But where will I get my protein from?! It is one of the biggest myths that vegans don’t get enough protein. Even if you are already vegan, looking to eat more plant based food, or totally new to this kind of food, it’s really important to know the best sources of vegan and plant based protein and get a good variety. We’ve put together a quick reference guide on the best sources of vegan and plant based protein, as well as delicious vegan recipes you can use them in.
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There are loads of vegan and plant based sports stars who are thrashing the competition, such as Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams and Olympic bodybuilder Kendrick Farris. They are proving year on year that vegans have no problem when it comes to protein! We have just been trained to think the only foods that have protein in are meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Protein is simply a set of amino acids that is readily available in all kinds of foods.
The quick reference guide below will help you identify the highest vegan protein sources to build into your diet. You don’t have to eat them all at once! All you need to do is ensure you eat a variety of foods and experiment with what you like best.
Beans and Legumes
These are a staple vegan food, are available in so many forms and are very versatile in cooking. They are also low in fat and high in fibre. The best known are chickpeas and lentils, but there are other fantastic ones like aduki beans, butter beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, black beans, and more (all naturally gluten free). Hummus is of course a favourite vegan food, made from chickpeas, but you can substitute any beans or lentils in there, which is where my Black Bean Hummus came from!
My favourite lentil dish is this Lentil Koftas with Tomato Curry Coconut Sauce because it almost tastes like a traditional ‘meaty’ dish; I use two types of lentils as well as buckwheat flour to give that firm and varied texture.
You can pretty much use beans and lentils in anything from salad, stews, dips, curries, patties and even some cake recipes. My favourite salad is Louise’s Harissa Roasted Chickpea & Tomato Salad.
You can buy them in tins or dried from pretty much anywhere. It’s more cost-effective to buy them dried, but this will mean a longer cooking process and possibly soaking the beans overnight before cooking (I am happy to do this but do what you have time for!).
Tofu (made from soya, and naturally gluten free) is something you’re probably more familiar with from Asian cooking. Tofu is great as a meat substitute in many savoury dishes, and also for replacing eggs. Scrambled Tofu is a brilliant go-to breakfast. You can also make amazing quiches and frittatas like this Asparagus & Pesto Quiche.
Mostly, tofu is bought plain, but if you want a super quick meal, there are lots of pre-marinated tofu products that can be quickly fried or baked. If you do fancy marinating your own tofu try this quick and easy tofu facon recipe.
You can buy tofu in a firm form or silken form, generally either will work for these dishes. Both are now available in most supermarkets, and healthfood shops will have these for sure! Most tofu tends to be organic, which I personally prefer.
All vegetables have protein but to varying degrees. Getting a variety of vegetables is important in any case, but if you are looking for extra plant-based protein sources, vegetables like mushrooms and peas have some of the highest protein of vegetables. Asparagus, spinach and broccoli also come high on the list. One of my favourite high protein dinners is this Vegan Mushroom & Smoked Tofu Bourguignon because of both the mushrooms and tofu, but also because it tastes like the traditional French dish I used to eat!
Grains & Pseudograins
Grains are brilliant as they are complex carbohydrates and a great source of energy. There are so many more grains than just rice, and many that are high in protein such as oats and wild rice. I love a good risotto, like Louise’s Wild Garlic Pesto & Pea Risotto, as it also has peas in it! The pseudograins are grain-like but are actually technically seeds. They can substitute any grains, so we’ve put them in this category. They are naturally gluten-free, and include things quinoa, millet, buckwheat and teff.
Quinoa is great for salads, stews and serving instead of rice with your curry. I even make my breakfast using both quinoa and quinoa flakes. I include lots of seeds, nuts and nut butter, making my Superfood, High Protein Breakfast Bowl a must-have in your repertoire (and it’s delicious!). You can use other grains / pseudograins instead of quinoa, and use oats or another grain flake, like buckwheat flakes, instead of quinoa flakes.
Seeds are high in energy, nutrients, protein and good fats, so they are very filling, and are naturally gluten free. For your roast dinner, a nut or seed roast will give you that high protein centre-piece. I made this vegan Lentil and Seed Nutless Roast, which is filling and flavourful. You can substitute the seeds for nuts if you want – sometimes it’s just good to use whatever you have in your cupboard.
You can add seeds to salads and other dishes e.g. some toasted pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds. Seeds also make great snacks if you’re a little peckish but don’t want a full on meal. You can even make you own high protein snacks like these Super Seed Crackers.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
An odd acronym I know. All TVP is, or textured vegetable protein, is dehydrated soya. TVP is great as a vegan meat substitute, and has the same texture. It is easy to use in cooking, and has a long shelf life. Yay! It is also gluten free.
Nuts and Nut Butter
Similar to seeds; they high in good fats and protein, and naturally gluten free. You are likely familiar with the many kinds of nuts from almonds, brazils and pecans, to cashews, hazelnuts and walnuts. These can be used in cooking, on breakfasts or as snacks on their own. Peanuts are also very popular and a go-to of mine in the form of peanut butter (strictly speaking peanuts are a legume, but they act in many ways like a nut).
Nut butter is a delicious way to eat nuts and is super filling due to all the protein and good fat. Perfect on toast or on breakfast. There are so many incredible ones out there that I put together a post on Our favourite nut butter brands. You can cook with nut butter and make high protein snacks like these flourless, gluten-free vegan Nut Butter, Chocolate and Blueberry Blondies. For a great savoury meal packed with protein, try Louise’s Super Vegan Satay Sauce. Even more protein if you have it with tofu 😉
Vegan and plant-based cheeses are often made with nuts, making them high in protein. You can find some in supermarkets now (check the label as to what it is made from; not all are nut-based) or there are some fantastic artisan ones we reviewed.
Seitan and Faux Meats
This section is where you’ll find lots of them ready-made in stores, and some you can make yourself. While the store-bought ones are not something I would eat every day, there are some excellent ones out there that taste like the real deal, are delicious, and great for the days you don’t want to cook.
Some of the best-known brands are Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger. However, so many more have popped by like The Meatless Farm (Sainsbury’s own brand), and other long-standing vegetarian brands like Linda McCartney and Quorn (double check the labels as not every single product they do is vegan). You’ll find a mix of faux sausages, chicken bacon and burgers; try some different brands and see what you like best. Every supermarket will have a selection both in fresh or frozen sections, and healthfood stores will have an even more extensive selection including things such as pulled ‘pork’.
If you do want to make some quality vegan faux meat yourself, you can do this with seitan (the main gluten in wheat). It tastes so realistic and is FULL of plant based protein. Louise recently made the Ultimate Vegan Blackbean & Mushroom Seitan Burger, jammed packed with vegan protein! They have been such a hit. You can buy seitan online (affiliate link) or in healthfood stores (it is in the form of flour).
Some extra sources of vegan and plant based protein
You may want to buy protein powders for your smoothies. I personally prefer pure and unsweetened products, so I use Organic Hemp Protein (affiliate link) each day in my vegetable smoothie, which is literally made from one ingredient. This vegan product is more cost-effective than other mixed and sports branded protein powders. Another one I’ve tried in the past and really like is Vega Protein (affiliate link). This one genuinely tasted really good and I used it for several years.
Lots of choices here amongst the best sources of vegan and plant based protein. It will keep your diet healthy, varied and fun! Experiment, see what you like best, and would love to know what you’ve tried and loved!