Veganism: Plenty of Protein!

by Stacey Mattinson, MS, RDN, LD

A common misconception about plant based diets is that vegans can’t get enough high quality protein from plant sources. On the contrary, there are plenty of high protein vegan options! Let’s review how much protein you need, touch on complete vs incomplete proteins, and dive into ideas for plant-based protein.

How much protein do you need? To meet minimum protein needs, a 150 lb person would need to eat about 55 grams of protein daily (0.8 g per kg), or around 20 grams of protein per meal. Keep in mind individual protein needs vary and may be more than this amount.

Do complete and incomplete proteins matter? Technically protein needs are based off the body’s need for certain amino acids. Most plant sources of protein are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t provide all the essential amino acids your body needs. It used to be recommended that for plant-based diet followers pair complementary incomplete proteins together at meals, but nowadays we know as long as you enjoy a variety of plant foods throughout the day, you should be able to get all the amino acids your body needs.

So, what plant foods are high in protein?

Soy. Soymilk is a great beverage option at 7 g protein per 1 cup and is a good source of calcium. Add this to your breakfast cereal or use it in a smoothie. Tofu and tempeh also both come from soy, and they offer 10 g or 15 g protein per 1/2 c serving, respectively. Make a tofu scramble or add tempeh to a stir-fry.

Beans. Beans are a very versatile source of protein. Each 1/2 c beans like pinto, black, kidney or garbanzo, or even edamame bean pods has 7 to 8 grams of protein. Use these as a side dish, appetizer or blend as a replacement for flour in some baking dishes. Lentils boast 9 grams protein per 1/2 c and work great in tacos, soup or curry.

Grains. Grains aren’t quite as robust a source of protein as other foods, but they still help contribute! Start the day off with 1/2 c oatmeal at 3 g protein or top a salad with quinoa at 4 g per 1/2 c serving.

Nuts & Seeds. Nuts and seeds provide a lot of calories per protein serving (so be careful with portion size for your waistline!) but are still very nutritious. Spread nut butter on toast at 7 to 8 g protein per 2 Tbsp, start the day with chia seeds at 5 g protein per 1 oz, or top your favorite dish with 1 oz nuts at 3 to 7 g protein, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds at 5 g protein per serving.

Use these ideas to power up with protein at each meal. Though every body is different, aiming for about 20 grams of protein per meal is a good start. Vary your protein sources to give your body the many different nutrients it needs.