16 Plant-Based Protein Sources

Protein is often raised as a concern for people considering adopting a plant-based diet, and considering the fact that we’ve all been taught to associate protein primarily with red meat, this is not surprising.

It is estimated that most adults require 56 grams of protein per day, and you’re probably hitting that number if you’re not in a calorie deficit. If you’re trying to lose weight and so are cutting calories then you may need to track your protein a little more closely, but 56 grams is pretty easy to hit without having to really think about it.

It gets a bit more difficult if you’re very physically active, particularly if you’re engaged in regular endurance training or are trying to build muscle. There is a great deal of disagreement about precisely how much protein is ideal if you’re training intensely, but it is very achievable to hit even the upper end of protein requirement estimates using only plant-based foods. Listed below are particularly good options.

1) Lentils – Lentils are a cheap nutritional powerhouse, and provides about 17 grams of protein per cup. They’re also very flexible, you can have them as your main protein source of a meal, use them to substitute mince in a pasta dish, make burgers out of them, or put them in a stir fry or with rice and veg with some seasonings. They are cheap and convenient if you buy them canned, since they’re ready to eat, though I would recommend at least warming them up.

2) Chickpeas – Chickpeas are a popular vegan staple, and it’s not hard to see why. At approximately 14.5 grams of protein per cup, they’re nutrient dense and very flexible. Use them to make hummus or falafel, as the main protein source of a curry, on their own with rice or worked into a salad. You can also just air fry/grill them with some oil and spices for a convenient, crunchy snack.

3) Oats – A cup of dry oats is around 11 grams of protein by itself. Making it with a cup of oat milk brings that up to 14 grams, throw in a tablespoon of peanut butter and you’re up to about 17.5 grams at breakfast, and all those ingredients are pretty cheap and very filling. You could add something like nuts or chia seeds as a topping to stretch that to well over 20 grams.

4) Nuts – Peanuts are 9.5 grams per ¼ cup, almonds are 7g, pistachios 6g, cashews 5g, hazelnuts 5g, brazil nuts 4.75g, walnuts 4.5g and pine nuts are 4.5g. You can buy 1kg bags of mixed nuts for a little bit cheaper and keep them in a jar for a healthy snack. I find it better to buy a bag that doesn’t have peanuts in then add the peanuts later, as mixes that include peanuts tend to be less for your money. Peanut butter is also a cost effective way to add protein to many snacks and meals.

5) Beans – Depending on the type, beans are anything from around 10-15 grams of protein per cup. Some are better than others, like kidney beans, but even your standard baked beans are high protein and good for you. Turn them into a chilli, have them on toast, on a jacket potato, turn them into a bean burger or make them the protein base of a salad or soup. Kidney , soy and edamame beans are particularly good options.

6) Seitan – When cooked, seitan closely resembles to look and feel of red meat. It is made of wheat gluten and has 25 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. It is not very widely available in supermarkets, but try your local Asian market, where it will usually be cheaper as well. It’s a bit of a hassle, but you can also make your own at home, which is extremely cheap as it’s just wheat gluten, yeast, plant milk, miso and spices.

7) Tofu/Tempeh – A staple in Asian cooking, don’t be afraid to try this one. Think of it as doing all the same things chicken does in terms of recipes, it soaks up the flavour around it. It needs to be pressed before use, or you can avoid that by just draining the liquid and freezing it, then thawing over night when you want to use it. 100 grams of tofu (less than half a small block) contains 8 grams of protein. Some tofu, like Naked TooFoo, is pre-pressed for you.

8) Faux Meats – Faux meats are an easy way to add a protein base to your meal, and has the advantage of serving the same function on a plate as the foods you were used to before you went vegan. A Beyond burger, for example, has 19g of protien per patty, though you can get much cheaper options that have a similar nutritional profile. Pair that with a wholemeal bun and something like brown rice/quinoa and vegetables and you can create a very high protein meal.

9) Grains – All grains are good for protein, these include quinoa, spelt, brown/wild rice, teff, amaranth and sorghum. They can range anywhere between 5 and 8 grams per 100 grams, and you’ll usually be serving them with some sort of protein source. They’re also an excellent source of fibre and carbohydrates, which are also important for training and general health. Quinoa in particular provides all 22 essential amino acids.

10) Peas – Green peas are not mentioned much when it comes to high protein options, but a cup of cooked peas is a respectable 9 grams of protein, and it’s worth mentioning here because they tend to be used more as a side than main, so can be paired with other high protein options. They’re also very cheap, freeze well and are easy to prepare.

11) Seeds – Just a tablespoon of chia seeds is nearly 3 grams of protein, and the seeds are so small and tasteless that you don’t actually notice them in anything you put them in, making them an easy way to add protein to just about any meal. They’re pretty cheap to buy in large quantities, particularly good to replace eggs in baking, to add to bread flour, salads and oatmeal. Other high protein seeds include pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, hempseeds and buckwheat.

12) Bread – Bread may not immediately come to mind when you’re thinking about protein, but wholegrain/rye/spelt breads can be very high in protein, anywhere from 3 all the way up to around 10 grams per slice, particularly for seeded loaves. If you really want to turn bread into a high protein food, invest in a bread maker or bake it yourself, that way you can add nuts, seeds and oats yourself to up the nutritional value. That’s just the bread too, a hummus and falafel sandwich with a high protein bread can be very nutrionally dense.

13) Fruit and veg – Worth mentioning here, as they’re something you’ll need to consume to maintain a healthy diet anyway, and some options have moderate protein. The higher protein options include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, which all contain 4–5 grams of protein per cooked cup. Likewise, blueberries, guava, bananas and nectarines contain about 2-4 grams of protein per cup, as well as many other vitamins important for training.

14) Nutritional Yeast – No vegan list is complete without mentioning it, it’s a vegan staple for its nutty, cheesy flavour, as well as being an easy source of vitamin B12. It’s a complete protein that has 8 grams of protein per 16 grams serving, making it an easy way to add more protein to things like pizza, pasta dishes or a jacket potato. Use it to make cheesy sauces, or just sprinkle it on anything you’d have previousy added parmesan cheese to.

15) Protein Bars – They tend to be  on the expensive side, but there are a few plant-based options. I’d recommend Misfit bars if you can get them online, they’re low sugar, 15g of protein per bar, and you can buy them in variety packs of 40 which works out cheaper. Trek also have protein flapjack bars, less protein (8-9g) but are much cheaper in packs of 3 and frequently available at a discount (as little at 85p for three in Heron here in the UK).

Most brands won’t be suitable as a daily option for many people given the price, but great for when you’re need a protein boost on the go. You can also just make your own protein bars using nothing but oats, cinnamon, baking soda, a little maple/golden syrup and a scoop of plant-based protein powder.

16) Protein/Meal Powders- Even the cheaper powders are around 18g of protein per scoop, so a shake is an easy way to add more protein to your diet, or you can stir it into oatmeal to get most of your daily requirements over breakfast. Some meal replacement shakes, like Huel Black, are around 40 grams of protein per serving (2 scoops) even when made with just water, providing a cheap and easy way to have a high protein and nutritious meal without any prep or fuss. Add some peanut butter and plant milk to make them tastier and even higher in protein.

Note: I don’t accept sponsorship or commissions from any brand and I don’t have any affiliate links. Any product recommendations are based solely on my own experience.

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