Eat These 10 Foods To Get Complete Protein On A Plant-Based Diet

best protein sources for vegans

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There are plenty of benefits to eating a plant-based diet — or going vegan and omitting animal foods entirely. Since fruits and vegetables take center stage in these types of diets, following them can increase your intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals. What’s more, plant-based diets have been linked to a healthier heart. A new study presented at Nutrition 2018, a yearly conference organized by the American Society of Nutrition, found that those who ate more plant-derived protein compared to animal-derived protein were at lower risk of developing coronary heart disease later in life.

But is plant protein really equal to the protein found in meat and dairy?

Contrary to what many people think, it’s not that difficult to eat enough protein, even if you’re on a strict vegan diet. However, you need to make sure that you’re eating the right combination of foods. If your vegan diet consists of mostly white bread and pasta, for example, you probably won’t be getting much protein. Your body requires 20 different types of amino acids — the building blocks of protein — to function properly. Eleven of these amino acids can be produced by your body, but you need to get the remaining nine from your diet.

Food sources that contain all nine of these essential amino acids are called “complete protein” sources. Those who eat a typical American diet (and even vegetarians) can easily meet their daily complete protein needs by eating meat, fish, eggs and/or dairy products. For the vegans among us, getting that complete protein requires a little more effort, but it’s not impossible. Here’s a list of 10 plant-based protein sources that supply your body with all nine essential amino acids all in one go.

1. Quinoa

best protein sources for vegans

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This grain provides 8 grams of protein per one-cup serving. Quinoa is considered a “complete protein” source on its own because it provides all nine amino acids in the amounts needed for your body to function properly. It’s also a good source of filling fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and many other essential nutrients. It’s an easy high-protein alternative to rice and can be used to make muffins, cookies and even breakfast casseroles. Here are nine clever ways to use it in the kitchen.

2. Buckwheat

best protein sources for vegans


Buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free, grain-like substance. It’s often processed into flour or eaten in its noodle form (Soba noodles). One cup of cooked buckwheat provides 6 grams of protein and all nine of the essential amino acids. Like quinoa, buckwheat is also high in fiber and other essential nutrients. In particular, it’s a good source of the eight B vitamins, copper and zinc. For a healthy, protein-rich twist to your traditional spaghetti, try a buckwheat noodle salad.

3. Soy

best protein sources for vegans

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Soy products like tempeh, firm tofu and natto are known for being versatile meat protein substitutes. All three of these varieties contain complete protein but in different amounts. Tempeh and natto contain 15 grams of protein per half-cup serving, whereas firm tofu contains 10 grams for the same serving size. All three of these soy products can be used to create both savory and sweet protein-rich vegan dishes in the kitchen.

4. Ezekial Bread

best protein sources for vegans

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Thanks to the invention of Ezekial bread, you can now get all nine essential amino acids from a single loaf of bread. Most varieties are made using a combination of wheat, millet, barley, spelt, soybeans and lentils. Just two slices of Ezekial bread contain 8 grams of protein. So if you’re looking to increase your plant-based protein intake, opt for this bread instead of whole wheat the next time you’re at the grocery store.

5. Seitan

best protein sources for vegans


This popular meat substitute can be used to make anything from kebabs to sausages to burgers. It provides complete protein and a whopping 21 grams of protein per third-cup serving. Seitan is made by mixing gluten with herbs and spices and then hydrating it with water or stock and simmering it in broth. Fun fact: It was first created more than 1,000 years ago as a meat substitute for Chinese Buddhist monks. You can use seitan as a substitute in many traditionally meat-based dishes.

6. Hummus And Whole Wheat Pita

best protein sources for vegans


Although wheat does contain protein, it’s deficient in lysine, one of the nine essential amino acids you need to get from your diet. But chickpeas, found in ample amounts in hummus, are abundant in lysine. So combining these two foods together in the form oft hummus and pita chips is an easy (and enjoyable) way to get your complete protein in one go. But know that it only works if you choose whole wheat pita chips or bread — not the refined kind — because the two don’t have the same nutritional profile.

8. Whole Wheat Bread And Peanut Butter

best protein sources for vegans


Who says protein-rich foods can’t also be delicious? Just like hummus and whole wheat pita, peanut butter and whole wheat bread complement each other to form a complete protein. Two slices of whole wheat bread coupled with two tablespoons of peanut butter provide your body with 15 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids. Although peanut butter is relatively high in calories (two tablespoons contain 188 calories), it’s a great source of healthy unsaturated fat, magnesium and vitamin B6.

9. Pinto Beans And Whole Wheat Pita

best protein sources for vegans

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Give your typical burrito a healthy twist by nixing the chicken or beef and loading up on pinto beans. Swap out your flour tortilla for whole wheat pita bread and — voilá — you’ve got yourself a healthy plant-based source of complete protein. Although pinto beans provide 41 grams of protein per cup, they are deficient in methionine and cysteine, two amino acids that can be found in whole grains, like whole wheat pita bread.

10. Green Peas And Whole Wheat Pasta

best protein sources for vegans

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You might find the concept of putting peas in your pasta very strange, but it’s both delicious and good for your health. Although whole wheat pasta and peas alone don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, put them together and you get a complete protein. Peas are actually a fairly abundant source of protein — a one-cup serving of green peas yields 8 grams of protein. Whole wheat pasta, on the other hand, provides 6 grams of protein per cup. Combine the two and you get 16 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids. Try whole wheat pasta with cream, ham and peas for a delicious and nutritious meal with plant-based protein.

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