a jar of hemp seeds

17 Best Protein Sources for Vegetarians & Vegans

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If you are a vegetarian or vegan you might be concerned about getting enough protein into your life. However, there is no need to worry. You don’t have to eat meat from animals to get the necessary protein to keep your body healthy and strong.

There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein that are well-suited for both vegetarian and vegan diets. And they are very tasty as well.

In this guide, we will be covering 17 of the best sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans [1]. They are also easy to find, inexpensive, and versatile foods that you can use in a variety of dishes and many different ways to get the protein that your diet needs to keep you healthy and happy.

Let’s start with some of the basics of nutrition first so that you understand the importance of protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Different Types of Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources

Vegetarian and vegan sources of protein are critical for those who follow a purely plant-based diet [2]. The amino acids contained in proteins are essential building blocks for tissues and muscles and they also help with the functioning of your immune system.

That is why it is so critical to consume enough protein-rich ingredients as part of your regular diet.

It can be challenging to get all nine essential amino acids [3] that your body needs from just one kind of plant. That is why it is necessary for people following a vegetarian or vegan diet to incorporate various sources of food that are high in healthy fats and protein into their diets so that their bodies get all of the necessary nutrients they need to stay healthy and strong.

Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

Fortunately, there are many delicious ways to enjoy vegetarian and vegan protein sources, They range from grains, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and fruits and more.

In this guide, we will be discussing 17 of the best sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Many of them are also gluten-free.

So keep reading to learn more about the top sources of protein that you can incorporate into your diet.

1. Amaranth

a cup of Amaranth

  • 9 grams of protein per 1 cup

Amaranth is a protein-rich and gluten-free ancient grain that is native to Peru [4]. It is a complete source of protein and is also rich calcium which promotes good bone health and fiber which aids digestion. Amaranth is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, fiber, and complex carbs.

The toasted and nutty-flavored flour and grain may be used in many types of cooking. It can be cooked and eaten similar to rice, wheat and other traditional grains.

Boil and simmer it uncovered, with around 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup amaranth The grain can be used in puddings and porridges, or as a replacement for other grains and rice.

Amaranth can also be ground to make flour to use in baked goods.

2. Beans

a pile of red beans

  • 15 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup

Beans are versatile and inexpensive legumes that are loaded with fiber and protein. Studies have shown that a diet that is rich in beans can help to reduce belly fat, lower blood pressure, help to control blood sugar levels, and decrease cholesterol [5].

You can either cook raw ones or heat up canned beans, which make them a very convenient and flexible food. Some of the most popular types of beans include cannellini, kidney, pinto, and black beans.

They can be added to dips, tacos, salads, stews, soups, burgers and more.

3. Chia Seeds

a pile of chia seeds on a spoon

  • 12 grams of protein per 1/2 cup

Chia seeds come from a plant that is native to Guatemala and Mexico called the Salvia hispanica plant [6]. Chia is available in both white and black round tiny seeds that are loaded with nutrition.

It is very high in fiber as well as protein. These tiny seeds also contain high amounts of magnesium, selenium, calcium, iron and also antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

When chia seeds are combined with a liquid, the outer coating swells and produces a thickening effect. They are very versatile and have a neutral flavor, are very crunchy, and have a jelly-like texture.

Chia seeds are often added to jams, puddings, smoothies, and drinks for their high protein and fiber content.

4. Chickpeas

a bowl of chickpeas

  • 15 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup

Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a staple legume in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. They are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and carbohydrates as well as manganese, potassium, phosphorus, folate, iron, and fiber.

Chickpeas have a mild flavor and can be baked until crispy to make a tasty snack, made into dips such as hummus, or added to a salad.

5. Ezekiel Bread And Other Types Of Sprouted Grain Breads

a loaf of exekiel bread

  • 8 grams of protein per two slices of bread

Ezekiel bread is made out of sprouted, organic legumes and whole grains. They include lentils, soybeans, spelt, barley, millet, and wheat. Sprouting legumes and grains increase the healthy nutrients and reduce levels of anti-nutrients.

Studies have also shown that amino acid content is increased by sprouting [7]. The limiting amino acid contained in many plants is Lysine, and sprouting increases the amount of lysine. That helps to increase the overall quality of the protein.

Also, when legumes and grains are combined, it can help to improve the amino acid profile of the bread even more. Sprouting also appears to increase the bread’s beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, and soluble fiber content.

It might help to slightly reduce the amount of gluten content as well, which helps to improve the digestion of individuals with gluten sensitivities.

Overall, Ezekiel and other sprouted grain bread offer enhanced nutrient and protein profiles compared to other types of bread.

Ezekiel bread is a great choice for people who love bread and are wanting to add more protein to their diet and have a more nutritious way to eat bread, sandwiches, and toast.

6. Hempseed

a jar of hemp seeds

  • 10 grams of protein per ounce

Hempseed is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, which belongs to the same family that the marijuana plant does. However, only a trace amount of THC is contained in hempseed, which is the compound known for producing the “high” in marijuana.

Hempseed contains 50% more protein than flaxseeds and chia seeds and is very easy to digest [8]. Also, hempseed contains good amounts of selenium, zinc, calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

It is indicated by some studies that the kinds of fats contained in hempseed might help to reduce inflammation and lessen the symptoms of certain skin diseases, menopause, and PMS.

Hempseed can be incorporated into your diet by sprinkling the seeds on muesli or smoothies. It also can be used in homemade protein bars and salad dressings.

7. Lentils

a pile of lentils

  • 18 grams of protein per cup

Lentils are a great source of protein and contain a good amount of slowly digested carbs as well. One cup of lentils provides about 50% of your total recommended daily fiber intake [9].

The kind of fiber contained in lentils also feeds good bacteria inside of your colon, to promote a healthy gut. They can also help to reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, excess body weight, diabetes, and heart disease.

Lentils are also rich in iron, manganese, and folate as well as antioxidants.

Lentils are available in various sizes and colors. They are many different kinds of lentils that range from green to brown, black, yellow, and red, with all different tastes and textures.

It is easy to learn how to cook lentils and they all go well in salads, side dishes, stews, and soups.

8. Nuts and Nut Butters

a pile of almonds

  • 10 grams of protein per 1/4 cup

Almost every type of nut is a nutrient-rich source of protein, including walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, and almonds. Nuts are also excellent sources of healthy fats and fiber, along with certain B vitamins, vitamin E, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and antioxidants [10].

They are a very good snack and also can be used as toppings, and added to stews, soups, and sauces to enhance the thickness and richness of your dishes. You can also soak nuts to make dairy-free cheese and milk, or ground them to make flour for baking such as almond flour.

Nut butter such as peanut butter and almond butter are easy to make and can be used as sauces or spread. Nuts are high in protein, but they are also high in calories and fat, so they should be eaten in moderate amounts.

Roasting and blanching can damage nutrients contained in nuts, so you should choose unblanched, raw nuts whenever possible.

Also, choose natural nut butter in order to avoid the excess salt, sugar, and oil contained in many non-natural brands.

9. Oats

a jar of oats

  • 7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup

Oats are a type of cereal grass that is used in many desserts and breakfasts.

They are a tasty and easy way to add protein to your diet. The protein is higher quality compared to may other types of commonly consumed grains such as wheat and rice. Oats contain beta-glucans along with both insoluble and soluble fibers.

This whole-grain food also contains a good balance of carbs, fats, and protein as well as folate, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium [11].

Oats are sold in several different variations, including old-fashioned, steel-cut, and instant. Oats can be eaten as oatmeal or porridge, added to snacks and desserts, or used to make oat milk.

Oats can also be ground into flour to use in baking.

10. Quinoa

a pile of raw quinoa

  • 8-9 grams of protein per 1 cooked cup

Quinoa is a gluten-free and ancient grain that is derived from a goosefoot plant native to the Andes Mountain. It is one of the few plant-based proteins that is a complete source of protein that contains all nine essential amino acids.

It is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, fiber, and complex carbs.

These seeds have a nutty flavor and need to rinse before you cook them to eliminate the slightly bitter taste from the protective outer coating. Quinoa is available in red, black, yellow, and mixed varieties. You can prepare and eat quinoa similar to rice and wheat and can also grind it into a flour, to be used in recipes – even dessert.

It easily takes on the flavors of your other ingredients. Quinoa can be used in foods like fritters and burgers or eaten as a delicious side dish.

11. Rice

a pile of raw rice

  • 4-6 grams of protein per 1 cup

Depending on which variety you eat, rice will have a different nutritional value, texture, and taste. In addition to being rich in protein, rice also contains good amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, and fiber [12].

Rice grain is mainly comprised of endosperm and might contain husk, bran, and germ if they are not removed.

Since white rice is husked it is more tender. Brown rice is not husked so it takes longer for it to cook but retains more nutrients. There is short, medium and long grain rice that is available. Different textures are produced when the rice is cooked.

There is also black and red rice that contains additional antioxidants.

Wild rice contains around 1.5 more protein compared to other types of long-grain rice, including basmati and brown rice. The bran is also not stripped out of wild rice the way it is with white rice, to provide added nutrition since bran contains lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

12. Soy Milk

a glass of soy milk next to a jar of soybeans

  • 7 grams of protein per cup

Milk that is made out of soybeans and that is fortified with minerals and vitamins is an excellent alternative to cow milk. In addition to being rich in protein, it is also a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium.

However, soybeans and soymilk do not contain vitamin B12 naturally, so it is recommended that you choose a fortified variety of soy milk [13].

Soy milk is available in most grocery stores. It is a very versatile product that you can drink by itself or used in many baking and cooking recipes.

To minimize the amount of sugar, choose an unsweetened variety of soy milk.

13. Seitan

fresh cooked Seitan

  • 25 grams of protein per 4 ounces

Seitan is a very popular and rich source of protein for many vegans and vegetarians. It is also called wheat meat and is made out of wheat gluten, which is the main source of protein in wheat.

Seitan is a good selenium source as well, and contains small amounts of phosphorus, calcium, and iron [14].

It has a very chewy texture that closely resembles beef or chicken. Seitan is sold in various forms, including pre-seasoned, cubes, pre-cut slices, and slabs.

You can find it in the refrigerated section of a majority of health food stores. It can be stir-fried, coated and fried, grilled and also marinated, which makes it easy to incorporate into a wide range of dishes.

Note: Individuals with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease should avoid eating seitan.

14. Spirulina

Spirulina on a spoon

  • 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons

Spirulina is a blue-green alga that is loaded with nutrition. It is a complete protein and covers 42% of your daily requirements of copper and 22% of your thiamin and iron needs [15].

Also, spirulina contains good amounts of potassium, manganese, riboflavin, and magnesium, and smaller amounts of other important nutrients such as essential fatty acids.

Spirulina also contains a natural pigment called Phycocyanin which is known to have powerful anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

Studies have also shown that consuming spirulina offers many health benefits which range from improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels, to reduced blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.

Spirulina can be purchased online in either supplement or powder form. You can add it to fruit juice, smoothies, or water. Or it can be sprinkled over snacks and salads to increase your protein intake.

15. Tofu and Tempeh

slice of tofu

Both tofu and soybeans are whole sources of protein and provide the human body with all of the essential amino acids that it needs. They also contain iron and calcium [14].

Tofu

  • 12 grams of protein per 4 ounces

Tofu is made out of soybeans by pressing curds into slabs.

The whey removed, amount of coagulant and press time will result in different kinds of tofu, which include extra0firm, firm, medium, soft, and silken textures of tofu. It is a rich source of protein with a light nutty and sweet flavor.

Tofu is a very versatile food that can be used in many dishes. It can stir-fried, sauteed, grilled, marinated, fried, or cut into cubes and then baked.

Tempeh

  • 42 grams of protein per 8 ounces

Tempeh is made out of fermented cooked soybeans and made into pressed cakes or patties. It often contains flavoring agents and grains.

There are also soy-free versions that are available. It has a strong nutty flavor. You can marinated tempeh and use it in stir-fries, in sandwiches, or cut ito slabs to make grilled or seared steaks.

16. Vegetables and Fruits Rich in Protein

vegetables that are rich in protein

All vegetables and fruits contain protein. However, usually, it is only in small amounts. However, there are some vegetables and fruits that contain higher amounts of protein that you can choose from when you are trying to increase your intake.

Vegetables that contain the most protein include Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, potatoes, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, and broccoli.

These vegetables contain around 4 to 5 grams of protein per cooked cup. Sweet corn is technically a grain but also contains about the same amount of protein that these high-protein vegetables do.

Usually, fresh fruits have lower amounts of protein compared to vegetables. Those fruits that contain the most protein include bananas, nectarines, blackberries, mulberries, cherimoyas, and guava. They have around 2 to 4 grams of protein per cup.

Certain vegetables and fruits contain higher amounts of protein than others do. Those included in this list should be ones you focus on if you are trying to incorporate more protein into your diet while also consuming good amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.

17. Nutritional Yeast

kneading dough with nutritional yeast

  • 14 grams per ounce

This is a deactivated strain of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a complete source of protein and provides 7 grams of fiber per ounce along with a high amount of protein (14 grams per ounce). Fortified nutritional yeast is a great source of B vitamins, manganese, copper, magnesium, and zinc [16].

However, not all nutritional yeast is fortified.

Nutritional yeast is sold commercially as flakes or yellow powder.

It has a very cheesy flavor and is a very popular ingredient in dishes like scrambled tofu and mashed potatoes. Nutritional yeast also can be sprinkled on the top of popcorn or pasta dishes.

Summary

As you can see there are many great sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans that are available.

Despite all of the myths and rumors to the contrary, it is relatively easy and convenient for vegans and vegetarians to get enough protein as part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. It doesn’t take hours and hours in the kitchen and it won’t break your budget either.

We have provided you with sensible choices that are easy to prepare and delicious to eat!

This guide has given you a roadmap for the types of protein sources you can incorporate into your diet. Each of our top sources can be used in a variety of dishes and ways.

You can also combine several protein sources in one meal.

Don’t let this long list of protein sources overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time. Start to experiment and try out new recipes. Enjoy your new-found abundance of tasty and healthy foods that are loaded with not only protein but plenty of other nutrients that your body needs as well.

Once you have mastered the basics, the sky is really the limit. There are so many different sources of protein and recipes that are available for you to try once you know what the top sources are.

Cited Sources

  1. Alina Petre, MS, RD, The 17 Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians, Healthline. Found here: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-for-vegans-vegetarians
  2. How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian, Center for Young Women’s Health. Found here: https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/12/05/vegetarian-diet/
  3. Amino Acids, Medline Plus. Found here: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm
  4. What Is Amaranth Good For? Food Facts by Mercola. Found here: https://foodfacts.mercola.com/amaranth.html
  5. Zawn Villines, What are the health benefits of beans? Medical News Today. Found here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320192.php
  6. Jo Lewin, The health benefits of chia seeds, BBC Good Food. Found here: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-chia-seeds
  7. Paolo Benincasa, et al., Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review, Nutrients. Found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6413227/
  8. Andrea Boldt, Are Hemp Seeds a Good Source of Protein? LiveStrong. Found here: https://www.livestrong.com/article/486854-are-hemp-seeds-a-good-source-of-protein/
  9. Lentils, The World’s Healthiest Foods. Found here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=52
  10. Mayo Clinic Staff, Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for your heart health, Mayo Clinic. Found here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
  11. Oats, Nutrition Data SELF. Found here: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5708/2
  12. Barbie Cervoni, RD, CDE, Rice Nutrition Facts, VerywellFit. Found here: https://www.verywellfit.com/rice-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4119792
  13. Ginny Messina, Fortified Soy Milk is Healthy Alternative to Cow’s Milk for Toddlers, The Vegan RD. Found here: https://www.theveganrd.com/2017/11/fortified-soy-milk-is-healthy-alternative-to-cows-milk-for-toddlers/
  14. Julie Cappiello, What’s the Difference Between Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan? Choose Veg. Found here: https://chooseveg.com/blog/whats-the-difference-between-tofu-tempeh/
  15. Lauren Cox, Spirulina: Nutrition Facts & Health Benefits, LiveScience. Found here: https://www.livescience.com/48853-spirulina-supplement-facts.html
  16. Christina Chaey, Everything You Need to Know About Nutritional Yeast, Nature’s Cheeto Dust, Bon Appetit. Found here: https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/nutritional-yeast-2