Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is an essential macronutrient and a part of a balanced diet.
Protein is one of the basic building blocks of cellular life and is present in almost every cell of our bodies. It’s essential for healthy growth and development and helps our body regenerate cells and heal.
When I first told my family that I was going vegan, my dad’s first reaction was, “How are you going to get your protein, Emma?”
He’s not alone, either. One of the most common reasons why many Americans won’t give up meat is because they see it as the only viable protein source.
This simply isn’t true. There are plenty of plant-based vegan protein sources that will provide your body with all of the protein it needs to survive, thrive, and continue growing.
In today’s post, I’m going to show you the best vegan protein sources and explain how much protein vegans should be consuming in their diet.
Where Do Vegans Get Their Protein?
One of the most common myths propagated in Western culture (and especially American culture) is that meat is the only, or at least the best, source of protein.
To be fair, meat has been the leading source of protein in the Western world for the past few hundred years. However, other civilizations were consuming plant-based protein long before the modern meat industry became a global phenomenon.
For example, in countries like China and India, plant-based protein is far more prevalent than eating meat.
The only reason that the meat industry is so huge now is thanks to modern refrigeration, fast transportation, and chemical preservatives. Without those three things, the meat will still be somewhat of a luxury.
One of the most interesting aspects of this is that countries that consume higher amounts of plant-based protein have lower rates of cancer and terminal illnesses.
Dr. Colin Campbell’s, The China Study, analyzed the Chinese diet and health comparing it with the Western diet and health. The results were astounding:
Vegans get all of their protein from natural, plant-based sources. Some of the most common sources are legumes and beans, which contain high levels of protein and essential amino acids. Nuts and grains are other good sources of protein.
Think about it – most large animals get their protein from plants as well. Large creatures like horses, elephants, cows, and even the legendary rhinoceros get all of their protein from plant-based sources.
This is more than enough evidence to prove that plant-based protein is just as capable of sustaining life as meat-derived protein.
How Much Protein Do You Need
If you want your vegan diet and lifestyle to go smoothly, you’ll need to ensure that you’re consuming a balanced diet.
The amount of protein you consume is very important. Not getting enough protein is commonly associated with symptoms such as:
- Reduced muscle mass
- Low iron levels
- Chronic fatigue and low energy levels
One of the scariest symptoms of low protein levels is that your body starts stealing its own protein from your skeleton. This, in turn, reduces the strength of your bones and makes you more prone to injuries, stress fractures, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Simply put, make sure you’re eating enough protein!
But how much is enough?
The latest science indicates that people should consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Currently, I weigh 135 pounds, so if you do the math, I should consume an average of 48 grams of protein per day.
If you’re an athlete, vegan bodybuilder, or you have an intense or physically-demanding job, then you may need to consume more.
This ensures that you’re able to keep up with your body’s energy expenditure and will allow your muscles to recover and grow stronger.
Bodybuilders and athletes should aim to consume around 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So, if I decided to start taking weight-lifting seriously, I would need to up my protein intake to around 95 grams per day.
Vegan Protein Sources Chart
Below, I’ll provide you with an in-depth breakdown of the best vegan protein sources. However, for those of you who like it short and simple, here’s a good visual to help you identify quality vegan protein sources:
|Vegan Protein Source||Protein Content|
|Beans & Legumes||7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving|
|Tofu||17 grams of protein per 100-gram serving (about the size of your palm)|
|Tempeh||18 grams of protein per 3 oz. serving|
|Seitan||25 grams of protein per 100-gram serving (about the size of your palm)|
|Pea Protein Isolate||15 grams of protein per scoop|
|Soy Protein Isolate||23 grams of protein per scoop|
|Vegan Meat (i.e., Beyond Meat Burger)||20 grams of protein per burger patty|
The Best Vegan Protein Sources: Listed
As you can see, there are plenty of excellent vegan protein sources to choose from!
Like meat, vegan protein can be prepared and eaten in a variety of different ways, so you’ll never get bored of eating the same thing over and over again.
Now, as I promised, here’s an in-depth breakdown of the best vegan protein sources on the market.
Beans come from the legume family (beans, soy, lentils, peas, and nuts) are one of the oldest sources of protein known to man.
Some scientists believe that prior to homo sapien evolution, our early human ancestors lived in the trees and ate primarily plant-based foods.
In general, beans are low in fat and moderately high in protein and carbohydrates. This makes it a near-perfectly-balanced food. Beans are also full of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that our body needs.
A single serving of beans contains around 120 calories and 7 grams of protein.
It’s also high in dietary fiber, which means that a 1/2 cup serving is more than enough to fill you up when paired with a light carb source like rice or potatoes.
When most people think of vegans, tofu is one of the first things that come to mind. Long before tofu was a vegan trend, though, it was a regular dietary staple in China.
Tofu is made from coagulated (curdled) soy milk. Although the process involves the use of chemical enzymes, the resulting product is both natural and healthy.
A single palm-sized serving of tofu contains 145 calories and 17 grams of protein. It’s also a relatively high-fat food and contains 9 grams of healthy plant-based fat per serving.
Lastly, tofu is rich in macrominerals and trace minerals that are vital to our health!
There are different varieties of tofu, each offering different levels of firmness (ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm) and slightly different flavors.
By itself, tofu tastes pretty bland. If you’ve ever had soy milk, it’s pretty similar.
Tofu’s inherent blandness is what makes it such a versatile food, though. You can cook tofu in almost any seasoning or sauce that you could imagine, and find a way to make it taste great.
I wouldn’t exactly eat a bowl of tofu by itself. When cooked and added to a meal, though, I love tofu. It’s also pretty affordable!
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food that’s often confused with tofu. They’re both made from soy and they’re both served in similar-sized squares.
Unlike tofu, which is made from coagulated soy milk, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans.
Tempeh is made from whole fermented soybeans that are then pressed into a square and allowed to harden and dry.
That being said, tempeh is a lot firmer than tofu. I’ve found that it’s best compared to the texture and firmness of a protein bar.
Each 3 ounce serving of tempeh has an average of 160 calories and 18 grams of plant-based protein.
Tempeh is also fiber-rich and contains 28% of your daily recommended fiber, making it excellent for your digestion. It has moderately high levels of B vitamins, iron, and calcium as well.
One of the coolest things about tempeh is that it’s good for your stomach! Since it’s a fermented food, it’s full of naturally-occurring healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) that support a healthy stomach and immune system.
In my opinion, tempeh tastes a lot better than tofu. It has a nutty, umami flavor profile that makes it taste similar to cashews.
While tempeh is okay by itself, I recommend cooking it with your favorite seasonings. Tempeh is a great option for making vegan stir-fry!
Or, you can try baking it, as shown in this video:
I only recently learned about seitan and it’s a really interesting food. Seitan is essentially rinsed dough. Seitan starts as a big ball of wheat dough (from all-purpose flour).
The ball of dough is rinsed and kneaded under cool water for about twenty minutes to wash all of the starch out. This process turns the large ball of dough into a smaller, softer lump of raw seitan.
Washing out the starch removes most of the carbohydrates from the dough. What’s left behind is the concentrated wheat gluten, which is very high in protein. At this point, the seitan is soft and has the consistency of wet bread.
There are a number of ways to cook seitan, but I enjoy lightly frying it in olive oil or steaming it like a dumpling.
Like tofu, seitan is pretty bland-tasting, so you can get creative when it comes to seasoning and spice. I usually sprinkle a bit of nutritional yeast and Caribbean seasoning on mine!
Is Seitan Nutritious?
A single 100-gram serving of seitan has a whopping 25 grams of protein and only contains 126 calories, making it one of the most high-protein vegan foods on the planet.
In fact, it has almost the same amount of protein as a chicken breast!
In addition to protein, seitan is also a rich source of natural minerals like selenium, copper, iron, phosphorus, and calcium.
The only problem is that seitan is hard to find in the store since it’s one of those things that’s best eaten fresh. However, seitan is simple and easy to make at home and only requires a few ingredients:
5) Pea Protein Isolate
Pea protein powder has been growing in popularity and is an excellent source of plant-based protein. You can either purchase pure (isolate) protein powder or you can purchase a flavored protein powder that might be sweeter.
A single 1-scoop serving of pea protein isolate has around 60 calories and 15 grams of protein, making it a low-calorie, low-fat source of protein.
Peas are incredibly nutritious and the resulting pea protein reflects this. Pea protein isolate is rich in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Pea protein is best consumed in a shake. Personally, I like to make a protein shake using oat milk, agave syrup, ice, and chopped banana. That being said, I have seen several videos where chefs used pea protein as a base and turned it into something similar to seitan.
6) Soy Protein
Soy protein has been around for quite some time and has been a staple in the fitness industry.
It’s especially prevalent in women’s fitness, as it’s been shown to help with the hormonal balance due to the fact that isoflavones in soy are similar to estrogen.
While this is great for women, soy protein can inhibit testosterone production and muscle growth in men. For this reason, pea protein is more popular among men.
A single 1-scoop serving of soy protein isolate contains just 120 calories and 25 grams of protein, making it nearly as protein-dense as seitan.
Soy is also loaded with healthy amino acids, as well as naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals.
Conclusion – What’s The Best Vegan Protein Source?
Consuming real food is, by far, the best vegan protein source. By eating foods like tempeh, beans, legumes, or seitan, you’ll allow your body to absorb the protein more naturally.
However, protein supplements like soy protein or pea protein can make for a great meal replacement shake!
If you’re a vegan bodybuilder, then it’s especially important to make sure you’re getting enough protein powder. To learn more about the YouTube-famous athlete and vlogger, “Vegan Gains,” keep on reading here!