Vegan Protein Sources and Recommendations

By Erik Marcus

No matter what anybody says, you can get plenty of protein on a vegan diet. In this article, we’ll look at how to easily satisfy your protein needs.

Protein for Vegans: Basic Information

During the 1970s and 1980s, conventional wisdom warned that vegetarians and vegans ran severe risks of protein deficiency. Much of this concern arose from the first bestselling vegetarian advocacy book, Diet for a Small Planet, written by Frances Moore Lappé and published in 1971. In hindsight, the book’s protein recommendations were needlessly stringent.

Today, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Some vegans believe that protein doesn’t deserve any consideration. In fact, you can even find vegans who mock the topic when it’s brought up.

But belittling the importance of protein is totally misguided. Although vegans can easily get plenty of protein, many come up short. If you’re vegan or mostly plant-based, it’s therefore risky to disregard the topic.

Chart showing that nuts & whole wheat bread are protein-rich foods.

Severe vs. Moderate Protein Deficiency

When it comes to protein, a dire medical condition called kwashiorkor leads to a lot of confusion. This disease only appears in areas of famine, or among people with severe eating disorders. Relatively tiny amounts of protein are all it takes to avoid kwashiorkor, so for obvious reasons this deficiency disease is unheard of in the vegan community.

Some vegans believe an absence of kwashiorkor means their protein intake is sufficient. This is a dangerously misguided belief. Avoiding kwashiorkor does not indicate that your protein intake is even close to ideal.

What’s more, there’s no clear-cut way to know for sure whether you’re getting all the protein your body needs. Even blood tests can’t reliably determine if your intake is sub-optimum. Instead, a variety of symptoms may indicate mild to moderate protein deficiency:

  • chronic fatigue
  • high blood sugar or triglyceride levels
  • inability to maintain sufficient muscle mass
  • depression

While there are countless terrible things about meat, milk, and eggs, it’s undeniable that these foods contain plenty of protein. If you replace the animal products in your diet with foods lacking protein, you could get into trouble. Fortunately, there are plenty of high-protein vegan foods. So it’s easy for vegans to ensure their protein needs are nicely met.

a protein-rich tofu scramble
A protein-rich bowl of tofu scramble, rice, and pink beans. From INA Restaurante in Medellin, Colombia.

Vegan Protein Recommendations

The Mayo Clinic says that 10 to 35 percent of daily calories should come from protein. After age forty, they recommend consuming at least one gram protein daily for each kilogram of body weight. So for example, a 68 kilogram (150 pound) adult should eat about 70 grams of protein per day. What’s more, much of this protein ought to be rich in an essential amino acid called lysine. Both beans and quinoa contain lots of lysine. By comparison, rice, nuts, and especially corn are significantly lower in this amino acid.

Compare the recommendations above with your daily eating habits to see how your current diet holds up. You may discover that you need to increase your current protein intake. Luckily, boosting the amount of protein you consume is remarkably easy.

The Best Vegan Protein Sources

One way to step up your intake is to add rich protein sources to the majority of your meals. Include foods like:

One food that has surprisingly little protein is commercially-made almond milk. This beverage generally contains loads of sugar but very little protein. Soy milk is therefore a much better choice for people wanting to boost their protein intake. Soy milk contains about six times more protein than almond milk, and it’s also much higher in lysine.

Tips for Increasing Your Protein Consumption

Our beans page offers advice about how to prepare beans in ways that maximize digestibility. You may find that tofu, tempeh, and soy-milk easier to digest than other bean-based foods. Alternately, nuts, seeds, and quinoa are all rich in protein, and easily digested.

If you don’t how beans taste or you have trouble digesting them, you should seek out other high-protein foods. Nuts, seeds, and nut butters are all delicious and abundant in protein. Oatmeal and whole wheat bread are also among the most protein-rich vegan foods.

Protein powders can be a godsend to anyone who can’t tolerate beans or nuts. They provide a big dose of protein, in a form that’s more digestible than bean-based meals. Most brands of protein powder deliver about 20 grams of lysine-rich protein per serving. Orgain makes an all-organic vegan protein powder that sells for half the price of other brands. Buy a shaker cup and you won’t have to clean your blender each time you prepare a serving.

protein rich vegan wrap
If your meal contains plenty of beans, you can be sure it’s rich in protein.

Protein-Rich Recipes

Adding just a few protein-rich meals to your cooking repertoire may be all it takes to boost your intake to adequate levels. There are three different cookbooks devoted entirely to protein-rich vegan meals.

It’s reasonable to speculate that many people who fail to thrive on a vegan diet aren’t eating sufficient protein. Since meat contains loads of protein, a vegan who suffering moderate protein deficiency would likely feel better within days of switching back to eating meat. The best way to avoid deficiency is to keep an eye on your daily protein intake, and ensure it’s in line with recommendations. If you’re on the margins, a vegan protein powder drink can close the gap. A little attention and vigilance can prevent significant health problems down the road.

Related reading: please visit our vegan nutrition guide, fitness page, and our supplement recommendations.

Newsletter Signup

Our newsletter is sent out irregularly and infrequently, because we only want to hit your inbox when we’ve got something compelling to share.