18 Of The Best Vegan Protein Sources You Can Eat

Tofu is far from your only option.


Marissa Miller |

Considering the fact that even well-known fast-food joints are now serving up plant-based burgers, it’s safe to say that being vegan protein sources are trendy right now.

Popular as they may be, though, processed meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are far from the only plant-based protein sources you have to choose from on a vegan diet.

Just how much protein you need depends on your weight and activity level (you can calculate your exact needs here). However, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it’s totally possible to meet your protein needs on a vegan diet — as long as you put a variety of whole plant foods on your plate throughout the day.

Variety is key here, since — with a few exceptions — plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t contain high levels of all nine of the essential amino acids that we need to get from our diets.

To get all of the aminos (and other nutrients) you need, dietitian Julieanna Hever, recommends eating as many different vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds as possible. As long as you mix it up regularly, you’ll do just fine in the protein department.

Bottom line: Don’t sweat the protein thing too much.

In fact, in a review published in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, Hever and her co-author concluded that the overall quality of a vegan diet (basically eating whole plant foods) was more important for health than how much protein, carbs, or fat it contained.

So go ahead and savour that Impossible Whopper every once in a while — but make sure you load up on as many of these nutrient-rich vegan protein sources as you can, too, kay?

1/ Amaranth

In addition to being rich in fibre and protein, this gluten-free grain delivers more than the recommended daily value of manganese, a micronutrient that supports proper brain function and could protect against neurodegenerative diseases, says Hever.

Sub it in for rice or toss it into salads.

Per serving (1 cup): 251 calories, 3.9 g fat (0 g saturated), 14.8 mg sodium, 46 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 5.2 g fibre, 9.3 g protein

2/ Peanuts

Technically a legume and not a nut (because they grow underground as opposed to on trees), peanuts are packed with healthy fats and protein, and are relatively inexpensive.

Try tossing them into noodle dishes or spreading peanut butter on toast.

Per serving (28 g): 161 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated), 5 mg sodium, 4.5 g carbs, 1.5 g sugar, 2.5 g fibre, 7.5 g protein

3/ Tofu

“We think of soy is a good plant-based protein source, but it’s more than that,” Hever says. “It contains lots of different things, including essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and fat.”

If you like your soy in tofu form, it makes a great meat substitute in stir-fries and blends tastelessly into smoothies.

Per serving (84 g, firm tofu): 121 calories, 7.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 12 mg sodium, 2.5 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 2 g fibre, 15 g protein

4/ Flaxseed

You can buy flax whole or ground, and both are super handy choices.

Flaxseed is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3s, which can help protect against chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, says Hever.

Stir whole flaxseed into oatmeal for crunch, or use ground flaxseed in baked goods like cookies and pie crusts.

Per serving (28 g): 150 calories, 12 g fat (1 g saturated), 8 mg sodium, 8 g carbs, 0.5 g fibre, 7.5 g sugar, 5 g protein

5/ Pistachios

In a nutshell (literally), the humble pistachio has got it all.“With a high serving size compared to other nuts, you get a huge bang for your buck,” says registered dietician Maggie Michalczyk.

A serving of 49 nuts offers six grams of protein, fibre and antioxidants in addition to nutritional benefits, including improved gut health. “They’re easy to add to almost any meal or dish, including yoghurts, overnight oats and even cookies,” she adds.

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Pistachios, dry roasted, 300g

R 139

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Per two tbsps serving: 159 calories, 13g fat (1g saturated), 8g carbs, 0mg sodium, 2g sugar, 3g fibre, 6g protein

READ MORE: 3 Common Mistakes Newbie Vegans Make That Lead To Weight Gain

6/ Quinoa

“Quinoa is one of the few plant-based foods that contain all nine essential amino acids,” says Michalczyk, which makes its protein more easy used by your body.

“In addition to being loaded with protein, this tasty ancient grain is packed with fibre, magnesium, iron, potassium, B vitamins and zinc,” she adds.

Quinoa basically belongs in any dish, but she specifically recommends swapping out rice in your go-to recipes with quinoa or roasting some seasonal veggies and serving them over the gluten-free grain for a nutrient-packed meal.

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White quinoa, 400g

R 69

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Per 1-cup serving: 222 calories, 3.5g fat (1g saturated), 39g carbs, 13mg sodium, 2g sugar, 5g fibre, 8g protein

7/ Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, magnesium, fibre, iron, zinc and phosphorous, according to Michalczyk.

The seeds (or hearts) are a great way to add a delicious nutty flavour to a range of meals and snacks.

Registered dietician Marisa Moore recommends sprinkling them over roasted vegetables or salads and using them in smoothies in place of protein powder. At 10 grams for three tablespoons, they truly pack a punch.

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Soaring Free Superfoods organic shelled hemp seeds

R 31

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Per 3 tbsp serving: 180 calories, 16g fat (1g saturated), 2g carbs, 0mg sodium, 2g sugar, 1g fibre, 10g protein

8/ Kidney beans

Who needs ground beef when vegan chilli loaded with kidney beans gets the job done just fine?

“These tasty little guys have many healthy benefits, including reducing cholesterol and lowering blood-sugar levels,” says Michalczyk.

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Auga organic red kidney beans, 400g

R 36

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Per 1-cup serving: 222 calories, 0g fat (0g saturated), 42g carbs, 619mg sodium, 6g sugar, 16g fibre, 14g protein

READ MORE: This Rich Vegan Curry Will Change The Way You Think About Chickpeas

9/ Chickpeas

Packed with both protein and fibre, chickpeas will keep you full for hours, and they’re easy to disguise in any dish.

“Roast chickpeas and add them to tacos and salads for a fun way to jazz up your meal and add new flavour to the mix,” says Michalczyk. And, of course, slather a dollop of hummus onto everything – replace mayo with it on your sandwiches, or use it as a dip for baby carrots.

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Goodness Me chickpeas, 500g

R 42

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Per 1-cup serving: 269 calories, 4g fat (0g saturated), 45g carbs, 11mg sodium, 8g sugar, 13g fibre, 15g protein

10/ Chia seeds

This small-yet-mighty seed is bursting with nutrients. Plus, they contain heaps of protein, fibre, heart-healthy fats, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, according to Michalczyk.

“Toss them in your overnight oats or yoghurt for a protein power boost,” she says.

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Truefoods chia seeds

R 50

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Per 1-ounce serving: 138 calories, 9g fat (1g saturated), 12g carbs, 5mg sodium, 0g sugar, 10g fibre, 5g protein

11/ Pumpkin seeds

Michalczyk’s favourite year-round seed contains a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, fibre and 12 grams of protein per one-cup serving.

She recommends sprinkling them on your salad or quinoa bowl for a delicious, nutty crunch.

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Naturgreen organic pumpkin seeds, 225g

R 89

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Per 1-ounce serving: 158 calories, 14g fat (3g saturated), 3g carbs, 2mg sodium, 0g sugar, 2g fibre, 9g protein

READ MORE: This Affordable Vegan Cheese Sauce Is So Creamy

12/ Green peas

Michalczyk cites legumes as one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat, and green peas are no exception.

Their protein content is particularly surprising given that we normally group them in with lower-protein vegetables, like carrots and corn. But hey, given how tasty they are topped on everything from pasta to mashed potatoes, I’m not complaining.

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Goodness Me green split peas, 500g

R 25

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Per 1-cup serving: 117 calories, 1g fat (0g saturated), 21g carbs, 7mg sodium, 8g sugar, 8g fibre, 8g protein

13/ Lentils

Lentils cook quicker than other pulses, making them ideal for soups and stews, according to Moore.

“I love to season lentils with coconut milk, vegetable broth, garlic and ginger,” she says. “Toss firmer ones like black beluga lentils with your favourite vinaigrette and greens for a simple salad.”

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Green lentils, 400g

R 29

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Per 1-cup serving: 230 calories, 1g fat (0g saturated), 40g carbs, 4mg sodium, 4g sugar, 16g fibre, 18g protein

14/ Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a nutritional powerhouse since it contains all nine essential amino acids, as well as B vitamins and antioxidants.

“It has a cheesy, nutty flavour, so it’s especially great for vegans who want to get that cheese-like taste on their food, and make sure they’re getting enough protein, too,” says Michalczyk.

Next movie night, try it on popcorn for a healthy faux-cheddar taste.

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Health Connection nutritional yeast

R 30

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Per 1/4-cup serving: 60 calories, 0.5g fat (0g saturated), 5g carbs, 25mg sodium, 0g sugar, 3g fibre, 8g protein

15/ Spelt

“One cup of this ancient grain, which is similar to wheat, contains a little over 10 grams of protein, making it a good plant-based option for vegans,” says Michalczyk.

“In addition to the protein, it contains fibre, too, which will help to keep you fuller for longer,” she says.

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Komati Foods organic spelt flour

R 113

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Per 1-cup serving: 246 calories, 2g fat (0g saturated), 51g carbs, 10mg sodium, 0g sugar, 8g fibre, 11g protein

READ MORE: “I’m A Vegan Intermittent Faster – Here’s How I Eat”

16/ Oats

Eggs used to be a morning go-to, but if animal byproducts are a no-go, overnight oats are your BFF.

“Consider them a good choice as your morning meal because, in addition to their protein content they contain fibre, specifically a fibre called beta-glucan, that has been shown to lower cholesterol,” says Michalczyk.

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Rolled oats, 400g

R 24

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Per 1-cup serving: 150 calories, 2.5g fat (0.5g saturated), 27g carbs, 0mg sodium, 1g sugar, 4g fibre, 5g protein

17/ Tempeh

It’s tough to find a vegetarian protein source that’s considered a complete protein source, but tempeh fits the bill.

“This fermented soy food is packed with flavour and may lend a probiotic boost,” says Moore. For a flavourful and satiating stir fry, she suggests marinating sliced tempeh in a mix of grated ginger and soy sauce, then searing it in a wok with peppers, onions and broccoli.

Per 6-slice serving: 140 calories, 3.5g fat (0g saturated), 40g carbs, 4mg sodium, 4g sugar, 16g fibre, 11g protein

18/ Edamame

Who knew your fave sushi joint appetiser packs a heck of a lot of protein?

“I keep frozen, shelled edamame in the freezer to add protein to stir-fry dishes and salads,” says Moore. “The ones in the pod also make a great snack simply tossed with coarse salt and pepper.”

For a quick satisfying snack, eat them straight from the pod or roast them with a dash of sea salt.

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Hungry Herbivore roasted edamame sriracha

R 28

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Per 1-cup serving: 188 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated), 14g carbs, 9mg sodium, 3g sugar, 8g fibre, 18g protein

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com 

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