vegan protein sources

The best sources of vegan protein

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 not only a source of 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:

  1. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians – eat dairy products and eggs (the most common form of vegetarianism).
  2. Lacto-vegetarians – eat dairy products, but do not eat eggs.
  3. 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 is 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)
  • Pulses – for example, lentils and beans. They contain around 8 to 9g of protein per 100g.6
  • Chickpeas – including houmous contains 7g of protein per 100g serving7
  • Grains – barley, oats and rice, cornmeal, whole wheat pasta, cous cous, quinoa. 100g of cooked quinoa will provide almost 4g of protein.8,9,10
  • Porridge – a 40g serving of uncooked porridge oats contains 5g of protein.11
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.12,13
  • Baked beans – contain 5g per 100g.14
Soya (are a high protein vegetarian food too)
  • Tofu – a 100g serving of firm tofu contains about 8g of protein.15
  • Tempeh – 166g will give you 31g of protein.16
  • Soya milk – one 7g cup of soy milk contains 7g of protein.17
  • Edamame beans – 155g has around 18.5g of protein.18
Nuts and seeds19 (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
Butters
  • Peanut butter – one heaped tablespoon of smooth peanut butter contains just over 3g of protein
  • Nut butter

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 protein

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 mincebran 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 fries.22

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

Dairy products24
  • Cow’s milk – one cup contains around 8g of protein
  • Hard cheese and cottage cheese – one ounce contains around 7g
  • Greek yoghurt – there’s 14g of protein per cup
Vegetables
  • Spinach – one cup of spinach contains 6g of protein25
  • Broccoli – steamed broccoli contains 4g of protein per cup26
  • Garden peas – contain around 7g of protein per 100g27
Eggs28
  • Boiled, scrambled, poached eggs – one egg contains around 7g of protein

High protein vegetarian foods

Dairy products

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

Vegetables

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

Eggs

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

 Summary

  • Protein is essential for the body to function, it is a source of energy and helps maintain muscle growth
  • The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75g per every kilogram you weigh – tricky if you cannot eat dairy, meat or eggs
  • High protein vegan foods include pulses, grains, beans, soya, nuts, seeds and spreads

Five of the best high protein vegan snacks

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:

1. Edamame beans

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.

2. Nuts and seeds

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.32

3. Vegan cheese

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.

4. Oats

Oats are another great example of vegan protein snacks. Oats contain 10.9g of protein per 100g.

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.33 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.

5. Popcorn

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 flavorsome toppings of your choice.

Summary

  • Looking for a great vegan protein snack? Stock up on edamame beans, nuts and seeds, vegan cheese, oats and popcorn for an easy to reach protein hit.

What about protein 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.’ Shop Vegan Foods

Last updated: 11 February 2021

Sources
  1.  https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein
  2.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegetarians
  3.  https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
  4.  https://www.nutrition.org.uk/index.php
  5.  https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics
  6.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  7.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  8.  https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/grains-high-in-protein.php
  9.  https://www.theproteinworks.com/vegan/5-vegan-protein-foods
  10.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  11.  https://www.theproteinworks.com/vegan/5-vegan-protein-foods
  12.  https://www.vegetariantimes.com/uncategorized/is-soy-the-center-of-all-vegetarian-diets
  13.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  14.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  15.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegetarians
  16.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/tempeh
  17.  https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/pros-cons-soy-milk/
  18.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/edamame-benefits#section2
  19.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  20.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  21.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321474#15-best-vegan-proteins
  22.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/edamame-benefits#section2
  23.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegetarians
  24.  https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/milk-cheese-yogurt-equally-healthy-2768.html
  25.  https://www.theproteinworks.com/vegan/5-vegan-protein-foods
  26.  https://www.theproteinworks.com/vegan/5-vegan-protein-foods
  27.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  28.  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegetarians
  29.  https://www.dairynutrition.ca/nutrients-in-milk-products/protein/milk-products-source-of-high-quality-protein
  30.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318600#10.-Cauliflower
  31. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-in-egg#section1
  32. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein-vegans
  33. https://www.theproteinworks.com/vegan/5-vegan-protein-foods

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Bhupesh Panchal

Bhupesh Panchal,
Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

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.