Mya Care Blogger 12 Dec 2023

Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in maintaining and repairing the body. For vegans, getting enough protein can sometimes be a challenge. This blog aims to explore the importance of protein in a vegan diet and how combining different foods can help optimize protein intake.

Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which are termed ‘essential’ because they cannot be synthesized by our bodies and must be obtained through our diet.[1] A common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide these essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. The answer is yes, provided one consumes a well-balanced diet. A good variety of plant foods eaten during the course of the day can provide all the essential amino acids the body needs.

How Much Protein Do I Need Every Day?

Before attempting to understand how much quality protein one needs, it is good to have a clear understanding of how much total protein is required per day. It is recommended to consume 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day (0.36g per pound of body weight). This means that an average man weighing 70kg ought to consume roughly 56g of protein per day, and an average woman weighing 60kg ought to consume 48g of protein per day.[2]

Requirements can vary depending on a person’s age, sex, weight, level of physical activity, and pregnancy or breast-feeding.

How to Get Protein as a Vegan: Healthy Vegan Protein Sources

Many don’t realize just how much protein is derived from plant-based dietary sources. Plant-based protein sources consist of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts, algae, and yeast.

Non-soy vegan protein sources include quinoa, buckwheat, and seitan. It is essential to vary your sources of protein throughout the day to ensure you are getting all the amino acids you need.

To give a rough idea, the table below outlines vegan foods that are high in protein:


Food Type

Food Source

Average Protein Content Per 100g

How to Consume

Vegan "Meat" (cooked)

Tofu (soy)


Can be marinated, grilled, sautéed, stir-fried, baked or used in any dish to replace meat.

Tempeh (soy)


Seitan (wheat)


Legumes (cooked)

Black Beans


Can be used in soups, stews, salads, pastas or wraps


Kidney Beans 








Grains (cooked)



Can be used in salads or as a side dish



Wild Rice 




Can be used to make oatmeal or granola


Hemp Seeds


Can be sprinkled on salads, roasted or added to smoothies and salads.

Pumpkin Seeds


Sunflower Seeds


Flax Seeds


Sesame Seeds


Chia Seeds





Can be eaten raw, whole, in nut butter, roasted, sprinkled over salads or used in various meals baked and fried. 







Brazil Nuts



Lentil Sprouts


Can be eaten raw or cooked for optimal protein. Raw sprouts in salads are more nutrient-dense. Can  be enjoyed raw in a sandwich or salad.

Pea Sprouts


Alfalfa Sprouts

4 g

Sunflower Sprouts


Mung Bean Sprouts


Broccoli Sprouts


Radish Sprouts


Protein and amino acid values can be found at FoodData Central and My Food Data.


Protein Levels in Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables also contain protein, sometimes even in appreciable quantities, to round out the protein content of a meal.

100g servings of cooked vegetables tend to have a variable protein content between 1.3-4g, while the protein content of fruits is usually lower than 1g per 100g, although some fruits may contain up to 1.5g per 100g.

Fruits and vegetables also contain other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that indirectly boost the amino acid content of other foods by enhancing their absorption and use or efficacy[3]. Some vegetables also contain just enough of a specific amino acid to round out a meal, as explained below.

Comparing Vegan Protein Sources with Animal Proteins

When comparing animal products to vegan protein sources, the overall amount of protein is more or less equitable relative to the amount of food consumed. Some vegan protein sources may even contain more protein than animal product equivalents.

To give a rough idea, average values per 100g for various animal products are as follows:

  • Meat, including red meat, chicken and fish: 20-30g (half to full meat portions)
  • Dairy products, including whole milk, cheese, and yoghurt: 3-36g (average for 2-3 daily servings)
  • Whey Protein Powder: 78g
  • Eggs: 12.5g (equals roughly 2-3 large-medium eggs)

Yet, when looking at individual foods, animal products may contain a larger amount of specific amino acids that are not found across all plant-based foods.

By combining different plant foods throughout the day (known as ‘protein combining’), vegans can ensure they are getting all the essential amino acids.

Tips for Combining Vegan Food Sources for Complete Protein Intake

When looking at vegan protein sources, plant-based foods offer a fantastic variety of essential amino acids. Many of them are considered complete protein sources, containing all essential amino acids in appreciable quantities. Examples of complete plant-based protein sources include soy products, quinoa, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and many other nuts and seeds.

Consuming complete protein sources with main meals helps one to meet their daily protein requirements. However, to get enough of a variety of other nutrients, one needs to focus on incomplete protein sources as well and combine them wisely to round them out.

Rounding Out Incomplete Proteins

As a general guideline, grains contain the most protein, followed by legumes. 150-200g servings of these per day are enough to meet protein requirements for most amino acids.

Nuts and seeds are often packed with amino acids, often as much or more than whole grains, yet they ought to be eaten in lesser quantities at a time and can be used to round out protein from more sustainable sources. Pairing two or more grains or legumes can provide a lot more protein, as can pairing complete and incomplete proteins.

Common Amino Acid Deficits

When taking incomplete vegan protein sources into consideration, many of them are lacking in either methionine or lysine, with only a slight deficit of other specific amino acids. These amino acids are important for health in a number of ways:

Lysine is essential for the health of all cells as it is involved in producing carnitine, a potent antioxidant that aids in turning fat into energy. It is also needed for optimal growth and turnover of cartilage and muscle, for producing vital enzymes, antibodies, and hormones, and for absorbing calcium.[4] Those who are deficient may experience fatigue, irritability, anxiety, scattered focus, nausea, red eyes, hair loss, rapid weight loss, difficulty putting on weight, anemia, and reproductive issues.

Methionine is an important sulfur-containing amino acid required for optimal cellular and DNA functions. It allows the body to make other vital proteins, antioxidants, and substances such as taurine and glutathione. Methionine deficiencies can result in growth abnormalities; however, a diet with low levels that meet nutritional requirements is associated with longevity.[5]

Pairing the right vegan protein sources together can balance the methionine and lysine contents, as well as any other minor deficits.

 Examples of pairing include:

  1. Any nut butter, such as almond or peanut, with any whole grain, including wheat, quinoa or rice
  2. Chickpeas or hummus with sunflower seeds and a whole grain
  3. Lentil soup with barley or quinoa
  4. Sweet potato or spinach with legumes, including lentils or chickpeas
  5. Oats with equal portions of at least 2-3 other nuts and seeds in morning muesli
  6. Sprouts with pumpkin seeds before or alongside whole grains or legumes
  7. Shiitake, portobello, brown or Italian mushrooms with either rice or quinoa coupled with either a legume, sunflower seeds or almonds
  8. Greens with banana and nut or seed butter in a smoothie for a more rounded protein content

Impact of Heat

Common protein deficits are only partly related to the protein source. The way in which we consume the protein is also important to consider. Heat tends to denature lysine and methionine the most[6], yet other amino acids may not be as sensitive and can, in fact, become more absorbable with cooking. While pairing foods is important, mixing up raw and cooked versions of each type in the diet can also help to round out the protein content. Foods cooked and consumed at lower temperatures also tend to be more nutritious in general.

Vegan Protein Supplements

Your protein needs can be more, especially if you exercise regularly or are looking to build muscle. Aged and elderly individuals can also benefit from upping their protein intake to maintain muscle mass and prolong age-related muscle loss.

If you are struggling to meet your protein requirements through food alone, you might want to consider vegan protein supplements. Vegan protein powders made from pea, rice, or flaxseed can be an easy way to boost your intake.

What is the Best Vegan Protein Powder?

Food Type

Food Source

Average Protein Content Per 100g

How to Consume

Vegan Protein Powder

Pea Protein Isolate


Can be mixed with water, milk alternatives, or added to smoothies

Flax Seed Powder


Organic Brown Rice Protein Concentrate


Chia Seed Powder


Black Rice Powder



Spirulina (dried)


Can be added to smoothies or salads




Nutritional Yeast (powder)


Can be sprinkled on popcorn, pasta, or used in vegan cheese recipes

As explained above, combining protein powders and adding them to your smoothies or shakes can help to round them out and improve the overall quality of protein received.

Pea protein is a favored source of protein amongst vegan bodybuilders for its near-complete profile and flavor. Adding flax or chia to pea protein can round it out and enhance muscle building by promoting better digestion and providing omega-3s.

Coupling any combo of these with spirulina or chlorella can pose additional benefits, such as contributing extra amino acids, nutrients, and improving absorption.

Is Vegan Protein Powder Good for You?

Vegan protein powders can be good for you if you can put the extra protein to use. Older individuals, those suffering from muscle-wasting diseases, and those looking to put on more muscle might benefit more from the extra protein than other individuals.

It is important to remember that any protein powders should be treated as supplements. They ought not to replace meals in most cases and should be used to round out an otherwise balanced meal plan.


In conclusion, it is entirely possible for vegans to get enough protein through their diet, and combining a variety of protein-rich plant-based foods is beneficial for optimal health and well-being. An unbalanced vegan diet can cause one to miss their required daily protein intake and to consume too little of either methionine or lysine. Food combining can balance out one’s protein intake and the quality of proteins consumed. In most cases, consuming a variety of protein-heavy vegan foods, both raw and cooked, is sufficient to meet one’s daily requirements. Select vegetables, including mushrooms, spinach, and sweet potatoes, may also help to round out the protein content, highlighting the importance of other food groups in a balanced diet.

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