How to Get Protein on a Vegan Diet (Hint: It’s Not Just Tofu)
The usual first question I get asked when I tell people I’m vegan is, “But where do you get your protein?”
While it is true that meat contains a lot of protein, it is not the only way to get it, and it actually comes with a lot of other negative nutritional consequences such as saturated fat, cholesterol, and contains few vitamins/minerals. And even worse, red meat is now classified as a Class I carcinogen – the same category as cigarettes.
As long as you’re eating an adequate amount of calories, getting protein from plant-based sources is easy, healthy, and usually cheaper too!
Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll know exactly how to get protein on a vegan diet. So, let’s get started.
Beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you… okay you get it.
Aside from providing us with loads of fiber (which is essential for gut health), vitamins, and minerals, beans are also chalk full of plant-based protein!
Here is a list of my favorite go-to beans:
- Black beans: 1/2 cup canned black beans contain 7g protein
- Pinto beans: 1/2 cup canned pinto beans contain 6g protein
- Garbanzo beans/Chickpeas: 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains 15g protein
- Kidney beans: 1 cup cooked kidney beans also contains 15g protein
I like using black or pinto beans in a Mexican-style dish like tacos, quesadillas with vegan cheese, bean and rice bowls, etc.
For chickpeas and kidney beans, you can put them in salads, wraps, or make a delicious chickpea “no tuna” salad!
I know tofu is somewhat controversial and many people try to avoid soy, especially those who have had breast cancer. I totally understand people’s hesitation toward this food, but in my eyes, it is a wonderful source of vegan protein and way healthier than any meat product.
I make sure to always buy tofu that is 100% organic and non-GMO.
With tofu I make breakfast tofu scrambles, pan-fry it in cubes or bake it for a dinner side dish.
I also love tempeh! Tempeh is also a soy product but is fermented a little bit differently. It has a chewy (more meat-like) texture to it and is great in wraps, sandwiches, noodle dishes, curries, etc. I have even sautéed it in BBQ sauce and put it in a sandwich before!
The possibilities of these two foods are endless, and it just takes a little practice and creativity to incorporate it into your meals! But seriously, don’t overthink it. I usually just pan-fry it with whatever spices/sauces I like.
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about tofu and soy in general, check out this free site made generously by Dr. Greger, who is a huge advocate for a whole-foods plant-based diet. You can type anything in the search bar at the top and a bunch of different videos on the topic will pop up. He explains scientific research articles on almost every food topic there is in a very easy to understand way. Hope this helps!
Nuts & Seeds
I personally don’t think nuts and seeds get the attention they deserve! These small, but mighty foods are loaded with nutrients and surprisingly enough… protein!
- Almonds: 1/2 cup has 10g protein
- Walnuts: 1/2 cup has 6g protein
- Cashews: 1/2 cup has 12g protein
- Pistachios: 1/2 cup has 12.5g protein
- Ground flax seeds: 2 Tbsp has 3g protein
- Chia seeds: 2 Tbsp has 4g protein
Nuts and seeds are a wonderful source of healthy fats, omega-3’s, protein, and vitamins/minerals. You can get these wonderful sources of protein in granola, trail mix, putting it in your oatmeal or smoothie, or on their own as a snack!
I always put ground flax seeds on my morning oatmeal or in a smoothie to ensure that I’m getting my omega-3’s and some added protein to my meal. Chia seeds also go great in smoothies or oatmeal, but can also make a super yummy chia seed pudding!
Whole grains are an excellent source of plant-based protein and can easily be incorporated into your diet! These are things like:
- Oats: 1 cup has 6g protein
- Quinoa: 1 cup has 8g protein
- Brown rice: 1 cup has 5g protein
- Popcorn: 1 cup has 1g protein
- Whole-wheat bread/pasta (if not gluten-free): 1 slice of ww bread has almost 4g protein
- Buckwheat: 1 cup has 6g protein
- Couscous: 1 cup has 6g protein
As you can see, there are a plethora of plant-based sources of protein out there. As long as you’re eating a varied diet with lots of whole plant foods, you should have no problem getting some protein in.
Plant-based protein contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, is full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber! Not only that, but these sources of protein are waaay cheaper than meat or dairy, so it’s a win-win in my book.
There are also many delicious faux meats out on the market right now that are high in protein. I chose not to add these to my list because I want to highlight and focus on WHOLE foods, rather than processed. Processed anything, vegan or not, is not very healthy, so I try to keep these at a minimum.
Hopefully this list helped you in some way. I know that keeping these core foods at the base of my diet is what keeps me feeling healthy and satisfied throughout the day.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any other sources of vegan protein that you like to eat – I’d love to hear!