vegan and vegetarian protein
These are the best vegan and vegetarian sources of protein. | Arx0nt/Getty

The Best Vegetarian Protein Sources

Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or reducing your meat intake, these are the best plant-based sources of protein.

Ah, the age-old question: Where do vegans—and vegetarians!—get their protein from? Although vegetarians do consume eggs and dairy products, which contain protein, both diets also get protein from plants.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

We all need protein, but what, exactly is it? Every diet needs three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Protein is made up of amino acids and is essential to building muscle mass. It also provides energy and is needed in order to form red blood cells. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, protein is the most abundant molecule found in our bodies and is a major component in all of our cells, from our organs to our hair and nails. 

But the human body doesn’t store protein. This means it’s especially important to get enough of it through your diet.

According to the Dietary Reference Intakes, the average adult requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This equates to 0.36 grams of protein per pound. So, the average male should consume approximately 56 grams of protein each day; the average woman should eat 46 grams.

This is the recommended minimum intake of protein. And people should, ideally, consume slightly more—but individual needs vary. Your protein intake needs may also vary depending on your exercise routine.

Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

And whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply looking to reduce your meat intake—plenty of plant-based foods are a phenomenal source of protein. Lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, and plant-based meat—you name it and protein can be readily found. Even vegetables contain small amounts of protein that can help you meet your daily needs.

Plant-based foods come with many benefits. According to the American Heart Association, eating a predominantly plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.

Plant-based proteins generally contain far less fat and cholesterol compared to animal-based proteins and are a good source of fiber and essential nutrients. 

Of the 20 available amino acids, the human body is able to produce 11 of them. The remaining nine, which are known as essential amino acids, must be obtained from foods. Although not all plants contain all nine of these essential amino acids, there are a number of plants that do, such as buckwheat, quinoa, hemp, and soy. For this reason, it’s good to eat a wide variety of plant proteins in order to consume all of the necessary amino acids.

So, which plants are the best sources of protein?

The 10 Best Vegetarian Protein Sources

If you’re vegan or vegetarian and looking to up your protein intake—we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of some of the top plant-based sources of protein.

Seitan
One-third cup of seitan contains 21 grams of protein. | Janet Hudson/Getty

Seitan

Hail seitan, because this vegan protein reigns supreme. Seitan is made by rinsing starch from wheat dough. And when cooked, it resembles animal-derived meat in terms of look and texture. Just one-third cup of seitan contains 21 grams of protein. So, eat up!

Lentils

This edible legume can be used in just about anything: soups, chili, or even as a meat substitute in tacos. But they’re nothing new. Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean area, people have been cooking with them for centuries. And it’s no surprise because they sure do taste good! 

Lentils come in many varieties: green, red and yellow, black, and brown. Brown and black lentils have a more earthy flavor. Red and yellow lentils are sweeter and favored in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. While green lentils have a mildly nutty taste. Lentils are also a terrific source of protein—just one cup contains 18 grams.

Hemp Seeds

No, they can’t get you high, sorry. Although they’re related to the cannabis plant, hemp seeds do not naturally contain THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. But, they are a tremendous source of protein. You can find 10 grams of protein packed into just three tablespoons of hemp seeds. 

So, what can they be used in? Long answer: Sprinkle them atop a salad. Mix them into your cereal, oatmeal, or dairy-free yogurt. Throw them into soups or stews. Bake them into breads. Short answer: Anything.

Tempeh

Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is a nutritious meat substitute when marinated or seasoned. Bake it, steam it, or sautée it and toss it your favorite dish because just one cup of it contains 31 grams of protein.

Soy products
Tofu is an excellent vegetarian protein, containing 20 grams of protein per cup. | Sam Barnes/Getty

Tofu

Similarly to tempeh, tofu is also made from soybeans, which contain all nine essential amino acids. While tempeh has a rather nutty flavor, tofu differs in that it’s relatively flavorless making it a great option in dishes because it absorbs flavors. Even better, tofu contains 20 grams of protein per cup. Use it to make an eggless scramble or bread it and serve it with veggies and noodles. 

Edamame

Edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans. When steamed and salted, this vegetarian protein makes an excellent snack. They’re also protein-packed at 17 grams of protein per cup.

Beans

Another type of legume, beans are truly a wonderful fruit. And they come in many varieties: There are kidney beans, black beans, red beans, the list goes on. On average, they feature ten grams of protein per cup. Looking for a few savory recipes to enjoy them in? Try making this loaded nachos recipe. Or indulge in these vegan baked beans in tomato passata sauce on toast.

Chickpeas

Another protein powerhouse, chickpeas contain about 14 grams of protein per cup. A legume, chickpeas are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Use them to make a tuna-free salad or crabless cakes

JUST Egg
This vegan egg contains five grams of protein per serving. | Just Eat

Eggs

Yes, we said eggs—of the vegan variety, of course. 

Made entirely from plants (mung bean protein), JUST Eggs cooks and looks just like hen-derived eggs, only it doesn’t contain any cholesterol. It’s now sold in three varieties: JUST Egg, a liquid version, JUST Egg Folded, and JUST Egg Sous Vide. The latter are breakfast bites that are made in the sous vide style. The original version contains five grams of protein per serving, comparable to that of a hen-derived boiled eggs, which contains six. Follow Your Heart also carries a vegan egg, which contains three grams of protein per serving. 

Still on the prowl for vegetarian protein? If you like scrambled eggs, you could also try a tofu scramble or a chickpea flour scramble—both of which are packed with 20 grams of protein per cup!

Milk

Milk, but make it non-dairy. There are countless brands out there churning out protein-packed milk—no cows necessary. Take, for example, the brand Silk. Its Unsweet Silk Ultra Plant-Based Protein Drink features 20 grams of protein. Good Karma’s flaxmilk (which is a good source of omega 3s) and Ripple’s pea protein milk are both packed with eight grams of protein. If you’re looking to get more plant-based protein from non-dairy milk, always check the label first.


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