If you’re working on reducing your intake of meat and dairy products to improve your health, or have decided to give these types of foods up altogether, you may find it challenging to find new sources of protein.
One of the most common arguments against vegetarianism and veganism is the lack of sufficient protein needed by the human body. But adding protein to a meatless diet is much easier than many people think, even if you want to cut out dairy as well. Many vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains are abundant in protein, as long as you know what to look for.
Here’s a short list of foods packed with protein even vegans can eat. I’ve included some suggestions for products to help you fill your pantry, but don’t forget to look in your healthy grocer’s bulk food bins for many of these protein-packed foods.
It doesn’t matter if you think quinoa is a seed or a grain, it is one of the best sources of vegan protein. Native to South America, this widely popular grain is a delicious and highly-nutritious substitute for modern wheat, and is very versatile to cook with. Considered one of the world’s greatest superfoods, quinoa is extremely high in protein and calcium and is thus highly valuable to vegetarians and vegans. Frequently prepared as a side dish and used in salads, this grain can also be used to make breads, pastries and pasta dishes.
2. Hemp Seed
Hemp seeds offer easily digestible protein and all the essential omega-3 and 6 fatty acids needed by the human body. Hemp seeds are also rich in antioxidants, fiber, various minerals, such as zinc, and many vitamins including a hefty dose of vitamin E. They have been used to reduce dry skin and hair, help with muscle regenerations, reduce inflammation, ward off heart disease, and improve immune system function. When blended with water, hemp seeds make a great replacement for cow’s milk.
3. Nuts (Almonds and Peanuts)
If you’re looking for a hefty serving of protein and calories without a lot of bulk, then nuts are a perfect solution. You can have them as a snack, or add them to all types of dishes. Soak them overnight and then blend with different amounts of water to create nut milks and cheeses. Nuts offer plenty of protein, as well as other nutrients like vitamins A and E, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, fiber and essential fatty acids. The top four nut varieties with highest protein content include:
- Almonds at 21.2g of protein per 100g serving
- Pistachio nuts at 21g of protein per 100g serving
- Brazil nuts at 14.3g of protein per 100g serving
- Peanuts at 24.4g of protein per 100g serving
Almond meal/flour from Bob’s Red Mill
Nut milk bag fine mesh strainer from Best Health
Raw unpasteurized organic almonds from Terrasoul Superfoods
Organic raw Brazil nuts (no shell) from Food to Live
Organic raw almond butter from Artisana
All natural smooth peanut butter (GMO-free) from Teddie
DIY Nut Milks, Nut Butters, and More: From Almonds to Walnuts by Melissa King
4. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a great way to add protein, iron, zinc and especially magnesium to your diet. When small, they can be toasted and eaten whole as a snack or topping, while larger seeds can be shelled and can be ground up to use in baking.
Organic shelled pumpkin seeds from Green Bulk
Dry roasted premium pumpkin seeds with Himalayan salt from Farm Fresh Nuts
Sprouted seeds, commonly called sprouts, such as alfalfa, mung bean and clover, are packed with protein and many vitamins such as A, B, C, E and K and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium. Sprouts are best if eater raw, so put them on your salads, stir fries and in smoothies. It’s easy to grow your own sprouts at home. Here are a few resources to get you started.
Build Your Own Automatic Seed Sprouter by Suburban Barnyard
The Magic of Sprouts by Dueep J. Singh
Alfalfa Sprout Greats: The Top 35 Alfalfa Sprout Recipes by Jo Franks
6. Beans and Legumes
There is a large variety of beans and legumes, so you’re bound to find something that suits your taste buds and digestive system. There are bean varieties such as garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) that contain only 45 calories per 100g serving, while others such as Kidney beans are higher in calorie content. They also offer folate, vitamin A, iron, potassium and zinc. Which beans are highest in protein? Here’s the lowdown on the top five when comparing about ¾ cup of boiled dried beans:
- Cannellini (white) beans at 9.7g of protein per 100g serving
- Lentils at 9g of protein per 100g serving
- Garbanzo beans at 8.9g of protein per 100g serving
- Black beans at 8.9g of protein per 100g serving
- White Northern Beans at 8.3 g of protein per 100g serving
Knows for its distinctive green color and strong odor, spirulina, or blue-green algae, is about 65-70% protein by weight. So a little bit goes a long way. You can take spirulina as a supplement, or buy powdered spirulina to add to your smoothies. In addition to protein, spirulina delivers all eight of the essential amino acids, iron, folic acid, B vitamins, selenium and manganese, making it known for its therapeutic benefits.
8. Large Variety of Vegetables
The list of protein-rich vegetables is quite long. Here are some popular favorites: kale, broccoli, avocado, spinach, cabbage, beats, watercress, asparagus, romaine lettuce, and sweet potato.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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