Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Looking for vegan protein sources? Find a complete list of 25 plant-based protein-rich food that can serve as the perfect substitutes for traditional protein sources.

Updated on Sep 22, 2022 05:27 PM IST  |  99.4K
Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources
Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

The most frequent question directed at vegans has to be, "But where do you obtain your protein from?!" While it's true that people typically pick animal products as their primary source of protein, there are a number of vegan protein sources. Vegan protein sources are available in all kinds of types and tastes. Not just that, plant-based protein sources are enough to quench our body’s protein needs. While the common protein sources are beef, chicken, pork, fish, turkey, and shellfish, vegetarians go for eggs, milk, and yogurt for their protein requirements. However, a vegan refrains from all kinds of animal meat and animal by-product. 

The good news is despite so many restrictions, there are a number of delicious, high-protein plant-based alternatives that vegans can turn to. Undoubtedly, a vegan diet demands certain planning and research at first. However, once you get the hang of it, you’d realize there is an amazing vegan alternative for everything you have given up. It is natural to picture a big portion of meat or eggs when someone says protein, but that doesn't necessarily mean that protein can only be obtained from animal-based food items. It is important to note that there are several plants that are pretty high in protein. So if you have been thinking of switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet or you have just made the switch, let this article serve as a reminder that you can obtain a balanced meal without meat. In fact, consuming a whole plant food diet can deliver help you protect yourself from a variety of chronic illnesses and give you a better lifestyle altogether. But the real question is why do we need protein? 

Why do we need protein?

Protein is an incredibly essential element of any balanced diet. In fact, it makes up about 17 percent of your body’s weight. Also, it is a primary component of our skin, muscles, and internal organs, particularly the heart and brain. Not just that, protein helps in strengthening hairs and nails and the functioning of eyes as well. Along with that, protein helps in the production of antibodies that work to boost the immune system that in turn works to fight infections, deliver energy, and assist in blood sugar regulation, and fat metabolism.

Food items containing protein also help in breaking down 22 naturally occurring amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein; nine of them are referred to as essential amino acids. The body cannot produce these essential amino acids, therefore it is important to consume them from protein-rich food items. Protein is also rich in a number of vitamins and minerals like zinc and vitamins. As a vegan or vegetarian, it’s very crucial that all these essential amino acids are mindfully incorporated into the diet for optimum nutrition. Typically, a healthy individual should strive to eat around 50 to 70 grams of protein in a day. 

Honestly, the only trick to reaching the perfect portion of protein in a vegan diet is to combine various protein-rich grains with various vegetables and pulses. Yes, the trick is to be mindful about incorporating a balanced meal that includes everything from beans and rice to tofu and broccoli. When it comes to a protein-rich vegan diet, Variety is vital. 

Protein deficiency symptoms: Common signs of lack of protein

If you have newly switched to a vegan diet and you are not consciously managing your daily protein intake, it may lead to a mild case of protein deficiency. That is another reason why understanding and incorporating vegan protein sources is important. A wide variety of non-vegan and non-vegetarian food is rich in protein and abruptly cutting down on them without proper alternatives can result in our body's inability to meet the body’s protein requirements. If your body experiences a lack of protein for a prolonged period of time, the body begins to respond negatively. Here are a few protein deficiency symptoms. 

1. Swelling or Edema

One of the very common protein deficiency symptoms or signs includes swelling which is also known as edema. In extreme cases of lack of protein, swelling is seen in the abdomen, legs, feet, and hands. 

2. Changes in mood

Protein is a major source of amino acids and one of the elements that construct neurotransmitters in our body are amino acids. Lack of protein may lead to a shortage in the formation of neurotransmitters which affects the level of dopamine and serotonin and may result in major mood swings. 

3. Skin, nail, or hair problems

A major building block of skin, nails, and hair are proteins including elastin, collagen, and keratin. Lack of protein can lead to hair thinning, loss of hair, extreme dryness of skin, and weak or brittle fingernails. 

4. Fatigue or weakness

Another common symptom of protein deficiency is fatigue or weakness. Researchers claim just one week of lack of protein in your diet can severely affect the muscles which can further affect posture and even movement. Especially for people who are 55 and older lack of protein over time can lead to loss of muscle mass and loss of strength which even slows the metabolism. Lack of protein can even lead to anemia in severe cases which leads to fatigue. 

5. Hunger

If you do not add vegan protein sources consciously, you might not feel full even after eating your meal. Protein is a major source of calories carbs and fats. Lack of protein can lead to frequent bouts of hunger. 

6. Slow-healing 

While slow healing of injuries can be a sign of several ailments, one of the causes is a lack of protein. If you have extreme protein often find their cuts and scrapes take longer to get better. The same seems to be true of sprains and other exercise-related mishaps. It could be another effect of your body not making enough collagen. It's found in connective tissues as well as your skin. To make blood clot, you need proteins, too.

7. Getting sick frequently or for longer periods 

Another sign of protein deficiency is a weakened immune system. Amino acids which are the building blocks of protein help in building antibodies for the immune system. These antibodies help the white blood cells to fight against viruses, bacteria, and disease-causing germs. Moreover, protein is required for the digestion and absorption of several other important nutrients. Lack of protein or vegan protein sources can lead to loss of disease-fighting "good" bacteria.

Also, it is important to understand, most Americans gain plenty of protein in their diet. In case of complete veganism or lack of vegan protein sources, mild symptoms may be seen. A severe lack of protein is seen in third-world counties. A common sign of malnutrition is lack of protein which is known as kwashiorkor. This condition usually occurs in famine or disaster-stricken countries. Protein is a building block of muscles, skin, hair, bones, and blood. Although pure deficiency is rare in developed countries, lack of protein can lead to anything from swelling to skin problems. For optimal health, remember to consciously incorporate vegan protein sources. 

The best vegan protein sources 

Protein consumption can be a serious matter of concern for vegans, since they refrain from traditional sources of protein, More so, because apart from avoiding meat, vegans take their diet up a notch as compared to vegetarians because they also cut off all kinds of animal by-products from their diet which includes protein-rich products like dairy and eggs. 

However, despite the multiple dietary restrictions, maintaining a balanced protein-rich vegan diet is not a problem. A balanced vegan diet should be incorporated with protein-rich plant foods. Although, acquiring sufficient protein might appear to be challenging at first but there is a myriad of vegan protein sources. The best vegan protein sources include food items like lentils, and chickpeas, along with several whole grains like oatmeal. 

Below, find a complete list of 25 plant-based protein-rich food that can serve as the perfect substitutes for traditional protein sources, broken up into six categories:

Legumes 

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Legumes and beans are very commonly consumed around the world as incredibly rich sources of fiber and several essential minerals and vitamins. Along with that, they are major sources of vegan protein. Legumes commonly include beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and peanuts, they can be effortlessly incorporated into soups, salads, tacos, and many other everyday dishes. Apart from providing protein and vitamins beans and legumes deliver a number of health benefits as well which include, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood sugar levels, and boosting the growth of helpful gut bacteria. 

Lentils are pretty easy to incorporate into daily lunch or dinner recipes. You can add them to your choice of stews, curries, rice, or even salads to boost that extra punch of protein. For instance, you can go for chickpea paste or hummus in your breakfast or lunch sandwich to provide yourself a protein-rich substitute for butter. Another legume-rich alternative can be peanut butter which delivers around 3.6 grams of protein per tablespoon. Peanut butter and whole wheat bread are completely healthful protein snacks. Here is a list of protein content in commonly consumed legumes:

Soy  

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Another major vegan source of protein is soy. With a variety of soy products, it is in fact the primary source of protein for those who refrain from dairy. Soy-based protein-rich food includes soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and so much more. People even go for soy-based mock meat which is full of protein and tastes like meat. In fact, people also incorporate soy-based protein powders, as workout supplements for their protein requirements. Apart from protein soy-based food is also full of vitamins and minerals. Plus, soy-rich products are flooded with satisfactory levels of calcium and iron; this is what makes them the very best replacements for dairy products. For people who find quitting meat and cheese a little too hard can try tofu as their meat substitute. Go for a tofu sandwich or soup or try it as a meat substitute in dishes similar to kung pao chicken or sweet & sour chicken, it's healthy and its delicious. Here is a list of common soy-based products and their protein content:

Nuts and nut butter 

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Apart from healthy and unsaturated fats, nuts and seeds are an excellent source of protein. In fact, nuts and nut butter are incredible sources of several minerals,  vitamins, and antioxidants apart from plant-based protein. While you can pick nuts like almonds and eat them as a snack individually or you can go for a nut-based trail mix. Apart from that nuts can be added to pretty much all kinds of recipes. However, if you don’t like your dishes to be a little too nutty you can go for nut butter like almond butter or even cashew-based butter. You can also go for almond milk as an excellent milk substitute.  Here is a list of common nuts and their protein content:

Seeds 

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Studies have shown that by weight hemp seeds deliver protein as much as beef and lamb would. Therefore, just 2 to 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds, have the capacity to provide about 11 whole grams of protein. Seeds are usually a complete protein source, which means it is a source of essential amino acids. Apart from hemp seeds, there are several other seeds that are full of protein like sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds.

Although one tablespoon of chia comprises merely 3 grams of protein, it's essential because it is a complete protein. Seeds like chia seeds are full of healthful nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and even calcium. Seeds can be referred to as protein heroes, in a plant-based diet. You can add seeds to your daily smoothies, puddings, and even cereal or yogurt. Here is a list of commonly consumed seeds and their protein content:

Vegetables

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Although vegetables aren’t the richest sources of protein, however, if you have been consuming a rich vegetable diet, you can get an excellent amount of protein from it. For instance, if you consume one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts you can add up to 4 grams of protein right away. Other vegetables like sweet yellow corn can deliver up to 5 grams of protein into your diet. Leafy greens like spinach and bok choy have a very high protein content and they are low in calories. In fact, just one medium stalk of broccoli has about 4 grams of protein, five medium mushrooms can offer about 3 grams of protein. To incorporate vegetables into your diet you can incorporate salads, soups, or go for a number of dishes. Here is a list of other vegetables and their protein content:

Grains 

People incorporate grains in their diet as a major source of carbohydrates, B-vitamins, and plenty of protein. It must be noted that whole unrefined grains can provide a lot more protein per carb. Although grains are primarily a source of carbohydrates, they serve as an immediate protein punch for your diet. If you add just half a cup of oats you can up to 5 grams of protein to your diet. Just a quarter cup of barley or quinoa can deliver up to 5-6 grams of protein. You can also add grains like teff or millet to mix up your diet. To incorporate grains into your diet, you can go for whole wheat bread, and pasta, and add grains like quinoa to your pasta, soups, and even stews. Here is a list of common protein-rich grains and their protein content:

What are the complete sources of protein for vegans? 

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

Complete sources of protein are protein-rich food items that contain all the nine essential amino acids. Since our body does not produce these amino acids, it is very essential to incorporate them via dietary sources. For non-vegans, primary sources of complete protein are steak and eggs, while vegans go for edamame, tempeh, tofu, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and quinoa as complete sources of proteins. 

Plant versus animal protein

Switching to a vegan diet? Turn to these 25 vegan protein sources

 

We have already established that our bodies do not produce the essential amino acids and their consumption is incredibly important. When it comes to their intake, it is comparatively effortless when you consume animal protein. That being said, it is important to understand it is not impossible to obtain all the essential protein through a plant-based diet. Yes, it might require a little mindfulness but it is definitely possible. 

ALSO READ: Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

FAQs

What vegan foods are high in protein?
The best vegan protein sources include food items like soy, lentils, and chickpeas, along with several whole grains like oatmeal.

How do vegans get their protein?
Vegans can their protein from plant-based protein sources like green leafy vegetables, soy lentils, and chickpeas, along with several whole grains like quinoa and oatmeal.

What are vegan protein sources?
Individuals who refrain from meat and dairy rely on plant-based protein sources for their protein requirements. These vegan protein sources are pretty high in protein.

Is soy a vegan protein source?
Soy is a major vegan source of protein. Soy-based protein-rich food includes soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and so much more.

What is a complete protein?
Complete sources of protein are protein-rich food items that contain all the nine essential amino acids. Since our body does not produce these amino acids, it is very essential to incorporate them via dietary sources.

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