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Best protein sources for vegans

Best protein sources for vegans

Kasper Lipiec
Kasper Lipiec

Are any vegan protein sources listed on the current food pyramid? Yes. The pyramid includes legumes, nuts, and seeds as protein sources. Many weight loss diets say to eat vegetables, fruit, and lean protein. When they say "lean protein", what they mean is to eat lean animal flesh. Vegans don't eat animal flesh and we don't need it to get enough protein.

So how do we get enough protein on a vegan diet?

How much protein do we need?

Before we answer that question, let's first look at some interesting facts.

  • A human infant grows faster in the first six months of life than at any other time.
  • Infants need more protein per pound of body weight than adults to fuel their growth.
  • The ideal food for human infants is human breast milk.
  • Human breast milk is 5.9% protein.

The logical conclusion we can draw from this is that human adults need less than 5.9% of their calories from protein. Does any official group agree with this?

The U.S. government says we should eat 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. To use pounds instead of kilograms, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.363. A person who weighs 154 pounds needs 154 x .363 = 56 grams of protein per day.

One gram of protein contains 4 calories. So 56 grams of protein is 224 calories of protein. To make the math easy, a moderately active 154 pound person might burn around 2240 calories per day. So 224 calories out of 2240 calories is approximately 10% of calories as protein.

That is double the amount that is actually needed. It should cover the needs of active children, teenagers, pregnant women, nursing women, and everyone else!

Which whole plant foods meet this vegan protein goal?

% of protein in Vegetables

Vegetable % protein Vegetable % protein
zucchini 30.2 tomato 19.4
romaine lettuce 28.8 celery 17.2
broccoli 33.0 green pepper 17.2
cauliflower 31.6 onion 11.0
kale 26.4 potato 10.4
iceberg lettuce 25.6 carrot 9.0
green beans 23.4 sweet potato 7.2

Vegetables average about 25% of calories from protein.

% of protein in Legumes

Legume % protein Legume % protein
regular tofu 42.5 white beans 28.0
whole soybeans 38.5 kidney beans 27.2
tempeh 37.0 black beans 26.8
edamame 35.6 green peas 26.6
lentils 31.0 pinto beans 25.2
split peas 28.2 garbanzo beans 21.6

Legumes also average well over 25% protein.

% of protein in Whole Grains

Grain % protein Grain % protein
rye 17.6 quinoa 14.6
oats 17.2 barley 14.0
spelt 17.2 millet 11.6
wheat 15.4 corn 10.2
amaranth 15.0 brown rice 9.2

Whole grains, with around 15% calories from protein, are another vegan protein source.

% of protein in Fruits

Fruit % protein Fruit % protein
peaches 9.2 blueberries 5.0
raspberries 9.2 bananas 4.8
strawberries 8.2 grapes 4.1
oranges 8.0 pears 2.6
plums 6.0 apples 2.0

Even fruits contains protein!

% of protein in Nuts & Seeds

Nut/seed % protein Nut/seed % protein
peanuts 18.2 cashew nuts 13.0
pumpkin seeds 18.0 sesame tahini 11.6
pistachio nuts 14.8 hazelnuts 9.4
almonds 14.6 walnuts 9.2
sunflower seeds 14.2 pecans 5.2
flax seeds 13.6 macadamia nuts 3.9

Many people eat nuts and seeds thinking they are great vegan protein sources. Most nuts and seeds reach the 10% protein level but they are not as high as vegetables and legumes. And they are all high in fat. They are a bigger source of fat than of protein!

Are there any plant foods that don't contain protein?

Most people are amazed to learn that plants contain protein. Every whole plant food contains protein....even lettuce and bananas! The only foods from plants that do not contain protein are oils and refined sweeteners. And they are not whole foods. For example, corn has protein but corn oil does not. A sugar beet contains protein but refined sugar does not.

SuperBurgersIf you are craving a burger, read labels carefully. Do not buy any meat substitute that contains oil or isolated soy protein. Other animal products to avoid are cheese, whey, casein, and egg whites.

Our favorite burgers are called SuperBurgers. They are made of tempeh, which is a whole soybean product. They are a little high in sodium so don't eat them every day.

The meat industry spends millions of dollars on advertising. They want us to believe that animal flesh and dairy products are the only foods that contain protein. Animal products do contain protein. They also contain saturated fat, cholesterol, antibiotics, growth hormones, e coli, and absolutely no fiber. It is much better to get your protein from plants!

Relax and enjoy your vegan meals. Don't worry about your protein intake. It is easy to get enough protein on a vegan diet. Every whole plant food is a vegan protein source!