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- As you’ll soon see below, sprouts, mycoprotein like vegan chicken nuggets (our wrap-up of the best vegan and plant-based nuggets is a must-see), seitan, oats, mushrooms, texturized vegetable protein (colloquially known as soya mince), broccoli raab, spinach, and tofu are all excellent sources of vegan protein. Tempeh and edamame just didn’t make the top twenty, and natto and soy milk were pretty close too. Be sure to balance out soy consumption with a varied diet despite it being an excellent all-around source of protein.
- The bottom line is that if you’re eating more than one vegan meal per day, it’s virtually impossible to become protein deficient. There are simply too many different protein sources. You’d have to be starving or suffering from a disease to consume too little protein. However, this also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t balance out your diet with a variety of plant-based options. .
- Although ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’ proteins exist by definition of their essential amino acid levels, one only needs to combine protein sources throughout the course of an entire day to result in a complete protein pairing that gives the body all the aminos it needs to thrive. This is almost impossible to avoid when eating two or more meals per day.
- If you are concerned about complete protein pairings due to an exact diet, a fitness goal, and its nutritional requirements or for any other reason, we suggest looking up the main ingredient of your meal and finding its limiting amino acid. A quick Google of the limiting amino will reveal which foods it is found in, and there you go – a complete protein pairing in minutes for those consuming limited meals a day.
As any eager foodie will know, there’s a seemingly endless selection of delicious, nutritious vegan protein options awaiting when cooking any given meal. We have put together the ultimate list of vegan proteins. There’s every plant-based food that makes a protein contribution to your diet listed so that it’s easy to conjure up the inspiration for winning combinations and all new meals. From protein quality and assessment systems to the caloric intake of each and key combinations, all the vital intake information you need regarding the best vegan proteins is here in one place.
The Top 20 Plant-Based Proteins
Here are the twenty best vegan proteins sorted according to their protein density. Only condiments and herbs have been excluded as it is nearly impossible to consume enough to make a dent in an adult or child’s dietary requirements. With this being said, nutritional yeast should be used frequently by vegan cooks looking to increase their protein intake. At around 5 grams per tablespoon, there’s no better way to add cheesy, tanginess, and a whole bunch of healthy complete protein to your meals.
|Protein Per 100 Gram Serving
|Limiting Amino Acid/s
|Mung Bean Sprouts
|Seitan (Vital Gluten)
|Red Clover Sprouts
|Texturized Vegetable Protein
|Bok Choy (Pak-Choi)
|Leucine, Methionine, Phenylalanine
|Jute Leaves (Egyptian Spinach)
|Methionine, Cystine, Leucine
The Difference Between Complete And Incomplete Proteins
If you eat more than two types of food a day, you shouldn’t have to worry at all about complete and incomplete proteins. To understand what is meant by a complete protein, one first needs to have an understanding of amino acids and how they interact to form protein chains.
Amino Acids And Your Body
Amino acids are the molecules that protein breaks down into that form the basic building blocks for all forms of life. They can be seen as the most basic form of protein. There are twenty different amino acids, out of which nine are considered essential because by using these nine, the body creates all others, but it cannot create the nine core aminos themselves. Whereas most animal protein typically contains all the essential amino acids in abundance, most plant-based protein does not.
The nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make are:
- Histidine: Legumes, Seeds – Hormonal Precursor, Nerve Cell Protection, Tissue Growth & Repair, Kidney Function, Immunoregulation, Gastric Metabolites
- Isoleucine: Grains, Seeds, Seaweed – Essential To Hemoglobin Production, Component Of Protein & Fatty Acid Metabolism, Blood Sugar Regulation, Energy & Endurance Booster, Muscle Injury Recovery, Muscle Development
- Leucine: Soy, Seeds, Nuts – Beneficial To Exercise Energy, Muscle Mass Development, Muscle, Skeletal & Skin Recovery, Muscle Growth Aid, Blood Sugar Regulation
- Lysine: Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, Leafy Greens – Body Growth & Muscle Development, Anxiety Reduction/Mood Regulation, Bolstered Wound Recovery, Immune Boosting Compound, Blood Sugar Regulation
- Methionine: Nuts, Seeds, Leafy Greens, Grains – Essential Antioxidant, Detoxifies Metal & Ionization, Liver Protective Compound, Beneficial To Reducing Fatigue, Crucial To Skeletal Development
- Phenylalanine: Nuts, Seeds, Legumes – Precursor To Dopamine, Thyroxine, Melanin & Norepinephrine, Crucial To Nerve Signaling Between Brain And Body, Memory Improvement, Reduction Of Early Onset Hunger, Antidepressant Properties
- Threonine: Soy, Nuts, Seeds, Legumes – Regulates Liver Fat Accumulation, Regulates Blood Pressure, Precursor To Mucin, Which Clears the Body Of Detritus, Allergens, And Pathogens, Essential To Collagen Production, Protein Synthesis Balancing
- Tryptophan: Leafy Greens, Mushrooms, Seeds, Nuts – Precursor To Melatonin & Serotonin, Regulation Of Circadian (Sleep-Wake) Cycles, DNA Production, Healthy Appetite Balancing, Mood Regulation, Pain Regulation
- Valine: Soy, Grains, Nuts, Seeds, Legumes – Essential To Protein Structure Formation & Protein Recognition, Energy Fuel Facilitating High Energy Boosts, Immune Supportive Compound, Beneficial To Sleep (Stops Insomnia)
Amino acids join together to form protein chains that are composed of anything between 50 to 2000 amino acids each in their base structure. The tiniest protein chain is made of a sequence of amino acids that tallies a number called a duoquadragintillion which has a value followed by 130 zeros after it. The body forms all this complexity from nothing other than the base essential, or rather indispensable amino acids.
Amino acids are limited by the lowest concentration of essential amino acid present in whatever has been consumed. It doesn’t matter how high the concentration of the other aminos, the lowest amino, called the limiting amino acid, determines the degree of absorption of the rest. No amino acids can be absorbed in greater concentrations than the lowest level of amino present in the body. Fortunately, amino acids from different foods throughout the day are assimilated together instead of individually, as many initially believe. This lets low levels accumulate and, in turn, allows a more complete degree of protein synthesis to occur, whereby more amino acids metabolize (forming complete protein).
The most frequently used analogy to represent protein synthesis and the place of limiting amino acids is that of seeing the absorption of aminos as a barrel. Each of the eight essential amino acids occupy a vertical slat giving the barrel composed of eight slats of varying lengths its maximum capacity. The limiting amino acid is the essential amino that has the lowest concentration after being consumed and is visualized as the shortest of the eight slats. This therefore sets the bar for how full the barrel can be. All the other amino acids can only be synthesized to the level of the limiting amino acid and no more.
What ‘Complete’ And ‘Incomplete Protein’ Really Means
Protein is referred to as incomplete when it contains insignificant levels of any of the essential amino acids. Contrary to popular belief, no protein is actually missing any amino acids. There are always trace elements just in minuscule levels, which therefore consequently makes them ‘incomplete.’ Another myth to debunk immediately is immediate meal pairings to form ‘whole protein sources’ Reaching a complete protein pairing within a single meal is unnecessary as our bodies pool the amino acids consumed within a 24-hour period (or longer) and use them as necessary.
The notion of complete and incomplete protein fails completely when one uses it as a sole measure of protein quality as if the person was eating one type of food only. Every time we eat, we combine food types which most often leads to a “complete” protein pairing without needing to try simply throughout the span of a general day.
Complete Single-Meal Protein Pairings
As mentioned and contrary to antiquated popular belief, incomplete proteins don’t need to be combined during a single meal but rather over the whole course of a day to reap the full nutritive benefits. This gives rise to a few outstanding protein pairings to keep in mind in order to make meal planning oh-so-much easier when healthy eating is a side-concern or you don’t have time to get in that many meals for the day.
- Legumes & Grains – Rice And Beans, Pasta And Peas, Bean Soup And Wholegrain Bread, Legumes & Nuts/ Seeds
- Nuts/Seeds & Vegetables Or Grains – Smoothies Including Fruit, Salads, Muffins, Cakes, Oats & Cereals, Roasts, Breading/Dredging
- Legumes & Leafy Greens – Black Beans & Collard Greens, Spinach And White Bean Curry,
- Legumes & Nuts/Seeds – Green Salad With Chickpeas,
- Fruits & Vegetables – Salads, Smoothies, Curries, Soups
- Grains & Nuts – Nut Butter On Whole Wheat Toast, Muesli With Plant-Based Milk And Fruit
How Much Protein Do I Need In My Diet?
Even though the protein requirements for each individual will be different based on their level of fitness and type of daily activities, the medical community relies on an average called the daily value percentage to assess adult nutrient intake across the board. For the vast majority of individuals who want to maintain a healthy weight, this is set at roughly 10 to 20% of the total daily calories.
The Dietary Reference Intake for a sedentary adult is 0.8 grams of protein consumed for every kilogram of body weight which equates to 0.36 grams of protein per pound. The Daily Value calculation for protein used on our charts reports the standard protein intake for a 2000-calorie diet which is accepted at 50 grams of protein to sustain growth and good health. Keep in mind those who live an active lifestyle will need more protein.
Athletes who are training or competing whilst still gaining muscle mass and strength need between 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight according to the standard recommendation by most global nutrition academies. However, many skeptical nutritionists have advised that vegan athletes should up this by 10 to 22 grams of protein per day in order to keep up their gains. Some argue that once Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score records include accurate assessments of vegetables, this will fall away.
Protein Quality & Protein Scoring Systems
There are several scoring systems in active use that report the median quality of protein. Both the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score and the newer, more highly recommended Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score rate both meat and plant-based protein relative to their digestibility and amino acid profile.
Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score
The Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) is the second most recently adopted protein quality evaluation system by the US FDA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization. As a result, it is globally recognized. PDCAAS’s highest score is 1, which means that the body will digest and metabolize all of the amino acids necessary to be considered a complete protein.
Here is the formula for calculating PDCAAS:
As one can see from the calculation above, the PDCAAS score is a measure of both digestibility based on fecal sampling and amino acid profiling. The usage of a base amino acid profile means that amino acid metabolism will be different for each person. However, the gauge is still a pretty accurate assessment of primary proteins. Stool sampling also means that PDCAAS typically overestimates amino acid absorption to a degree.
Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS)
The Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score is a protein quality scoring system created to supersede PDCAAS as a more accurate assessment. Unlike the PDCAAS method, which relies on stool samples for its data, digestibility is factored into the formula based on true ileal amino acid digestibility values that are measured at the ileum situated at the very end of the small intestine.
This is the formula for calculating DIAAS:
Unlike PDCAAS, which is capped at a maximum of 1 (or 100%), DIAAS allows high-quality proteins to score in excess of 100. This same mechanic also allows proteins to be combined and measured to grant a broader, more accurate assessment of plant-based diets. Unfortunately, despite being proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2013, protein evaluation scores for many plant-based food items are still severely lacking.
How We Scored Our Vegan Proteins
While PDCAAS and DIAAS scores aren’t available for all plant-based protein sources, it has been included wherever possible. As mentioned above, the higher the number for both scores, the better, as this indicates amino acid absorption based on the food’s nutritional profile and overall digestibility. We’ve also included the protein per 100 grams, calories, the protein density, which shows just how much protein your calories are worth, and the daily value percentage based on the global daily reference intake for protein of 50 grams per adult.
Data was obtained from a variety of sources. Most information is sourced from the USDA’s Food Data Central database, while a significant portion is gratefully derived from EatThisMuch’s comprehensive food database and, at times, Healthline.com as well. Many PDCAAS and DIAASS scores are the product of authoritative, published, well-cited research studies and are linked to their relevant resources.
The Ultimate Vegan Protein List
We have divided viable vegan protein sources into processed protein, grains, legumes, sprouts, vegetables, fruit, berries, seeds, nuts, herbs, flour, bread, plant-based milk, plant-based butter, condiments, and protein powders.
There are several excellent processed vegan proteins. The most affordable and, therefore, most accessible is seitan, with the variety made from vital gluten being better than plain flour wheat meat. Many chefs infuse additional nutrients by including an emulsification made from nuts and seeds in much the same way that plant-based milk is produced. If you add chickpea flour or nutritional yeast to seitan, you’ve got a complete protein. Furthermore, soy arises as an outstanding protein source in all of its incarnations, but consumption should be limited to curb the potential negative effects of overconsumption.
- Highest Protein Grains: Oats, Barley, Bulgur, Wheat Berries, Millet
- Ideal Pairings: Legumes, Vegetables, Salad
The protein value of grains has never been overlooked, and as a result, you find many, if not most, with a current rated protein quality assessment available. Bread, rolls, flatbread, tortillas, tacos, barley, and all types of rice are ultra versatile. Grains and beans are about the most straightforward complete protein pairing. Lysine, threonine, and tryptophan are typically the only limiting aminos in grain.
- Highest Protein Legumes: Edamame, Soybeans, Lentils, Cannellini Beans, Mung Beans
- Ideal Pairings: Grains, Nuts, Seeds
All legumes are excellent sources of protein, but most are slightly difficult to digest. Adzuki beans, black beans, edamame, soybeans, and peas are complete proteins, but pair just about any grain or vegetable with any legume, and you’ve got a whole protein in one go. The only limiting amino acids legumes are typically short in are sulfurous amino acids (methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine) and tryptophan.
- Highest Protein Sprouts: Mung Bean, Adzuki Bean, Chickpea, Soybean, Lentil/Pea
- Ideal Pairings: Nuts/Seeds, Grains, Vegetables
As protein-dense sources of easy-to-digest immunity-boosting antioxidants and nutrients, every vegan diet should include a range of sprouts. All sprouts experience a crude protein increase across all genotypes, and they’re easier to digest than before sprouting. Both soaking and sprouting improve digestibility immensely. You can sprout just about any bean or grain, which opens up a massive selection of new flavor combinations for eager cooks.The daily recommendation for sprouts is just over half a cup a day.
- Highest Protein Vegetables: Hemp Hearts, Jerusalem Artichoke, Broccoli Raab, Brussel Sprouts, Mushrooms
- Ideal Pairings: Grains, Legumes, Seeds, Nuts
Very little information is available concerning the protein quality of vegetable protein as measured according to the PDCAAS system or its newer counterpart. All vegetables, with the exception of a notable few, generally rate at a PDCAAS score of between 0.73 – 0.88. Tubers like potatoes are rated between 0.74 -0.89. On a DIAAS score chart, the limited number of vegetables tested generally rank under 75.
- Highest Protein Fruit: Cucumber, Gourd, Guava
- Ideal Pairings: Vegetables, Berries, Nuts, Plant-Based Milk
Fresh fruits evaluated using the PDCAAS system fall between 0.75 and 0.89, which makes them a healthy, moderately digestible source of nutrition. As a matter of interest, fresh fruit has higher digestibility, as indicated by the PDCAAS score of dried fruit of dried fruits of 0.65. Limited data concerning the protein quality of individual fruits are available, but fruit is generally easy to digest.
- Highest Protein Berries: Goji Berries, Boysenberries, Pomegranate, Red Currant, Black Mulberries
- Ideal Pairings: Fruit, Vegetables, Nuts, Plant-Based Milk
Berries should not be used as a direct source of protein but rather as a healthy, frequently used source of antioxidants and fantastic flavor. As a minor source of protein, berries aren’t rated according to any protein evaluation system. However, goji berries are a gigantic source of healthy protein. At over 14 grams of protein in a little over half a cup of goji berries, they’re equivalent to a single beef sausage or three ounces of mixed nuts.
- Highest Protein Seeds: Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Chia Seeds, Flaxseeds
- Ideal Pairings: Nuts, Legumes, Grains
Seeds of all sorts are a dense source of nutrition, healthy fiber, fat, and calories which is why most dieticians recommend up to a quarter cup three to four times a week. Despite not being rated as a source of protein using either popular system, it’s really easy to up your protein using seeds. Hemp and chia seeds are particularly well-rounded and equally as versatile as each other but be sure to try out a range of different types for both nutrition and unique flavor. Threonine, tryptophan, lysine methionine and cysteine are typically found to be the limiting amino acids in seeds.
- Highest Protein Nuts: Sachi Inchi, Pistachios, Cashews, Walnuts, Hazelnuts
- Ideal Pairings: Seeds, Whole Grains, Vegetables
The only nut that has an estimated DIAAS score published at the time of writing is pistachios, and at over 20 grams per serving, it’s clear to see why. Other nuts don’t quite have the same degree of digestibility of other leading protein sources and pistachios, but they do pack a nutritional punch that includes tons of protein. An ounce of nuts per day is the top recommendation, which equates to about as much as most people can fit in the palm of their hand. Nuts have the same limiting amino acids as seeds.
- Highest Protein Herbs: Tarragon, Paprika, Black Pepper, Spirulina, Dill
- Ideal Pairings: Any
They may not be rated, and in just about any form, they’re definitely a low-protein complement to food instead of a protein source, but herbs are indispensable to every diet. You’ll be surprised by just how much protein herbs and seasoning adds.
- Highest Protein Flour: Soy Flour, Lentil Flour, Chickpea Flour, Cornmeal, Bread Flour
- Ideal Pairings: Vegetables, Seeds, Legumes
While up-to-date DIAAS scores for flour are severely lacking, PDCAAS data is available for most types of flour and has been added wherever possible. If you bake even infrequently, try combining flour types to up the nutrition while discovering texture combinations that often suit baked or battered goods far better than regular all-purpose flour alone. Most flour has lysine as the limiting amino.
- Highest Protein Bread: Cornbread, Multigrain, Rye, Flaxseed, Sourdough
- Ideal Pairings: Seeds, Vegetables, Legumes
The right type of bread will keep you feeling fuller for longer while at the same time delivering a healthy portion of your protein daily intake recommendation. Try bread made from lentil or chickpea flour for an even greater protein boost with equally impressive levels of fiber and other nutrients. Nut butter and bread is about the easiest high-protein snack around. Combining seeds and grains is another way to up the protein significantly. Most varieties of bread have lysine as the limiting amino acid.
Plant-Based Milk (Unsweetened)
- Highest Protein Plant-Based Milk: Hemp, Hazelnut, Peanut, Pea, Soy
- Ideal Pairings: Any
Saying no to dairy or filling in the gaps as a flexitarian opens up a whole new world of tasty options. Each plant-based milk comes with a flavor of its own, so it’s best to sample a few to find their best place and purpose in your diet. Fermenting plant-based milk improves the concentration of amino acids considerably.
- Highest Protein Plant-Based Butter: Peanut, Almond, Pistachio, Cashew, Walnut
- Ideal Pairings: Any
Whether you’re on a plant-based diet or not, plant-based butter is tasty and nutritious. Whether spread onto wholegrain bread or used as baking ingredients, the protein boost comes with a delectable one-of-a-kind flavor unique to each nut butter.
- Highest Protein Condiments: Tahini, Miso, Hummus, Soy Sauce, Tomato Paste
- Ideal Pairings: Any
There’ll be no relying on condiments for protein, but most of our favorite sauces make a minor contribution toward nutrition. A single tablespoon of miso grants 2 grams of protein. As one can clearly see, certain condiments can quickly add up.
- Highest Protein Protein Powder: Soy Protein Powder
- Ideal Pairings: Fruit, Nuts/Seeds, Plant-Based Milk
Only athletes, adventure sport enthusiasts, and those who live hectic lives will end up needing protein powders. They are, however, a handy way to squeeze loads of extra protein and other essential nutrients into your day. So many plant-based diets incorporate smoothies for their sheer nutrient density, and protein powders suit them perfectly.
Other Protein Sources
Because of the massive differences in composition and nutrition from product to product, the following vegan proteins have not been tabulated and assessed, but each still makes a notable contribution to daily protein intake:
- Vegan Cheese
- Cereals & Porridges
- Bottled & Instant Ready-Mix Sauces
- Bottled Fermented Products (Kimchi)
Best Vegan Proteins – Frequently Asked Questions
Have you been left wondering anything about vegan proteins? We’ve got all the answers you need coming up.
To calculate protein density, all you need to do is divide the total protein count in grams by the total calories, then take this sum and divide it by 100. This score shows the protein density or the percentage of protein relative to the total calories per serving. The higher the number, the better.
Sedentary adults need 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Active plant-based eaters should get in at least 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound. Many nutritionists advise those on training programs and highly active individuals to up this by 10 to 22 pounds per day, depending on their body weight and level of activity.
Eating too much protein will place immense strain on your kidneys regardless of the protein type. Bodybuilders typically maintain a protein intake of around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This goes up to 1.2 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight temporarily when the athlete tries to shed fat and “cut.” Anything exceeding 1.5 grams of protein per pound is gross overconsumption, with the upper-end limit, which only very specific athletes will consume for limited periods, being 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If a sedentary individual had to suddenly start scarfing down 120-150 grams or more of protein per day without balancing out the intake with enough carbs and fat, the risk of kidney disease rises to a near certainty. With improperly functioning kidneys due to the surplus of amino acids being excreted, protein toxicity is likely.
Tempeh is one of the easiest high-protein plant-based foods to digest. The fermentation process increases the digestibility of and nutrient absorption from soybeans. It’s also got more protein and fiber than either tofu or seitan, which are two other popular choices for those relying on plant-based protein. Those who are allergic to soy should consider seitan, mycoprotein, or legumes (after soaking) instead.