-rich grain native to Peru. The fibers aid in digestion and the calcium helps with bone health. The nutty and toasted flavored grains and flour can be used in cooking. It’s boiled and simmered uncovered, about 1/2 cup amaranth to 1 1/2 cups water. Use flour in baked goods, and grains in breakfast porridge, puddings, and as replacements for rice or other grains.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1 cup (246g) – 251 calories, 9.4g protein, 4g total fat, 46g carbohydrates, 5.2g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 15 mg sodium, 116 mg calcium, 5.17 mg iron. (Reference: Cooked amaranth)
Farro is a nutty ancient grain that provides an excellent source of dietary fiber, a good source of protein and iron per serving. It’s boiled and then simmered until the grains are tender. Great to add to soups, stews, risottos or salads.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (13g) – 170 calories, 7g protein, 1g total fat, 35g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 10 mg calcium, 1 mg iron. (Reference: Uncooked pearled farro)
Quinoa is a superfood seed of the goosefoot plant from the Andes Mountains that is one of the few plant-based proteins that provide all nine essential amino acids. The seeds have a nutty taste but should be rinsed before cooking to remove the slightly bitter flavor from their protective coating called saponins. They come in yellow, black and red and often mixed. Quinoa is cooked like rice and can take on other flavors for a tasty side dish or used in burgers or fritters.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (43g) – 156 calories, 6g protein, 2.50g total fat, 27g carbohydrates, 3g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 47 mg calcium, 4.6 mg iron. (Reference: Uncooked quinoa)
These tiny golden or brown seeds are loaded with fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha-linolenic acid. They come whole or ground. However, the milled seeds have special thickening ability. Flax “eggs” is a combination of ground flaxseeds and water, which thicken after a few minutes and used as an egg substitution in baked goods for structure. Sprinkling the seeds or milled flax seeds can nutritionally boost any snack, beverage or sweets.
Nutritional Profile: Per 2 teaspoons (13g) – 60 calories, 3g protein, 3.50g total fat, 5g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 2.5 mg iron. (Reference: Bob’s Red Mill golden flaxseed meal)
Chia can come in black or white tiny round seeds that pack a nutritional punch. When combined with liquids, the outer coating swells to create a thickening effect. They are neutral in flavor, have a jelly texture with a crunch. It’s often added to drinks, smoothies, puddings, and jams for fiber and protein.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (36g) – 180 calories, 6g protein, 11g total fat, 16g carbohydrates, 14g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 5 mg sodium, 250 mg calcium, 3.4 mg iron. (Reference: Black chia seeds)
These green roasted seeds are often used in Mexican cuisine, also known as pepitas. It’s most well known for its high levels of magnesium, about 74 milligrams per 2 tablespoons. Pepitas has a nice crunch to salads and soups. Roasted pumpkin seeds also make a great high fiber snack.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (30g) – 160 calories, 10g protein, 13g total fat, 4g carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 7.5 mg iron. (Reference: Giant Eagle roasted pepitas)
Hulled Hemp Hearts
When the hulled green and cream colored seeds are removed from the hemp plant, they yield a nutty and earthy tasting ingredient. One serving provides 10 grams of protein plus healthy fats. The tender hemp hearts can be added on top of porridge, non-dairy yogurts, smoothies, and salads.
Nutritional Profile: Per 3 tablespoons (30g) – 160 calories, 10g protein, 12g total fat, 23g carbohydrates, 10g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 12 mg calcium, 4 mg iron. (Reference: Bob’s Red Mill hulled hemp seed hearts)
Nuts and Nut Butters
Any nut you can dream of, almonds, peanuts, cashews, Brazil, pecans or walnuts are a nutrient-dense vegan protein source. They make a great snack or can be used as toppings, incorporated into sauces, soups, and stews to add richness and thickness, ground for baking like almond flour, or can be soaked to make dairy-free milk and cheeses. Nut butter like almond and peanut butter are easy to make and add as spreads or in sauces. Although high in protein, nuts also are higher in fat and calories, so moderation is key.
Nutritional Profile: Per 1/4 cup (28g) – 180 calories, 10g protein, 16g total fat, 5g carbohydrates, 3g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 0 mg sodium, 80 mg calcium, 1.9 mg iron. (Reference: Unsalted roasted almonds)
Please note, all nutritional profile information is appropriate and was gathered from the food manufacturer’s website or the USDA National Nutrient Database.
I hope that you found this guide to vegan protein sources helpful! As you can see, there are a lot of ways to incorporate a variety of plant-based vegan foods into your diet each day. If there is a protein source that you think should be added to the list, or you have a question about, please leave a comment below!