Whether you’ve been vegan for a day or a decade, there’s one question you’ve definitely heard ad infinitum from friends, family, and strangers alike: “Where do you get your protein?”
You can’t blame them, though — after all, most people have been conditioned to think that the only way to get protein is from meat, eggs, and dairy.
This misinformation, funded and fueled by powerful animal agricultural industries, has blinded us for decades, but more and more people are realizing the power — and sustainability — of plant-based protein.
Plants can provide us with all the protein we need, without the cholesterol, environmental destruction, and animal abuse that comes with every serving of animal-based protein. But not everyone knows which plants to eat, or how much, in order to get the right amount of protein.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of 49 healthful, delicious sources of vegan protein.
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Black Eyed Peas
- Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bulgur Wheat
- Chia Seeds
- Collard Greens
- Ezekiel Bread
- Garden Peas
- Green Beans
- Hemp Seeds
- Mustard Greens
- Nutritional Yeast
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Soy Milk
- Sweet Potatoes
- TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
- Wheat Berry
- But wait, there’s more!
These teeny sprouts make tasty, vitamin-rich additions to salads and sandwiches for a bit of extra crunch. You might not expect something so small to pack much protein, but 100g of alfalfa sprouts provide you with 4 whole grams. For the healthiest and safest sprouts, look for organic, locally grown ones, or simply sprout them yourself at home.
Humans have been cultivating amaranth and benefiting from its myriad nutrients for thousands of years. This ancient grain has 3.8g of protein per 100g. Try adding it to soups, toasting it and adding it to salads, or eating it on its own as a breakfast cereal.
Artichokes aren’t just delicious — they’re also a powerhouse of different nutrients, including fiber, calcium, and of course, protein. 100g of this large thistle will fuel your muscles with 3.27g of protein. You can enjoy them lightly cooked or raw.
Asparagus as we know it is actually the tender shoots of a large, bushy plant with feathery leaves. 100g of this green spring vegetable provides 2.2g of protein — all the more reason to throw some on the grill!
Barley is an ancient grain that can be traced back about 10,000 years, but it’s adapted well to modern kitchens. You’ll often find it used in cereals and breads or cooked in soups. A mere 100g of this grain will fetch you a whopping 10g of protein.
A must-have in any vegan’s pantry, beans are loaded with fiber, iron, and of course, plenty of protein. There are too many varieties to name, but some of the more popular beans, like pinto, kidney, cannellini, and black beans, contain anywhere from 6 to 9 grams of protein per 100g serving when canned.
Black Eyed Peas
This relative of the cowpea is popular in the southern US and is believed to bring good luck when eaten on New Year’s Day. A 100g serving fetches an impressive 9g of protein, so don’t be afraid to load up on this legume.
Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
Like most dark, leafy greens, bok choy is bursting with nutrients. Add these delicious greens to stir frys, soups, and whatever your stomach desires for a boost of Vitamins A and C, potassium, and 1g of protein per 100g serving.
You may have hated broccoli as a kid, but as a vegan, this brassica could be your best friend. Eat it raw or lightly steamed to get 2g of protein per 100g serving. Avoid cooking it at very high temperatures to preserve its nutrients.
Brussels sprouts may look like tiny cabbages, but they’re packing much more protein than their larger counterparts. A little less than 1 cooked cup of this cruciferous veggie supplies you with 3g of protein, and just as much fiber.
Whether you call it buckwheat or groats, this nutrient-dense seed makes a great grain substitute for those with gluten allergies, and an excellent protein source for any plant-based diet. Eat 100g of this superfood to get about 3.4g of pure muscle fuel.
Bulgur wheat, or simply bulgur, is the cooked, cracked groats of different kinds of wheat (usually durum wheat). It’s favored in Middle Eastern cuisine but is versatile enough to be used in most recipes that call for a grain base. Just half a cup of cooked bulgur wheat has more than 3g of protein.
Cauliflower has become increasingly popular, and it’s no wonder why: there isn’t much that this low-calorie, versatile veg can’t do. Whether you eat it raw, steamed, roasted, mashed, white, yellow, or purple, it’ll yield roughly 2g of protein per ⅓ cup.
“Chia” means “strength” in the Mayan language, which makes sense when you consider that 100g of these teeny seeds pack an astounding 17g of protein. While most servings of chia seeds aren’t quite that large, you can maximize your intake by making a chia seed pudding. As an added bonus, they make an excellent egg substitute for vegan baking.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are enjoyed for their mild, versatile flavor and myriad health benefits. Whether you eat it as hummus, falafel, vegan “tuna” salad, or as a lightly roasted snack, you can count on this mighty legume to provide an impressive 7.5g of protein per ½ cup.
A staple of southern cooking in the United States, this dark, leafy green is rich in nutrients and flavor. It may be enjoyed raw as a wrap, but is best served lightly cooked to unlock its goodness, which includes 2.5g of protein per 100g (or roughly half a cup) of greens.
Edamame may sound exotic, but they’re simply tender soybeans that haven’t reached their full maturity. Their slightly nutty, savory flavor and 5g of protein per 100g serving makes them an addictive, yet healthful snack.
Ezekiel bread is made from whole sprouted grains, making it a healthier alternative than bread made from refined flour. You can expect to get about 4g of protein in every slice.
Farro is a type of hulled wheat that can be used in more or less the same way as rice or any other grain. Eat it as a side dish or add it to a soup or salad to reap the benefits of 4g of protein in a modest 100g serving.
Flaxseeds are well known for their abundance of Omega-3s, but these tiny, golden brown seeds are also bursting with protein — about 1.3g in each little tablespoon. Like chia seeds, crushed flaxseeds make a great substitute for eggs in baking.
Freekeh (pronounced “free-kuh”) is an unripened form of durum wheat. It has a slightly chewy texture and earthy, nutty flavor not unlike that of brown rice, and can be used the same way you’d use rice. Each ½ cup serving of cooked freekeh has 8g of protein.
Garden peas, also known as sweet peas, are the variety of peas most commonly sold shelled and frozen. Their subtle sweetness and numerous nutrients have made them a staple dish in family dinners for decades. ⅔ of a cup of peas contains 5g of protein.
Green beans are another vegetable found in most people’s pantries or freezers. To get the most out of the nutrients they have to offer, which include 1.8g of protein per ½ cup of chopped beans, try eating them lightly steamed or blanched.
Despite resurfacing as a trendy health food in recent years, hemp seeds have actually been around for thousands of years, and it’s no wonder why. These tiny seeds are full of nutrients, including 10g of protein in a 3 tbsp serving.
It’s no secret that kale is king of the leafy greens. It’s bursting with vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and 4.3g of protein in every 100g serving. It can be cooked into stir fries and soups, but it’s at its best nutritionally when enjoyed raw or lightly steamed.
Lentils are used in cuisines all around the world, from the Middle East to France, and Greece to Morocco. Their versatility and rich, earthy flavor aren’t the only reasons to love them — they also have a low carbon footprint and provide iron, fiber, and an astounding 9g of protein in every 100g serving.
Mustard greens have a rich, slightly spicy flavor that makes them stand out among other dark, leafy greens. They’re full of all kinds of nutrients, but they’re on this list in particular because they contain nearly 3g of protein per 100g of raw greens, and 2.3g in a similarly sized cooked portion.
Mycoprotein, also known simply as myco, is a single-cell protein derived from fungi. It’s a high-protein alternative to meat, packing a whopping 11g of protein per 100g serving, but it’s been scrutinized because of a relatively high rate of allergic reactions. If you’re allergic to anything resembling a mushroom, steer clear of this.
Nutritional yeast, affectionately referred to as “nooch” by some vegans, is more than just a great way to make dairy-free dishes taste deliciously cheesy. It’s full of Vitamin B12 and every ounce of nooch (about 3 tbsp) contains over 14g of protein, making it a must-have in any plant-based diet.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and nut butters are some of the richest sources of plant-based proteins available, but they should be eaten in moderation due to their high fat content. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8g of protein, while 1 oz, or 28g, of peanuts contains 7g of protein.
Cashew and almond butters contain slightly less protein per 2 tbsp at 5.6g and 6.8g, respectively, and 5g and 6g per 1 oz of whole nuts.
Everyone’s favorite breakfast grain is known to be good for your heart, but oats can also help build up muscle by providing you with 2.6g of protein in 100g, or just over 1 cup, of cooked oats. Enjoy them as cereal or granola, or added to muffins and cookies for a delicious way to increase your protein and fiber intake.
The simple potato is often overlooked and even criticized by nutritionists because it’s thought of as a plain, white carb with little nutritional value. But this humble spud has lots to offer, including 1.9g of protein per 100g, or about a half cup. (That does not, however, make French fries a health food — sorry!)
Whether eaten roasted or raw, pumpkin seeds are a nutritional powerhouse. In addition to high levels of iron, fiber, magnesium, and potassium, they pack quite a bit of protein. 1 oz of these seeds will yield 5g of protein, so be sure to load up on them shortly before or after a serious workout.
Quinoa has taken the health-conscious world by storm in recent years, but this tiny seed has been a staple of indigenous diets in South America for thousands of years. 100g of cooked quinoa will add 4.4g of protein, 2.8g of fiber, and about 90 mg of Omega-3s to your diet.
Rice feeds about one-fifth of the global population, but this dietary staple provides more than just filling carbs. White and brown rice have about the same amount of protein — approximately 2.6g in a 100g serving of cooked rice — but brown rice has a much lower glycemic index, making it the healthier choice.
Seitan, or vital wheat gluten, is a meat alternative made from — you guessed it — wheat gluten. This “wheat meat” is pretty much pure protein, providing a staggering 75g of protein in a 100g serving. Of course, unless you’re an Olympic weightlifter, there isn’t a need for that much protein, so stick to a smaller portion.
Sorghum is a cereal grain believed to have originated in Africa about 4,000 years ago. It may be boiled down into a sweet syrup or dried, ground into a gluten-free flour, or added to breakfast cereals. 100g of this grain contains 11g of protein.
There are countless nondairy milks out there, but no amount of almond, coconut, or hemp milk could hold a candle to the protein found in soy milk. Just one cup of this dairy-free milk has 8g of protein.
Before you start chugging, however, make sure you’ve selected an organic soy milk, as conventionally grown soy is often heavily treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Soybeans may be processed and turned into a million different ingredients, but the healthiest way to enjoy them is as a whole food. Try snacking on roasted soybeans or making your own soymilk to get the most out of its rich nutrients, which include 40g of protein per 100g of dry roasted soybeans.
Spelt is pretty much just wheat, but (relatively) healthier. It’s often used as flour and lends a slightly sweet flavor to recipes. You can also cook it and eat it whole, which will provide you with 6g of protein in a 100g serving.
The pleasantly mild flavor and soft texture of spinach makes it one of the most versatile leafy greens out there, but the reason Popeye loved this stuff is because 100g of cooked spinach contains 5.3g of muscle-building protein. Combine it with foods rich in Vitamin C to get the most out of its plethora of nutrients.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae most commonly sold as a powdered supplement that can be added to smoothies or baked goods to give them a boost of nutrients (and a gorgeous color to boot!). Two tablespoons, or about 14g, of this superfood has 8g of protein and an abundance of iron.
There’s so much to love about sweet potatoes: they’re chock full of fiber and Vitamin A, they have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, they make killer fries, and half a cup of this vibrant veggie has 2g of protein when cooked.
Perhaps best known as a key ingredient in hummus, tahini is a paste made from toasted, hulled sesame seeds. Because it’s rich in fat, it should be enjoyed in moderation, perhaps drizzled atop a hearty salad or added to falafel. One tablespoon of tahini has 2.6g of protein.
Teff is a seed harvested from an annual grass that’s cultivated almost exclusively in Ethiopia. It’s usually dried and ground into a gluten-free flour, which you can use in a wide variety of recipes, from biscotti to pizza dough. A 100g serving of cooked teff will provide just under 4g of protein.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, making it one of the healthiest ways to consume soy, but this plant-based protein source is somewhat of an acquired taste. It has a slight bitterness that can be mellowed by steaming or boiling it. Once you’ve found the tastiest way to prepare it, expect to get about 19g of protein in each 100g serving.
No list of plant-based proteins would be complete without tofu! This protein, made from soybean curd, has long been a staple in both Asian and vegetarian cuisines. Its varying firmnesses, from silken to extra firm, make it usable in everything from smoothies to stir fries. 100g of tofu will add 8g of protein to your dishes.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
TVP is made from dried granules of defatted soy protein. These relatively tasteless flakes will soak up whatever flavor in which they’re cooked — just make sure to rehydrate them first. This lean meat alternative will add a staggering 32g of protein to your meal, but virtually zero fat and a ton of fiber.
Rounding out our list are wheat berries, which are whole grain kernels of wheat. Eat them boiled, sprouted, or as a flour to add 13g of protein per 100g serving to your meal in.
But wait, there’s more!
This list could go on forever, because all plants contain at least some protein (and don’t forget that you can always top up with some vegan protein powder, too, if you’re hitting the gym), but we don’t want to overwhelm you.
With this list as a reference, you’ll always have fresh ideas for dinnertime and clever responses to the question “Where do you get your protein?”
About The Author:
Cristina is a writer, doggy daycare attendant, and vegan of nearly a decade. She earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature with a minor in gender studies from University of California, Irvine. As an undergrad, she served as president of the university’s animal rights club and conducted and presented research on the intersections of feminism and veganism.
When she’s not writing or taking care of dogs, she enjoys reading everything from autobiographies to YA fantasy novels, tending to her houseplants, cooking, and drawing. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and their dog.