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What Are the Best Vegan Sources of Protein?

One of the biggest obstacles that vegans face with their diet is ensuring they get enough protein in on a day to day basis.


Before we get in to it, the point of this article is to discuss the best sources of protein for vegans as well as some considerations and not whether a vegan diet is better than a carnivore or pescatarian or vegetarian diet.


Your dietary preference is your own and we support you whatever diet you are looking to implement. In this post we will be looking at simple nutritional facts and drawing from our wealth of experience in working with vegans and non-vegans alike.


The Best Sources of Protein for Vegans (in no particular order):

Tofu - made from dried soybeans that are soaked in water, crushed and boiled

Tempeh - made from fermented soybeans and usually in loaf type form

Edamame Beans

Lentils

Beans (various types)

Chickpeas

Falafel

Vegan protein powder


We go in to the detail of these protein sources below and the amount you should be aiming for day to day.



How Much Protein Should a Vegan Eat?

Generally speaking, whether you’re vegan or not, we like clients to aim for 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight (as a minimum). So if you weighed 70kg, we would want you to consume 140g of protein per day minimum.


We vary this number based on a number of factors such as dietary preferences, activity levels and type of exercise and this number can range from as much as 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight to 2.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight.


But generally speaking, 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight is a good starting number to aim for.



the best protein sources for vegans
Eating vegan doesn't have to be bland



Why is Hitting a Protein Target Harder for Vegans?

It's a lot easier for someone who eats meat and/or fish to hit a daily protein target because animal protein sources (eg beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, eggs, salmon, cod, sea bass etc) are much higher in protein than vegan alternatives.


If we look at different foods from a nutritional perspective, taking in to account protein and calories vs weight, then we can see that vegan sources make it harder to consume the protein required, especially when trying to keep overall calorie intake lower.



Animal Sources of Protein

A small sample of animal sources of protein. Note that the protein and calories are going to vary slightly by the quality of produce, brand, etc.

Protein Source

Protein per 100g

Calories per 100g

Chicken Breast

28

132

Chicken Thigh

27

182

Turkey Breast

36

152

Lean Diced Beef

35

193

Cod

23

100

Smoked Salmon

24

191


Vegan Sources of Protein

Note again that the protein and calories are going to vary slightly by the quality of produce, brand, etc. These are the key sources of protein we would focus on when working with vegans, alongside a good quality vegan protein powder.

Protein Source

Protein (grams) per 100g

Calories per 100g

Tofu (firm)

13

118

Tempeh

19

193

Chickpeas

7

115

Edamame

11

122

Soya Beans

11.5

130

Kidney Beans

8

111


Animal sources of protein have a higher amount of protein and a low amount of calories per 100g.


Let's go through a couple of examples.


Example 1

100g Chicken Breast = 28g of protein and 132 calories


100g Firm Tofu = 13g of protein and 118 calories


This means that for a vegan to get to the same amount of protein as the 100g of chicken breast, they need to eat over 200g of Firm Tofu, which would be circa 240 calories - almost twice that of the chicken breast.


Example 2

100g Turkey Breast = 36g of protein and 152 calories


100g Tempeh = 19g of protein and 193 calories


This means that for a vegan to get the same amount of protein as the 100g of Turkey Breast, they need to eat almost 200g of Tempeh, which would be circa 370 calories - over 200 calories more than that of 100g of Turkey Breast. Crazy right?



Why Are Vegan Protein Sources Higher in Calories?

All animal protein sources consist of only protein and fat. The proportion of this can vary greatly. For example, Turkey breast is virtually only protein and no fat, whilst lamb shoulder has a high amount of both protein and fat, so the calories will be much higher per 100g. Generally speaking, animal protein sources will be more protein than fat.


The vegan protein sources with the highest protein per 100g are usually a mix of protein, carbs and fat and so the calories will be higher per 100g, whilst being lower in protein.


To eat the same amount of protein, the calorie intake needs to be higher.


This can become a problem when trying to get weight or body fat down as, quite simply, calories are calories and if you’re eating too many, regardless of source, the weight and body fat won’t come down.



Getting Complete Protein as a Vegan

When on a vegan diet, ensuring that you consume a range of vegan protein sources is important because the protein from vegan sources typically aren’t "complete".


What does a "complete" protein source mean?


Simply put, all protein is made from amino acids. We have essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.


Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids are amino acids that our body can't produce and we need to obtain from food.


Non-Essential Amino Acids

Non-essential amino acids are amino acids that our body can produce by itself and so there is no requirement to get them from external sources i.e. food.


Complete Protein Source

A complete protein source is one that has all essential amino acids present.


Incomplete Protein Source

An incomplete protein source is one that doesn't have all essential amino acids present.


Typically, all animal protein sources are complete and plant based protein sources are incomplete (although there are some exceptions).


Pretty straightforward.


If you're eating a carnivore diet then you don't need to worry as you'll be getting all of your essential amino acids every time you eat an animal protein source.


But if you're on a vegan diet, you need to ensure that you are consuming a wide range of protein sources to ensure that you are getting all of those essential amino acids in.



Vitamins, Minerals and Muscle Mass Levels

Numerous studies have shown (like this one) that those on a plant based diet are at significant risk of having lower levels of key vitamins and minerals such as B12, Vitamin D, zinc, calcium, iodine and iron.


Studies, alongside our own experience of working with vegetarians and vegans, have also shown that bone density and muscle mass levels amongst those on a plant based diet are also significantly lower.


This is something to be extremely conscious of over the long term as regular depletion across key vitamins and minerals as well as lower muscle mass levels and bone density poses a significant risk to overall health.


We would advise not only ensuring you have a wide and varied diet if you are vegan but also considering good quality supplementation to support vitamin and mineral levels and, of course, aiming to keep your protein intake as high as possible to support muscle mass levels.





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