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The 5 Best Vegan Protein Sources

If you want to learn how to add more protein to your diet or want to explore more options, this list of the best vegan protein sources can help!

This comprehensive guide goes through the top 5 protein-rich plant-based foods you can add to your diet, as well as ways to use these foods. It’s never been easier (or tastier) to make satisfying, protein-rich vegan meals!

Answering the question, “Where do you get your protein?”, is just part of being vegan. But if you don’t know how to answer the question, then that might be an issue.

Protein is an essential component in every diet because it helps us develop strong bodies and healthy organs. And despite stereotypes to the contrary, eating a plant-based diet doesn’t make it hard to find protein-rich foods. It’s abundant in many whole foods, like vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and more!

This thorough guide will help if you’re looking for more ways to add plant-based protein to your diet. In it, you’ll find the best vegan protein sources, as well as the importance of protein and a list of high-protein vegan recipes to try.

In summary, it will help you craft well-balanced, filling, and satisfying vegan meals!

Table of contents:
1. Vegan protein 101
2. The best vegan protein sources
3. High protein plant-based meals

various vegan protein sources arranged on plates on a table.

Vegan protein 101

Why do we need protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient that pretty much powers us through our day. It helps us develop healthy muscles, internal organs, brains, skin, blood, etc. In short, protein is part of every healthy diet because it helps you stay energized and full while developing a healthy, well-nourished body.

How much protein do we need?

Humans don’t need as much protein as the bodybuilders at the gym may tell you. In countries where well-balanced foods are abundant and available year-round, it’s easy for most adults to eat the recommended amount. However, this amount will vary depending on your age, sex, weight, activity level, etc.

For instance, a sedentary 50-year old woman who weighs 130 pounds needs less protein than a very active 25-year old woman who weighs 150 pounds. 

Where do vegans get their protein?

It’s simply a misconception that vegans don’t get enough protein. Most adults who live active lifestyles will find all of the plant-based protein they need in simple and budget-friendly foods, like beans, nuts, tofu, whole grains, vegetables, and more (learn more in the listed protein sources below!).

Things may get a bit trickier when it comes to athletes or extremely active people. That’s when protein supplements, like vegan protein powder, can come in handy.

various types of lentils arranged in various bowls on a table.

The best vegan protein sources

1. Beans and legumes

Can we take a moment to appreciate not only the protein in beans and legumes but their flexibility as well? You’ll always find a wide variety of lentils, as well as dried and canned beans and legumes in my pantry because they come with endless uses. They’re one of our favorite protein-packed ingredients to use in soups and stews, Indian dishes, noodle dishes, healthy snacks, and more.

While there are all kinds of beans and legumes to choose from, lentils hold a special place in my heart. With about 18 grams of protein per 1 cup, they’re the protein-loaded backbone of some of my favorite recipes, like Red Lentil Curry, Lentil Bolognese, Lentil Salad with Fresh Herbs, and Black Beluga Lentil and Mushroom Stew

Don’t want to get sick of eating lentils all the time? No worries because there are so many varieties of BEANS to choose from, like white beans (cannellini, navy beans), chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans.

You don’t even need to whip up an extensive meal to reap the benefits of protein-rich beans. A batch of Homemade Hummus or Beet Hummus (made from chickpeas) can be taken with you on the go for a healthy and filling snack!

various types of dried beans in bowls on a table.

2. Nuts and seeds

There are almost too many nuts and seeds to choose from but some of the most popular and protein-rich choices are hemp seeds, almonds, pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), walnuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, peanuts, and cashews

The amount of fun you can have in the kitchen with just a handful of nuts and/or seeds is limitless! Use them to make homemade nut milk, nut and seed butters, protein-rich sauces like my nut-free Cilantro Crema, Cashew Cream, pesto (whether classic or nontraditional), homemade Cashew Cheese, crunchy toppers for salads, and even Breakfast Cookies

Nuts and seeds add dynamic textures, flavors, and, of course, protein to all kinds of meals.

Pro Tip: replace the pine nuts in classic pesto with pepitas for a higher-protein condiment. Just ¼ cup of pepitas contains 9 grams of plant protein

different types of nuts arranged in stripes on a table.

3. Tofu and soy products

One of the most popular vegan protein sources is tofu (and don’t forget its soy sister cousins: tempeh, soy milk, and edamame!).  

Tofu is made from condensed soy milk formed into a block. It comes in many different varieties and levels of firmness, making it an incredibly versatile ingredient. Plus, with 8 grams of protein in just 3 ounces of extra-firm tofu, it’s also a fantastic source of plant-based protein!

Not sure how to make tofu taste good? It’s surprisingly easy! Start by learning to bake tofu and pan-fry tofu, then how to make the BEST Tofu Scramble and how to marinate tofu.

Once you get comfortable with the basics, move on to more creative tofu recipes, like my Braised Tofu, Tofu Stir Fry, Greek-Style Tofu Feta, or any of these 40 Terrific Tofu Recipes

Tempeh is similar to tofu, in that it’s made from soy and is very flexible to use in cooking. However, tempeh is fermented, which gives it a meatier and nuttier flavor, as well as gut-healthy bacteria that’s great for our digestive systems. Plus, it’s even higher in protein! 

It’s also easy to prepare in a variety of ways. Toss pan-fried tempeh in barbecue sauce for out-of-this-world tempeh sandwiches, or crumble it up for weeknight Tempeh Tacos, or turn it into sweet, smoky, and salty Tempeh Bacon

Got more questions about tofu or tempeh? I cover everything in my Complete Guide to Cooking Tofu and my Complete Guide to Cooking Tempeh.

When it comes to soy milk, it’s referred to as “the OG plant milk” for good reason. Boasting up to 8 grams of protein per cup, it’s a great option to use in smoothies and lattes, whether you need a post workout meal or an afternoon pick-me-up. Try it in my Mocha Latte, or swap the oat milk for soy milk in my fan favorite Sweet & Spicy Almond Butter Date Latte

And don’t sleep on edamame! These soybeans are a versatile protein-packed ingredient (18 grams protein per 1 cup of shelled edamame!). Plus, it requires little to no preparation, so it’s perfect for quick meals.

I love it in my 15-minute Chili Garlic Noodles and use it as the base for my high-protein Smashed Edamame Toast (it’s the first recipe card in this post).

tofu and tempeh on a wooden cutting board.

4. Whole grains

You can almost reach the average daily protein requirements through whole grains alone. By adding just 1 cup of cooked quinoa, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, millet, oatmeal to your diet, you can check off 12 to 20% of your daily value for protein.

In addition to protein, whole grains are a fantastic source of fiber to add to your plate. Try incorporating quinoa into your weekly salads or grain bowls (or make this excellent and easy-to-customize crispy quinoa salad, swapping standard noodles for soba noodles in a cold noodle salad, and incorporating oats into high-protein chai-spiced cookies to start your day on the right foot.

various types of grains arranged in different bowls on a table.

5. Vegetables

Don’t turn your nose up when considering vegetables as a protein source! They may not have as much protein as beans, tofu, or whole grains, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include them in the majority of your meals.

There are plenty of protein-rich veggies to choose from. Some commonly available ones include: spinach, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, green peas, broccoli, sweet corn, potatoes, and asparagus

Best of all, these vegetables are budget-friendly and flexible. Use potatoes to make my Creamy Potato Salad in summer or Miso Butter Mashed Potatoes in winter. Come spring, pick up some asparagus for my Lemon Asparagus Pasta. And feel good about sneaking in a ton of spinach when you enjoy my Vegan Palak Paneer

various vegetables on a large wooden cutting board.

6. Miscellaneous 

Chances are you already have a few ingredients around the house that contain plant-based protein:

  • Nutritional yeast has a surprising 8 grams of protein per serving. It’s a must-have cheesy and umami seasoning that brings big flavor to Tofu Scramble, vegan cheeses like Fermented Cashew Cheese and Vegan Feta, and more.
  • For an extra-filling and nutritious breakfast, add vegan protein powder or spirulina to your smoothie. I’ve avoided protein powder for years because I hated the artificial sweetener taste and chalkiness, but I finally found a vegan protein powder (affiliate link) that has a pretty neutral flavor and very minimal ingredients!  
  • Seitan, made from vital wheat gluten and seasonings, is a hearty and filling vegan meat alternative. You can whip up vegan-friendly seitan “steak” or “chicken” for lunches or dinners. Check out Sam Turnbull’s new cookbook, Craving Vegan, which has lots of fun recipes for seitan! (affiliate link)
vegan protein sources arranged on a wooden cutting board.

High protein plant-based meals

Add more high-protein vegan foods to your diet with any of these protein-rich recipes:

What are your favorite ways to add plant protein to your meals? Let me know in the comments!

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5 comments on The 5 Best Vegan Protein Sources

  1. Donna Estelle

    I would love to see all of this info in a table form so that I can print and tape to the inside of my kitchen cupboard. :)

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the feedback, Donna!

  2. Emily

    I love this guide! It came just in time for me as I am going through perimenopause and need to up my protein to lose some belly weight.

    I didn’t see where I could give this a star rating but it I could or would be 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Emily, we are happy this post came just in time for you! :) Thanks for the awesome review!

  3. LaVonne Ray

    Salad Dressing: Vegan Thousand Island
    In food processor place:
    can of pinto or red beans, drained and rinsed
    Pickle relish
    Garlic and onion powder
    Minced parsley or capers
    If needs thinning, add plant-based milk, water, broth

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