Diet and Nutrition
The 10 Best Vegan Protein Food Sources
It’s not easy eating a vegan diet, with more limited dietary choices comes more pressure to obtain your daily essential nutrients and one of the hardest ones to get enough of can be protein. Protein is essential to a healthy diet and lifestyle as it’s responsible for acting as a fuel source for our body and is also one of the main building blocks of body tissue. It’s crucial for muscle growth and repair which is why you see so many gym-goers drinking those protein shakes after a big work out.
One of the oldest and most obvious sources of protein is meat (i.e., beef, chicken and pork) but for vegans, these protein sources are off the menu. For this reason, vegans often have to get creative when searching for great food sources of protein, but there are other options out there, including these ten great vegan protein food sources…
1. Hemp Hearts
Yes it is true that hemp hearts (also known as hemp seeds) come from the same plant as marijuana, but not the same kind that grows the controversial green stuff. Hemp is a miracle worker of a whole other kind, and the seeds or ‘hearts’ from the hemp plant offer an excellent source of non-animal protein.
They have a rich nutty flavor and they’re loaded with protein, fibre, iron, zinc and magnesium. Two tablespoons of hemp hearts contains 6 grams of protein or about as much protein as one large egg, and they’re a great addition to salads, smoothies, muffins, musli, oatmeal or other baked goods.
2. Nutritional Yeast
Years ago not many people would know what nutritional yeast even was let alone knowing that it makes a great vegan protein source. These days though, we’re seeing nutritional yeast used in many recipes and products as a cheesy vegan flavoring without dairy or animal products. Nutritional yeast is actually inactivated yeast that is grown on molasses then harvested, washed and dried with heat to deactivate it.
Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, meaning that in contains all nine amino acids and it’s also full of vitamin B12. Just 2 tablespoons contains a whopping 8-10 grams of protein depending on the brand. Cooking with nutritional yeast flakes or powder is an easy way to enhance the amount of protein in nearly any meal. If you’ve never used it before, here are some easy ways to incorporate it’s savoury flavour: sprinkle it on popcorn, add it to any pasta dish, stir it in to mashed potatoes or make vegan ‘parmesan’ by grinding almonds with nutritional yeast in a food processor.
Beans and legumes have always been a big source of protein for vegans and vegetarians alike, but did you know that lentils pack one of the biggest punches in terms of protein? Lentils come in many varieties including french green, red and yellow and can be found whole or split.
Not only does half a cup of lentils contain approximately 9 grams of protein but it’s also an excellent source of thiamine, iron, folate, zinc and phosphorus. Because lentils have high amounts of resistant starch, they have a favorable effect on blood glucose levels, this fact makes them a great option not only for vegans and vegetarians but also those managing diabetes.
You may have seen a very vivid green powder in the super market or health food shops lately and wondered “What the heck is that?” Well chances are it was spirulina, a dietary supplement rapidly growing in popularity. Spirulina is actually a type of blue-green algae that can be consumed by humans and animals.
Like lentils, it contains all nine essential amino acids, and 1 tablespoon contains about 4 grams of protein. In addition, spirulina is also an excellent source of calcium, which is important since vegans typically do not consume dairy. While spirulina lacks vitamin B12, it does contain other B vitamins as well as iron and niacin. It has a mild taste which makes it easy to add into smoothies or sprinkle on other foods.
There’s so much talk these days of whole grains, ancient grains and which grains are superior. We’ll add to that great debate and let you know that the middle eastern whole grain known as Bulgur is actually an excellent source of vegan protein. One cup of this hearty cereal grain cooked contains 5.5 grams of protein.
It’s high in fibre (higher even than favorite superfoods quinoa and millet) and breaks down slowly during digestion. It is also low in fat and low in calories but since bulgur is a type or cracked dried wheat, it is not suitable for people on wheat or gluten free diets. Try incorporating this vegan protein source into your diet by substituting bulgur where you world normally use pasta or rice.
Ah the humble pea… once pushed around on dinner plates everywhere, peas are actually a nutritional powerhouse not to be underestimated! They’re high in fibre and provide essential nutrients including vitamin A, K and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium and phosphorus. One cup of these little green gems contains about 5 grams of protein.
For this reason, they make an excellent source of vegan protein and you’ll often find that vegan protein supplement powders contain pea protein. But why not go straight to the source? Peas are easy to add into soups, stews, casseroles or even just snacking on straight up.
Vegans and vegetarians are likely no strangers to tempeh, that’s because it’s a versatile food source, high in non-animal protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans but it contains different nutrients and textures and is made using a different process.
Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is made by natural culturing and fermenting of whole soybeans which are pressed into a cake-like form. Just one ounce of this soy-based food will provide 7 grams of protein as well as fibre and iron. Tempeh’s nutty, mild flavour is easily enjoyed by many in stir-frys, stews, casseroles, chili, sandwiches, salads, or even flavored, fried and eaten on its own.
8. Brown Rice
Rice seems to have gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years and while white rice may leave a lot to be desired in the way or nutritional substance, brown rice is a whole different story. Brown rice is a whole grain and contains all of the wonderful nutrients that are removed in the process to make white rice.
One cup of cooked brown rice contains 4.5 grams of protein and is an excellent source of iron, fibre, B vitamins and magnesium. Brown rice is often eaten along with beans in many cultures because together, they form a complete protein. Add brown rice to soups, stews and casseroles or use it as an ingredient to form your own veggie burger patties.
9. Sunflower Seeds
You’re likely no stranger to sunflower seeds, but if you’re like us, you only really eat them because they’re found in a lot of breads, musli and cereal bars. Many of us rarely seek out sunflower seeds on their own, but you’ll have good reason to after reading this. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vegan protein as 1/4 cup contains 6 grams of protein, as well as fibre, B vitamins, iron, folate, zinc and vitamin E.
They’re widely known as a healthy fat and they also contain phytosterols which have been linked to lower cholesterol levels. Sunflower seeds are great eaten as a snack all on their own but they can also be sprinkled on salads and added to your favorite granola. Or for something different, look for sunflower seed butter in your supermarket or health food store. Spread it on toast or sandwiches just as you would any type of nut butter.
10. Nut Butters
Nuts are a popular choice for healthy fats and non-animal protein, and while peanut butter may be a childhood favourite, there are tons of other nut butters out there that pack a much better nutritional punch. Almond butter for example provides 6.5 grams of protein in just two tablespoons, and not only that, but almond butter contains less than half the amount of saturated fat as peanut butter. It’s also higher in fibre, iron and calcium.
Steer clear of nut butters that contain added sugars and keep them in the fridge for optimum freshness. Nut butters are obviously great on toast and sandwiches but also work well added into cookies, bars, muffins and other baked goods.