High Protein Foods for Vegans

Protein is an essential building block of life which is made up of essential amino acids. Dietary proteins help your body repair and make new cells, which improves your skin, hair, muscle, and bone health along with other body functions. 

Protein is broken down into amino acids in your body during digestion. Amino acids are essential to your body's health and are divided into three groups: essential, nonessential, and conditional.

They can be found in plant protein sources that include soy, legumes, beans, nut butters, and grains. The highest source of protein comes from animal sources, but there are plenty of protein sources for vegan diets. 

Why You Need Protein

Getting enough dietary protein every day is important, because your body does not hold on to protein like fats and carbohydrates. That means you'll need to eat the required amount each day. A person on the average American diet consumes enough protein, and people on vegan diets are no different. 

The amino acids in proteins help your body build and repair muscle, and keep your energy levels up. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. That number increases to 1.2 to 2 grams for people who are more active.

A common misperception about vegan diets is that not enough protein is consumed in diets for people who are vegan, because they only get their protein from plant sources. However, vegan diets are just as rich in protein as animal-based diets. It would take consuming little to no protein for a protein deficiency to occur.

Foods With Protein

People only need nine essential amino acids of the 20 that make up protein to have a healthy, functioning body. Eating a variety of plant-sourced protein ensures people on vegan diets still get the required amount of dietary protein each day.

To make sure you are getting enough protein in your vegan diet, it’s important to eat foods high in lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid that is lower in most plant foods. All plant proteins do have at least one essential amino acid. Soy products have the highest amount of dietary proteins, which make them a complete or high-quality protein source.

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These 5 high-protein foods are great options to include in your vegan diet: 

1. Legumes

One cup of cooked legumes contains a significant amount of protein. Chickpeas, kidney, pinto, and navy beans have 15-18 grams of protein. Lentils and split peas contain 18 grams and 9 grams respectively. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 8 grams of protein. 

2. Tempeh/Tofu

Tempeh and tofu are soy-based proteins that contain a significant amount of protein. They are great foods to include in a vegan diet. One cup of cooked tempeh has 34 grams of protein and tofu has 24 grams.  

3. Quinoa

Ancient grain quinoa is a healthy and protein-filled grain that can be the base of meals or served as a side dish. Quinoa contains 8 grams of protein per cup.

4. Whole Grains

Bagels and whole-wheat bread are great sources of protein. Vegan friendly options contain 8-11 grams of protein per two slices.

5. Soy Milk

Soy milk is another easy way to add protein to your diet. One cup of soy milk has 7 grams of protein. You can add soy milk to smoothies, cereal, or drink separately. 

It’s important to include a variety of these foods in multiple meals per day. This helps ensure you are getting the proper amount of protein in your vegan diet.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 09, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard T.H. Chan Public School of Health: “Protein.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout.”

The Vegetarian Resource Group: “Protein in the Vegan Diet.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Dietary Proteins.”

Vegan Health: “Part 1 - Basics.”

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