Hands down, the number one question a vegan is asked is, “Where do you get your protein?” While vegan protein does indeed exist, it’s not a totally bonkers question, given that the sources of protein most people are familiar with (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, whey) are all off limits.
But there are actually a ton of surprising and tasty sources of vegan protein, as long as you know where to look. Legumes, seeds, nuts, lentils, whole grains, soy-based products, and plant-based protein powders are where it’s at.
Here are some delicious, filling, and versatile high-protein vegan foods to add to your grocery list.
Made from partially cooked, whole, fermented soybeans, tempeh is a great meat substitute, Dara Godfrey, M.S., R.D., an NYC-based dietitian who works in private practice and with fertility patients at Reproductive Medicine Associates (RMA) of New York, tells SELF. Also rich in copper, manganese, calcium, iron, and fiber, it’s best served steamed, baked, or grilled. The firm texture and nutty flavor soak up other flavors quickly. Godfrey recommends soaking it overnight in fresh garlic with sesame oil and adding it to a stir fry, salad, or soup.
Seitan is a popular protein source for many vegetarians and vegans.
It’s made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. Unlike many soy-based mock meats, it resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked.
Also known as wheat meat or wheat gluten, it contains about 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This makes it the richest plant protein source on this list .
Seitan is also a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus .
You can find this meat alternative in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, or make your own version with vital wheat gluten using this recipe.
Seitan can be pan-fried, sautéed and even grilled. Therefore, it can be easily incorporated in a variety of recipes.
However, seitan should be avoided by people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
3- Almond butter
This paste made from almonds is a little grittier than peanut butter and contains more fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron. Try adding a scoop of almond butter on top of your oatmeal, in a smoothie, or slathering it on top of a banana or piece of toast.
At 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), lentils are a great source of protein .
They can be used in a variety of dishes, ranging from fresh salads to hearty soups and spice-infused dahls.
Lentils also contain good amounts of slowly digested carbs, and a single cup (240 ml) provides approximately 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake.
Furthermore, the type of fiber found in lentils has been shown to feed the good bacteria in your colon, promoting a healthy gut. Lentils may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, excess body weight and some types of cancer .
In addition, lentils are rich in folate, manganese and iron. They also contain a good amount of antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds.
5- Black beans
As a great source of folate, potassium, iron, and fiber, these legumes are earthy in taste and hearty in texture. Whether cooking them dry or using them straight from a can, black beans are great in soups, salads, and of course, tacos.
6- Chickpeas and Most Varieties of Beans
Kidney, black, pinto and most other varieties of beans contain high amounts of protein per serving.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are another legume with a high protein content.
Both beans and chickpeas contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml). They are also excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and several beneficial plant compounds .
7- Brown rice protein powder
Protein powder made from rice, you say? Who knew? While pea and soy protein are more popular, this chewy whole grain is an increasingly popular source of post-workout fuel for vegans. Find a variety you like the taste of, and your muscles will thank you.
8- Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of
yeast, sold commercially as a yellow powder or flakes.
It has a cheesy flavor, which makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu.
Nutritional yeast can also be sprinkled on top of pasta dishes or even enjoyed as a savory topping on popcorn.
This complete source of plant protein provides the body with 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce (28 grams).
Fortified nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and all the B vitamins, including B12 .
Buckwheat’s name is pretty misleading, given it’s not a type of wheat. In fact, like quinoa, buckwheat isn’t technically a grain at all. But this seed certainly stacks up to grains in terms of kitchen versatility and nutritional power. Buckwheat groats can be toasted to enhance their flavor and cooked up like a cereal grain, or ground into a hearty flour that makes for delicious and filling pancakes or noodles (soba noodles).
10- Green Peas
The little green peas often served as a side dish contain 9 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), which is slightly more than a cup of milk (32).
What’s more, a serving of green peas covers more than 25% of your daily fiber, vitamin A, C, K, thiamine, folate and manganese requirements.
Green peas are also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and several other B vitamins .
You can use peas in recipes such as pea and basil stuffed ravioli, thai-inspired pea soup or pea and avocado guacamole.
11- Pumpkin seeds
Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are a versatile topping sometimes found in Mexican dishes. The part-crunchy, part-chewy texture makes them perfect for sprinkling on top of oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, and salads. As a great source of amino acids, zinc, magnesium, iron, and fiber, they’re also a conveniently healthy snack.
12- Ezekiel Bread and Other Breads Made From Sprouted Grains
Ezekiel bread is made from organic, sprouted whole grains and legumes. These include wheat, millet, barley and spelt, as well as soybeans and lentils.
Two slices of Ezekiel bread contain approximately 8 grams of protein, which is slightly more than the average bread.
Sprouting grains and legumes increases the amount of healthy nutrients they contain and reduces the amount of anti-nutrients in them .
In addition, studies show that sprouting increases their amino acid content. Lysine is the limiting amino acid in many plants, and sprouting increases the lysine content. This helps boost the overall protein quality.
Whether you’re pairing walnuts with a piece of fruit as a healthy snack or sprinkling them over yogurt for breakfast, they contain a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, copper, manganese, and biotin. Plus, the combination of fiber and protein will help keep you satisfied for longer. Tip: Store them in the fridge for a longer shelf life.
14- Soy Milk
Milk that’s made from soybeans and fortified with vitamins and minerals is a great alternative to cow’s milk.
Not only does it contain 7 grams of protein per cup (240 ml), but it’s also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 .
However, keep in mind that soy milk and soybeans do not naturally contain vitamin B12, so picking a fortified variety is recommended.
Soy milk is found in most supermarkets. It’s an incredibly versatile product that can be consumed on its own or in a variety of cooking and baking recipes.
15- Sunflower seed butter
Move over, nut butters. Creamy, naturally salty-sweet, and allergy-friendly, sunflower seed butter is a protein- and fiber-packed treat for vegans and non-vegans alike. Swap it in wherever you might use peanut or almond butter. Smear it on toast, drizzle it over overnight oats, mix it into smoothies, or fix yourself an SB&J for lunch. You get the picture. Find it in stores next to the nut butters, or make your own at home—as long as you’ve got a powerful enough blender.