Nutrition Meets Food Science

Protein Sources for Vegan & Vegetarian

Vegetarians and vegans are cautioned that they may lack adequate protein in their diet. However, it is possible to plan well for vegans and vegetarians to get all nutrients including proteins. Some plants foods like legumes and some cereals contain more proteins than others. Higher protein diet is necessary for muscle strength, satiety and weight loss. 

Seitan is a popular source of proteins for vegetarians and is made from gluten of wheat. It resembles meat in look and texture when cooked. It contains about 25% protein. It is also a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus. 

Seitan can be pan-fried, sautéed or even grilled like meat. It is quite versatile and may be used in many recipes. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid it. 

Tofu, tempeh and edamame are all from soybeans. Soy proteins are complete providing all essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Edamame are immature soybeans with sweet and slightly grassy taste. They may be steamed or boiled before eating either as such or in soups and salads. 

Tofu is made when bean curd is pressed to remove water. Tempeh is made by cooking and fermenting soybeans before pressing into a patty. It does not have much taste but can be flavoured easily using ingredients. Tofu and temped are commonly used in many recipes, ranging from burgers to soups and chilis. 

These soy preparations contain iron, calcium and about 10-19% protein. Edamame is contains good amounts of folate, vitamin K and fibre. Tempeh has good amount of lactic acid bacteria that are healthy along with B vitamins and minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. 

Lentils are excellent source of protein with about 18 g of protein per cup when cooked. They could be used in many different dishes such as fresh salads to soups and spice infused daals. They also contain good amounts of dietary fibre. One cup would provide almost 50% of recommended daily intake of fibre.  Lentils are also good source of folate, manganese and iron. They have good amounts of antioxidants and other healthy phytochemicals. 

Chickpeas and beans such as kidney, black eye bean, etc. contain high amounts of protein. The cooked beans contain about 15 g of protein per cup. They also contain complex carbs, fibre, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and many useful phytochemicals. Besides diet rich in beans and other legumes can decrease cholesterol, help control blood sugar, lower blood pressure and even reduce abdominal fat. One can prepare tasty bowl of chili or roasted chickpeas with sprinkling of turmeric. 

Nutritional yeast is deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, commonly available as yellow powder or flakes. It has cheesy flavour making it popular ingredient for mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu. It can also be sprinkled on top of pasta dishes or popcorn. It contains about 50% protein with about 25% dietary fibre. It also supplies zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and B vitamins. 

Hempseed is from Cannabis sativa plant that belongs to same family as marijuana plant. But these seeds contain only trace amounts of compounds having drug-like effects. It contains about 35% protein that is more than chia and flax seeds. It also contains useful minerals and is a good source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the proportion recommended optimal for human health. The hempseed fat also has health benefits as it reduces inflammation as well as diminish symptoms of PMS, menopause and certain skin ailments. 

Green Peas contain 9 grams of protein per cup when cooked. In addition, it also is an excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamins A, C, K, thiamine, folate and manganese. Green peas also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and several other B vitamins. Green peas are also quite versatile in recipes as you can use them in soups or any curried preparation.

Spirulina is blue-green algae with plenty of nutrients. About 30 ml will provide 8 g protein along with iron, thiamine and copper in good amounts. It also contains fair amounts of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and potassium. 

It has a powerful antioxidant phycocyanin which is a natural pigment having anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Spirulina also has a strong immune system and can reduce blood pressure and help control sugar and cholesterol levels. 

Amaranth and Quinoa are sometimes called ancient or gluten-free grains. They don’t grow from grasses like other grains, so they are considered pseudocereals. They could however be made into flours like others. They contain about 8-9 g protein per cup when cooked and also good sources of complex carbs, fibre, iron, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.

Sprouting grains and legumes increases the amount of healthy nutrients they contain and reduces the amount of anti-nutrients in them. It increases amino acid content. Lysine, which is limiting in many plants, increases upon sprouting. This boosts overall protein quality along with vitamins. 

Soy Milk is made from soybeans and contains about 7 grams of protein per cup (240 ml) and is also excellent source of calcium, vitamins D. 

Oats are rich in protein, about half a cup dry oats contain about 6 grams protein and 4 grams fibre in addition to minerals and vitamins. They can be converted to oatmeal and made into veg burgers. They could also be ground to flour and used for baking. 

Chia Seeds are native to Mexico and contain 6 g protein and 13 g fibre per 35 g of seeds. They are also rich in iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium as well as omega-3 fatty acid, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. They have bland taste and absorb water to make a gel. This makes them very useful in many recipes from smoothies to baked goods. 

Nuts and Seeds are excellent sources of protein, an ounce (28g) containing 5-7 g protein. They also contain fibre and healthy fats besides iron, calcium and other minerals. Roasting or blanching sometimes may degrade some beneficial properties. These are prepared in many different forms for consumption, but it is better to avoid added oil, sugar, or salt. 

Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables may also contain significant amounts of protein. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts contain 4-5 g protein a cooked cupful. Fruits normally contain low amounts but guava, blackberries, nectarines and bananas have about 2-4 g protein per cup.  

Take Home Message

Some people like to increase plant protein intake for a variety of reasons. The above may guide them to incorporate in their diet to get enough proteins. 

Adapted from article by by Alina Petre (

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