A common concern for individuals switching from omnivorous diets to vegetarian or vegan is that they may suffer a deficiency in certain nutrients. Protein is often high on the list.
However, nutritionists and dietary experts believe that appropriately planned meatless diets are nutritionally adequate. These diets are sufficient for all stages of life, including infancy, childhood, adolescence, adult life, pregnancy, or lactation (1),(2),(3).
How much protein should you have in a day?
Most experts recommend a fairly modest portion of your plate to be reserved for proteins. The exact amount of proteins that you require may differ on verifying factors, including but not limited to age, activity level, muscle mass, pregnancy, and overall health (4).
The recommended daily allowance(RDA) is approximately 0.36 grams per pound in body weight. This amounts to about 55g per day for a sedentary individual weighing 154-pound (70 kg) (5).
Plant Vs. Animal Protein
Proteins are made of chains of tiny molecules identified as amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in nature, with 11 considered non-essential. The body can synthesize them without supplementing your diet (6).
The remaining nine essential amino acids are sourced from the diet. They include (7);
Animal products such as fish, dairy, eggs, and beef often contain sufficient amounts of essential amino acids. As such, they are usually classified as ‘complete proteins’ (8).
Except for a selected few, most plant sources are often low in quantity for one or more essential amino acids. Thus, earning the tag ‘incomplete proteins’’ (9).
However, with careful dietary planning, you can still get the required amount of amino acids in your vegan diet. It may involve eating a varied diet and combining complementary plant proteins(10).
13 Complete and Nearly Complete Proteins For Vegans
Luckily, there are several plant-based foods and combinations that can avail the required amount of essential amino acids. This post will explore 13 plant-based proteins for vegans:
Soy is a nutrient-rich protein source and is often considered a complete protein. It comes from soybeans and can be found in many different foods, including tofu, tempeh, and edamame (11)(12).
You can get 18g of protein per 100g serving of mature soybeans. The quantity obtained may differ among the different types of soy meals. An 85g-serving of tofu provides approximately 8 grams of protein (13)(14).
A similar amount of tempeh(fermented soybeans) offers 11 grams of protein. One cup serving (85g) of edamame(immature soybeans) provides approximately 8 grams of protein (15, 16).
Seitan is among the most popular sources of plant protein for vegans. It is a protein-rich wheat flour product made from wheat gluten. It has a closer resemblance and texture to meat than other types of vegan meat sources.
You can get 24.71g of protein for a 100g serving of Seitan, making it one of the richest sources of plant proteins for vegans. The wheat-based product is also an excellent source of phosphorus, iron, and calcium (17).
You can find this meatless protein source in most grocery stores. You can also make your own seitan at home by combining vital wheat gluten, water, soy sauce or tamari (a type of shoyu), and other spices to create the perfect texture.
3. Green Peas
Green peas are a low-calorie vegetable with high protein content, making them a great source of vegan proteins. One cup of green peas, approximately 160 g, contains about 9 grams of protein (18).
Besides, the green peas serving may provide you with iron, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium. You can also fulfill 25% of your RDA for dietary fiber, thiamine, and folate. (19)(20).
Spirulina is a blue-green alga that grows naturally in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers around the world. It is nutritiously rich and has long been used as a supplement.
Two tablespoons of approximately 14 g of spirulina contain about 8 g of complete protein, making the alga one of the popular sources of plant protein. Spirulina is also rich in vitamin B12, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, and iron (21).
Observational experiments link spirulina to other health benefits, including anti-oxidant properties, cholesterol level control, reduced blood pressure, and a stronger immune system (22)(23)(24)(25).
Related: Our top 10 spirulina picks
5. Chickpeas or Hummus
Chickpeas are a great source of protein, and hummus is an especially good way to eat them. Also commonly identified as Garbanzo beans, chickpeas provide 20.5 g of protein per 100-gram serving (26).
Chickpeas are an excellent source of fiber and plant-based iron. They’re also high in antioxidants that may help neutralize free radicals (27).
Quinoa is a seed that grows in South America and Africa. It’s been cultivated for thousands of years, but only recently has it become widely available in North America.
Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. One ounce, approximately 100 g of Quinoa, offers around 4.4 g of protein (28)(29).
It is also an excellent source of iron, zinc, magnesium, and dietary fiber. As naturally gluten-free, quinoa may serve as an excellent source of protein for individuals with gluten intolerance (30)(31).
Lentils are one of the world’s oldest health foods. The legumes are rich in dietary fiber, protein, and other nutrients necessary for healthy living.
Half-a cup or 100-gram serving of lentils provides 9g of protein, making the legume a great protein source for vegans. The half-cup may also avail nearly a quarter of your recommended daily intake of fiber (32)(33).
Polyphenols present in lentils provide additional health benefits acting as antidiabetic, antioxidant, and anti-hyperlipidemic compounds. The legumes are also rich in folate, manganese, and iron (34)(35).
8. Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and their derived products are excellent sources of plant-based proteins. The amount may differ depending on the type of nuts. Here’s a simplified breakdown of the protein content in one ounce(26g to 28g) of different nuts and their products (36)(37)(38)(39)(40):
- Walnuts: 4.5g
- Peanuts: 7.2g
- Almonds: 6g
- Cashews: 4.5g
- Peanut Butter: 6.3g
Nuts are also rich in dietary fiber, healthy fats, iron, potassium, and magnesium. They may also contain antioxidants, folate, vitamin E, and K(41). Opt for natural, unflavored nuts and nut butter to avoid excess oil or salt often added in popular brands.
Buckwheat is a pseudocereal high in protein and fiber, making it an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans who can’t afford to eat bread or pasta every meal. It is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids (42).
A 100g serving of cooked buckwheat kernels contains approximately 3.38g of protein. The pseudocereal is also an excellent source of iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus (43).
Buckwheat is gluten-free, making it another good source of protein for those with celiac disease or other gluten-related allergies.
10. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated fungus of the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. It’s commonly used in vegan baking and can be found in supermarkets sold as yellow powder or flakes.
Two tablespoons, approximately 16g, of nutritional yeast contains about 8g of protein. Fortified nutritional yeast may also be a good source of copper, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. (44).
Kidney, Lima, Pinto, Black, and other varieties of beans are excellent sources of proteins in many staple foods for different cultures across the world. They are available as dry, frozen, or canned.
One cup of black beans(40 g) provides 9.8 g of protein, pinto beans provide 8.4g, while a similar amount of kidney beans have 10.4 g of protein (45)(46)(47).
Most beans are also excellent sources of fiber, folate, potassium, and complex carbs. The legumes may also have a wide range of potential health benefits. (48)(49)
12. Seeds: Chia/ Hemp/Flax
Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds are good protein sources. Chia seeds, harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, provide 5 grams of protein per ounce(28g) (50). They are an easy addition to baked products, smoothies, and salads.
Hemp seeds are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Three tablespoons or approximately 30g of hemp seeds contain 10g of protein, deserving a spot as one of the best plant protein sources. The seeds don’t typically contain high amounts of THC and are less likely to have any psychoactive effects. (51).
Flaxseeds come from Linum lewisii and contain nearly 6g of protein per ounce(30g) (52). You should consider grinding flaxseeds and other ingredients rather than adding whole to smoothies. They’ll absorb liquid better when combined with other ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, if left whole rather than processed beforehand.
Amaranth is a pseudocereal, one of the richest plant forms of protein available. It is a complete protein with all essential amino acids. Once a staple for Aztec civilization, the grain amaranth has become a popular gluten-free plant protein source for vegans.
A 100g serving of amaranth provides 3.8g of protein. It is also an excellent source of phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and manganese. It also contains lunasim, a peptide believed to have amazing anti-inflammatory properties (53)(54).
Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in maintaining the health of your body and keeping you strong. You need it for growth, repair of tissues and organs, building new cells throughout life, and even the immune system (55).
Despite concerns about getting adequate proteins from vegan diets, it’s possible to get all the recommended intakes of amino acids from the high-protein, plant-based foods available.
Several of these options, such as Amaranth and Spirulina, provide all nine essential amino acids. As such, they are identified as complete proteins. To ensure you get all the amino acids, you can use different vegan combinations using complete proteins and other nearly complete sources in your daily diet.