Plant-Based Foods Rich in Protein

Vegans everywhere are sick of hearing the same old question, where do you get your protein from?

In this article, we’ll answer the question, “where do vegans get their protein from?

This will also act as a reference list of plant-based foods rich in protein, in case you feel inclined to up your intake of protein.

Index

Protein requirements on a plant-based diet

Chances are, people who question you about your protein intake after switching to plant-based eating are not going to be nutrition experts.

They tend to be people, however well-meaning, who are unaware of the scientific consensus around protein requirements.

If you ask them how many grams of protein per day they themselves are consuming, they’ll likely struggle to give you a straight answer. (Though some athletes who track their macronutrients might be able to give you a, usually unnecessarily large, number.)

The official Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for sedentary individuals is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (i.e., 0.36 g of protein per lb). This means that a 70 kg (154.3 lb) man will require 56 g of protein per day. A 57.5 kg (126.8 lb) woman will require 46 g of protein.

The protein requirements of a body builder are higher

There are other factors to be considered, including age, but the most important one is activity level. The more active you are and the more you’re trying to build muscle, the more protein you’ll need.

How much? Optimal hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth) can be achieved on average with 1.6 g of protein per kg of body weight (i.e., 0.73 g of protein per lb of body weight).

In reality, these requirements assume that the person is somewhat close to an average or healthy BMI. If you are morbidly obese, the huge amount of excess fat will not require a huge amount of extra protein.

For example, a 300 kg (661.4 lb) man will not require 300 x 1.6 = 480 grams of protein per day to maximize his gains in the gym.

If you are obese, you might want to use either your lean body mass (if known) or the ideal body weight you’re shooting for, in your calculations.

For example, if you are 100 kg (220 lb) but plan to reach a goal weight of 70 kg (154 lb), you should use 70 kg / 154.3 lb to calculate your protein requirements.

That is, 70 x 0.8 = 56 grams if you are sedentary, and 70 x 1.6 = 112 g of protein if you are lifting heavy multiple times per week.

Some, including Examine.com, have argued that the factors used in the calculation should be a little higher (e.g., 1.2 grams per kg for sedentary people and 2.2 grams per kg for healthy people maximizing their muscle growth).

Whatever multiplication factor you choose to use, you’ll notice that even fairly built bodybuilders don’t require hundreds of grams of protein per day.

So, as long as you’re eating enough calories and enough variety in your plant-based diet, you’re likely to naturally hit your protein requirements without much effort on your part.

Is plant-based protein complete?

You might have heard that plant protein is not “complete protein”. This is mostly a misunderstanding.

There are 20 amino acids that form protein, and 9 of them are classified as essential. The protein in different foods will have different amino acid profiles. This is why you’ll sometime hear people talk about “complete protein”.

Quinoa is an example of a so-called complete protein source.

For example, quinoa and buckwheat are considered a source of complete protein because they both have substantial amounts of all 9 essential amino acids.

But even “incomplete” protein sources (that is, foods with low amounts of selected essential amino acids) can be combined in order to obtain a meal with an overall complete profile. For example, pea and brown rice protein complement each other quite well.

The good news is that they don’t even need to be in the same meal, provided they are consumed within a reasonable time frame from each other (e.g., 48 hours).

Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about this if you eat enough variety of protein sources. You’ll inevitably end up eating enough essential amino acids provided you are not starving yourself by eating way too few calories.

Studies have shown that the protein source doesn’t really matter as long as there is enough quantity in one’s diet and, as we discussed, the requirements are actually far lower than most people assume.

Plant-based foods rich in protein and Leucine

Along with isoleucine and valine, leucine is an essential branched-chain amino acid (BCAA). It is of particular interest to bodybuilders, as it plays a key role in protein synthesis. If you want to maximize your gains, you need to eat enough protein and leucine.

There are several plant-based foods rich in leucine.

Although many plant-based foods are low in leucine, there are still several that have large quantities.

For example, a cup of firm tofu provides 3.5 g of leucine (more than meeting the daily requirement). A cup of most beans provides roughly 50% of the dietary reference intake. An ounce of various nuts (e.g., pistachios, peanuts, almonds) or seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds) provides in the 15-20% range of the DRI.

Again, assuming you are eating enough protein from a variety of sources, it’s not usually something you need to supplement or really worry about.

With all that out of the way, let’s see which plant-based foods are rich in protein. Foods that you should definitely incorporate in your plant-based diet.

Legumes rich in protein

Legumes rich in protein.

Legumes tend to be very rich in protein and have a host of other health benefits. They are a must in a well balanced plant-based diet.

Below you’ll find a list of fairly common legumes rich in protein.

FoodCalories
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 300 cal)
Lupins119 cal15.57 g39.25 g
Winged Beans147 cal10.62 g21.67 g
Lentils116 cal9.02 g23.33 g
Pinto Beans143 cal9.01 g18.90 g
Black Turtle Beans132 cal8.86 g20.14 g
Chickpeas164 cal8.86 g16.21 g
Kidney Beans127 cal8.67 g20.48 g
Navy Beans140 cal8.23 g17.64 g
Cowpeas117 cal8.13 g20.85 g
Moth Beans117 cal7.81 g20.03 g
Lima Beans115 cal7.80 g20.35 g
Black-eyed Peas116 cal7.73 g19.99 g
Fava Beans110 cal7.60 g20.73 g
Black gram / Urad Beans 105 cal7.54 g 21.54 g
Adzuki Beans128 cal 7.50 g17.58 g
Mung Beans105 cal7.02 g20.06 g
Pigeon Peas / Red Gram 121 cal6.76 g16.76 g

(100 g refer to 100 g / 3.5 oz of cooked beans.)

Nuts and seeds rich in protein

Nuts and seeds rich in protein.

Nuts and seeds are another great source of protein on a plant-based diet.

The only downside is that they tend to be quite caloric, so if you are trying to lose weight, you should eat them in moderation.

Below you’ll find a list of common nuts and seeds rich in protein.

FoodCalories
(per 30 g)
Protein
(per 30 g)
Protein
(per 300 cal)
Soybeans 141 cal11.57 g24.66 g
Pumpkin / Squash Seeds 168 cal9.07 g16.22 g
Hemp Seeds 170 cal9.00 g15.87 g
Flax Seed 171 cal8.57 g15.01 g
Peanuts 180 cal8.41 g14.04 g
Almonds 181 cal6.00 g9.94 g
Pistachios 160 cal6.00 g11.25 g
Sesame Seeds 199 cal6.00 g9.05 g
Cashews 166 cal5.46 g9.87 g
Sunflower Seeds 171 cal5.36 g9.38 g
Hazelnuts 180 cal5.00 g8.33 g
Chia Seeds 150 cal5.00 g10.00 g
Pinenuts200 cal4.00 g6.00 g
Walnuts204 cal4.29 g6.31 g
Brazil Nuts200 cal4.00 g6.00 g
Pecans215 cal3.00 g4.19 g
Macadamia 215 cal2.34 g3.26 g

Note that 30 g is 1.1 oz.

Vegetables rich in protein

Vegetables rich in protein.

Vegetable might not have the highest amount of protein per 100 g (3.5 oz) but thanks to their low caloric density, calorie per calorie, they hold their own.

If you are “cutting” (in other words, trying to lose weight) vegetables can be quite helpful to reach adequate protein intakes on a calorically restricted diet.

The table below shows a list of vegetables rich in protein.

FoodCalories
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 300 cal)
Soybeans Sprouts122 cal13.09 g32.19 g
Edamame109 cal11.22 g30.88 g
Green Peas79 cal4.49 g17.05 g
Brussels Sprouts43 cal3.38 g23.58 g
Sweet (Yellow) Corn86 cal3.27 g11.41 g
Artichockes47 cal3.27 g20.87 g
White Mushrooms22 cal3.09 g42.14 g
Collards32 cal3.02 g28.31 g
Kale35 cal2.92 g25.03 g
Broccoli31 cal2.57 g24.87 g
Spinach24 cal2.35 g29.38 g
Mustard Greens24 cal2.35 g29.38 g
Green Beans29 cal2.35 g24.31 g
Shiitake Mushrooms34 cal2.24 g19.76 g
Asparagus20 cal2.20 g33.00 g
Portabella Mushrooms22 cal2.11 g28.77 g
Swiss Chard19 cal1.80 g 28.42 g

(Per 100 g/3.5 oz of raw vegetables or mushrooms.)

Please notice that edamame and soybeans differ in nutritional content due to the time of harvesting. The soybeans listed in the nuts and seeds section are mature, while edamame are soybeans harvested earlier on when the beans are still green and soft.

Whole Grains rich in protein

Whole Grains rich in protein.

Whole grains are another staple of a well-balanced, plant-based diet. They provide a wealth of fiber, vitamins, minerals… and, you guessed it, protein.

Many grains, as mentioned before, have amino acid profiles that are quite complementary to those of vegetables. Combining the two in a meal is a delicious and nutritionally sound idea.

The table below shows a list of whole grains rich in protein. The numbers are for 100 g / 3.5 oz of raw/dry grains.

FoodCalories
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 300 cal)
Oat Bran400 cal20.00 g15.00 g
Wild Rice357 cal14.73 g12.38 g
Spelt338 cal14.57 g12.93 g
Kamut337 cal14.54 g12.94 g
Quinoa368 cal14.12 g11.51 g
Amaranth371 cal13.56 g10.96 g
Buckwheat Groats333 cal13.33 g12.01 g
Rice Bran400 cal13.33 g10.00 g
Teff367 cal13.30 g10.87 g
Oats379 cal13.15 g10.41 g
Couscous376 cal12.76 g10.18 g
Bulgur342 cal12.29 g10.78 g
Millet378 cal11.02 g8.75 g
Barley352 cal9.91 g8.45 g
Whole-Grain Cornmeal362 cal8.12 g8.45 g
Brown Rice362 cal7.50 g6.22 g

Of course, many processed foods are made with grains, so you’ll find that, whole-grain flours, pasta, and baked goods are also plant-based foods rich in protein.

Are there any high-protein fruits?

Fruits rich in protein.

Fruits are an important food group. Though they are by no means competing with beans for protein content, they do include some protein.

The list below shows fruits rich in protein. Unlike other plant-based foods rich in protein we listed in this article, fruits don’t have many grams of protein per 100 g portion.

However, their low caloric density (a few exceptions made) enables them to still provide quite a bit of protein per 300 calories of fruit.

FoodCalories
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 100 g)
Protein
(per 100 g)
Goji Berries (dried)349 cal14.26 g12.26 g
Coconut354 cal3.33 g2.82 g
Tamarinds239 cal2.80 g3.51 g
Guavas68 cal2.55 g11.25 g
Rowal111 cal2.30 g6.22 g
Passion Fruit97 cal2.20 g6.80 g
Sugar Apple / Sweetsop94 cal2.06 g6.57 g
Avocados160 cal2.00 g3.75 g
Jackfruit95 cal1.72 g5.43 g
Pomegranates83 cal1.67 g6.04 g
Durian147 cal1.47 g3.00 g
Raspberries50 cal1.43 g8.58 g
Apricots48 cal1.40 g8.75 g
Blackberries43 cal1.39 g9.70 g
Jujube79 cal1.20 g9.70 g
Kiwi Fruit61 cal1.14 g5.61 g
Bananas89 cal1.09 g3.67 g
Oranges47 cal0.94 g6.00 g
Peaches39 cal0.91 g7.00 g
Cantaloupe34 cal0.82 g7.24 g

Processed vegan foods rich in protein

Processed vegan foods rich in protein.

Although these whole-foods offer plenty of protein, some athletes may still want help to hit their ambitious protein goals.

This is where some of the processed options come in handy. You should definitely limit the amount of processed food in your diet, for health and longevity reasons, but we can’t deny that they do offer a quick way to up protein intake.

There are a few categories of processed vegan foods to consider, as they are all plant-based foods very rich in protein:

  • Isolated protein powder. Great for protein shakes, smoothies, in your oatmeal, for baking, and so on. Plant-based protein powder is available in many varieties and combinations of protein sources (pea, rice, hemp, etc.). It offers one the highest ratio of protein to calories available. 300 calories of plant-based protein powder can give you in the range of 50-60 grams of protein in an easy to drink and digest package. Compare them to the fourth column of the foods above and you’ll see their appeal.
  • Protein bars/bites/balls/cookies. These are handy in a pinch and on the go. They are made from isolated protein but their ratio of protein to calories is lower since other fillers have to be used to give the product its taste, structure, and texture. 300 calories of plant-based protein bars will typically give you in the range of 20 g of protein.
  • Plant-based milk. Plant-based milk alternatives can also have quite a bit of protein in them. Soy milk, in particular, will typically have 20-25 g of protein per 300 calories (though that would be a rather large shake, at 3 cups of milk for the calories).
  • Soy-based processed foods. Tofu, Tempeh, and TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) are all loaded with protein and in the world of processed foods, you can do a lot worse health-wise.
  • Seitan. Wheat gluten is tasty and is absolutely loaded with protein (75% of its content is protein). 300 calories of seitan would give you about 60 g of protein!
  • Plant-based meat substitutes. Those delicious fake meats from brands such as Gardein, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods are all loaded with protein. They are by far the most processed items on this list and arguably the least healthy, but if you do like to indulge once in a while, you can do so knowing that they pack quite the protein punch. For example, the Impossible Burger is just shy of 300 calories and provides 27 grams of protein.

Conclusion

This, folks, is where vegans get their protein from. Next time someone asks you “where do you get your protein from?”, feel free to point them to this list of plant-based foods that are rich in protein.

As demonstrated, there are plenty of opportunities to get enough protein on a plant-based diet to meet or exceed your daily requirements.

This is true whether you opt for a whole-foods, plant-based diet or decide to include some processed vegan foods. Whether you are a sedentary ectomorph who needs 50 g of protein a day or a powerlifter who needs 180 g.

Eat enough calories, from a variety of plant-based food groups, and your protein intake should take care of itself.

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