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Whether you are 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 is not only a source of energy but helps maintain muscle growth.1
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:
Vegans follow the same eating principles as vegetarians, with the addition of the fact they don’t eat eggs, dairy or any other animal products.2
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.3
Veganism is on 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 is predicted vegans and vegetarians will make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.4
In the UK, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75g per every kilogram you weigh.5
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 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.
Read on for our top 27 sources of protein for vegans...
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.
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! 6
They are used to make curries like lentil dahl, soups, mince substitutes, 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 dahl and rice anybody?
When it comes to grains, things like barley, oats and rice are all excellent protein sources.
Quinoa is also a source of 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.
Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is a hell of a wholegrain! It’s a protein and fibre source with healthy fats, iron, zinc and lots of other important nutrients.
A 185g serving of cooked quinoa normally contains around 8g of complete protein so you can see how this mighty little grain could help you pack in more protein.7
As it is pretty much flavourless 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.
Another hero food for vegans around the globe, the humble chickpea is a great source of plant-based protein.
A type of legume, chickpeas are used in several key recipes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.
In 100g of canned, drained chickpeas there’s approximately 7g of protein and only 139 calories – making it the perfect ingredient for curries, stews or dips like homemade houmous!8
They’re oh-so versatile too! Use chickpeas to make:
Vegan top tip: save the water from your can of chickpeas to make aquafaba – a vegan egg substitute!
Try making your porridge with soya milk to get the most protein bang for your buck.
You can also use oats to make:
Most varieties of beans are brimming with plant-based protein.
Some of the best contenders in the protein race include:
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:
Tofu comes from soya beans, which are a fantastic source of protein and are available in a huge range of forms to suit your needs.
It’s a great meat substitute to toss in everything from salads to tacos plus it’s low in calories too.
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.14
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:
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.
Originating in Indonesia, tempeh is a source of plant-based protein made from fermented soybeans.
The chunky texture of tempeh also means that it works well as a meat substitute, whether you want to recreate sticky BBQ ribs or a chicken kebab – it should satisfy that craving.
One 100g serving of tempeh typically contains around 20g of protein and 192 calories, making it a healthy choice for vegetarians or vegans who are looking to up their protein intake without missing out on a meaty texture.15
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.16
For example, soya milk typically has around 3.3g or protein and 32 calories per 100ml.
Compare this to 100g of semi-skimmed dairy milk, which contains roughly 47 calories and 3g of protein, and soya milk actually comes out on top.17
In terms of drinks, 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.
Edamame beans – also known as soya beans, are packed full of protein and are ideal for snacking on or for adding to salads or stir fries.
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.
Soya protein flakes/chunks are other soya-based products that can replicate the texture of meat are soya mince, bran and chunks, perfect for quick dinners and meal prepping.
You can buy these dried and then rehydrate them by soaking them in water.
Try soaking some in a tasty stock and adding to pasta dishes, curries, risotto, noodles, fried rice, anything!
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 100g18
Cashew nuts, approx. 18g protein per 100g 19
Walnuts, approx. 14.7g protein per 100g20
Hazelnuts, approx. 14.2g protein per 100g21
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).22
Why not try?
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, totalling around 4.5g of protein per 2 tablespoons.23
Wondering how to use them? Here are the most popular ways you can put all that chia goodness to work:
You can find more facts about the humble chia seed here & easy, tasty recipes.
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 source 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.
When it comes to veg, it’s usually the greener, leafier stuff that contains 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.24
If you’re looking for low calorie, low carb vegan protein sources, then you’ll be pleased to know that some certain vegetables offer just that.
Enter broccoli – yep you heard us right!
In 100g of broccoli, there is approximately 39 calories and 2.5g of protein, so if you’re wondering what greens to add as a side, this veg is a good bet.25
If broccoli isn’t your thing, then don’t fear.
Spinach is also a diet-friendly protein source for vegans. Perfect for adding to curries, ramens, salads and even smoothies – this leafy veg really packs a protein punch.
Just 100g of baby spinach contains roughly 27 calories and 2.8g of protein.26
From the healthy to the…not-so-healthy.
Vegan cheese is another source of protein for plant-based folk if you’re missing the tangy taste of cheese in your dishes.
Thankfully, vegan cheese contains a fair amount of protein to say that it’s dairy-free.
One 28g serving of vegan cheese offers approximately 80 calories and 3g of protein.27
So the next time you make yourself a vegan pizza, cheesy pasta or a simple cheese sandwich, you’ll be getting a little dose of protein too.
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:
You can also get some fancy-flavoured 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:
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.
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.
Sprouted wholegrains and legumes are can be found in the form of wheat, barley, spelt, millet, lentils and soybeans.
They’re also great vegan sources of protein.28
Studies have shown that sprouting increases the amino acids of grains.
A lot of grains naturally lack the amino acid lysine, but when they have sprouted the lysine content increases, improving the overall protein quality.29
Some of the most popular ways to enjoy sprouted grains include:
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.
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 the food that you’re eating.
Try spirulina out in:
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.
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:
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.
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:
It’s definitely worth keeping a tub or two in the kitchen cupboard ready to add nourishing vitamins, minerals and protein to dishes.
|Pulses and grains (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
Pulses - for example, lentils and beans. They contain around 8 to 9g of protein per 100g.31
Chickpeas - including houmous, contains 7g of protein per 100g serving.32
Grains - barley, oats and rice, cornmeal, whole wheat pasta, couscous, quinoa. 100g of cooked quinoa will provide almost 4g of protein.33,34
Porridge - a 40g serving of uncooked porridge oats contains 5g of protein.35
|Beans (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
Black eyed, pinto, butter, cannellini, soya, kidney and Edamame beans contain between 7 to 10g of protein.36,37
Baked beans - contain around 5g per 100g.38
|Soya (a high protein vegetarian food too)||
Tofu - a 100g serving of firm tofu contains about 8g of protein.39
Tempeh - 166g will give you 31g of protein.40
Soya milk - one 7g cup of soya milk contains 7g of protein.41
Edamame beans - 155g has around 18.5g of protein.42
|Nuts and seeds (are a high protein vegetarian food too)||
Almonds - there's 3g of protein for every six almonds
Cashews - 3g for every 10 nuts
Ground linseed - 3g per heaped tablespoon
Pumpkin seeds - 4g per tablespoon
Pistachios - 1g of protein for 10+ pistachios
Walnuts - around 3g of protein for every three nuts
Hemp seeds - 5g per heaped tablespoon
Chia seeds - one tablespoon contains almost 2g of protein
Peanut butter - One heaped tablespoon of smooth peanut butter contains just over 3g of protein
Note - make sure they contain 100% nuts and no added ingredients, such as salt, sugars and oils.44
Read on for our top high vegetarian food
|Best vegetarian protein sources||Food examples|
Cows milk - one cup contains around 8g of protein
Hard cheese and cottage cheese - one ounce contains around 7g
Greek yoghurt - there is 14g of protein per cup
|Eggs46||Boiled, scrambled, poached - contains around 7g of protein|
Our top 4 high protein vegetarian foods are...
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.47
Ah, everyone’s favourite… many will be pleased to know that cheese isn’t all bad, especially on the protein front! Here are some of the most protein-packed cheeses to add to your recipes:
The perfect accompaniment to granola, cereals, fruit and more – yoghurt isn’t just a tasty snack, it’s also a great source of vegetarian protein.
Here’s the protein contents of a couple of the most popular types:
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:
So what are the best ways of boosting your daily protein intake, so you can ensure you eat more of this essential nutrient during snack time?
Here are five vegan and high protein snack ideas to get you started:
Vegan protein snacks such as edamame beans are a great choice to eat between meals.
You could try adding edamame hummus to salads, wraps or using it as a dip for crackers.
Or else just adding edamame beans to stir-fries.
Nuts and seeds are another great option for vegan snacks.
Almonds contain 3g of protein for every six, hemp seeds have 5g per teaspoon and pumpkin seeds contain 4g per tablespoon. 56
Vegan cheese is a great alternative snack. It is made from vegetable protein. You could use the cheese to snack with crackers, melt on toast or add to a sandwich.
Oats are another great example of vegan protein snacks. Oats contain 13.2g of protein per 100g.57
Try adding them to your breakfast and decorate with soft fruits. Or use oats to bake vegan flapjacks as a tasty treat. Porridge contains 5g of protein in a 40g serving.58
It is a popular choice of breakfast for many as it gives a good energy boost in the morning.
But it can also be used as a filling snack, and you can top it off with berries and maple syrup as a vegan alternative to honey.
Popcorn can make a delicious snack, perfect for on the go or for sharing with a loved one, whilst you cuddle up together and watch a film.
Made from heating dried corn kernels in a microwave, air popper or even just a pan, with a dash of oil, on the stove, popcorn is a plentiful and extremely affordable snack, full of fibre, which you can enhance with flavoursome toppings of your choice.
A 100g serving of popcorn contains a whopping 12.9g of protein – who knew?59
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.
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:
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:
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:
That just about wraps up our guide to all things vegan and vegetarian protein.
So now you know what the best sources are and how to prepare them, why not try upgrading an old recipe today?
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: 30 December 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 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.