Someone who follows a vegan diet doesn’t eat or use anything that comes from an animal. This means that vegans don’t eat meat, fish, or poultry. They don’t consume or use animal by-products like eggs, dairy products, honey, fur, leather, silk. They also don’t use cosmetics or soaps that contain animal products.
One concern some people have with a vegan diet is that it may be low in protein, since many high-protein foods come from animal sources. But it’s possible to maintain adequate protein intake on a vegan diet.
Protein needs will vary based on an individual’s weight and activity level. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Pregnant or lactating women and people who participate in more vigorous activities may need anywhere from 1.1 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.
As long as you maintain a balanced and varied diet, it’s quite easy to get all the protein you need on a vegan diet. Read our definitive guide to being vegan for more tips, too.
Risks of a vegan diet
People who follow a vegan diet are at risk for becoming iron and vitamin B-12 deficient since they’re not consuming meat or other animal products, which are rich in both nutrients. Luckily, iron can be found in many plant sources, and many packaged foods are fortified with vitamin B-12. Learn more about the symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency.
Vegetarians may also consider taking zinc supplements. Zinc isn’t found in large amounts in plant sources. The American Heart Association recommends taking between 15 and 18 milligrams of zinc per day. Be careful with taking too much, though. Excess zinc isn’t a good thing and can lead to a copper deficiency. Here’s why copper is good for you.
1. The magic beanstalk
Beans really are a magical food! They’re packed with protein and, because there are so many varieties, the meal and snack possibilities are endless.
One cup of cooked soybeans contains a whopping 23 grams of protein. A cup of cooked French beans, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, or chickpeas has between 13 and 15 grams of protein.
For an easy snack, enjoy 1/3 cup of hummus, which contains 7 grams of protein, with fresh veggies like carrots and bell peppers.
2. Got soy milk?
Alternative milks have become fairly popular over the last few years. They’re widely available and about the same price as dairy milk. One cup of soy milk has 7 to 9 grams of protein.
If you’re avoiding soy, opt for a plant-based milk like flax, hemp, or nut milk that has added protein. These are typically fortified with a pea protein powder and will provide around 8 to 10 grams of protein per cup.
If you’re crunched for time, enjoy your soy milk with your morning cereal. If you have a few minutes, make yourself a breakfast smoothie with soy milk.
One great smoothie recipe is blending 2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, two ripe bananas, and 1/2 to 1 cup of soy milk. Enjoy!
Tofu, which is made from soybeans, is a popular alternative source of protein. It’s very versatile because of its mild taste. Four ounces of tofu contains 9 grams of protein, and it can easily be used in breakfast, lunch, or dinner recipes.
For a snack or light lunch, combine four ounces of chopped, extra-firm tofu with salsa, tomatoes, onion, and avocado in a wheat tortilla. Season with black pepper or hot sauce for an extra kick!
4. Quinoa, the super grain
Quinoa is a delicious grain with a slight nutty flavor. It also contains 9 grams of protein per cup (cooked), is easy to digest, and is a good source of iron.
You can easily replace rice with quinoa or use it in place of pasta to make a grain-based salad, like this one from The Simple Veganista. Mix some cooked quinoa with chopped kale and diced vegetables — such as carrots, zucchini, and tomatoes — and drizzle with lemon juice for a tasty dinner with an extra vitamin punch.
5. Sprouted grain bread
Using sprouted grain bread as part of your breakfast or lunch is an easy, tasty way to work protein into your meal.
Two slices of sprouted grain bread contain 10 grams of protein, making it a healthy alternative to wheat breads. Spread some almond butter and mashed avocado over the toasted bread, and drizzle with lemon juice. If you like a little spice, sprinkle some crushed red pepper on top.
Lentils can be another versatile source of protein for vegans. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. You can enjoy lentils as a soup or in a bean salad for a dinner the whole family will love.
You could also try your hand at lentil chili, like this recipe from Whole Foods. It has vegetables like red bell peppers and as much spice as you can handle.
7. Nut butters
Two tablespoons of peanut or almond butter can contain up to 8 grams of protein, making them a perfect ingredient for a protein-filled snack. For a quick snack, spread your favorite nut butter over apple slices.
If you have kids that also follow a vegan diet, toast a vegan whole grain English muffin (or a couple slices of sprouted grain bread), spread peanut or almond butter on one side, and your favorite vegan berry-flavored jam on the other for a toasted PB&J.
Tempeh could be considered the holy grail of protein-packed foods. It’s an especially great source for vegans, too. It’s made from soybeans, like tofu, but processed in a different way so it provides even more of a protein punch.
One cup of tempeh contains a whopping 30 grams of protein! It’s also a good source of calcium and iron. Tempeh has a firm texture and a nutty mushroom flavor, but easily adapts well to many recipes.
Sauté your tempeh with olive oil over medium heat until the tempeh is browned. Add to vegetables sautéed in oil and seasoned with garlic, a little bit of crushed red pepper, and soy sauce to make an easy and delicious dinner.