A genuine deficit of protein is difficult to achieve so although vegetarians and vegans generally don’t have anything to worry about in this regard, it’s still good to know what your best sources of protein are. This is especially true because these foods also pack many vital micronutrients. In fact, research shows that this may be a more relevant question in regards to maintaining good health on a vegetarian or vegan diet. For example, iron is abundant in spinach but it’s far less easily absorbed by the body than if it were to come from meat. From a strictly culinary perspective, high protein plant foods can also fill the texture and flavor gap we often crave from meat and animal products. Expand both your knowledge and palate by incorporating any of these foods into your diet.
01 of 09
Of course, we can’t talk about vegetarian and vegan diets without covering beans and legumes. They’re not only great sources of protein, but they’re exceptionally nutritious as well. Perhaps you’re generally not a fan, but we counter that’s simply because you haven’t found the right variety. Try exploring cuisines that use a lot of beans and legumes, like Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern. For example, lentil dahl is popular in regions of India, and farinata is found on the Italian Rivera.
02 of 09
Seeds are the immature form of the plant they come from. As you can imagine, there are many kinds of seeds and nearly all of them are great sources of protein and nutrition. Among those with the highest protein content include hemp, pumpkin, chia, sesame, and flaxseeds. You can add any of these seeds into your overnight oats and muesli bars, or make chia fresca, a refreshing drink native to Mexico.
03 of 09
Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids and packs a cheesy, nutty flavor. Because it’s a powder, nutritional yeast is best when added to foods that normally call for grated or sprinkled cheese. Blend it into this vegan pesto, use it to make vegan lentil meatballs, or create a tasty popcorn seasoning with it.
04 of 09
Indeed, many nuts are high in protein but they’re often higher in fat so it’s wise to generally stick to a 1-ounce portion size. Peanuts are among the best nut sources for protein along with almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios. What’s more, nuts can be transformed into many foods so you can really get creative with how you incorporate them into your diet. Try making cashew milk, almond flour biscuits, or homemade peanut butterContinue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Soy isn’t new to the vegetarian or vegan diet sphere, but it’s certainly a reliable friend. Tempeh is a fermented soy cake made from whole soybeans and sometimes seeds. Because it’s fermented, tempeh is a good option for those who have difficulty digesting soy products. Try crumbling tempeh into a vegan chili or a breakfast potato hash. Tofu is commonly found in firm, soft, and silken varieties and if you head to an Asian specialty store, you’ll find more. Choose a firm variety for this marinated tofu or stick with silken and enjoy a vegan chocolate pie. TVP stands for textured vegetable protein and it’s made from soy flour. It takes on a ground meat texture and due to its neutral flavor, can be adapted to fit many preferences. A vegan shepherd's pie makes for a warm, comforting dish and this meat-free meatloaf is another tasty way to use TVP.
06 of 09
Grains, although higher than carbohydrates than protein, can also help pack protein onto our plates. Kamut, spelt, teff, amaranth, and quinoa are some of the richest sources of protein in this category, though common and humble grains like oats, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice are also great options. Though grain bowls and oatmeal are great standbys, you can really get creative here if you’d like. For example, injera is an Ethiopian sourdough flatbread made with teff flour and it’s traditionally eaten with just about all their dishes. Koko is also from Africa, owing its creation to the Hausa people. Made from fermented and spiced millet, koko is then warmed and enjoyed as a simple porridge or served with fried bean cakes, known as koose.
07 of 09
Although soy foods, natto and edamame merit their own explainer because they’re prepared and enjoyed differently from their cousins. Natto is whole fermented soybean and is native to Japan. Due to being fermented, both the protein and nutrition in natto are readily absorbed by the body. That said, it also sports a naturally slimy texture, making it an acquired taste for some. Try it in this classic Japanese dish, natto and white rice. Edamame is simply the steamed or pan-fried pods of the soy plant and can be enjoyed plain, salted, or seasoned with additional ingredients. If this appeals, try our recipe for angry edamame.
08 of 09
Seitan is made from wheat gluten so if you’re gluten-sensitive, steer clear. That said, if you easily digest gluten, seitan is a great high-protein food for vegetarians and vegans. On its own, it has a bland flavor and chewy texture but when used in recipes, it takes on the character of the ingredients you pair it with. Try vegetarian hot wings, vegan carne asada tacos, or making seitan from scratch.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
If you’re looking for a quick and convenient source of plant protein, protein powders are a great choice. Whether it’s hemp, pea, whey, soy, or a blend of plant sources, there’s a bevy of options that range in price, nutrition, digestibility, and flavor. Add a scoop of protein powder to a cacao almond bliss smoothie, these light and fluffy pancakes, or vegan cashew yogurt.
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Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Iron. Accessed December 2021.
Polak R, Phillips EM, Campbell A. Legumes: health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake. Clinical Diabetes. 2015;33(4):198-205. doi:10.2337/diaclin.33.4.198
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Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Quinoa. Accessed December 2021.
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