One of the main concerns vegans may have is how to get their protein when they aren’t consuming what many consider to be the traditional sources of protein.
In addition to avoiding meat, vegans take their diet a step further than vegetarians because they cut out all animal byproducts including protein-rich foods like eggs, Greek yogurt, and certain brands of dry-roasted peanuts that contain gelatin, which is made from animal collagen.
Despite these numerous dietary restrictions, “as long as the diet includes a variety of protein-rich plant foods, consuming adequate protein is not a problem for vegans,” says Samantha Heller, MS, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health.
How much protein you should get each day largely depends on your age and activity level. Check out this handy calculator from the FDA to find out how much protein you should be getting each day. For an average healthy, active adult it should be between 50 to 70 grams of protein, or about 0.4 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
There are five main food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods like pulses (beans and legumes), nuts and seeds, and dairy. Most of a vegan’s protein will come from – you guessed it – the protein foods category, but grains also provide some protein to a lesser degree. Below is a breakdown of protein-rich foods in each of those three categories.
- Chickpeas: 1 cup cooked contains 14.5 grams of protein
- Lentils: 1 cup cooked contains 17.2 grams of protein
- Beans (black, pinto, kidney, lima): 1 cups of black beans contains 8.9 grams of protein
- Peas: 1 cup contains 15.1 grams of protein
- Peanuts: 1 serving size (28 grams) contains 7 grams of protein
- Soy milk: 1 cup contains 6.3 grams of protein
- *Tempeh: 1 cup contains 33.7 grams of protein
- *Tofu: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains 10.1 grams of protein
- *Edamame: 1 cup contains 16 grams of protein
Nuts and nut butters
- Almonds: 1 cup of dry roasted contains 29 grams of protein, or two tablespoons of almond butter gets you 6.7 grams of protein
- Cashews: 1 cup of dry roasted contains 21 grams of protein, or two tablespoons of cashew butter gets you 3.9 grams of protein
- Pistachios: 1 cup of dry roasted contains 26 grams of protein, or two tablespoons of pistachio butter gets you 6 grams of protein
- Walnuts: 1 ounce (28 grams) of dry roasted contains 4 grams of protein, or two tablespoons of walnut butter gets you about 5 grams of protein
- Sunflower seeds: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains 11.67 grams of protein
- Flax seeds: 1 cup contains 30.7 grams of protein
- *Chia seeds: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains 15.4 grams of protein
- *Hemp seeds: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains 30 grams of protein
- Spinach: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains about 2.35 grams of protein
- Broccoli: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains about 2.7 grams of protein
- Kale: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains about 3.54 grams of protein
- Green beans: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) contains about 2.35 grams of protein
- Whole wheat bread: Once slice contains about 6 grams of protein
- Whole wheat pasta: 1 cup contains about 12 grams of protein
- *Quinoa: 1 cup contains about 8 grams of protein
- Old fashioned oats: 1/2 cup raw oats contains 10 grams of protein
*These are foods considered a complete protein. Read on to learn more.
A complete protein source is one that contains all nine essential amino acids. We need each of these nine amino acids for a healthy diet — hence why they’re called “essential” amino acids.
Many animal products and byproducts, like steak and eggs, are complete proteins, which is one of the main differences between many vegan and non-vegan diets. However, you can still get all nine essential amino acids either by eating plant-based complete proteins, like the ones included in the list above or by eating a balanced diet of incomplete proteins from the various sources listed. It may just take a little more effort.
If you’re not feeling your best and are concerned that you aren’t getting enough protein as a vegan, consider working with a registered dietitian who can identify any gaps in your diet and make sure you’re meeting your nutrient needs.