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Are you wondering how to get protein as a vegan? You aren’t alone. One of the many common fears people have about adopting a vegan lifestyle is not being able to consume sufficient protein.
Many people who follow a meat or dairy-based diet argue against “going vegan,” claiming that those who do will develop nutritional deficiencies. However, veganism is a lifestyle that is growing in popularity throughout the world. There are also various environmental and health benefits a vegan lifestyle can offer.
If you’re worried about how to get protein as a vegan, we’ve got you covered. We’ve rounded up a comprehensive list of vegan foods that are high in protein and other nutrients to ensure you won’t lose muscle mass if you decide to go vegan.
The current recommended amount of protein according to The Dietary Reference Intake Report is 0.36g per pound/0.8g per kilogram of body weight. However, if you are looking to build muscle and are an avid gym-goer, then you should be consuming at least 0.7g per pound/1.6g per kilogram of body weight.
According to “The 2019 Global Vegan Survey,” in which over 12,000 vegan participants were surveyed, around 68% of the respondents cited their reason for going vegan to be “for the animals.” Other popular reasons included “for the environment,” and “health.” So, how exactly does a vegan lifestyle improve animal welfare, the environment and our health?
What is veganism?
Being vegan means you give up consuming all animal-based products. This includes all meats, seafood, dairy and, in many cases, honey. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it was estimated that 70 billion land animals are slaughtered every year for human consumption. Thus, one of the major benefits of veganism is preserving animal welfare by no longer contributing to the slaughter of these animals.
Another benefit of going vegan is reducing your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%, based on a study done by The University of Oxford. Our world is heading toward an irreversible climate crisis by 2030. So, while you may feel that your contribution to the global climate change crisis is negligible, going vegan is a sustainable way to do your part in fighting the global warming crisis on Earth.
When it comes to health, author Chris Kresser has been vocal about his stance against veganism. In his article “Why You Should Think Twice about Removing Animal Products from Your Diet,” he states that anyone going vegan or vegetarian will “be missing out on B12, iron, calcium and other key nutrients.”
However, recent studies have shown this to be false. In fact, it’s been shown that a plant-based diet can help lower your chances of getting heart disease and colon cancer. Moreover, the vegan lifestyle has gained popularity for those looking to lose weight. Although, it should be noted that going vegan does not guarantee better health. It is possible to be vegan and obese, and it is also possible to be vegan and malnourished. Therefore, it’s important that in any diet you choose to follow, you consume the correct foods to ensure you enjoy the benefits of that diet.
What is the best way to go vegan?
To those who have eaten meat and dairy their entire life, abstaining from animal-based products might seem like an impossible challenge, especially in the beginning stages of adapting to a vegan lifestyle. So, going vegan cold-turkey might actually be the worst way to adopt the lifestyle – especially if you’ve been an avid meat consumer your entire life.
According to certified personal trainer and nutritionist Josh Schlottman, there are three main dangers when it comes to going vegan cold-turkey. The first problem is that someone going vegan cold-turkey is more likely to experience vitamin or nutrient deficiencies if their diet plan isn’t properly planned out.
“For one’s body to function correctly, it needs specific vitamins such as protein, B-12, D3, iron and calcium. By only eating plant-based foods without the appropriate amount of nutrients, you can cause your body to stop functioning correctly, leading to hospitalization in extreme cases,” Schlottman said.
Schlottman elaborates: “Another risk associated with this type of diet change is muscle loss and muscle mass deterioration. When one stops eating meat, they need to be sure that they are getting the right amount of vitamins for their body to function correctly. If someone chooses to go vegan cold turkey, it is likely that they will not get the correct amount of protein and nutrients that are needed for their muscles to continue functioning properly at their optimal health. Over time and as the body ages, the lack of protein in their diet will lead to loss of muscle mass which is common among elderly individuals.”
Lastly, going vegan cold-turkey could result in lower energy levels. Schlottman explains, “Because a person stops eating meat, they will not be getting enough protein to keep their body from feeling fatigued during physical activity.”
This was evident when popular YouTuber Logan Paul announced in 2019 that he was going to go vegan in an attempt to get more lean for his fight at the time with British YouTuber KSI. Speaking about his vegan experience, Paul said: “So I was [vegan] for four months, then was losing weight excessively to the point where my muscles were literally eating themselves. [I] was super lethargic and weak. [I] had to eat meat again, so I started about a month before the fight.”
If you are interested in going vegan, but are not sure how to get enough protein, we’ve rounded up a list of the 20 most protein-rich vegan foods that will be a healthy addition to your new vegan diet.
*All protein figures are from the USDA and are given in terms of 100g in raw weight
Seitan (aka vital wheat gluten, 75g)
As the name suggests, seitan is a protein-rich food made from gluten that is said to emulate the texture and look of meat. Its savory flavor makes it taste similar to bland chicken or a portobello mushroom. It is commonly used to make vegan “chicken wings” or various types of curries, although it can be used in pretty much any savory meal.
Note that those with gluten allergies should stay away from seitan. Also, if purchased premade, it can be highly processed and high in sodium. It is best to either make your own seitan at home or check the nutrition labels before purchasing seitan from the supermarket.
Vegan protein powder (73g)
Vegan protein powder is a convenient option for those struggling to satisfy their daily protein needs. There are many vegan protein powders available online such as pea protein, hemp protein and rice protein. Choosing which one is the best for muscle growth can be difficult if you are not properly educated on good quality protein sources.
In short, according to kinesiologist and fitness YouTuber Jeremy Ethier, you should look for two things when searching for the best vegan protein for muscle growth: the protein-to-scoop ratio and the leucine, isoleucine and valine content per scoop. Note that all protein powders should be used as supplements and not meal replacements.
Soya chunks (52g)
Soya chunks are an easy add-in to any meal for extra protein. Made from soy flour, soya chunks taste great and can improve bone, skin and hair health. Their high fiber content can also lower bad cholesterol levels efficiently, making them an ideal protein source for those who are obese or suffer from Type-2 diabetes.
Some studies suggest that eating excessive soy can impair female fertility, disrupt thyroid function and promote the growth of cancer cells (due to soy containing an estrogen-like compound called isoflavones). However, food sources which contain soy do not have high enough isoflavone levels to cause these symptoms, so incorporating soya chunks into your vegan lifestyle is a great way to get your protein in.
Powdered peanut butter (46g)
Believe it or not, peanut butter is vegan. So you’ll still be able to enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a vegan diet. However, to enjoy the health benefits of going vegan, opting for powdered peanut butter can be healthier, especially if you are trying to lose weight. It contains 90% less fat than traditional peanut butter and contains around half the calories per serving compared to regular peanut butter, without sacrificing too much on the protein content.
Nutritional yeast (40g)
With a taste like cheese powder, nutritional yeast is a perfect substitute for cheese lovers who want to go vegan but may not like the taste of vegan cheese. Perfect as a topping in any meal, nutritional yeast is a great source of protein for vegans that doesn’t sacrifice on flavor.
Lupini beans (36g)
Traditionally eaten as a snack food, lupini beans are yellow legume seeds originating from Egypt. These healthy beans are not only a great source of protein but also have several health benefits like improving gut health. In the market, you can often find these beans in pickled jars. If you do not enjoy the salty brine taste, you can make your own at-home version by soaking and cooking the beans yourself.
Note that if you decide to make them yourself, you’ll need to soak and cook them for several days to ensure all the chemicals which make them taste bitter are gone. If not soaked and cooked properly, these chemicals can be highly toxic according to the USDA.
Lentils are edible legumes popular in Indian cuisine, and many Indian curries are made from lentils. High in both protein and fiber, these seeds can be used to make all kinds of soups and curries. Plus, there are so many different kinds of lentils available, all with similar protein content, so you likely won’t get bored of eating lentils – even if you eat them everyday.
Kidney beans (24g)
Deriving its name from its shape and color, these red-colored, kidney shaped beans are an excellent source of protein for anyone. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibers, all while tasting amazing.
A popular Indian dish known for its exotic flavors and texture is “Rajma.” Often consumed with rice, rajma uses kidney beans as its main ingredient. You can make your very own rajma at home and enjoy truly flavorful vegan food. Note that raw kidney beans need to be boiled at very high temperatures since they contain certain toxins, which if not dodged through the boiling can be poisonous and potentially fatal.
Pinto beans (21g)
These nutritious beans are another great source of not only protein but also vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pinto beans can improve your blood sugar control and overall heart health and are also rich in antioxidants, lowering the risk of chronic disease. They belong to the same family of beans as kidney beans, however unlike the sweeter taste and denser texture of kidney beans, pinto beans have a creamier texture and earthy flavor.
Tempeh/Tempe is a traditional Javanese food popular in Indonesia. Javanese refers to an ethnic group in Java, an island in Indonesia. With around 100 million people, the Javanese group is the largest ethnic group in Indonesia. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a strong nutty and chewy flavor and can be used in anything from stews to tacos to sandwiches. Tempeh is a good source of protein for those looking to up their B vitamins, iron, calcium and fiber intake.
Another popular food item used in Indian and Lebanese dishes is chickpeas. Chickpeas are another type of legume and have several different names: Gram, Bengal Gram, Garbanzo Beans or Eygptian Peas. Chickpeas taste great and are one of the main ingredients used to make hummus. You can make your very own hummus at home as well as making vegan kebabs while still getting sufficient protein with chickpeas.
Note that chickpeas should not be eaten raw (unless washed properly), since they contain toxins. Also, eating too many can lead to intestinal gas and discomfort due to chickpeas containing complex sugars that are difficult to digest in the body. Thus, if you have never eaten any legumes before, introduce them slowly into your diet so that your body is able to adapt.
Pumpkin seeds (19g)
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are edible seeds from pumpkins that are high in protein and healthy fats and also have numerous health benefits due to being rich in antioxidants, fibers and minerals. Pumpkin seeds are very high in magnesium, which is essential in the human body for more than 600 chemical reactions. Consuming enough magnesium helps control blood pressure, reduce heart disease risk, maintain healthy bones and regulate blood sugar levels.
The recommended magnesium daily intake for adults is 400mg, and around 79% of adults in the US are consuming below the recommended daily intake. Thus, incorporating pumpkin seeds as a snack item in your vegan diet is a great way to prioritize your health while getting sufficient protein.
Beyond Meat (18g)
Those who love meat burgers will not have to worry about totally giving them up when going vegan. Beyond Meat has created plant-based burgers which are supposed to emulate the taste and texture of regular beef patties, with 20g of protein per patty. Note that like with any burger patty, these should be consumed in moderation since each patty is a bit high in sodium (390mg per patty) and fat (18g per patty). However, you won’t have to sacrifice your love for hamburgers or beef patties anymore when going vegan with Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties.
Chia seeds (17g)
Chia seeds contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great item to incorporate into your vegan lifestyle in salads, desserts or even drinks. They can improve digestive health, hearth health and risk factors associated with diabetes. Although these seeds are tasteless, their texture when mixed in salads, drinks and desserts may not be enjoyed by everyone. Luckily, these seeds can even be eaten on their own. Simply mix them with water and eat them before or after your meals.
Spelt (aka dinkel wheat, 15g)
Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, are ancient grains that are a subspecies of wheat. Although spelt has a similar appearance to wheat, spelt differs in nutritional content and has a stronger husk. Spelt is a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. In fact, spelt contains more protein than regular wheat and is easier to digest, making it a better food for those with digestive issues.
This is arguably the most popular food item among vegans. High in protein, fiber, B vitamins and dietary minerals, quinoa is a staple food item when it comes to making filling salads. Also, quinoa contains three to four times more nutrients than brown rice, making it the perfect replacement for rice. Those who don’t have gluten allergies often opt for bulgur or rice, however quinoa is an ideal substitute for those with gluten allergies.
Another protein rich grain is teff. Having a mild, nutty flavor, teff is an ancient grain from Ethiopia that can be used as a topping on sweet, sour and salty foods, making it a highly versatile food. It can even be eaten raw, and is gluten-free, making it very easy to digest.
Pasta is a cheap and convenient food you can use to get a little extra protein if you are struggling to meet your daily needs. Although it may be more difficult to digest in the body since it isn’t gluten-free, there are many alternative “special pastas” such as chickpea pasta, which contains double the amount of protein per serving than regular pasta, or gluten-free pasta, which is suitable for vegans with gluten allergies. However note that these special pastas tend to be more expensive. Pastas are a good source for vegans that can handle gluten relatively well and are not on a keto diet, since pasta does contain a lot of carbohydrates.
Edamame beans (10g)
Edamame beans are immature soybeans that are often sold while still inside their pods, which aren’t meant to be eaten and are very tough to chew. Containing high fiber and protein, edamame is traditionally served with a pinch of salt in stews, salads, soups, over noodles and more, and can also just be eaten as a snack. It is served in many Chinese and Japanese restaurants and sold in most supermarkets around the world. It also contains antioxidants that can help lower circulating cholesterol levels.
Another soy product used by many vegans is tofu. Also known as bean curd, tofu comes in various forms: silken, soft, firm, extra firm or super firm. Made from condensed soy milk that is pressed into solid white blocks, tofu is popular in many Asian cuisines and can be used in salads, soups and other dishes.
Tofu is a great food for vegans who also are interested in doing keto, since 100g of firm tofu only contains around 2g of carbohydrates. Typically tofu is around 8g of protein per 100g, but certain companies do offer higher protein tofu, so make sure you read the nutrition label to ensure it meets your daily needs. Also, it is recommended to wash tofu with water, and then drain out all the water from it at least 30 minutes before eating or cooking it for it to hold a better shape while cooking and also taste better.
In order to get sufficient protein, many vegans opt for soy products, legumes and beans. Although this may seem like an extreme sacrifice, the health and environmental benefits of going vegan are too important to ignore. Thus, the best way to go vegan is to not think of it as a diet change, but rather a change in lifestyle – not only to better yourself, but the world as well.
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