So often, vegans are asked where they get their protein, which shows how much misinformation there is around vegan diets. The reality is, most foods contain protein, and it is not at all hard to get sufficient amounts of high-quality protein on a vegan diet. It certainly pays to know where the best sources are, but as protein is so prevalent in our foods, we don’t sweat it too much.
What Is Plant-Based Protein?
Protein can be found in almost all foods, and that includes both plants themselves and the foods that are made from them. So, you’ll find protein in nuts, beans, seeds, and grains, for example, but also in peanut butter, tahini, breakfast cereals, veggie sausages, and vegan fried chick*n.
Is Plant-Based Protein Good For You?
It really is! We all need protein and getting it from plants allows us to get all that we need in a healthy, nutrient-rich form.
Why Is Protein Important?
Every cell in our bodies contains protein, and we need a regular supply of the amino acids that make protein in order to repair and maintain those cells, and to make new ones. Protein is also essential for growth, and is especially important for muscles and bones. We need protein!
Can Plant-Based Protein Help You Lose Weight?
A lot of animal-based proteins come with a side order of saturated fat, and that is not a healthy fat to be eating. But plant-based proteins, such as those in beans and grains, are low in fat and high in fibre, which makes them healthy, nutritious, and affordable sources of protein. So yes, switching beef for beans and chicken for chickpeas could help us lose weight.
Plant Versus Animal Protein
Meat contains protein because when we kill and eat animals, we are eating the proteins they made to repair and grow their own cells. But the animals ultimately got those proteins from plants, and that’s what vegans do.
Some people argue that protein from meat is somehow better because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, but plenty of vegan foods are also ‘complete proteins’. Not that we need to eat all nine amino acids in the same food. We don’t even need to eat them in the same meal! So long as we eat a variety of foods, we’ll get all the amino acids – and all the protein – we need.
The great thing about plant proteins is that they tend to be lower in calories than animal proteins and are more easily digestible. They are also rich in antioxidants, which, according to Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health “are associated with a lower risk of chronic oxidative stress-related diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and deaths from all causes.” Eating plant-based proteins may just help us live longer, too.
So, plant proteins give us everything we need in a healthier form, and can support and protect great health and longevity. And we get all the benefits without harming animals. That’s what we call a win-win situation.
What Are the Best Plant-Based Proteins?
There is no one “best” plant-based protein. Meaningful health benefits come when we eat a variety of plant-based foods that contain protein, as well as all the other nutrients we need to thrive. These are our top picks of plant-based proteins that we enjoy regularly.
This ancient grain contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It has a crunchy texture and a nutty flavour, and it can be used in place of rice or other grains. It makes a delicious porridge, a hearty grain-based salad, and can be served alongside stews and curries.
- Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
These are all made from soya beans, and they are also complete sources of protein. Tofu, if it is set with calcium, is also a very useful source of that mineral which is another reason why we recommend it. These foods are highly versatile so give them a go.
This grain is similar to quinoa, and can be used in the same ways. We like it added to soups or mixed with fresh herbs and chopped vegetables and stuffed into a cooked pepper. Amaranth is another complete plant protein.
Here is another grain that contains all nine of the amino acids we need. Try it in a risotto-style dish, served with stir fry, or use buckwheat flour to make delicious and nutritious egg-free pancakes.
- Hemp Seeds
These nutrition powerhouses are almost a complete source of protein, but are just a little low in lysine to qualify. Not to worry – we can get lysine in lots of other places! Add these super seeds to cereals, baked goods, and salads for protein, iron, and potassium.
- Chia Seeds
Like hemp seeds, these little seeds can be sprinkled onto breakfast cereals, and added to baked goods but they also have a superpower. When mixed with water, they take on a jelly-like consistency and can be used in place of eggs in cakes and pancakes.
- Beans With Rice
Such a great pairing, and when eaten together, we get the complete protein profile. Think of Spanish or Caribbean dishes; think of burritos; think of a bean curry with pilau rice. Highly nutritious, highly delicious, and so many ways to enjoy them!
- Mycoprotein (Quorn)
This especially developed meat substitute is a good source of complete protein, although not every Quorn product is fully vegan. Quorn is stocked in almost every supermarket making it an easily accessible option.
This is the protein extracted from wheat and forms the basis of VFC’s delicious vegan fried chick*n products. It is almost a complete protein, containing 8 of the 9 essential amino acids, and missing only lysine, which you can find readily in avocados, beetroot, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, hummus, nuts, seeds, grains and more.
Like Clark Kent and Superman, the humble-seeming lentil is really a superhero. Lentils contain all nine essential amino acids but are a little low in methionine to truly be considered complete. Most grains are a good source of methionine, however, so when you make a high-fibre, low-fat, utterly delicious spicy dal, serve it with a grain. And voila!
Roasted pistachios are considered a complete protein as they contain all nine amino acids in adequate amounts. They make a fantastic snack, are delicious in both sweet and savoury baked goods, and can be added to salads, breakfast cereals, and pasta dishes.
Oh, we do love a chickpea. They are the bedrock of the perfect coconut curry and are also the key ingredient in hummus which, as we all know, is the lifeblood of vegans. Chickpeas are low fat and high in fibre, and contain plenty of protein.
13. Nutritional Yeast
These are the nutty, cheesy flakes that vegans love to sprinkle onto pasta or rice dishes, add to savoury baked goods, and make cheesy sauces with. It is a complete protein that is often fortified with B vitamins, which makes it one of the best-loved foods in the vegan pantry.
14. Oats and Oatmeal
Oats are a great source of protein and are full of fibre, while also containing magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and folate. They make great porridge, of course, but can also be added to savoury dishes like veggie burgers, and turned into flapjacks, granola bars and cookies.
15. Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanuts and peanut butter are excellent sources of plant-based protein. And if you spread your peanut butter on some whole grain bread to make a tasty sandwich, you’ve got yourself a complete source of protein in one delicious snack.
Wait, what? Yes, potatoes contain protein. Not a huge amount per 100g but certainly a significant amount, and as lots of us eat a lot of spuds, that amount increases nicely. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, fibre, potassium, and vitamin B6. So, fill your boots.
17. Protein-Rich Vegetables
So many vegetables contain good amounts of protein, as well as being great sources of health-boosting nutrients. Our top picks include: green peas, sweetcorn, mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, asparagus, kale and Brussels sprouts. Eat lots.
18. Plant-Based Protein Powder
For those looking for much larger amounts of protein, perhaps to boost muscle growth in the gym, protein powders can provide the answer. There are plenty of great vegan protein powders made from a variety of plant sources like brown rice and peas. Some powders are flavoured to add to bars and shakes; others are plain so you can add them to all manner of foods.
Our final plant protein is spirulina. It is a blue-green algae that is chock-full of protein, and makes a very useful supplement as it also contains a large amount of iron and lots of antioxidants, too. Its strong marine flavour is not to everyone’s taste but those who enjoy it in smoothies and juices absolutely swear by it.
Does Plant-Based Meat Have Protein?
It does! But how much protein it has depends on the product itself. VFC’s vegan fried chick*n, for example, contains between 10 and 15g of protein per 100g of tasty chick*n, depending on which of our products you choose. Some other vegan meats have more; others have less.
How To Get Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet
It’s really not difficult. The average woman requires around 45g of protein per day, and the average man around 55g. And while we don’t need to try too hard, it is useful to bear in mind which foods contain good amounts of protein. For example:
Wholemeal toast and peanut butter for breakfast could give us 15g which gets our day off to a flying start. A lentil or bean soup for lunch could add another 15-20g. A chickpea and tofu curry with rice for dinner will notch up another 40g+. That’s before we add in the plant milk in our tea, the granola bar we have as a snack, or the green veggies we may serve with our meal.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
There are online protein calculators that allow you to work out just how much protein you need. This will vary from person to person, and depend on many factors including our age and how active we are. But it also depends who you ask: different health organisations in different countries put the recommended amount at different levels. But if we take 45g for a woman and 55g for a man per day as our baseline, we won’t go too far wrong.
We need protein for good health, to repair and replace cells, and to support our growth. It is essential but it is not at all hard to find on a vegan diet. In fact, almost all foods contain protein. Plant-based sources of protein also tend to have other nutritious elements, such as healthy fats and antioxidants, which gives us many more excellent reasons to choose plant-based foods over those that harm animals.