How to Get Enough Protein on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Tofu is just one of many options

illustration showing protein sources for vegetarians and vegans

The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

If you're worried about getting enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may be in for a surprise. The truth is, most Americans get more than enough protein in their diets, and vegetarians and even vegans can easily get the right amount.

Many people still believe that protein is only available from meat and animal sources, but unless you're pregnant or an Olympic bodybuilder, you will likely be able to get enough protein from vegetarian sources without even trying.

  • 01 of 07

    Beans, Lentils, and Legumes

    green lentils carrots celery salad
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    All beans, lentils, and legumes are an excellent vegetarian and vegan source of protein, so eat what you prefer. Black beans, kidney beans, Indian dhal, vegetarian chili, split pea soup, and chickpea hummus are all great options. The protein content varies slightly by variety. For example, one cup of canned kidney beans contains about 13 grams of protein. Beans are one of the most common protein-rich foods for vegetarians and are a bargain if you're on a budget.

  • 02 of 07

    Tofu and Other Soy Products

    Fried Tofu
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    Soy is such a flavor chameleon that you'll never get bored with it. Despite its reputation as a bland meat alternative, tofu actually is a versatile ingredient that enhances many dishes.

    Tofu and other soy products such as soy milk are quite common, but some lesser-known soy products include edamame, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy nuts, or soy cheese. Additionally, TVP and tempeh are popular protein-rich soy foods. As an added bonus, many brands of tofu and soy milk are fortified with other nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need, such as calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

    A half-cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein and soy milk contains 7 grams of protein per cup. Add a bit of tofu to just about anything you cook, including tofu stir-fries, pasta sauces, soups, and salads.

  • 03 of 07

    Quinoa and Other Whole Grains

    Healthy Organic Quinoa Tabouli Salad
    bhofack2 / Getty Images

    Whole grains are a great source of protein. Quinoa, or if you can find it, kaniwa, is the protein powerhouse of whole grains, as it contains all essential amino acids. Just one cup of cooked quinoa contains 18 grams of protein, as well as 9 grams of fiber. Quinoa and other whole grains, including whole grain bread, brown rice, barley are all healthy protein-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans as well. As an added bonus, whole grains are usually inexpensive.

  • 04 of 07

    Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters

    Mixed nuts
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    Nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds, and walnuts, all contain protein, as do seeds such as sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Because most nuts and seeds are high in fat, you don't want to make them your primary source of protein. Nuts, seeds and nut butters are great as a post-workout or occasional snack. Try soy nut butter or cashew nut butter for a little variety if you're bored of peanut butter. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 8 grams of protein.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Seitan, Veggie Burgers, and Meat Substitutes

    Cafe Flora, Seattle
    Photography by Matthew Lankford / Getty Images

    Read the label of your store-bought meat substitute products and veggie burgers, and you'll find they are quite high in protein. Most commercial meat substitutes are made from either soy protein, wheat protein (wheat gluten), or a combination of the two. Seitan is quite high in protein as well. As a reference, one veggie patty contains about 10 grams of protein, and 100 grams of seitan provides 21 grams of protein. Seitan, veggie burgers, and meat substitutes are great for barbecues or anytime you want something hearty and filling. 

  • 06 of 07


    Barbecue baked tempeh recipe
    Baked tempeh photo by Lauren Krohn

    Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans that are formed into patties. Like tofu and seitan, it's quite high in protein and can be prepared in a myriad of ways, making it perfect for vegetarians, vegans, or just folks wishing to reduce meat consumption while exploring alternative protein sources. The protein content varies by brand, but as a guideline, one serving, or 100 grams, of tempeh provides about 18 grams of protein.

  • 07 of 07

    Protein Powder Supplements

    Strawberry protein shake
    Strawberry protein shake photo by Ian Batchelor/Getty Images

    Protein powder supplements are a good option for people looking to bulk up or require a high-protein diet. The powders easy to include in shakes or smoothies. If you are buying protein powders, read labels and watch out for cheap fillers in whey and soy protein powders. It's better to invest in high-quality vegan protein powders.