Answering the age-old question, "But where will you get your protein?!" seems to be a never-ending saga for vegans, and here you'll find all the answers and rebuttals right at your fingertips.
One of the biggest concerns when going vegan (especially from outsiders looking in) is whether or not an all-vegan diet is protein sufficient. All of a sudden, everyone seems to be worried about your protein, am I right?
To be fair, they're probably looking out for you and have the best intentions. Protein is absolutely essential in a diet since virtually all of our cells contain proteins. Protein is especially important in helping your body repair cells, make new cells, and develop, particularly in children and teens.
So how can you make sure that you get enough protein, even as a vegan? Today, we’re looking at some of our favorite options for vegan-friendly protein.
Daily Protein Requirement
First, let’s look at how much protein we need daily. Surprisingly, based on a study published in the scientific journal Nutrients in 2019, it's actually common for western populations to over-consume when it comes to protein.
The average protein intake in adults in western countries is 1.3 g/kg/day, about twice the Estimated Average Requirement of 0.66 g/kg/day. This means that almost everyone in western populations consumes more than their individual requirement every single day!
For a bit of context, this estimated requirement comes out to a needed 50.9 g of protein per day for a female weighing 170 pounds or 77 kg. However, protein recommendations do vary depending on which institution you trust most.
When switching to or starting to implement high-protein vegan foods instead of meat or seafood, consider switching them out in a one-to-one ratio by weight. Exploring what vegan dishes you enjoy will give you a great headstart before consulting your doctor on an ideal diet plan for you.
Main Sources of High-Protein Vegan Foods
When thinking about how vegans get protein, many think of tofu and tofu alone. And while tofu is delicious and easy to fit into almost any sauce or dish, relying on one source of protein can be tiring at best. Here are some of my favorite high-protein vegan foods.
Tempeh and Tofu
One of my favorite vegan sources of protein is tempeh. Tempeh has origins in Indonesia and is known as a relatively textured source of protein. Some equate tempeh to tofu, which would be a bit of a sin to leave out!
Both tempeh and tofu are soybean products with different textures and characteristics. Tofu is popular for its neutral taste that easily absorbs sauces and other ingredient qualities.
Tempeh, on the other hand, has a more nutty flavor by itself and is often described as having a “cake” texture. So expect a bit more resistance from tempeh compared to tofu!
Chicken salad is one of the few dishes I honestly miss as a vegan. But I must say that I’ve perfected my Vegan “Chicken” Salad Sandwich recipe that features tempeh instead of chicken, and vegan mayonnaise. I promise to satisfy your chicken salad craving with this recipe, and you may even like the meat-free version better! My meat-loving wife says it tastes like chicken salad too, which seals the deal.
Seitan, aka Wheat Gluten
Alright, let’s get another confusing one out of the way. Have you heard of seitan or wheat gluten? Another name for this substance is, well, wheat meat! Definitely a weird one.
Seitan is hydrated gluten, which is found largely in wheat. This is the same gluten that some individuals are allergic to. However, seitan is a high-protein substance popular as a meat substitute. Healthline estimates that one serving of seitan can have as much as 21 grams of protein!
That’s a lot of protein originating from a singular ounce of wheat gluten! Seitan can appear in a variety of textures, with some comparing it to tofu and other variations coming across as stringy and more meat-like.
High-Protein Vegan Foods
Looking for something a little less processed and less difficult to prepare? You can’t go wrong when it comes to legumes, beans, and nuts. Lentils and chickpeas are excellent options for legumes with a heavy dose of protein.
Chickpeas paired with cashews can make my delicious Spiced Chickpea Kale Salad with Lemon Cashew Dressing, and black beans are absolute staples in vegan burgers and black bean salads.
Look for nuts to snack on and don’t be afraid to search for legume-heavy alternatives to your favorite mixes and meats.
Chia, Hemp, and Flaxseed for Vegan Protein
Seeds are a classic source of protein for vegans. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds are fan favorites for everything from smoothie bowls to puddings. They’re easy to prepare, offer texture to a meal, and are delicious.
You might be surprised to hear that ground flaxseed is one of my favorite substitutes for eggs. In my Light and Fluffy Vegan Waffle recipe, ground flaxseed combined with water for a few minutes creates a goopy mixture perfect for holding foods together where eggs may be traditionally used. Chia seeds could work here, too.
You don’t have to avoid baked goods just because you’re vegan.
Other Protein-Packed Products I Use
Let's be real here. As busy people in this day in age, you're also looking for other products I use to get the protein in quickly. Tempeh and Tofu are great, but they take time and preparation. Here are some of my favorite protein supplements and products.
Orgain Protein Powder - One of the most common questions I get is what protein powder to use. I LOVE Orgain Protein Powder. For one, it has great macros. Lower carbs and fat and high protein. Two, it's loaded with greens! Each serving contains spinach, kale, and broccoli, yet by the creamy vanilla flavor you'd never guess it. Or go with their chocolate version (also packed with greens)!
I usually just put my protein powder in a shaker with some water and am good to go, but I've also been known to put it in my coffee and also my oatmeal! Gotta get that protein in wherever I can!
Clif Builder Bars - Having a good solid protein bar on hand is imperative to my busy life-style. Sometimes I just don't have the time to stop and make lunch and just need a protein bar to carry me over until I have the time. I've tried a LOT of protein bars, and these Clif Builder Bars are by far my favorite. They're like a candy bar, have a ton of different flavors (Peanut Butter Chocolate is obvs my fav!), and the macros are fantastic for a bar. 20P/30C/9F. For me, that's a perfectly balanced bar.
Good Bars - Another protein bar here that has such a good flavor and texture. BIRTHDAY CAKE flavor?! LEMON?! COOKIE DOUGH?! So good and soft. They come in with a whopping 15g of plant-based protein, which is great, so they come in as a second best option for my favorite protein bar.
Kashi Go Lean Cereal - Sometimes, you just wanna bowl of cereal, am I right? This Cinnamon Crunch Kashi has 14g of protein in every serving! Winning!
How to Get Protein as a Vegan
Getting protein as a vegan can seem like an intimidating task at first. However, it’s likely that you may be over-consuming meat already! Substitute some of the meat you’re eating for meat-like vegan options like tempeh, tofu, and seitan.
This can help keep some of the recipes you love with similar textures and high-protein vegan food alternatives. Finally, start incorporating more naturally occurring proteins such as legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds. You just might find a new favorite recipe by researching the best ways to eat these together, deliciously.
Ready to learn more about going vegan and exploring new foods? We have a guide on How to Start a Vegan Diet that makes the journey much more exciting and less intimidating.