One of the biggest concerns people have about a vegan diet is where to get healthy protein without eating meat, dairy, or eggs. But the idea that plant-based eating is insufficient in protein is a total misconception. In fact, there are more than enough healthy, delicious animal-free proteins out there. Plus, many of them are also rich in other crucial nutrients like fiber, iron, and antioxidants. Understanding where to find these plant-based proteins is key to enjoying the benefits of a vegan diet, and these foods are even beneficial for non-vegans too. Let’s dive in!
Beans & Legumes
The most common source of vegan protein, beans and legumes are nutritional powerhouses. Legumes are the edible fruit, or pods, of plants in the extended pea family. This includes all beans and hundreds of other plants. There are a wide variety of beans and legumes to choose from, including chickpeas, lentils, peas, black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, soybeans, and peanuts. (No, technically they’re not nuts.)
While every legume has its own unique nutritional profile, they each offer healthy levels of protein. They’re also high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and copper, while being low in fat and cholesterol-free. Beans and legumes are also cheap, widely available, easy to prepare, and versatile, meaning they can be used in virtually any dish or cuisine.
Another staple of plant-based protein is the grain family. Some common protein-rich grains are brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, oatmeal, teff, barley, buckwheat, millet, wild rice, and whole wheat pasta. Most grains also contain healthy amounts of B-vitamins and have plenty of fiber, which can help you feel full and satisfied for longer.
Like bean and legumes, grains are cheap, easy to cook, and have great culinary utility. When combined, grains and legumes are filling and provide a large percentage of the nutrients the body needs to survive. That’s why so many cultures around the world have been able to subsist by eating mostly rice and beans. For the healthiest vegan protein, look for whole grains like brown rice and avoid refined grains like white rice and white flour.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds provide some of the most well-rounded protein of any food group. Loaded with healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, and calcium, nuts and seeds are a great addition to a vegan diet. Some of the highest protein nuts and seeds are hemp seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and walnuts. Nuts and seeds make great snacks, but they can also be added to salads, breakfasts, and other dishes. You can also enjoy nut and seed spreads like almond butter or tahini to add wholesome plant-based protein.
Of all the legumes, soybeans have the highest level of protein. That’s why many vegan proteins, including impossible meat, are derived from soybeans. But there are many other healthier vegan proteins like tofu, tempeh, and miso. Tofu and tempeh in particular are very versatile and make for satisfying entrees.
Vegetables While most people don’t typically think of veggies as being good sources of protein, there are plenty of vegetables that offer surprisingly high levels of protein. A few of the highest-protein vegetables are mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. While these vegetables are not dense enough to be principal sources of protein on their own, they’re great to eat in concert with legumes, grains, nuts, or soy products as part of a healthy, protein-rich vegan diet.
-Jared Kent, Chef Zero Doubt Club