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vegan protein sources

21 best sources of vegan protein

26 Jul 2021 • 11 min read

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 repair cell tissue and maintain and grow muscle.1

In the UK, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75g per 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.

It’s easy to get enough protein in vegan diets if you know where to look.

Summary

  • 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.

Vegan foods high in protein

  1. Lentils

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?

  1. Tofu

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 block 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 ones 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.

  1. Soya protein flakes/chunks

Other amazing soya-based products which can replicate the texture of meat are soya mince, bran and 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!

  1. 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.

Use soya milk as a substitute to 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Nuts

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
  1. 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):

You can also get some fancy-flavored nut butters for an extra-special treat like:

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
  1. 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 + easy, tasty recipes

  1. Other seeds

Chia seeds can’t steal all the glory! There are plenty of other wonderful seeds packed with protein, like:

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.

  1. Rice

Rice is often overlooked when it comes to protein due to its high carb content.

Wholegrain, brown and wild rice do contain more protein and fibre than your average Basmati, but even white rice packs a whole load of protein that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Here are the protein contents of the most common types of rice (100g raw):

As you can see, rice can definitely contribute to your daily protein intake! So, go on, make that vegan curry or chilli and know that rice isn’t merely a filler carb.

You can also get rice protein powder to make protein shakes or mix into your meals.

Minvita Gaba Black Rice 500g
4.89/5 stars(36)

€7.79

  1. Seitan

No, not the devil…

Seitan is a popular meat alternative in the vegan sphere due to its likeness to meat and high protein content.

It’s made using wheat gluten and water and people get pretty creative with it – using it to mimic everything from steaks and ham joints to chicken nuggets and turkey.

Each 50g of seitan contains roughly 185kcal, 38g of protein and just 14g of carbohydrates, making it appealing for people who follow a low-carb + high protein vegan diet.

Granovita Mock Duck 285g
4.61/5 stars(98)

€3.59

  1. Oats and porridge

Did you know your bowl of creamy porridge in the morning packs in some serious protein?

50g of oats contain 12g of pure protein and lots of complex carbs and fibre to boot!

Try making your porridge with soya milk to get the most protein bang for your buck.

You can also use oats to make:

  • Cookies
  • Oatcakes
  • Oat milk
  • Flapjacks
  • Oat pancakes
  • Muesli
  1. Sprouted grains

Sprouted wholegrains and legumes like wheat, barley, spelt, millet, lentils and soybeans typically contain more healthy nutrients than their unsprouted equivalents.

They’re also great vegan sources of protein.13

Studies have shown that sprouting increases the amino acids of grains.

A lot of grains naturally lack the amino acid lysine, but when they are sprouted the lysine content increases, improving the overall protein quality.14

Some of the most popular ways to enjoy sprouted grains include:

  • Ezekiel bread
  • Pie crusts
  • Rice
  • Sprinkling them on salad
  • Kamut
  1. Wholegrain bread

Bread seems to have a bit of a bad rep these days – for no good reason, especially if you are fine with gluten and go for the wholegrain varieties.

A slice of wholegrain bread contains approximately 4/5g of protein, and when you add some seeds into the mix that usually increases.

Pair your bread with another source of vegan protein, like faux soya ‘meats’, smashed chickpeas, vegan pate, baked beans, or spinach, and you’ve got yourself a decent amount of protein in your sandwich.

  1. Quinoa

Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is a hell of a wholegrain! It’s full to the brim with protein, fibre, healthy fats, iron, zinc and lots of other important nutrients.

A 185g serving of cooked quinoa contains around 8g of complete protein so you can see how this mighty little grain could help you pack in more protein.15

As it is pretty much flavorless you can make it taste however you wish by adding sauces and spices.

Fancy giving it a whirl? Check out these 3 tasty ways to eat quinoa.

  1. Spirulina

At first glance, spirulina can look, well… a bit weird!

This bright blue-green algae grows in freshwater ponds and lakes – then is served up for human consumption in a powder.

It’s one of the only natural vegan sources of vitamin B12, which some vegans can be lacking in as it usually comes from animal products like meat.

Each tiny 15g of the stuff contains a seriously impressive 10g of protein. So, in one simple sprinkle, you can transform the protein-profile of any food you’re eating.

Try spirulina out in:

  • Smoothies (especially green ones!)
  • Juices
  • Lattes
  • Homemade date balls
  • Pesto

Do be warned though that spirulina has a very strong, distinct taste, so add it in small amounts to see if it will work in whatever you put it in.

Naturya Organic Spirulina Powder 200g
4.48/5 stars(129)

€12.29

  1. Peas

Who’d of thought little petit pois could contain so much protein!

Cooked green peas contain around 9g of protein per 130g serving, as well as lots of fibre, vitamin A, C and K, as well as thiamine, manganese and folate.16

They’re not just a side dish either. You can add green peas to:

  • Paella
  • Salads
  • Homemade ravioli
  • Pizza
  • Curries
  • Veggie burgers

As well as blending them up to make pea and mint soup or a sweet avocado dip – yum!

A lot of vegan protein powders also use pea protein as it is a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids.

  1. Hempseed

Also known as shelled hemp, hempseeds are used for everything from beauty products and making fabrics to cooking oils and protein powders.

A mere 100g of shelled hemp contains almost 35g of plant-based protein, with some omega-3 acids, iron and magnesium to sweeten the deal.

These small-but-mighty seeds have a mild and nutty flavour that complement a lot of different foods and drinks like:

  • Pesto pasta
  • Salads
  • Hummus
  • Smoothies
  • Curries
  • Porridge

A lot of vegan protein powders incorporate some help into their formulas too as it is a complete protein.

You can even have a go at making it into some hemp ‘butter’ to spread on toast, oatcakes and rice cakes.

  1. Nutritional yeast

Lovingly known as ‘nooch’ in the vegan community, nutritional yeast does what it says on the tin!

This vegan favourite is made from non-live powdered yeast, which when ‘alive’ is used to make bread and beer.

The result is a slightly cheesy flake-like that can liven up lots of dishes and make them even more nutritious.

Each 5g serving contains 2.6g of protein – making it more than 50% protein! The fortified versions also typically contain B vitamins – including vitamin B12.

It is most commonly used to:

  • Make vegan cheese
  • Liven up beans on toast
  • Replicate the cheesiness of parmesan on pasta
  • Make creamy sauces
  • Give flavour to dishes like scrambled tofu

It’s definitely worth keeping a tub or two in the kitchen cupboard ready to add nourishing vitamins, minerals and protein to dishes.

  1. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are a type of legume known for their rich protein content.

Each 100g serving of chickpeas contain roughly 8.4g of protein, as well as fibre, iron, complex carbs, folate, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and more.17

They’re oh-so versatile too! Use chickpeas to make:

  • Falafel
  • Hummus
  • Chana masala (chickpea curry)
  • Crispy little snacks – dry them and pop in the oven with seasonings
  • Chilli non carne
  • Chickpea ‘tuna’

Vegan top tip: save the water from your can of chickpeas to make aquafaba – a vegan egg substitute!

  1. Beans

Most varieties of beans are brimming with plant-based protein.

Some of the best contenders in the protein race include:

  • Black beans, approx. 24g protein per 100g18
  • Butter beans, approx. 7g protein per 100g19
  • Kidney beans, approx. 6.9g protein per 100g20
  • Cannellini beans, approx. 7.3g protein per 100g21
  • Baked beans, approx. 5.2g protein per 100g22

Just like chickpeas, they also contain varying amounts of important nutrients like fibre, iron, complex carbs, folate, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and more.

You can include them in dishes like:

  • Beany chillis
  • Curries
  • Stews
  • Casseroles
  • Nachos
  • Bean mash
  • Tortilla

Summary

  • As you can see, there are lots of vegan protein sources to choose from!
  • Your diet does not have to be limited – in fact, you may find yourself eating a higher variety of foods as a vegan

When should you take vegan protein supplements?

If you’d like to increase your protein intake by taking supplements, vegan protein powders are a good way to go.

Vegan protein is typically made from all-natural ingredients 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 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 what products to buy, speak to a dietician or one of our nutrition experts in store.

3 of the best vegan protein supplements

When looking to supplement your diet with some high-quality vegan protein powder, it’s important to know that you’re getting all the amino acids, aka a complete protein.

A lot of formulas include more than one type of vegan protein to make sure, combined, they provide every amino acid we need to thrive.

However, some vegan proteins are already complete, so it could be sensible to start with them.

Here are our top 3 vegan protein supplements by protein type.

1. Soy protein powder

Soy protein powder is probably the most common vegan protein powder – and for good reason.

Just like all the soya protein sources we mentioned above, soy protein powder contains all 9 essential amino acids and can offer these additional benefits:

  • Contains little fat and no cholesterol
  • Promotes muscle maintenance/growth
  • Naturally high in protein

2. Pea protein powder

Another great complete vegan protein, pea protein is close second in popularity to soy.

It is great for those who are allergic to soya, and offers the following benefits:

  • Easy to digest
  • Rich in iron
  • Great for soy/dairy intolerant
  • High in complete protein

3. Hemp protein powder

Hemp protein is another great complete vegan protein and is considered a superfood of sorts, so you get to enjoy both aspects!

The many benefits of hemp protein powder include:

  • Rich in fibre
  • Easy to digest
  • Contains BCAAs
  • High in complete protein
  • Contains omega-3 and 6
  • Rich Source of iron and magnesium
  • Often produced sustainably
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 26 July 2021

Sources

  1. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegetarians
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
  3. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4338/2
  4. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/index.php
  5. https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257705/
  7. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  8. https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Nuts%2C_raw%2C_cashew_nuts_nutritional_value.html
  9. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  10. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  11. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12423
  13. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00217-002-0602-2
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8153070
  15. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/quinoa/
  16. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  17. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  18. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a20088526/black-beans-nutrition/
  19. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168396/nutrients
  20. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
  21. https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/biona-cannellini-beans-60040560
  22. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4
 
bhupesh-panchal

Bhupesh Panchal

Author

Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
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