Meatless Protein Sources

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

You don’t need as much protein as you think. 

It’s easy to get what you need from beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, soy, and greens!

How much protein do we need?

  • The U.S. recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (0.36 grams per pound) for the general population.
  • Athletes need more than that, mostly due to greater tissue-repair needs.
  • Endurance athletes benefit most from 1.2 to 1.4 daily grams per kilogram of bodyweight, while strength athletes do best with 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram. In pounds, that’s 0.54 to 0.63 grams per pound for endurance athletes, 0.63 to 0.81 grams per pound for strength athletes.
  • Our bodies are made up of many kinds of protein that include varying combinations of 20 amino acids. Only half of these amino acids can be manufactured by the human body. The other half, known as “essential amino acids,” can easily be obtained by eating a balanced vegan diet.
  • While almost all vegan foods contain some protein, soybeans are super sources. Soybeans contain all the essential amino acids and surpass all other plant foods in the amount of protein they provide to humans. Other excellent sources of non-animal protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, food yeasts, and freshwater algae

Include 2 to 3 servings of protein each day:

  1. Beans and lentils: Protein: 12 grams per 1 cup (black beans). One cup of cooked lentils provides 18 grams of protein. Dried black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, and pinto beans are all delicious choices for low-fat, fiber-filled protein. Using dried beans allows you to control the sodium and additives that go into the dish. Soak dried beans overnight in a large bowl of water, rinse until the water runs clean, then simmer for 2 hours on medium/low heat to enjoy. Spice with cumin, garlic, red pepper, or other spices. Lentils and split peas do not require soaking. Cooked, dry beans and no- or low-sodium canned beans are a quick, easy protein source, providing 8 grams protein per ½ cup. Beans are also a good source of iron, a nutrient needed if you avoid meat. Add them to a salad, soup, or pasta dish.
  2. Edamame: These pale green soybeans encased in fuzzy pods are protein powerhouses, offering 17 grams protein per cup. Store them in your freezer for an easy-to-prepare snack. Cook them according to directions and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Add shelled edamame to soups, stir-fried vegetables or blend them to create a dip with this hummus recipe.
  3. Eggs: One large egg provides 6 grams of protein. Most of that is from the white albumin. To boost the amount of protein in scrambled eggs without adding a lot of extra calories and saturated fat, add an extra egg white or two to a whole egg or blend with non-fat milk.
  4. Low-fat cottage cheese: One cup of low-fat cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein (13 grams per ½-cup), half the amount many people need in a day! Since cottage cheese can be high in sodium, try to select low-sodium varieties. Top it with berries and sliced almonds for a healthy breakfast or snack.
  5. Nonfat Greek yogurt: Ultra-thick Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt (15 grams of protein per 6-oz container or 23 grams per cup, compared to 13 grams per cup in regular yogurt). Top plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey, fresh sliced fruit and nuts.  Make your own Greek yogurt at home with this recipe.
  6. Nuts and seeds: Provide about 7 grams of protein per 1 ounce (almonds provide 6g protein per 1 oz). Choose unsalted, unflavored nuts and seeds when possible. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are a perfect snack or topping for salads and soups.
  7. Peanut butter: Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein. Choose natural peanut butter to avoid added sugars and partially hydrogenated oils. Whether you choose chunky or smooth, both have the same nutritional profile. Try a tablespoon of peanut butter on a slice of apple, banana or a celery stalk for a snack with staying power.
  8. Quinoa: A very popular whole grain which offers more protein per serving than other grains. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of “complete” protein, i.e., all the essential amino acids necessary for good health.
  9. Seafood, herring, sardines: High in protein and vitamin D.
  10. Tempeh: A nutty-flavored, nubbly-textured vegan ingredient with 15 grams of protein per ½ cup. It’s made from fermented soybeans, making it a slightly more nutritious alternative to tofu with more fiber and vitamins. Tempeh lends itself to moist heat preparation, such as braising.
  11. Seitan: Often used in Asian cuisines as a meat replacement (on menus as mock duck or mock chicken), seitan has a chewy texture. It’s pure gluten — the protein component of wheat — so if you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, avoid seitan. With 18 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving (or 21 grams of protein per 1/3 cup), seitan is a protein-dense meat alternative that also provides some iron.
  12. Tofu: Probably the best-known vegetarian protein, providing about 20 grams of protein per ½ cup. Tofu is a versatile ingredient, since it’s mild flavor adapts well to a variety of seasonings, and it comes in several different textures, from soft and creamy to firm and extra-firm.

The following table shows the amount of protein in various vegan foods and also the number of grams of protein per 100 calories. To meet protein recommendations, the typical moderately active adult male vegan needs only 2.2 to 2.6 grams of protein per 100 calories and the typical moderately active adult female vegan needs only 2.3 to 2.8 grams of protein per 100 calories. These recommendations can be easily met from vegan sources.

Protein Content of Selected Vegan Foods
(gm) (gm/100 cal)

Tempeh 1 cup 31 9.6
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 29 9.6
Seitan 3 ounces 21 17.5
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 18 7.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.7
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.8
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 15 5.4
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.3
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.8
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 13 6.7
Veggie burger 1 patty 13 18.6
Veggie baked beans 1 cup 12 5.0
Tofu, firm 4 ounces 11 10.6
Tofu, regular 4 ounces 10 10.7
Bagel 1 med. (3.5 oz) 10 3.9
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 8 3.7
Peas, cooked 1 cup 8 6.6
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), cooked 1/2 cup 8 15.0
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 8 4.1
Veggie dog 1 link 8 13.3
Spaghetti, cooked 1 cup 8 3.7
Almonds 1/4 cup 8 3.7
Soy milk, commercial, plain 1 cup 7 7.0
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 7 5.2
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 7 3.4
Soy yogurt, plain 8 ounces 6 4.0
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 6 3.7
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 6 3.3
Cashews 1/4 cup 5 2.7
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 5 13.0
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4 6.7
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24, 2011 and manufacturers’ information.
The recommendation for protein for adult male vegans is around 63 grams per day; for adult female vegans it is around 52 grams per day.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: