One of the most common worries for new-found vegans is vegan protein sources (or rather, the apparent lack of them). But if meeting your daily protein quota is the only thing holding you back from taking the plant-based plunge, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
The truth is, getting enough protein on a vegan diet is easy once you know what you’re looking for. From nut butter and seeds, to legumes and beans, there are so many affordable, tasty and versatile vegan protein sources on offer. In fact, you’ve probably got a handful hanging out in your kitchen already!
If you’re looking to kickstart a healthy, satisfying and protein-packed vegan diet, our complete guide to vegan protein sources has you covered.
Vegan protein sources: The facts
Before we share our pick of the most nutrient-dense, delicious and easily-sourced vegan protein sources, these plant-based protein facts will help you to get the most out of your vegan diet.
What is protein and why do you need it?
Protein is one of three essential macronutrients, alongside carbohydrate and fat, that your body needs to thrive. Everyone needs to eat these key macronutrients in relatively large amounts.
The British Nutrition Foundation states that:
‘protein is essential for the growth and repair of the body, as well as the maintenance of good health’
The human body is made up of around 100 trillion cells, which are each built up of thousands of individual proteins. Every single protein plays its unique part in maintaining your immune system, producing infection-fighting antibodies and ultimately, helping your body to grow, recover and repair.
Simply put? Protein is seriously important stuff. Plus, as the body can’t store it, you need to eat adequate amounts of it every single day in order to feel your best and keep your body in optimal health.
How much protein do you actually need?
The British Nutrition Foundation advise that the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for adults. This amounts to around 56g/day for men and 45g/day for women, but the exact requirements will differ depending on your weight. Your diet type (vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous) does not affect your protein requirement. There is, however, an extra requirement for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.
This might sound hefty, but most adults (including vegetarians and vegans) in the UK get more than enough protein in their diet. If you make a conscious effort to include 1 or 2 vegan protein sources with every meal, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the numbers rack up. Regardless, when you first go vegan or embark on any major diet change, we’d recommend tracking your meals and snacks on a free app to double-check you’re getting enough protein and other nutrients.
Animal vs vegan protein foods: How do they compare?
In the battle of beef vs. bean, many assume that vegan protein foods simply can’t compete with their animal counterparts. This is largely down to the difference in their amino acid composition. When you consume protein—be it animal or plant—your body breaks it down into organic compounds called amino acids. These amino acids are used to help with numerous essential body functions and processes, from tissue repair to nutrient absorption.
There are 20 amino acids in total, but only 9 are considered essential to your diet. This is because your body can’t produce them, so they must be consumed in the food that you eat. If you’re wondering how this relates to the animal vs vegan protein debate, this is where it should all come together.
Complete protein sources contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body cannot create on its own. Incomplete protein sources only contain some of them.
- Animal proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids, making them complete
- Most vegan protein sources lack one or more amino acids, making them incomplete
In reality, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a roadblock to veganism. Your body is able to combine amino acids from the different vegan protein sources you consume throughout the day, to gain all 9 essential amino acids. Therefore, simply making sure to include a wide variety of vegan protein sources in your diet will give your body all the essential amino acids it requires. Plus, there are a few complete vegan protein sources available, which we’ll discuss in more detail next!
15 best vegan protein sources
While vegan protein foods might lose the amino acid battle, it’s still easy to get enough of them as a vegan. The key is to focus on consuming a variety of plant protein sources, each with their own amino acid composition, every day.
The 15 best vegan protein sources below will leave your body nourished and your hunger satisfied, all whilst helping towards those plant-powered #gains.
All nutritional data has been sourced from the My Food Data website.
As well as touting an endless list of health benefits (from cholesterol-lowering power to immune-boosting qualities), oats happen to pack a mighty plant protein punch! 1 cup of uncooked oats weighs in at 280 calories but boasts 10g protein, 8g fibre and an enviable list of micronutrients including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc.
This makes oats one of the most nutrient-dense vegan protein foods on offer. Better yet, with a pack of porridge oats costing no more than £1, they definitely won’t break the bank!
If we had to crown the king of vegan snacks, it’d have to be nuts. From creamy cashews to bold brazils, these vegan protein source staples taste amazing, make for the ultimate convenience food and deliver an incredible nutritional profile.
An average handful (28g) of the following nuts contains:
- Peanuts: 7.3g protein, 161 kcal
- Almonds: 6g protein, 164 kcal
- Pistachios: 5.7g protein, 159 kcal
- Cashews: 4.3g protein, 163 kcal
- Walnuts: 4.3g protein, 186 kcal
- Hazelnuts: 4.2g protein, 178kcal
- Brazils: 4.1g protein, 187 kcal
Alongside their high protein content, nuts are high in fat—but largely the good, unsaturated kind. As well as being incredibly filling, unsaturated fat is great for your heart, your cholesterol and your overall health. To make the most of everything that heart-healthy nuts have to offer, try to opt for raw, unsalted varieties and pick natural, sugar-free nut butters.
Recipe ideas: Devour a handful straight from the pack, sprinkle nuts on your salads, spread nut butter on wholegrain toast or crackers, make your own nut milk or add chopped nuts to some vegan protein balls.
They might be small, but they’re definitely mighty. If a generous amount of fibre, healthy fats and protein isn’t enough to make you want to incorporate seeds into your vegan diet, this next plant-powered fact might.
Two of our favourite seeds—chia and pumpkin—are complete vegan protein sources. Remember those essential amino acids we were talking about earlier? Yep, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds contain every single one, making them one of the best quality vegan protein sources out there.
Let’s take a closer look at the protein content of seeds per 28g (an average serving):
- Hemp seeds: 9g protein, 157 kcal
- Pumpkin seeds: 8g, 120 kcal
- Sunflower seeds: 5.8g protein, 164 kcal
- Flaxseeds: 5.2g, 152 kcal
- Sesame seeds: 4.8g, 160kcal
- Chia seeds: 4.7g protein, 138 kcal
Chia, hemp and flaxseed, in particular, are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are essential for brain and heart health, but due to the absence of fish, are a little harder to find in a vegan diet.
Recipe ideas: Add them to smoothies, blend them into soups, bake some seed-packed protein bars, sprinkle them on salads, make chia seed pudding or simply enjoy a small handful straight from the pack.
Looking for an easy way to add more nuts and seeds to your diet? Purition vegan dairy-free is made with nutritious ground nuts and seeds, combined with a complete vegan protein blend. For a convenient dose of plant-based protein, omega-3s and heart-healthy fats on a vegan diet, it’s hard to beat!
Upon first glance, these tiny legumes might not look like they’ve got much to offer. But don’t underestimate them—as well as being highly affordable (think £2 for a large bag) and low in calories, they tout a sizable protein and fibre hit.
On average, a cup of cooked lentils (around 200g) packs in a mighty 17.9g of protein and 15.6g of dietary fibre, at just 230 kcal. Calorie-for-calorie, you won’t find many vegan protein foods that are quite so nutritious and filling, for such a bargain price.
Recipe ideas: Stir up a creamy lentil dahl, cook a satisfying lentil ‘spag bol’, add them to soups and stews, get creative with lentil-based curries or make a nutritious summer lentil salad.
If the only beans welcome in your life are the baked, toast-topping kind, it’s time to branch out.
Beans in all their forms are a tasty, nutritious and extremely affordable vegan protein source. We’re talking just 30-50p a can! Plus, they’re incredibly versatile and can be easily incorporated in a huge variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes.
Let’s take a look at what level of vegan protein content beans have got to offer per 200g (aroundt half a can):
- Chickpeas: 16.4g protein, 292 kcal
- Butter beans: 9.2g protein, 154 kcal
- Kidney beans: 10.4g protein, 168 kcal
- Cannellini beans: 12.3g, 170 kcal
- Pinto beans: 11.2g protein, 160 kcal
- Baked beans: 9.5g protein, 188 kcal
Alongside their sizeable protein hit, beans are a fantastic source of iron, zinc, folate and magnesium. Just half a cup of beans per day has been proven to significantly enhance diet quality… and who can argue with that?!
Recipe ideas: Whip up a warming bean chilli, drizzle chickpeas with olive oil and roast them for a healthy snack, make homemade baked beans, blend up your own hummus or enjoy a bean-stuffed baked sweet potato.
Tofu is one of the best (if not the best) low carb vegan protein sources on offer, with a ½ block of tofu netting just 4.5g of carbs and 233 kcal, but a whopping 28g protein. Yep, you heard right—28g—and it’s a complete protein source to boot. Can someone pass the tofu, please!?
Never tried it before? Tofu is typically sold in blocks and is made from soybeans. While it’s not so flavoursome on its own, it absorbs spices, sauces, and marinades really well. Once you’ve mastered the art of tofu-cooking, you’ll be surprised at just how delicious it can taste!
Recipe ideas: Use it as a meat sub for almost any dish, fry up a crispy tofu stir-fry, make scrambled tofu for a weekend brunch, load it into a nutritious buddha bowl, blend it into vegan mousses and puddings and loads more.
Just when you thought vegan protein sources couldn’t get any better, in comes tempeh. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a chewy texture and a nutty taste. While it has more of an acquired taste than tofu, it’s mighty healthy benefits mean it’s definitely worth a try.
One cup of tempeh provides an amazing 33.7g protein, 4.5mg iron (that’s over 50% of the men’s RDI or 30% of the woman’s RDI) and 184mg of calcium, at only 319 kcal. It’s also rich in prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in your stomach and can help to boost your gut health. An all-round plant-based protein winner!
Recipe ideas: Marinate it and chuck it in the oven for a crunchy protein snack, build your own tempeh tacos, use it as a meat sub in your curries and spag bol, slice it into vegan sandwiches or whip up a mighty vegan tempeh salad bowl.
Edamame beans are a vibrant green whole, immature, unprocessed soybeans, with a delicious nutty bite. One cup of edamame boasts 19g protein, only 188 kcal and 5g carbs and a decent serving of iron and calcium. Who knew a tiny green bean could be such a nutritional powerhouse?!
You can buy them still in their pods for a fun high-protein snack, or shelled, which make a great addition to any soups and stir-fries. Wondering where to find them? In the UK, you’ll typically find edamame beans hidden away in the frozen aisle of most supermarkets—have a good rummage!
Recipe ideas: Season with salt, pepper, chilli & garlic powder for a spicy high-protein snack, incorporate them into pasta and noodle dishes, mix them into salads or simply add them as a protein-boosting side to any dish.
9. Soy milk & yoghurt
We’re not done with the soy just yet! When it comes to dairy-free diet alternatives, soy milk, made from soybeans and filtered water, is the most protein-packed option. Soy yoghurt contains around 10g protein and 130 kcal per cup, while soy milk will give you a 7g dose of protein and 80 kcal per 8oz glass. Its thick, creamy texture makes it a great cow’s milk or yoghurt substitution.
Recipe ideas: Use it in your vegan teas and coffees, blend it with Purition Vegan, add it into smoothies, make delicious vegan yoghurt bowls or use it as a dairy-sub in pretty much any recipe.
10. Protein-rich vegetables
Vegetables have protein? Yep, that’s right! Even though your greens might not seem like your typical muscle-building ingredient, some veggies will surprise you. Vegetables alone are unlikely to satisfy your daily protein requirement, but choosing higher-protein vegetables make for a great top-up. Plus, they come with the added benefit of providing extra essential micronutrients and fibre.
Curious? Here are some of the most protein-rich vegetables, along with their protein content per 100g:
- Green peas: 5.4g protein, 84 kcal
- Spinach: 2.9g, 23 kcal
- Broccoli: 2.8g, 34 kcal
- Kale: 2.9g, 35 kcal
- Asparagus: 2.2g, 20 kcal
- Mushrooms: 3.1g protein, 22kcal
Recipe ideas: Make a hearty pea soup, add a generous handful of spinach or kale to smoothies, roast some broccoli with garlic and olive oil or fry up some garlic mushrooms for brunch. Ultimately, we’d recommend adding a generous portion of vegetables to every meal.
Quinoa (pronounced ‘KEEN-wah’) is technically a seed, but we think it deserves its own section. Alongside its substantial protein content—around 8.1g of protein per cup (cooked)—quinoa has some impressive nutrition and health benefits:
- Contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete vegan protein source
- Packed with key nutrients, including iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron
- High in antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of many diseases
- High in fibre and low on the glycemic index, both of which can help to increase satiety and prevent hunger pangs
We could go on, but you get the gist—quinoa is one of the best vegan protein sources you’ll find!
Recipe ideas: Enjoy a quinoa super salad for lunch, bake quinoa patties, stuff it in a baked sweet potato or add it to home-baked bread.
Seitan, known as vital wheat gluten, is a meat-alternative made from wheat. It has a unique meat-like texture and bounce, with a mild flavour that can be easily boosted with seasoning and spices. It’s easy enough to make from scratch at home but is increasingly available in supermarkets and health food shops, if you’re looking for that convenience-factor.
But what about seitan’s protein content? Well, it’s pretty damn impressive, to say the least. With a 200kcal serving (187g) containing an impressive 33g protein, it’s definitely one to add to your next vegan shopping list.
Recipe ideas: Use it in any recipe as a meat-sub, shred it into tacos and salads, use it to make your own vegan burgers, slice it into a stiry-fry or layer it up with veggies in a vegan sandwich.
13. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast or ‘nooch’, as it’s commonly coined, is a deactivated yeast formed from a species of fungus called ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae’. We know it has a horribly unappealing name, but give nutritional yeast a go and we bet it’ll become your all-new favourite condiment! It’s nutty, savoury and surprisingly cheese-like all at once and can be easily sprinkled onto just about any recipe.
2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast has only 34 calories, but provides an impressive 10g of protein. The same serving size also offers around 10mcg of vitamin B12, which generously covers the recommended daily amount.
Recipe ideas: Sprinkle and stir it into just about anything, from soups and salads to cauli-mash and vegan mac and cheese. Not a fan of nooch? We’ve included it in the Purition vegan shake every day, so sip on one every day and gain a generous dose of B-vits.
This rich, green powder comes from blue-green algae and has gained superfood status in recent years. Alongside a mighty list of health benefits (it’s touted to have the ability to improve gut health, increase energy levels and lower cholesterol), Spirulina is 60-70% protein by weight and offers a complete vegan protein source.
Two tablespoons of spirulina contains 8g protein, as well as good amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, amongst other essential micronutrients. If smoothies are your thing and you don’t mind an earthy taste, this protein-powered superfood is well-worth a try.
Recipe ideas: Blend it into smoothies and juices, add it to your vegan bakes or sprinkle a small amount in salads and soups.
15. Vegan protein powder
If you lead a busy lifestyle or need an extra hit of post-workout protein, vegan protein powder is a great vegan store cupboard staple. Purition’s premium protein blend contains European pea, pumpkin, sunflower & hemp to provide all 9 essential amino acids (a complete protein source) in a single serving.
By combining premium plant protein with nuts, seeds and a range of other natural wholefoods, a single shake provides around 15g protein. Plus, with fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals to boot, a Purition shake a day will leave you feeling energised and satisfied, whilst eliminating the worry of going without any essential nutrients. It makes a great high-protein vegan breakfast for busy mornings or a natural, nutritious vegan protein shake if you’re a gym-goer.
But don’t take our word for it, why not see what our hundreds of happy customers have to say in their Purition reviews?
Recipe ideas: Simply blend up a Purition shake and enjoy as an easy breakfast, mix it into protein pancakes, add it to a nutritious smoothie bowl or blend it into energy balls for an on-the-go dose of protein.
It’s easy to get enough vegan protein
Don’t be taken in by the myth that vegan protein sources are fiddly, inferior or time-consuming. While getting adequate amino acids on a plant-based diet requires you to enjoy a wider range of protein foods than your meat-eating friends, the added variety will only benefit you. After all, a diet diverse in plant-based wholefoods is nutrient-dense, intensely nourishing and rich in antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Before you go, don’t forget to check out Purition’s vegan range. Whether you’re short on time, need a protein boost to support your fitness regime or simply prefer to spend less time over the stove, our completely natural, real food shakes provide a nutritious and balanced vegan protein source, fibre and healthy fats to fuel your vegan diet.
Absolutely love Purition. I have one once a day whether it be for breakfast or lunch, but it leaves me full and I don’t feel the need to snack throughout the day. Really feels like I’m putting good stuff in my body too as it’s all natural ingredients, unlike some other protein powders out there. Great buy, I will continue to purchase and would encourage others looking for a healthy vegan protein to do the same!
– Sara, Verified Purition Customer
I was researching healthy meal replacements that would not upset my gut with all the chemicals that other brands add to their products. I now purchase the Purition vegan range and honestly love them. They taste great, fill me up till lunch, do not upset my gut and their customer service is great and delivery is quick. If you’re looking for chemical-free, great-tasting vegan products I’d say look no further!
– Jills, Verified Purition Customer
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