<> <>
Health Hub

On a plant-based diet? Here are 9 high-protein vegan foods to add to your plate

Shout it from the rooftops, sing it from the ceiling; let’s make plant proteins viral.

9 High-Protein Vegan Foods to Add to Your Plate | Juniper

Plant foods are known for many things — like being full of fibre, packed with flavour, and bursting with vitamins and minerals. But, one thing that slips beneath the radar is their powerful protein content.

It’s time we bring this well-kept secret out into the light, especially for our plant-based diet friends.

Shout it from the rooftops, sing it from the ceiling; let’s make plant proteins a viral trend.

Whether you’re a newly-minted vegetarian or a lifelong vegan who is looking to brush up on your diet knowledge, we have 9 of the best high-protein vegan foods that deserve a place on your plate.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about why protein is so important (and why plant-based protein sometimes gets a bad rap).

The importance of protein

No matter what kind of diet you follow, protein is key for a healthy body.

It’s one of the most important building blocks for your cells, meaning it forms the basis for many of your basic functions [3].

Some reasons to pack in the protein include:

  • It’s a source of energy
  • It helps support your immunity
  • It helps with growth and repair, especially for your muscles and bones
  • It supports the healthy function of important organs like your brain, heart and liver

Do vegan diets lack protein?

Since vegan diets focus on plant foods, there’s been some concern that they might contribute to a protein deficiency.

In good news, research has debunked that myth.

Most people on a vegan diet are eating plenty of protein, but that doesn’t mean all sources were created equal [2].

On a plant-based diet, you need to be eating a variety of protein sources to make sure that you’re getting all the essential amino acids.

Are plant-based proteins complete proteins?

You might have been told by a well-meaning friend or relative that you just can’t get enough protein from plant-based foods alone. You’re better off sticking with meat.

Not only is this a bit rude, it’s not entirely accurate. Let us explain. 

Complete vs incomplete proteins

When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into substances called amino acids. While there are thousands of amino acids in existence, there are 20 commonly found in food [3].

Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 are considered essential — meaning our bodies can’t make them and we have to get them from food.

The rest of the list can be made by our bodies, meaning we are less likely to run out.

Certain foods, typically animal products, are commonly known as complete proteins. This is because they contain all 9 essential amino acids in one food source.

Other sources of protein, often plant-based, are what’s known as incomplete proteins. That means they don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids, but they are still valuable sources of protein.

Variety is key for plant proteins

The bottom line is this: while a complete source of protein is more efficient, it’s not more effective.

People on plant-based diets can still get all the essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant protein sources each day.

In fact, dietary guidelines from the UK, US and Canada all recommend having more plant-based protein in your diet (whether you’re a vegan or not) [3].

This is mostly because plant proteins are better for you — they contain more fibre while being lower in saturated fat and salt than meat.

How much protein do you need to consume? 

We wish there was a magic number we could give you, but all your dietary needs are individual. We can give you a few tips and estimates to help you work out your protein needs, though.

First tip: try to have a serve of protein at every meal [5]. This is generally the easiest way to meet your protein needs consistently.

Second tip: calculate your individual protein needs [3]. Don’t worry, the math you need to do here is easy. 

The recommended intake for healthy adults is 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day [3].

So, all you have to do is multiply your body weight by 0.75 for your personalised protein intake.

If the number looks high, it’s probably meant to be. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, daily protein for an average-weight woman is around 45 grams and for an average man, it’s 56 grams. 

If you prefer to work in percentages, then experts recommend making protein around 15% of your daily calories on a vegan diet [2]. 

Can you have too much protein?

There isn’t enough evidence to say that a certain amount of protein is too much.

To be on the safe side, most health bodies suggest staying below double the recommended intake [3]. 

Some issues have been reported when people have 45% or more of their daily calories coming from protein — which is another reason it’s important for you to focus on a varied diet [3].

Signs of a protein deficiency

We mentioned earlier that most people on a vegan diet eat plenty of protein. While this is true, it’s also not impossible to experience a dip.

Weak hair and nails that break easily are some of the first signs you might be deficient in protein. Other symptoms include [7]:

  • Getting sick often because you have a low immune system
  • Experiencing mood changes
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Weak muscles
  • Stress fractures

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. They can help you understand whether low protein is the cause or if it’s another condition.

There are also a few other nutrient deficiencies that are common for people on a vegan diet, such as iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins D and B12 [1].

Getting the right balance of nutrients is hard for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re working on losing weight. On the path to cut back on calories, many of us cut back on essential nutrients as well. 

The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. You can work with your doctor, a dietitian, a personal trainer and many other health experts to get on track for a healthier body.

You can also get all this support in one with holistic programmes, such as Juniper’s Weight Reset. The programme combines a biological reset from clinically proven medications with a behavioural reset from a team of health experts. 

It also provides access to a community of like-minded people, because research shows you achieve greater weight loss when you’re not doing it alone.

9 best vegan protein sources

They say variety is the spice of life, we say it’s the best way to fill up your plate each day.

From soy products to peanut butter, here are 9 of the best vegan protein sources that will keep your meals both varied and healthy. 

1. Soya beans

Soya beans are the basis of all kinds of soy products and are one of the rare sources of complete protein in the plant world [4].

With less fibre than many other plant-based proteins, they’re also pretty easy on your digestive system [2]. 

Tofu and tempeh are two of the most popular soy foods that are high in protein, and although protein content varies by brand [4][8]:

  • Tofu has 8 grams of protein per 100g serve, with some fortified kinds having as much as 16 grams per 100g
  • Tempeh has 18 grams of protein per 100g serve 

But it’s more than protein that you’ll be enjoying — tempeh is also a good source of probiotics, while tofu is a top source of calcium.

2. Soy milk and yoghurt

These days, vegans are spoiled for choice with all the alternative dairy products from oat milk to almond milk, cashew milk and more.

But, if you’re looking for a protein boost, then you want to be looking at soy products [4][5]:

  • A 200ml serve of soy milk contains 6 grams of protein
  • A 250g tub of soy yoghurt has 12 grams of protein

3. Other beans and pulses

Bored of soya beans? Don’t worry — there are plenty more beans for your protein list. For example [5][6][8]:

  • Black beans have 15 grams of protein per cup
  • Edamame beans have 11 grams of protein per 100g serve
  • Roasted chickpeas have 15 grams of protein per 200g serve

Eating beans and pulses is an easy way to boost the fibre, iron, and protein intake of your meals.

Blend them in sauces, throw them in stews, and boil them in soups to make all your favourite recipes shine [4]. 

You can also try cooked edamame or roasted chickpeas on their own as a high-protein snack.

4. Nutritional yeast 

Nutritional yeast is a popular cheese substitute, giving your vegan meals a hit of savoury, salty richness.

Just 2 tablespoons of the stuff is enough to bring you 9 grams of protein, plus zinc, magnesium and all the B vitamins. 

Vitamin B12 is a particularly important supplement for vegan diets, as it only occurs naturally in animal foods [2]. Nutritional yeast is one top option, but other options include fortified milks and cereals.

5. Quinoa

Sick and tired of pasta for dinner? Turn your gaze to quinoa, a versatile grain that also happens to be a complete source of protein [4].

Cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein per 185g serve. It’s a great substitute for rice and pasta in any of your current recipes.

6. Whole grains

Since we’re talking grains, there’s a few more to add to your plate. The highest protein sources are from whole grains, like brown bread and rice [4].

There are also health foods, such as Ezekial bread, which can be hard to come by but pack a protein punch [6].

  • 2 slices of Ezekiel bread has 8 grams of protein
  • 185g of cooked brown rice has 7 grams of protein
  • 40g of oats has 4 grams of protein
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread has 3 grams of protein

7. Peanut butter

Who doesn’t love peanut butter? It’s tasty on toast, smooth in your oats, and a great source of protein.

To be specific, for every 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, you'll get 7 grams of protein [6].

It may surprise you to know that a single slice of wholegrain bread with peanut butter contains almost as much protein as a serve of meat [4].

If peanuts are a problem for you, other nut butters might be an option such as almond or walnut butter.

8. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a dietitian’s best friend. You can eat them as a snack or throw them in salads and meals for a dose of healthy fats and protein.

Don’t forget about portion sizes though — you only need a small amount, around 30g per day.

Some of the best protein sources include [4][6]:

  • Peanuts have 8 grams of protein per 30g serve
  • Almonds have 6 grams of protein per 30g serve
  • Walnuts and hazelnuts have 4 grams of protein per 30g serve
  • Pumpkin seeds have 7 grams of protein per 30g serve
  • Sunflower seeds have 6 grams of protein per 30g serve
  • Chia seeds have 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons
  • Hemp seeds have 9 grams of protein per 30g serve

9. Dark chocolate

A small bar of 70% dark chocolate, around 40g, has up to 4 grams of protein [5].

That’s a similar amount to a serve of oats, walnuts, hazelnuts or a slice of brown bread.

This doesn’t mean you should be reaching for the sweets first, but it is a good reminder that a healthy diet can still be a happy one. Everything in moderation is key.

Image credit: Getty Images