9 Popular Proteins for a Healthy Vegan Diet
If you're thinking of switching to a vegan diet, one of the important challenges you might face is how to make sure you have plenty of sources of protein, the building blocks of life. Luckily, there are plenty of healthy and delicious alternative protein options to replace meat, eggs, or dairy. Here are some of our favorite sources of vegan protein.
What is a "complete" protein?
A "complete" protein contains 20 different amino acids, nine of which our bodies can't make on their own. Some proteins are "complete" on their own, while others are formed by eating a combination of foods (rice and beans are classic example). While we don't need every amino acid in every meal, it's important to eat a variety of foods to get them daily. Here are our favorite vegan proteins to keep you feeling full and going strong.
Most Popular Vegan Proteins
The name's a bit misleading because buckwheat isn't a wheat at all; it's actually a seed related to rhubarb. It's often used in Japanese food (think: soba noodles), but the "grains" can also be cooked or ground and used in a variety of dishes. Try it in Lentils and Buckwheat Salad to Go (Gluten-Free), which adds extra protein and fiber with lentils. Or, prepare Toasted Buckwheat Tabbouleh for a light side dish.
2. Garbanzo Beans (aka Chickpeas)
Garbanzo beans, along with having fiber, iron, folate, and potassium, are a great source of protein (as are all beans). You can make Roasted Chickpeas for a crunchy snack or mash the beans with a little bit of tahini, lemon juice, and garlic for delicious Hummus III; pair it with a piece of whole wheat pita bread, and you'll end up with a complete protein.
This vegan super protein comes in a ton of varieties, so you never get bored. Try soy in the form of tofu, with an easy Baked Tofu dish, impress your meat-eating friends with tasty Barbeque Tempeh Sandwiches, or snack on Simple Roasted Edamame. In addition to being a great source of protein, in moderation, soy may help prevent some cancers, decrease hot flashes, and protect against bone density loss. It also has all of the essential amino acids your body needs, and is a good source of calcium and iron.
Nuts are packed with protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Whether you eat them by the handful or grind them into butter, they're perfect for meals and snacks alike. Pair your favorite nut butter (peanut or almond) with toast or a bagel, like this Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, and you have a complete protein. If using store-bought nut butters, read the labels to avoid excess sugar, salt, and oil, then use it as part of a sauce for Peanut Ginger Chickpea Curry.
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Although we often use it as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed that is loaded with protein. Known as the "perfect protein," quinoa has all nine amino acids that our body can't produce on its own, plus it is easy to make, versatile in recipes, and so tasty! This Zesty Quinoa Salad is packed with spices and has the added protein of black beans.
Similar to quinoa, amaranth (another "grain" that's not really a grain) is a great source of protein, iron, and B vitamins. It's smaller in size than quinoa, but just as easy to prepare. One of our favorite ways to eat it is in this Gluten-Free Hot Breakfast Cereal, which will keep you warm and full until lunchtime.
7. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are an easy way to add protein to your diet, plus they are a good source of iron, calcium, and magnesium. You can sprinkle them into smoothies, add them to Overnight Light PB&J Oats, or toss them on a salad. When you soak the seeds in liquid, they plump up and form a pudding-like texture, perfect for Mango Coconut Chia Pudding.
It looks a bit like duck and tastes a bit like chicken, but this vegan protein is made from wheat gluten. It also contains a healthy dose of selenium, iron, and calcium. Unlike soy proteins, seitan looks and tastes like meat once cooked, so it is a great option when you're transitioning to a vegan diet. Whip up a batch of Slow Cooker Jambalaya (Vegan) or use it in Seitan in Peanut Sauce or Vegetarian Gai Tua.
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Don't be frightened by this blue-green algae! Containing 80 percent of your daily iron needs and packed with protein, this powder is easier to use and tastier than you might think. Simply added a few teaspoons to this Power Packed Smoothie, with bananas and spinach. To make it a complete protein (and get all of your amino acids), mix it into dishes with grains, oats, nuts, or seeds.
Related: Explore our complete collection of vegan recipes for every meal of the day, complete with ratings and reviews so you know what works.