One of the most common barriers to switching to a vegan diet has to be protein — or rather, the apparent lack of it. But if the niggling worry of meeting your daily protein quota is the only thing holding you back from taking the plant-powered plunge, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Getting enough protein on a vegan diet is far easier than it seems. From nut butters and seeds to legumes and beans, you’ve probably got several versatile vegan protein sources hanging about in your kitchen already.
There’s no denying that adjusting to a life without eggs, meat and dairy can be challenging for the vegan-curious. But with a bit of careful planning and culinary creativity, you’ll be on the road to a healthy, satisfying and protein-packed vegan diet in no time.
Below, we cover the need-to-know facts on plant-based protein and share our pick of the most nutrient-dense, delicious and easily-sourced vegan protein sources to dig out from the back of your store cupboard or add to your next shopping list.
Vegan protein: The facts
What is protein and why do you need it?
Protein is one of three essential macronutrients, alongside carbohydrate and fat, that your body needs to thrive. In order to stay nourished and healthy, you’ll need to eat these key macronutrients in relatively large amounts.
The American Society for Nutrition states that:
‘Increasing intake of plant protein is associated with certain nutritional and health benefits, such as lower risks of cancer and coronary artery disease. ’
The human body is made up of around 100 trillion cells, which are each built up of thousands of individual proteins. Every single protein plays its unique part in maintaining your immune system, producing infection-fighting antibodies and ultimately, helping your body to grow, recover and repair.
Simply put, it’s seriously important stuff. Plus, as the body can’t store protein, you need to eat adequate amounts of it every single day in order to keep your body and mind in optimal health.
How much protein do you actually need?
The current recommended daily allowance for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of an individual’s body mass (or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight).
This amounts to around 56g/day for men and 45g/day for women, but the exact requirements will differ slightly depending on your weight. This might sound hefty, but most adults (including vegetarians and vegans) in the UK get more than enough protein in their diet. And for the most part, that’s without even trying!
Your diet type (vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous) does not affect your protein requirement. There is, however, an extra requirement for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Animal vs vegan protein foods: How do they compare?
In the battle of beef vs. bean, many assume that vegan protein foods simply can’t compete with their animal counterparts. This is largely down to the difference in their amino acid composition.
When you consume protein — be it animal or plant — your body breaks it down into organic compounds called amino acids. These amino acids are used to help with the all-so-important functions and processes mentioned above, from tissue repair to nutrient absorption.
There are 20 amino acids in total, but only 9 are considered essential to your diet. This is because your body can’t produce them, so they must be consumed in the food that you eat.
Wondering how this relates to the animal vs vegan protein debate? Well, this is where it should all come together.
Complete protein sources contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body cannot create on its own. Incomplete protein sources only contain some of them.
- Animal proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids, making them complete
- Most vegan protein sources lack one or more amino acids, making them incomplete
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In reality, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a roadblock to veganism. Your body is able to combine amino acids from different sources to form a complete protein. Therefore, consuming a variety of vegan protein sources throughout the day typically provides all the essential amino acids required.
Plus, there are a few complete vegan protein sources available, which we’ll discuss in more detail next.
10 best vegan protein sources
While vegan protein foods might lose the amino acid battle, it’s still easy to get enough of them as a vegan. The key is to focus on consuming a variety of plant protein sources, each with their own amino acid composition, every day.
And vegan protein sources don’t have to be expensive or fiddly to prepare. Some of the most unassuming vegan protein foods are probably already a staple in your diet. Others make for a simple and easy addition to your routine!
The following 10 vegan protein sources will leave your body nourished and your tummy satisfied!
All nutritional data has been sourced from the My Food Data website.
1 cup of uncooked oats weighs in at only 280 calories but boasts 10g of protein, 8g of fiber and an enviable list of micronutrients including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc.
This makes oats one of the most nutrient-dense vegan protein foods on offer. Better yet, with a pack of porridge oats costing no more than £1, they definitely won’t break the bank.
Recipe ideas: Make a hearty bowl of fruit-topped breakfast porridge oats, bake a loaf of oat bread or whip up some nutritious oat and nut muffins.
If we had to crown the king of vegan snacks, it’d have to be nuts. From creamy cashews to bold brazils, these vegan protein source staples taste amazing, make for the ultimate convenience food and deliver an incredible nutritional profile.
An average handful (28g) of the following nuts contains:
- Peanuts: 7.3g protein, 161 kcal
- Almonds: 6g protein, 164 kcal
- Pistachios: 5.7g protein, 159 kcal
- Cashews: 4.3g protein, 163 kcal
- Walnuts: 4.3g protein, 186 kcal
- Hazelnuts: 4.2g protein, 178kcal
- Brazils: 4.1g protein, 187 kcal
Nuts are typically high in fat, but largely the good, unsaturated kind. Unsaturated fats shouldn’t be feared. From lowering cholesterol levels to reducing the risk of heart disease, they’re an essential building block of a healthy diet.
To make the most of everything that heart-healthy nuts have to offer, make sure to opt for raw, unsalted varieties and pick natural, sugar-free nut butters.
Recipe ideas: Devour a handful straight from the pack, sprinkle nuts on your salads, spread nut butter on wholegrain toast, make your own cashew milk or add walnuts to some vegan protein balls.
They might be small, but they’re definitely mighty. If a generous amount of fiber, healthy fats and protein isn’t enough to make you want to incorporate seeds into your vegan diet, this might:
Two of our favorite seeds — chia and pumpkin — are complete vegan protein sources. Remember those essential amino acids we were talking about earlier? Yep, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds contain every single one!
Let’s take a closer look at the protein content of seeds per 28g (an average serving):
- Pumpkin seeds: 8g, 120 kcal
- Sunflower seeds: 5.8g protein, 164 kcal
- Flaxseeds: 5.2g, 152 kcal
- Sesame seeds: 4.8g, 160kcal
- Chia seeds: 4.7g protein, 138 kcal
Chia and flaxseed, in particular, are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are essential for brain and heart health, but due to the absence of fish, are typically harder to find in a vegan diet. Both chia and flax are key ingredients in Purition vegan.
Recipe ideas: Add them to smoothies, bake some seed-packed protein bars, sprinkle them on salads, make chia seed pudding or simply enjoy a small handful straight from the pack.
Looking for an easy way to add more nuts and seeds to your diet? Purition dairy-free is made with nutritious ground nuts and seeds, combined with a complete vegan protein blend. For a convenient dose of plant-based protein, omega-3s and heart-healthy fats, it’s hard to beat!
Upon first glance, these tiny legumes might not look like they’ve got much to offer. But as well as being super affordable and low in calories, they tout a sizable protein and fiber hit.
On average, a cup of cooked lentils (around 200g) packs in a mighty 17.9g of protein and 15.6g of dietary fiber at just 230 kcal. Calorie-for-calorie, you won’t find many vegan protein foods that are quite so nutritious and filling!
Recipe ideas: Stir up a creamy lentil dahl, cook a satisfying lentil ‘spag bol’, add them to soups and stews, get creative with lentil-based curries or make a nutritious lentil salad.
If the only beans welcome in your life are the baked, toast-topping kind, it’s time to branch out.
Beans in all their forms are tasty, nutritious and extremely affordable — we’re talking just 30-50p a can. Plus, they’re incredibly versatile and can be easily incorporated in a huge variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes.
Let’s take a look at what level of vegan protein content beans have got to offer per 200g (about half a can):
- Chickpeas: 16.4g protein, 292 kcal
- Butter beans: 9.2g protein, 154 kcal
- Kidney beans: 10.4g protein, 168 kcal
- Cannellini beans: 12.3g, 170 kcal
- Pinto beans: 11.2g protein, 160 kcal
- Baked beans: 9.5g protein, 188 kcal
Alongside their sizeable protein hit, beans are a fantastic source of iron, zinc, folate and magnesium. Just half a cup of beans per day has been proven to significantly enhance diet quality.
Recipe ideas: Whip up a warming bean chili, drizzle chickpeas with olive oil and roast them for a healthy snack, make homemade baked beans or enjoy a bean-stuffed baked sweet potato.
When it comes to vegan protein sources, soy is the one that leaves people on the fence. On one hand, it’s a complete protein source, is high in polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
It also happens to be one of the best low carb vegan protein sources on offer, with a ½ block of tofu netting just 4.5g of carbs, but a whopping 28g of protein.
On the other hand, it contains isoflavones — which can affect hormone levels and thyroid function. While it’s good to be aware of the risks of soy, adverse effects only appear in a small minority.
So, here’s a quick overview of the main soy-based foods:
- Tempeh — per cup (166g): 33.7g protein, 319 kcal
- Tofu — per ½ block: 28g protein, 233 kcal
- Edamame — per cup (155g): 18.5g protein, 188 kcal
- Soy yoghurt — per cup (223g): 10g protein, 130 kcal
- Soy milk — per 8oz glass: 6.9g protein, 80 kcal
Recipe ideas: Fry up a crispy tofu or tempeh stir-fry, add edamame beans to your salads, top soy yogurt with berries, add soy milk to your smoothies or incorporate tofu into a nutritious buddha bowl.
Vegetables have protein? Yep, that’s right! Even though your greens might not seem like your typical muscle-building ingredient, some veggies will surprise you.
Vegetables alone are unlikely to satisfy your daily protein requirement. But choosing higher-protein vegetables make for a great top-up, with the added benefit of providing essential micronutrients and fiber.
Curious? Here are some of the most protein-rich vegetables, along with their protein content per 100g:
- Green peas: 5.4g protein, 84 kcal
- Spinach: 2.9g, 23 kcal
- Broccoli: 2.8g, 34 kcal
- Kale: 2.9g, 35 kcal
- Asparagus: 2.2g, 20 kcal
- Mushrooms: 3.1g protein, 22kcal
Recipe ideas: Make a hearty pea soup, add a generous handful of spinach or kale to smoothies, roast some broccoli with garlic and olive oil or fry up some garlic mushrooms for brunch. Ultimately, we’d recommend adding a generous portion of vegetables to every meal.
Quinoa (pronounced ‘KEEN-wah’) is technically a seed, but we think it deserves its own section. Alongside its substantial protein content — around 8.1g of protein per cup (cooked) — quinoa has some impressive nutrition and health benefits:
- Contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete vegan protein source
- Packed with key nutrients, including iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron
- High in antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of many diseases
- High in fiber and low on the glycemic index, both of which can help to increase satiety and prevent hunger pangs
We could go on, but you get the gist —quinoa is one of the best vegan protein sources you’ll find.
Recipe ideas: Enjoy a quinoa super salad for lunch, bake quinoa patties, stuff it in a baked sweet potato or add it to home-baked bread.
Nutritional yeast or ‘nooch’, as it’s commonly coined, is a deactivated yeast formed from a species of fungus called ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae’.
We know it has a horribly unappealing name. But give nutritional yeast a go and we bet it’ll become your all-new favorite condiment! It’s nutty, savory and surprisingly cheese-like all at once and can be easily sprinkled onto just about any recipe.
2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast has only 34 calories, but provides an impressive 10g of protein. The same serving size also offers around 10mcg of vitamin B12, which generously covers the recommended daily amount.
Recipe ideas: Sprinkle and stir it into just about anything, from soups and salads to cauli-mash and vegan mac and cheese. Not a fan of nooch? We’ve included it in the Purition vegan shake every day, so sip on one every day and gain a generous dose of B-vits.
If all the amino acid talk has left you feeling overwhelmed, Purition’s wholefood vegan protein powders can help to take the stress out of the switch to a plant-powered diet.
By combining pea and hemp protein with nuts, seeds and a range of other natural wholefoods, a single shake provides 15.7g of protein and a complete serving of amino acids. With fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals to boot, a Purition shake a day will leave you feeling energised and satisfied, whilst eliminating the worry of going without any essential nutrients.
But don’t take our word for it, why not see what our hundreds of happy customers have to say in their Purition reviews?
Recipe ideas: Simply blend up a Purition shake and enjoy as an easy breakfast, mix it into protein pancakes, add it to a nutritious smoothie bowl or blend it into energy balls for an on-the-go dose of protein.
Vegan protein doesn’t have to be difficult
Don’t be taken in by the myth that vegan protein sources are fiddly, inferior or time-consuming.
While getting adequate amino acids on a plant-based diet requires you to enjoy a wider range of protein foods than your meat-eating friends, the added variety will only benefit you. After all, a diet diverse in plant-based wholefoods is nutrient-dense, intensely nourishing and rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Before you go, don’t forget to check out Purition’s vegan range. Whether you’re short on time, need a protein boost to support your fitness regime or simply prefer to spend less time over the stove, our completely natural, real food shakes provide a nutritious and balanced blend of protein, fiber and healthy fats on-the-go.