High protein vegan meals or recipes are often hard to come by.
I’m not sure whether this is because vegans consider protein to be an over-hyped nutrient. Or because they believe that as long as a vegan diet provides enough calories, it will automatically also provide enough protein.
Regardless of the cause, the result remains the same. Despite it being an important nutrient, plant protein is one I often seek lacking in vegan recipes.
So in this article, I thought I’d discuss why high protein vegan meals are worth the effort and share some the tips I personally use to boost the plant protein content of my family’s vegan meals.
Why are high protein vegan meals so important?
Protein plays many important roles in the body.
For starters, it’s a structural component of all cells, which means that your body requires it to function properly. Protein is also essential for processes such as building muscle, growing strong hair and nails, and maintaining the integrity of your skin.
You also need to get enough protein from your diet in order to make hormones, enzymes and DNA, as well as to transport important compounds such as iron all throughout your body (1).
Low protein diets, such as the 80/10/10 diet, may theoretically be sufficient to meet your basic biological protein needs. However, there are several advantages to eating more than the minimum daily amount of protein your bodies requires.
For instance, protein can help reduce hunger, guard against cravings, and enhance bone health. A little extra protein is also helpful when wanting to build muscle, or preserve it during a period of weight loss.
Moreover, high protein vegan meals are especially important during periods of illness, accelerated growth, or during life stages such as pregnancy (1).
All these reasons make including enough high protein vegan meals in your diet especially important, and definitely worth the effort.
IN SUM – Protein is involved in many essential bodily processes. A protein-rich vegan diet helps you feel satiated, builds or preserves muscle, and provides support during periods of illness or growth.
How much protein do I need on a plant-based diet?
The amount of protein you need tends to vary based on factors such as your weight, physical activity level, training goals, or life stage.
That said, current recommendations suggest that most vegans would benefit from eating around 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1 g/kg) each day (1).
This is slightly more than the typical 0.4 grams per pound (0.8 g/kg) recommended to non-vegans (1).
In pregnant women, this translates to a daily protein requirement of 0.6 grams per pound (1.4 g/kg) per day instead of the typical 0.5 grams per pound (1.1 g/ kg) recommended to non-vegan pregnant women.
Do vegans actually need to eat more protein?
Plant proteins tend to be more difficult for the body to absorb than protein from animal-based foods. This is the main reason why vegetarians and vegans are often advised to eat slightly more protein than meat-eaters (2).
However, based on the current research, it can be argued that the difference in protein absorption between meat- and plant-based eaters is likely too small to warrant the increased protein recommendations (3).
In other words, it’s possible that vegans may not truly require more protein than non-meat eaters.
However, it may be worth erring on the side of caution and aiming for the more conservative estimates whenever possible.
A registered dietitian can help you figure out your specific individual needs, as well which foods to eat to meet them. However, these ball-park figures are a good starting point.
IN SUM – Vegans may need slightly more protein than meat-eaters, but more research is needed to confirm this. For now, aim to get around 0.5 grams of plant protein per pound of body weight (1 g/kg) per day.
Are plant proteins incomplete?
Protein is made up of amino acids; which can be split up into three categories (4):
- Essential amino acids: this refers to the 9 amino acids that your body cannot make. The only way to get them is through your diet.
- Non-essential amino acids: this category encompasses 11 amino acids, which your body can usually make from the 9 essential amino acids.
- Conditionally essential amino acids: a group of amino acids generally considered non-essential. These can become essential in times of quick growth, such as pregnancy or adolescence, or as a result of illness or trauma.
All foods, plant-based or not, contain all 9 essential amino acids. That said, animal food contain equally good amounts of all essential amino acids while plant foods tend to be low in at least one or two essential amino acids.
For example, vegetables and legumes tend to be low in methionine and cysteine, whereas grains, nuts and seeds tend to offer low amounts of lysine. This is why some people refer to plant-based foods as “incomplete” sources of protein (5).
This isn’t a problem per-se. As long as your diet contains a good variety of plant foods, you’re likely to meet your essential amino acids needs throughout the day.
However, it does require some planning to ensure you eat a sufficient amount and variety of high protein vegan foods on a daily basis.
IN SUM – It’s absolutely possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet, even during periods of increased needs. However, this does require knowledge and proper planning.
How do I get more plant based protein in my diet?
What are the richest sources of plant protein?
Here are some examples of high protein vegan foods worth including into your diet.
The first set of foods provides around 9-20 grams of plant protein per serving (6):
- Tempeh: 20 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Edamame: 12 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Seitan: 11 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Tofu: 10 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Beans, lentils, and chickpeas: 9 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Nutritional yeast: 10 grams per 2 tbsp (24 grams)
This second list of foods are slightly lower in protein, but can still be helpful to slightly boost the protein content of your meals. They typically provide between 3-8 grams of protein per serving (6):
- Pumpkin seeds: 8 grams per 1 ounce (28 grams)
- Soy milk: 7 grams per 1 cup (240 ml)
- Soy yogurt: 6 grams per 1 cup (245 grams)
- Green peas: 5 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Teff, spelt and quinoa: 4-6 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Yeast spread: 4 grams per 1 tbsp (18 grams)
- Peanut butter: 4 grams per 1 tbsp (16 grams)
- Hempseeds: 3 grams per 1 tbsp (10 grams)
You can double-check whether you’re meeting your daily needs by using a free online diet journal. My personal favorite is Cronometer.com, for the sheer amount of detailed nutrient information it provides.
If you need specific guidance or help meeting your increased protein needs during pregnancy, check out the vegan pregnancy diet mini-course. Also, feel free to reach out in the comments below with any additional questions!
IN SUM – To ensure you’re getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, try including at least one high-protein plant food to each of your meals and snacks.
How can I add more protein to my breakfast, lunch or dinner?
It can be challenging to come up with easy and tasty ways to add more plant protein to your meals. Below, you’ll find a few of my favorite high-protein vegan meal and snack ideas to get your inspiration flowing!
High protein vegan meal ideas for breakfast
- Scrambled tofu: topped with veggies and nutritional yeast and served in a whole wheat wrap.
- Vegan pancakes: made with corn and black beans and served with diced avocados and a tomato and basil salad.
- Breakfast smoothie: made with frozen fruit, fortified plant milk, leafy greens, silken tofu, soy tofu or soy milk, and dates, to sweeten to taste.
- Whole grain toast: topped with nut butter, hempseeds, and fresh fruit. Served with a side of soy yoghurt or a glass of soymilk.
- Chickpea omelet: made with chickpea flour, veggies and served on whole grain toast.
High protein vegan meal ideas for lunch
- Meal salad: made with leafy greens, your choice of veggies and topped with cooked quinoa, diced avocado, your favorite beans and plant-based dressing.
- Hearty meal soup: essentially your favorite soup, topped with beans or lentils. My personal favorites are:
- Pumpkin and white bean soup topped with hempseeds and homemade croutons
- Blended back bean soup topped with puffed quinoa and shredded red cabbage
- Phó-style noodle soup topped with fried tofu and veggies
- TLT sandwich: a vegan variation on the traditional BLT sandwich. Made with marinated tempeh, lettuce, tomato, vegan mayo, and hempseeds, served on a whole grain bread, with a side salad.
- Leftovers: from a well-balanced dinner. This is my personal favorite way to have a well-balanced ultra quick lunch!
- Fresh spring rolls: made with smoked tofu, brown rice noodles, and your choice of veggies, served in a rice roll with a side of peanut-based sauce.
- Vegan tomato quiche: made using a vegan pie crust, dijon mustard, and tofu, blended together with fresh herbs and topped with fresh tomato slices.
High protein vegan meal ideas for dinner
- Stir fries: with brown rice or rice noodles and topped with crispy tofu, your favorite sauce and plenty of vegetables.
- Vegan ratatouille: made with rosemary-seasoned eggplant, zucchini, onion and tomatoes, topped with marinated tempeh, and served with a side of polenta.
- Jacket of all trades potatoes: english or sweet potatoes topped with sauteed greens, corn, beans in tomato sauce, nutritional yeast and a cashew sour cream.
- Indian-style Dahl: made with red lentils, coconut milk, plenty of veggies and served on a bed of brown rice or quinoa.
- Vegan burgers: bean- or chickpea-based patties topped with veggies and served with a side of homemade coleslaw.
- Taco or chilli bowls: made with your choice of beans and veggies and served in a whole grain tortilla bowl.
- Homemade pizza: topped with vegan pesto, marinated tempeh, hemp, flax or chia seeds, rucola and your choice of veggies.
IN SUM – The high protein vegan meals above should provide you with some ideas on how to boost the protein content of your own plant-based recipes.
How can I add more protein to my snacks?
High protein vegan snacks can be just as difficult to come by as high protein vegan meals. Here are a few of my family’s favorites for inspiration.
- Tofu fingers: served with a salsa dip sprinkled with hempseeds.
- Soy yoghurt: topped with fruit and ground nuts
- Black bean dip: served with veggies or these spinach and sesame crackers.
- Tofu pizza sticks
- Vegan yogurt bark: made with your choice of fruit and the soy yogurt highest in protein available to you!
- Roasted chickpeas: topped with your choice of herbs or spices.
- Edamame beans
- Chia pudding: made with a fortified plant milk and topped with fruit and a sprinkle of your favorite nuts.
- Fruit and vegetable smoothies: made with fortified plant milk. Try adding tofu and flax, chia or hempseeds for an extra protein boost.
IN SUM – The protein-rich vegan snack ideas above can help you meet your total protein requirements on a plant-based diet.
Should I be taking vegan protein powders or other supplements?
Protein powders can be an easy way to add extra protein to your meals and snacks. They’re particularly helpful if you are unable to meet your daily protein needs through foods alone.
However, protein powders are generally considered inferior, because they often lack the vitamins, minerals or other beneficial plant compounds found in whole foods.
Moreover, supplements are poorly regulated and vegan protein powders are no exception. This means that they may not contain what’s listed on the label, or may become contaminated with harmful compounds such as lead (7, 8, 9).
You can minimize these risks by opting for brands that get their products tested by independent labs. These can confirm whether the product truly contains what’s listed on the label, and whether it is free from other contaminants.
However, favoring a foods-first approach to meeting your protein needs, whenever possible, remains best.
IN SUM – Protein powders contain fewer nutrients and beneficial compounds than whole foods and may also become contaminated with harmful compounds. So favor whole foods over protein powders whenever possible.
Are vegan mock meats healthy?
Like protein powders, vegan mock meats can be a helpful way to get a little extra protein in your diet. They’re especially handy for people who struggle to get enough protein from minimally-processed, protein-rich foods alone.
That said, most mock meats are heavily processed, which renders their nutrient profile typically inferior to their whole food counterparts.
For example, soy-based vegan minced meats or burger replacements are often made using soy protein isolate, which is an isolated protein-rich component of soy.
Although rich in protein, soy protein isolate lacks many of the other vitamins, minerals or beneficial compounds found in whole soybeans.
Therefore, relying on it as your main source of protein too frequently may result in a diet that’s rich enough in protein, but that fails to meet your vitamin and mineral needs.
Moreover, many vegan meat replacements also tend to contain considerable amounts of added fats, sugars or salt, which are best minimized.
That’s why a burger made with whole soybeans or, one made from minimally processed soy-based foods such as tofu or tempeh, would be a better alternative.
IN SUM – Relying on mock meats as your main source of protein may reduce the overall quality of your vegan diet.
To sum it all up
Making sure that your plant-based meals contain sufficient amounts of protein is essential for your health and overall well being.
The majority of vegans likely benefit from eating around 0.5 grams of plant protein per pound of body weight (1 g/kg) each day. Keep in mind that this daily requirement will likely increase during periods of pregnancy, illness or growth.
The high protein vegan meals and snacks mentioned above should provide you with some inspiration as to how to boost the protein content of your plant-based diet.
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