Whether you’re a long-term vegan or you’ve only recently made the switch, you might find one problem with your plant-based diet is getting enough protein.
Protein is essential for the body to function as it not only gives you energy, but also helps maintain and grow muscle.1 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 vegan protein foods you can incorporate into your diet to help support your intake.
How vegans can get protein from their diet
They get it the same way everyone else does! Through their diet.
Vegans can easily get their daily fill of protein + more if they need it through the foods they eat every day.
Once you know what plant foods are high in protein, you can start to include them in your diet more.
If you want a little extra to support weight loss, exercise performance or weight gain, a protein supplement could be a good idea. Just like non-vegans reach for their protein shake, vegans can too for an easy yet satisfying portion of protein.
Are vegans usually deficient in protein?
It is very hard to become deficient in protein as most of the foods we eat will have at least a little bit, as you will see from the list below.
Protein deficiency usually occurs in developing countries going through a famine or where it’s common to eat an imbalanced diet.
How much protein do I need as a vegan?
The same as everybody else does! There are no special or extra protein requirements just because you’re vegan.
As mentioned above, the recommended daily intake of protein in the UK is 0.75g per every kilogram you weigh.3
It’s easy to get enough protein in vegan diets if you know where to look.
- Eating a diet rich in protein is important for everyone
- Vegans can easily get enough protein if they know what foods to choose
- It is very hard to become protein deficient
- Vegans need the same amount of protein as meat-eaters
21 top sources of protein for vegans
Here are some of the best protein sources for vegans.
Lentils are part of the legume family – popular the world over for their versatility and nutrition.
Each 100g of cooked, boiled lentils contain an impressive 31g of protein and just 116 calories – making them just over 25% protein!3
They are used to make curries like lentil daal, soups, mince substitutes, cakes, pie fillings and so much more. As you typically buy them dried, you can keep them in the cupboard and incorporate them into your meals as and when you fancy.
They are popular in their vegan community for their use as a meat substitute. Love a Shepherd’s pie? Use lentils as the mince! Maybe you’re more of a pasta fan? Why not try your hand at making some lentil no-meat balls?
Best thing about lentils? If you serve them up with rice or other grains like oats, wheat, rye or corn, they make a complete protein – lentil daal and rice anybody?
It may have a bad rep for being tasteless, but that’s only because the majority of people don’t know how to cook it! Tofu is a great meat substitute; you only have to look at Asian cuisine to see how versatile it is.
Typically, a 100g of firm tofu contains about 8g of protein and it's low in calories.4 It’s a complete protein too, meaning it has all 9 essential amino acids (the one’s your body can’t make by itself).
You can get various types of tofu depending on what you want to use it for, from softest to firmest:
- Silken tofu: the wobbliest, silkiest type of tofu you can get. You can use silken tofu to make sauces, dressings, smoothies and soft desserts like mousse and vegan panna cotta.
- Soft block tofu: this tofu is smooth and tastes quite milky, so it is best used to make soft desserts like tofu ice cream, or deep-fried to make little nuggets.
- Firm block tofu: for most dishes, firm tofu is the way to go. You can batter it, bake it, boil it, pan-fry it, stir-fry it, deep-fry it – whatever you want!
- Extra firm tofu: if you want chewy- this is the tofu for you. It’s great for making crispy fried tofu or for replacing paneer in Indian curries / recipes.
It is also definitely worth marinating your tofu (the firmer varieties) to fill it with the tastes you want. That is one of the beauties of tofu- you can make it taste however you like as it’s like a little flavour-sponge.
3. Soya protein flakes/chunks
You can buy these vegan protein sources dried and then rehydrate them by soaking them in water / vegetable stock – perfect for quick dinners and meal prepping.
As they are made from soya, they are typically high in complete protein, e.g. these soya protein chunks contain 50g protein per 100g.
Try soaking some in a tasty stock and adding to pasta dishes, curries, risotto, noodles, fried rice, anything!
4. 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.5
For example, soya milk typically has around 3.3g or protein and 32 calories per 100ml. Compare this to 100ml of semi-skimmed dairy milk, which contains roughly 47 calories and 3g of protein, and soya milk actually comes out on top.6
Use soya milk as a substitute for dairy milk in your tea, coffee, cereal, and protein shakes. You can also use it to make creamy porridge, milkshakes, smoothies savoury sauces for pies and pasta.
5. Edamame beans
Also known as soya beans, edamame beans are packed with protein and ideal as snacks or to add to salads or stir fries.
Each 100g serving of edamame beans contains around 11g of protein, as well as vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium and calcium.
Try steaming them in their pods, sprinkling them with salt and sucking the beans out as a very healthy snack. You can also pop the de-podded beans in salad, stir frys, gyoza or mashed up to make a spread.
They can even be eaten in the form of nutritious pasta!
If you’re searching for protein-rich snacks or things you can throw into your favourite dishes to bulk them out, nuts are ideal.
Certain types are higher in protein than others, though, so choose them wisely. Here are some of the nuts with the most amount of protein:
- Almonds - approx. 21.2g protein per 100g7
- Cashew nuts - approx. 18g protein per 100g8
- Walnuts - approx. 14.7g protein per 100g9
- Hazelnuts - approx. 14.2g protein per 100g10
Generally, almonds and cashews are good options. However, as nuts are high in fat, make sure you don’t eat more than a handful of them per day (about 30g).11
Why not try:
- Roasting some almonds to make a sweet Romesco sauce
- Throwing some salted peanuts into a stirfry to add extra protein
- Soak some cashews and blend with nutritional yeast to make a protein-packed creamy sauce
7. Nut butters
Another way you can enjoy the healthy protein and fats of nuts is by treating yourself to some creamy nut butters.
There are so many to choose from! Here’s some of the most popular and their protein content (by brand):
- Peanut butter - 27g protein per 100g
- Hazelnut butter - 17g protein per 100g
- Almond butter - 26g protein per 100g
- Cashew butter - 21g protein per 100g
You can also get some fancy-flavored nut butters for an extra-special treat like:
- Coconut almond butter 20g protein per 100g
- Crunchy maple peanut butter 26g protein per 100g
- Salted date almond butter 19.6g protein per 100g
Although a slice of toast smothered in nut butter is one of life’s greatest pleasures, there are many other delicious ways to enjoy nut butters, like:
- Mixing them into your smoothie
- Slathering onto oatcakes
- Combing with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar and chilli flakes to make a Chinese-inspired sauce
- Making brownies and blondies
- Dunking slices of apple straight into the jar
8. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are one of the most protein-packed plant foods around – at around 19% protein.
Each little seed contains all 9 of the essential amino acids your body can’t make, totaling around 4.5g of protein per 2 tablespoons.12
Wondering how to use them? Here are the most popular ways you can put all that chia goodness to work:
- Sprinkle them over your cereal
- Add some to your smoothies
- Soak them in chocolate milk for chia pudding
- Use them as breadcrumbs
- Make a ‘chia egg’ to veganise bakes and other dishes easily
- Make a trail mix
You can find more facts about the humble chia seed here, as well as some easy, tasty recipes.
9. Other seeds
Chia seeds can’t steal all the glory! There are plenty of other wonderful seeds packed with protein, like:
- Pumpkin seeds: 24g protein per 100g
- Sunflower seeds: 20g protein per 100g
- Golden linseed (aka flaxseed): 18g protein per 100g
- Sesame seeds: 18g protein per 100g
Pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds are perfect for adding a protein punch to your overnight oats, porridge or fancy breakfast bowl. Sesame seeds are more suited for savoury – try sprinkling some over your next noodle or rice dish to give it a rich, satisfying flavour.