Examples Where Protein Doesn't Have To Be Meat (For Vegans)

Proteins are known as the building blocks of life: In the body, they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. (They also take longer to digest than carbohydrates, helping you feel fuller for longer and on fewer calories a plus for anyone trying to lose weight.) You probably know that animal products meat, eggs, and dairy are good sources of protein; unfortunately, they can also be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. What you may not know is that you don't need to eat meat or cheese to get enough of the essential nutrient.

Sources of Protein

  1. Seitan

Seitan is a popular protein source for many vegetarians and vegans. It's made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. Unlike many soy-based mock types of meat, it resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked. Also known as wheat meat or wheat gluten, it contains about 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This makes it the most productive plant protein source on this list.

Seitan is also a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of iron, calcium, and phosphorus. You can find this meat alternative in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, or make your version with vital wheat gluten using this recipe. Seitan can be pan-fried, sautéed, and even grilled. Therefore, it can be easily incorporated into a variety of recipes. However, seitan should be avoided by people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

2.     Amaranth

Amaranth is another pseudo cereal that's a complete source of protein. Once considered a staple food in Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, it has become a popular gluten-free grain alternative.

Amaranth is a versatile grain that can be boiled for a side dish or porridge, or popped in a skillet to add texture to granola bars or salads. Similarly to quinoa, it has a delicate, nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked.

When ground into flour, amaranth can also be used in gluten-free baking. One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides approximately 9 grams of protein. It's also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium phosphorus, and iron. One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides more than 100% of the DV for manganese, an essential mineral that's important for brain health.

3.     Quinoa

Most grains contain a small amount of protein, but quinoa technically a seed is unique in that it includes more than 8 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair but cannot produce on its own. (Because of that, it's often referred to as a "complete protein.") Plus, it's amazingly versatile: Quinoa can be added to soup or vegetarian chili during winter months, served with brown sugar and fruit as a hot breakfast cereal, or tossed with vegetables and vinaigrette to make a refreshing summer salad.

  1. Chickpeas

Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup. Chickpeas can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes available online. They can, for example, be added to stews and curries, or spiced with paprika and roasted in the oven.

A person can add hummus, which is made from chickpea paste to a sandwich for a healthful, protein-rich alternative to butter.

  1. Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein. Mycoprotein products contain around 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving. Products with mycoprotein are often advertised as meat substitutes and are available in forms such as "chicken" nuggets or cutlets. However, many of these products contain egg white, so people must be sure to check the label.

A minimal number of people are allergic to Fusarium venenatum, the fungus from which the mycoprotein brand known as Quorn is made. People with a history of mushroom allergies or with many food allergies may wish to consider another protein source.

6.     Lentils

At 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), lentils are a great source of protein.

They can be used in a variety of dishes, ranging from fresh salads to hearty soups and spice-infused dahls. Lentils also contain reasonable amounts of slowly digested carbs, and a single cup (240 ml) provides approximately 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake.

Furthermore, the type of fiber found in lentils has been shown to feed the good bacteria in your colon, promoting a healthy gut. Lentils may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, excess body weight, and some types of cancer.

Also, lentils are rich in folate, manganese, and iron. They also contain the right amount of antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds.

7.     Hemp

Adding hemp to your diet does not mean you're eating rope (or marijuana), says Gerbstadt; you can find it in some cereals and trail mixes, or you can buy hemp seeds (10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons) and add them to smoothies, pesto, or baked goods. Hemp milk can also be a dairy-free way to get protein as a vegan, and it's even lower in calories than skim milk.

8.     Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, sold commercially as a yellow powder or flakes. It has a cheesy flavor, which makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu. Nutritional yeast can also be sprinkled on top of pasta dishes or even enjoyed as a savory topping on popcorn. This complete source of plant protein provides the body with 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce (28 grams).

Fortified nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and all the B vitamins, including B12. However, fortification is not universal, and unfortified nutritional yeast should not be relied on as a source of vitamin B12.


Protein deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans are far from being the norm. Nonetheless, some people may be interested in increasing their plant protein intake for a variety of reasons. Despite some concerns over being able to get adequate protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet, many high proteins, plant-based foods are available. Furthermore, several of these foods even provide all nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered complete proteins. To ensure you're meeting your amino acid needs on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try incorporating more of these complete protein sources into a varied diet.