Eating Vegan: Where do You Get Your Protein?

eating veganEating Vegan: Where do you get your protein?

Second only to “I would die without cheese!” folks ask all the time about where vegans get their protein. For someone accustomed to centering their dinner plate around a piece of animal protein, I can see how this might seem like a problem. You take that steak off of your plate, and you’re basically living on salad and potatoes.

Not that I’m knocking salads or potatoes. In fact, baked potatoes do contain a little bit of protein!

But really, where do you get protein when it’s not coming from animal products? The short answer is: lots of places! Here are some common vegan staples and their protein contents:

  • beans – 7-10 grams per half cup (cooked)
  • tofu – 2.3 grams per half ounce
  • peanut butter – 8 grams per 2 Tablespoons
  • almonds – 8 grams per 1/4 cup
  • peanuts – 9 grams per 1/4 cup
  • cashews – 5 grams per 1/4 cup
  • flax seeds – 8 grams per 1/4 cup
  • brown rice – 3 grams per 4 ounces
  • quinoa – 4.5 grams per 1/2 cup
  • baked potato – 2.5 grams
  • cooked broccoli – 7 grams per half cup
  • peas – 8 grams per half cup
  • corn – 5 grams per 1 cup

Really, the question is, where don’t vegans get protein? The recommended daily value for protein is about 50 grams for a 2000 calorie diet, which you could easily hit by combining a couple of protein sources per meal: beans and rice, whole grain cereal in soy or nut milk, or broccoli and whole wheat pasta.

So, spill the beans, my vegan friends! What’s your favorite protein source?

Image Source: Creative Commons photo by Roger Smith

Written by Becky Striepe


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  1. Good post. You had me until you brought up the combining protien myth that just refuses to die. The really short answer to where do you get your protein is: It doesn’t matter because it’s impossible not to get enough unless your starving yourself.

  2. I’ve been vegetarian for a while now, and feel pretty comfortable with the protein issue — but I hadn’t realized that potatoes and broccoli are sources of protein. That’s good to know…

  3. I start off every day with an organic banana chopped up with raw organic walnuts in almond milk. sooo delicious, and all three are chock full of protein and fiber that helps keep me healthy.

  4. I have experimented with various diet types over the last couple of years and have found that the protein in the high carb foods listed above gives me SIGNIFICANTLY less energy than the protein in fish or eggs. I felt like crap when I ate vegan food, and I ate all of the stuff listed above.

  5. Good article here.. can you please send it to my mother-in-law?!


    Sometimes I think to myself, “OK, if ONE more (unhealthy/ obese/ high-cholesterol-suffering/ diabetic/ etc.) omni asks where I get my protein, I’m gonna have no choice but initiating a swift kick to their shins!” (I’m non-violent, generally, but starting to consider selective exceptions…)

    As commented above: protein is a NON ISSUE, if you just eat enough calories to meet your body’s energy needs! It is far more common (especially in developed/ Western nations) to consume TOO MUCH protein, which has been shown (in peer-reviewed clinical research, at respected universities like Duke) to increase risk for diabetes & osteoporosis…

    This question is symptomatic of the nutritional ignorance that runs rampant in our society. Thanks for writing about it! You may have saved some readers’ shins.

    (Just kidding!… mostly…)

  6. Siobhan – That breakfast sounds delicious!

    Denise – Interesting! I wonder if protein was the issue, or maybe a vitamin situation…maybe B12 or something like this. Did you see a doctor about your symptoms?

    EVZ – Seriously! Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe used to have a zine called “Where Do I Get My Protein?” and I considered picking up many copies just to hand out in response to this question.

  7. The protein sources are really good, thanks for the list.

    Although since I’ve begun eating vegan and mostly raw, I just can’t eat. Even when I’m hungry just seeing food makes me full. I only feel like eating high calorie fruits, because like Denise said, my body doesn’t feel ‘energized’ by the protein.

  8. I was vegetarian with vegan tendencies for 5 years and here’s what I found. Oh, and I actually have a background in science (Masters).

    You don’t need to eat meat as long as you eat a really varied diet. Proteins come in different types, just like fats. Proteins, whether soy, chicken, beef, nuts, whatever all have differing amounts of different amino acids. Since we need all the amino acids, we need to consume them all since our bodies don’t make them.

    That said, the Duke studies showing animal protein is bad… go back and actually read the studies. They’re not about animal protein, per se. They’re about animal fat. Fat in high concentrations is bad for you, no matter where it comes from. Generalizing from “excess animal fat” to all animal proteins is erroneous.

    In fact, one reason animal protein has likely been a major source of nutrition for so long is that it is what’s considered a “complete protein,” meaning that all meats contain all amino acids. No non-meats contain all animo acids. Again, this is not to say that you should eat animal protein, since you can get all those amino acids from other foods. I just want to set the record straight because I think erroneous claims actually hurt the cause. There are plenty of other reasons to avoid meat (poor treatment of animals, environmental degradation, world hunger, etc.).

  9. Let this guy clear it up for you – Dr. McDougall – a physician who has devoted his life to nutrition.

    Soooo many misconceptions about protein. He talks about the misleading notion of β€˜complete proteins’ as well. As a vegan and former competitive athlete, I never had any issues with protein or my energy level. As a former animal-eater, I used to make statements such as ‘I need protein from fish to feel better’. I totally understand those sentiments. And yet, eating enough calories (just as someone mentioned) is the trick. Oh and eating calories that are whole-food based and unprocessed – equally as important.


  10. To make protein the cells need all the availabe amino acids together at the same time. There are 9 digestable essential amino acids, which also contain nitrogen, an important element of protein, that we get from animal or animal by products, because our body CAN NOT produce them. Living plants don’t contain nitrogen. Our bodies need to have at least these 9 essential amino acids to create protein. The other 13 amino acids our body can make. Then our body turns them into proteins. When you don’t eat these 9 essential amino acids the body can’t make the other 13. This creates poor protein and can’t utilize them as well, creating a poor diet when only eating plant based diet. There will also be a lack of another important vitamin: B-12, which is attached to animal based amino acid chains. Plant based vitamin B-12, causes deficiency, because it can not be digested by the body. All of these elements need to be in their natural state the way they are in whole food for our bodies to benefit from them.

    • It’s a common misconception that you need all of those amino acids in the same meal. As long as you’re getting complete protein throughout the day, you’re going to be fine.

      If you’re concerned, though, protein combining is easy. Three good combinations are: beans with whole grains, nuts and beans, grains and nuts. If you have oatmeal with walnuts at breakfast, beans and brown rice at lunch, and veggies with beans and pesto at dinner, you’re getting a complete protein at each meal.

      We actually have an Eating Vegan article on B12, since this is one of the trickier nutrients. There are so many B12 fortified foods out there that with a bit of planning, it’s not as hard to get what you need. Can you share a source about plant based B12 and absorbency? I haven’t seen anything about that and am definitely interested!

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