Whether you’re a long-term vegan or vegetarian or you’ve only recently made the switch, you might find that one of the main challenges with your veg/plant-based diet is making sure you get enough protein.
Protein is essential for the body to function, as it not only gives you energy, but helps maintain muscle growth.1
Daily protein guidance
In the UK, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75g per every kilogram you weigh.2 That means if you weigh 60kg, you should be aiming for around 45g of protein per day.
Getting that much protein when you don’t eat dairy, meat or eggs can be tricky – but it’s not impossible. There are numerous nutritious, high protein vegan foods that you can incorporate into your diet to help make sure you are taking on enough protein.
What does it mean to be vegan or vegetarian?
Vegetarians and vegans – are similar in the sense that they don’t eat food that contains red meat, such as poultry and game, fish, shellfish or crustacea (such as crab or lobster) or animal by-products, such as gelatine.
Vegetarians – tend to eat a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and eggs. Broadly speaking, vegetarians fall into three different categories:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians – eat dairy products and eggs (the most common form of vegetarianism).
- Lacto-vegetarians – eat dairy products, but do not eat eggs.
- Ovo vegetarians – eat eggs, but don’t eat dairy products.
Vegans – follow the same eating principles of vegetarians, with the addition of the fact they don’t eat eggs, dairy or any other animal products.3
Vegetarianism – the stats
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, around 2% of adults and children in the UK are vegetarian. This equates to more than 1.2 million people. There are lots of reasons why people may choose to follow a vegetarian diet, this ranges from health and religious reasons to animal welfare.4
Veganism – the stats
Veganism is one the rise, even more so in recent years. According to figures published by The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In 2019, there were 600,000 vegans (1.16% of the population compared to 150,000 (0.25%) in 2014.
What’s more, it’s predicted vegans and vegetarians will make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.5
Sources of protein for vegans
High protein vegan foods
|Best vegan protein sources||Food examples|
|Pulses and grains (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
|Beans (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
|Soya (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
|Nuts and seeds19 (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
Note – make sure they contain 100% nuts and no added ingredients, such as salt, sugars and oils.20
High protein vegan foods – in more detail
Pulses and grains
Pulses, such as lentils and beans, are perfect protein sources. They’re great for bulking up soups, stews, curries and salads, plus they count towards your five a day of vegetables and fruit.
When it comes to grains, things like barley, oats and rice are all excellent protein sources. Quinoa is also a high protein food and it additionally has the benefit of containing all nine essential amino acids. These are nutrients your body needs to function and that it’s unable to create itself.
Soya beans are a fantastic source of protein and are available in a huge range of forms to suit your needs. Popular soya protein picks include:
- Tofu – is a great meat substitute to toss in everything from salads to tacos plus, it’s low in calories too
- Soya protein flakes/chunks – other amazing soya-based products that can replicate the texture of meat are soya mince, bran and chunks. You can buy these dried and then rehydrate them by soaking them in water
- Soya milk drinks – if you eat cereal in the morning or you love a good cup of tea or coffee, soya drinks are the most protein-packed alternatives to dairy.21 You can also use soya milk in baking or in savoury sauces for pies and pasta
- Edamame beans – also known as soya beans, these beans are packed full of protein and are ideal for snacking on or for adding to salads or stir fries22
Nuts and seeds
If you’re searching for protein-rich snacks or things you can throw into your favourite dishes to bulk them out, nuts and seeds are ideal. Certain types are higher in protein than others, though, so choose them wisely.
Generally, almonds and cashews are good options, while flaxseed and chia seeds are particularly rich in protein. As nuts and seeds are high in fat, make sure you don’t eat more than a handful of them per day (about 30g).23
Sources of protein for vegetarians
High protein vegetarian food
|Best vegetarian protein sources||Food examples|
High protein vegetarian foods
Not only are dairy foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, recognised as being good sources of protein, they’re also valuable as they contain calcium, and can be fortified with Vitamin D.
If you were to specifically focus on milk, it actually happens to contain two different types of protein: 1) Whey (20%) and casein (80%). They’re reportedly high quality forms of protein and contain all of the essential amino acids that are needed for the protein to function within the body.29
When it comes to veg, it’s usually the greener, leafier stuff that contains the more protein. For instance, spinach, broccoli, garden peas, as well as watercress, bok choy, asparagus, mustard and collard greens, sprouts and cauliflower.
While these vegetables aren’t as high in protein as other vegetarian food, they’re still a great way to contribute to your protein levels without having to worry about taking on too many additional calories.30
As mentioned above, an egg typically contains around 7g of protein. However, as we all know, not all eggs are the same size, which means their protein content can vary slightly, depending on their dimensions. Here’s some guidance that you may find useful:31
- Small egg (38g) = 4.9g of protein
- Medium egg (44g) = 5.7g
- Large egg (50g) = 6.5g
- Extra large egg (56g) = 7.3g
- Jumbo egg (63g) = 8.2g
What about supplements?
If you’d like to increase your protein intake by taking supplements, vegan, plant-based protein powders are a good way to go. Vegan protein is typically made from all-natural ingredients that have been sourced from plants and it can easily be mixed into drinks or swapped into many baking recipes in place of flour. Protein powders are an especially popular choice for people who exercise regularly and are looking to build up muscle.
Before you decide on the best vegan protein powder for you or look to gain more protein through supplements, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting as much as you can through your diet. If you’re unsure about which products to buy, speak to a dietician or one of our nutrition experts in store.
For more vegetarian and vegan healthy food insight, check out this article, ‘Sources of Vitamin D for vegans and vegetarians.’
Last updated: 7 September 2020