Anyone who is vegan knows that the number one question they get asked constantly about their dietary choice is inevitably: “Where do you get your protein?” It can be exhausting trying to explain day in and day out that there are, indeed, many other sources of protein than animal products. Most vegans are already well aware of the following foods along with their nutritional stats, but many omnivores just don’t realize the huge number of alternative protein sources out there. Before you become one of the countless people to immediately jump to that same old question, check out this list of 11 of the best vegan protein sources.
While technically a seed, quinoa is often treated like a grain in recipes. It is unique in that it contains over 8 grams of protein per cup, and includes all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair, but cannot produce on its own. It’s also incredibly versatile: Quinoa can be added to stews, soups or vegetarian chili during winter months, tossed with vegetables and a vinaigrette to make a refreshing summer salad, or sweetened and served with fruit as a hot breakfast cereal.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts contain healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet. Because they are high in calories, you should choose varieties that are raw or dry roasted. Nut butters, like peanut and almond butter, are also a good way to get protein, just make sure to look for brands with as few ingredients as possible.
There are many different varieties of beans, black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc. One thing they all have in common, however, is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams, which is one more gram than a big mac!
Also known as garbanzo beans, these legumes can be tossed into salads, fried and salted as a crispy snack, or pureed into a hummus. They contain 7.3 grams of protein in just half a cup, and are also high in fiber and low in calories.
Tempeh and Tofu
Foods made from soy are some of the highest vegetarian sources of protein: Tempeh contains around 15 grams per half cup and tofu is even higher at 20. They are very nutritious and can stand in for meat or eggs in almost any recipe.
Another popular meat substitute is seitan, which is made from wheat gluten, seasoned with salt and savory flavors and loaded with protein. At 36 grams per half cup, it has more than either tofu or tempeh. It looks a little like duck meat and tastes a little like chicken, and so can be used in any recipe that calls for poultry.
If you’re not crazy about meat substitutes, you can get your servings of soy in its natural state: straight from the soybean, still in the pod. Boiled edamame, which contains 8.4 grams of protein per half cup, can be served hot or cold and sprinkled with salt. The beans, once out of the pods, can also be tossed into salads or pasta dishes.
Foods in the legume family are well known sources of vegetarian protein, and peas are no exception. Though often overlooked, the humble green pea boasts 7.9 grams of protein per cup; about the same as milk!
Vegetables don’t have quite as much protein as legumes and nuts, but some do contain significant amounts, along with lots of antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and heart-healthy fiber. For instance, one cup of chopped kale contains 2.9 grams of protein as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, and over 100% of your daily vitamin A and C requirements.
These seeds are an easy way to add protein and fiber to almost any recipe. At 4.7 grams per ounce (about two tablespoons), chia seeds can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, or blended into smoothies. They can even take center stage: when soaked in a liquid, they plump up and take on a gelatinous texture forming a rich and creamy pudding-like treat!
Sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds
Don’t discount the other seeds in your pantry. The more familiar varieties are also high in protein and healthy fats. Per volume, sunflower seed kernels contain the most protein at 7.3 grams per quarter cup, followed by sesame seeds and poppy seeds at 5.4 grams each.