Updated 10th October 2022

Getting protein on a vegan diet

A vegan diet doesn’t include any meat or animal products, like eggs, dairy, or honey. 

A person might switch to a vegan diet for many reasons, and studies suggest that plant-based eating can have significant health benefits. 

Many people believe that vegan diets don’t provide enough protein.

While meat, fish, poultry, and animal products are common sources of protein — there are plenty of vegan-friendly sources, too. 

Below, we look at 17 delicious and nutritious plant sources of protein.

At ZOE, we know that a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition doesn’t work. 

With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your body’s unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, and discover which “good” and “bad” bugs are living in your gut microbiome. From this, we’ll provide you with personalized nutrition advice so you can eat the best foods for your body.

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How much protein do I need?

Protein has many important functions in the body, such as:

  • driving chemical reactions

  • giving cells their structure

  • making essential molecules, like neurotransmitters, hormones, and antibodies

  • moving molecules around your body

  • providing energy

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025

  • Females aged 19 or older need at least 46 g of protein daily.

  • Males aged 19 or older need at least 56 g of protein daily.

As a rough guide, protein should make up 10–35% of your total food intake every day. 

But everyone’s requirements are different. Your personal protein needs depend on a range of factors, including your body size and activity levels. 

Below, we look at 17 vegan sources of protein that are also nutritious in other ways.

1. Edamame

Edamame are immature soybeans. They have a buttery, mild flavor, and you can boil or steam them. They might come shelled or still in the pod.

One cup, or 155 grams, of shelled edamame provides over 18 g of protein. Edamame are also a good source of fiber, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin K, and iron.

2. Lentils

Lentils are small, lens-shaped legumes that are great for vegan diets. They come in many varieties and are a nutritious addition to soups and salads. Lentils can also be a great meat substitute.

One cup (198 g) of cooked lentils has 18 g of protein and plenty of fiber. Research has linked fiber-rich diets with improved gut and heart health, lowered cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar control.

3. Beans

Beans are a delicious, affordable, and versatile addition to any diet.

Black beans have 15 g of protein per cup (172 g), and kidney beans have 13 g of protein per cup. 

Research has linked beans with many health benefits, including supporting heart and metabolic health, lowering inflammation, and helping with weight management.

4. Split peas

Split peas are dried green or yellow peas. You can add them to soups and stews, or eat them on their own as a nutritious side dish.

A cup (196 g) of cooked split peas provides over 16 g of protein, as well as important nutrients like iron, fiber, and potassium.

5. Tofu

Tofu is a soybean product. Making it involves boiling soy milk, separating out the bean curds, and pressing them into a block. A quarter block (122 g) contains 15 g of protein. Tofu is also a good source of iron and calcium.

There are different consistencies, ranging from silken, the softest, to super firm.

Tofu is versatile — it can take on almost any flavor. You can add it to soups, sauces, stir-fries, and any other dish that could use a protein boost.

6. Whole wheat pasta

These pastas are healthy sources of whole grains.

Whole wheat spaghetti has about 7 g of protein per cup (117 g) and is a good source of fiber, zinc, selenium, and niacin, which is also called vitamin B3.

Research has found links between whole grain-rich diets and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.

7. Oats

A cup of cooked oats (234 g) contains about 6 g of protein, many vitamins and minerals, and fiber. 

Eating oats can lower your cholesterol because oats contain a special type of fiber called beta-glucan.

You can use oats in veggie burgers or in baking as an egg substitute. And, of course, you can have them as oatmeal or granola. 

8. Khorasan wheat

Also known as oriental wheat or Kamut, Khorasan wheat is an ancient grain that’s much larger than modern types of wheat. 

A cup (172 g) of cooked Khorasan wheat provides almost 10 g of protein and over 7 g of fiber. It’s a good source of magnesium and phosphorus, too.

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9. Teff

Teff is actually a small, nutty-tasting seed that’s a popular ingredient in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff is gluten-free and requires very little cooking time.

Cooked teff contains nearly 10 g of protein per cup (252 g) and is a good source of iron, zinc, manganese, and many B vitamins. 

10. Amaranth

Amaranth is another small, gluten-free ancient grain that’s nutty in flavor. (Technically, we’re referring to the seeds of the amaranth plant.)

People boil them, grind them into flour, or sprinkle them onto dishes for an added crunch. 

Cooked amaranth contains over 9 g of protein per cup. It’s also a good source of manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and zinc.

11. Quinoa

Although quinoa is technically a seed, it’s nutritionally classified as a whole grain. A cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa has roughly 8 g of protein, 5 g of fiber, and many other important nutrients. 

12. Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, come from the same plant as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Still, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers hemp seeds safe to eat.

Three tablespoons (30 g) of hemp seeds provide over 9 g of protein, and they're a good source of healthy fats.

You can add them to salads, smoothies, or homemade granola bars.

13. Sunflower seeds

An ounce of sunflower seed kernels (28 g) contains about 5 g of protein, 3 g of fiber, and many important vitamins and minerals.

These seeds are also a good source of polyunsaturated fat — a healthy fat that’s associated with better cholesterol levels and heart health.

You can use sunflower seeds in pesto, on salads, or on their own as a nutritious snack.

14. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, provide about 8 g of protein per ounce (28 g). They’re also a great source of magnesium.

Pumpkin seeds are delicious raw or roasted. They’re a great addition to oatmeal, trail mix, or salads. Some grocery stores also carry pumpkin seed butter.

15. Peanut butter

For people without peanut allergies, eating peanut butter in moderation can be a healthy way to add protein to a vegan diet. 

Two tablespoons have about 7 g of protein, lots of healthy fats, and important nutrients like manganese, vitamin E, niacin, iron, copper, and magnesium.

If you can, opt for a peanut butter without added oils or sugar. Also, some peanut butters contain honey, which isn’t vegan-friendly. 

16. Nutritional yeast

This popular cheese substitute is the inactive version of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast involved in making beer and bread.

Nutritional yeast is a complete protein source, and a half-ounce serving (16 g) has 8 g of protein. 

Nutritional yeast is also a good source of many B vitamins, which help your body make energy from food and produce red blood cells.

17. Meat alternatives

Meat alternatives — like plant burgers, sausages, and chicken — can be rich in protein. However, their nutritional contents, including protein, vary widely from product to product.

Overall, a plant-based product isn’t automatically healthy.

While a meat alternative is generally a better option than a meat product, it’s best not to eat the alternatives too often. Eating plants in their basic forms, before they get too processed, is generally the healthiest choice.

Summary

Vegan diets don’t include meat or animal products.

People might worry about getting enough protein, but a carefully considered plant-only diet can give your body all the protein it needs. 

Some great vegan protein sources include legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. 

Plant sources of protein also provide important vitamins and minerals to help improve your overall health.

At ZOE, we know that all bodies are different, so the best foods aren’t the same for everyone. 

With the ZOE at-home test, we can analyze your blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut.

With this information, we can give you personalized nutrition advice tailored to your own body.

To get started, take our free quiz.

Sources

B vitamins. (2021). https://medlineplus.gov/bvitamins.html

FDA responds to three GRAS notices for hemp seed-derived ingredients for use in human food. (2018). https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-responds-three-gras-notices-hemp-seed-derived-ingredients-use-human-food

FoodData Central. (n.d.). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/index.html

Health benefits of plant-based nutrition: Focus on beans in cardiometabolic diseases. Nutrients. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915747/

Magnesium. (2022). https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

Nutrition value. (n.d.). https://www.nutritionvalue.org/

Polyunsaturated fat. (2015). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/polyunsaturated-fats

Quinoa. (n.d.). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/quinoa/

Saccharomyces cerevisiae and its industrial applications. AIMS Microbiology. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7099199/

Teff. (n.d.). https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/teff-glossary

Whole grain consumption and human health: An umbrella review of observational studies. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. (2020). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09637486.2020.1715354

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