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  • Writer's pictureEthan Lazuk

Vegan Proteins: A Guide for Plant-Based Eaters

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Veganism is a popular lifestyle for people who want to avoid consuming animal products either to reduce animal cruelty, preserve the environment, or improve their health and wellness. One concern that people who follow a vegan diet may have is getting enough protein. While it is commonly thought that animal-based products are the main source for complete proteins, there are also many options of vegan proteins.


Plant-based proteins can be broken down into categories such as:

  • Whole Grains

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

In this article, we will explain the different types of vegan proteins available and answer commonly asked questions about protein. Whether you are a vegan or merely looking to add more plant-based foods to your diet, this article will help point you in the right direction for protein sources.


Before we begin, it's important to address the question of how much protein a person needs. According to medical sources, a person's age, sex, weight, and physical activity are all variables that determine how much protein they need. Specific protein requirements can be found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


What Are The Different Types of Vegan Protein?

Since vegans don't eat meat, fish, dairy, or other animal products, they get their protein from plant-based sources. Below are some of the common categories of vegan-friendly proteins along with examples of each.



Whole Grains

Whole grains are grains that include the entire kernel (including the bran, germ, and endosperm). This means whole grains retain their original nutrients and fiber, unlike refined grains, which have the bran and germ removed during processing and only contain endosperm.


Whole grains are generally known for their health benefits, like providing essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as part of a healthy diet.


Varieties of whole grains include cereals, minor cereals, and pseudo cereals. But what's more useful for you in this article is knowing the types of whole grains available for consumption as sources of vegan protein. Here's a list:


Oats

Oats are a versatile and nutritious whole grain that are an excellent protein source for vegans. Oats are commonly consumed as oatmeal or rolled oats, but they can also be ground into a flour for baking or incorporated into savory dishes like vegan burgers. Of course, vegans may also consume oat milk as a substitute for dairy milk. In addition to protein, oats also provide fiber and various vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and iron.


Quinoa

Quinoa is a plant species and pseudocereal related to spinach, but quinoa seeds are the edible part many vegans enjoy for protein. Besides being high in protein, quinoa seeds also provide fiber and vitamins and minerals and are gluten free. There are many preparations for quinoa in vegan dishes, including as a topping for salads, a main ingredient for soups, stews, or pilafs, or a substiute for pasta, potatoes, or rice in many recipes.


Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green algae commonly used as a dietary supplement or health food ingredient in the form of a dried powder. Spirulina is a concentrated source of protein as well as fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Some vegans take spirulina supplements in the form of capsules or tablets or incorporate spirulina-based drink-mix powders for juices or smoothies.


Seitan

Seitan is made from gluten, which is the main protein in wheat. Some vegans prefer this wheat-gluten protein in place of soy-based proteins like tofu. Seitan is often enjoyed grilled.



Vegetables

Vegetables are a staple of vegan cuisine. While many vegetables aren't high in protein, some vegetables do contain protein, including the following:


Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a fungi that contain mycoproteins. Mycoprotein is often used in meat substitutes. Mushrooms can be incorporated into vegan risotto, soups, and pasta dishes or used as steaks (portobello mushrooms work well for this).


Broccoli

Broccoli contains protein when it's raw, and even more protein when it's cooked.


Green Peas

Green peas contain protein. Green peas can be incorporated into a veggie burger patty or roasted as a crunchy treat.


Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are a protein-rich vegetable. Brussel sprouts can be enjoyed roasted or as part of a hash with sweet potatoes.



Fruits

Fruits are produce that are sweet or sour in taste. Though not commonly thought of as a source of protein, certain fruits can provide protein in vegan diets. Here are some of the most protein-rich fruits:


Avocado

Avocados have healthy protein. Avocados can be used in both savory and sweet vegan cooking and are often used in plant-based ice cream.


Jackfruit

Jackfruit flesh contains protein. Jackfruit can be used as a meat substitute in vegan cooking. Uses for jackfruit include as a meat-substitute in tacos and curries.


Guava

Guava is a relatively high-protein fruit. Sour in taste, guava is often used in juices or vegan-friendly pastries with plant-based cheese.


Kiwi

Kiwifruit contains protein. Technically a berry, kiwi can be enjoyed raw with its skin removed or incorporated into juices or baked goods.



Legumes (Pulses)

A legume is a fruit or seed that comes from a plant in the Fabaceae family. When used as dry grain, legumes are known as pulses. Legumes are an excellent source of protein for vegans. Popular types of legumes include the following:


Chickpeas

Chickpeas are high in protein. Vegans may enjoy chickpeas in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dishes, notably hummus or falafel.


Lentils

Lentils are protein-rich seeds. Lentils are commonly enjoyed in Indian cooking and are often cooked as a curry and paired with rice.


Soybeans

Soybeans are a protein-rich staple in vegan cooking. Unfermented uses of soybean include making soy milk. In addition to being a plant-based substitute to dairy milk, soy milk is used to make tofu, a common meat substitute. Common in Asian cooking, soybeans have made their way into North American diets as well.


Peanuts

Peanuts are packed with protein. Many vegans enjoy peanuts as garnishes in salads, as a standalone snack, or as peanut butter, which can be incorporated into many savory and sweet dishes.



Nuts

A nut is a fruit characterized by a hard shell protecting a kernel. Nuts have many nutritional benefits, including being a source of protein. Here's a list of protein-rich nuts vegans should know:


Almonds

Almonds are high in protein. Almonds can be enjoyed raw or roasted. Almonds can also be ground into a flour and made into almond milk, a vegan-friendly substitute for dairy milk.


Pistachio

Pistachios contain a good amount of protein. Pistachios can be eaten raw or roasted, usually with salt for flavoring, used as a salad topping, made into pistachio butter, or incorporated into desserts.


Cashew

Cashews are a good source of daily protein. Cashews can be enjoyed raw or ground into a paste or powder for culinary uses. Cashew butter is a popular item in vegan diets.



Seeds

Seeds that are edible for humans can also be sources of protein. Below are some of the most common types of protein-rich seeds:


Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are rich in protein. Hemp seeds can be consumed raw, sprouted, cold-pressed into an oil, or ground into a powder. Hemp seed powder can be used as a base for plant-based protein powders.


Flax Seeds

Flax seeds can be a source of protein for vegans. Flax seed can be turned into linseed oil or ground into a meal.


Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are protein-rich seeds that originate from a flowering plant in the mint family. Chia seeds are commonly eaten as a topping or can be incorporated into plant-based smoothies or breads.


Frequently Asked Questions About Vegan Protein

Knowing what types of protein to eat as a vegan is only the start. Many plant-based eaters have additional questions about protein. Here are some of the most common questions and answers.


What are proteins?

Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids. The human body uses dietary proteins to provide amino acids that help grow and maintain the body's cells and tissue. Throughout a person's life, their dietary protein requirements change. Protein requirements are higher during times of rapid growth, such as childhood, pregnancy, or breastfeeding.


Proteins can be found in plants and animals. Vegans eat only plant-based proteins. One disadvantage of plant-based proteins is that they contain fewer essential amino acids (amino acids the body can't produce on its own) compared to protein from meat. This is why it is recommended that vegans consume complimentary limiting amino acids, such as rice and beans, which together contain balanced amounts of lysine, thiamine, and methionine.


Which fruit has the most protein?

Mashed avocado is one of the highest protein fruits. Also high in protein are guava and jackfruit. If you're looking for protein from a sweeter fruit, consider kiwi, apricot, or banana.


How much protein do I need a day?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended amount of protein per day is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This includes consuming between 15-30 grams of protein at each meal. Protein intake should also be higher for older individuals (age 40+) who are susceptible to losing muscle mass and for people who exercise regularly.


Do I need protein every day?

According to a health article in SFGATE, the body needs protein every day to function properly and maintain lean muscle mass.


What happens if you don't eat enough protein?

According to Health.com, insufficient protein intake can lead to muscle loss, a weakened immune system, decreased bone development, increased hunger, and less healthy skin and nails.




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