Five simple ways to add more protein to your vegan or plant-based diet.
Many new and transitioning vegans get hung up on protein. Ironically, it is the most straightforward nutrient to get enough of in your diet.
Unless you’re a bodybuilder or you engage in high-intensity exercises, you only need 0.8g per kg or 0.36g per lb of body weight to keep you healthy.
Protein is present in most grains, seeds, nuts and vegetables, and it is abundant in legumes like beans, peas and lentils. You can read more on vegan sources of protein in this post.
How to add more protein to your vegan or plant-based diet
1 | Top your breakfast bowls with seeds or nuts
We usually overlook them, but seeds and nuts are good sources of protein. On average, seeds including chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds contain 4.5g of protein per 25g serving, while nuts contain around 3.8g of protein per 25g serving.
Peanuts are botanically legumes, but we all include them in the nut category. They are, in fact, one of the best sources of nut protein.
You can maximise the protein content of your meals by including one or more of the following nuts and seeds. These nuts and seeds contain the highest amounts of protein. Their protein content per 25g serving is shown in brackets.
- Pumpkin seeds (7.5g)
- Peanuts (6.5g)
- Sunflower seeds (5.25)
- Almonds (5.25g)
- Pistachio nuts (5g)
- Cashews (4.5g)
- Chia seeds (4.5g)
Don’t be put off nuts and seeds because of their fat content. Keep in mind that they are also good sources of essential omega-3 fats and critical minerals like calcium and iron. They are also excellent sources of dietary fibre.
2 | Incorporate legumes into your dishes
Beans, lentils and peas make up the legume family. They are the cheapest and most abundant source of protein for vegans and plant-based eaters.
On average cooked beans provide around 15-17g of protein per cup (172g), while cooked lentils provide around 18g of protein per cup (198g). Soya beans contain the highest amount of protein, providing around 29g of protein per cup, cooked.
There are so many varieties of beans and lentils; it is difficult to get bored of them. Some of my favourite beans and lentils include:
- Black beans
- Borlotti beans
- Butter beans
- Haricot beans
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Puy lentils
- Red split lentils
You can eat them plain, put them in stews, incorporate them in tortillas or add them to your buddha bowls. Some of my favourite recipes with legumes include my smoky kidney and black chilli, red lentil dahl and spicy chickpea stew.
You may experience bloating and flatulence if you don’t eat beans regularly. However, the more you eat them, the more efficient your body becomes at digesting them. Try these tips to reduce bloating or consider including a digestive enzyme in your diet. Always consult with a qualified health professional before taking any supplement or medication.
3 | Choose grains with a higher protein content
Grains are probably not the first food group that comes to mind when you think about protein. Surprisingly, they are decent sources of it. Some grains have a higher protein content than others, so an easy way to up the protein content of your meals is to choose grains with higher protein.
This does not mean that you should avoid lower-protein grains. All grains have slightly different nutrient profiles and you still want to get a variety of nutrients in your diet. Some high-protein grains include
- Amaranth, 28.1g per cup, uncooked
- Oats, 26.3g per cup, uncooked
- Teff, 25.7g per cup, uncooked
- Freekeh, 24g per cup, uncooked
- Quinoa, 24g per cup, uncooked
- Wild rice, 23.6g per cup, uncooked
- Millet, 22g per cup uncooked
Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not the highest protein-containing grain. The reason why there is so much hype around it is that its protein is complete; meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids we need for health.
Eat your grains as a breakfast pudding, or with beans, tofu or tempeh to boost the protein content of your meals.
3 | Incorporate Tofu and Tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are both made from soybeans. Tofu is made from soybean curd, while tempeh is made by fermenting whole, cooked soybeans.
Tempeh is considered healthier for you because it is made from the whole soya bean and retains most of the nutrients and fibre in the whole bean. It also contains less fat, and since it is fermented, it is easier for your body to digest.
If your primary goal is to increase protein without increasing the carb content of your meals, using tofu or tempeh is the best way to achieve this. On average, tofu provides 12.5g of protein per 100g, while tempeh offers 19g of protein per 100g.
I have not cooked with tempeh as often as I would like because it is challenging to find. Check out my tofu and broccoli in red braising sauce. Tofu, on the other hand, is widely available and very versatile.
You can add it to your smoothies, scramble it, or add it to stir-fries. In smoothies, it adds a lovely creamy texture and thickens it. If you choose a fortified version, you’d easily get calcium and vitamin B12.
4 | Add greens to your meals
Green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, spring greens, and kale are good sources of protein. The protein content of some common greens is given below.
- Kale, 4.3g per 100g
- Brussels sprouts, 3.4g per 100g
- Collard greens, 3g per 100g
- Broccoli, 2.8g per 100g
- Asparagus, 2.2g per 100g
- Green beans, 1.8g per 100g
Their protein content is of course not as high as legumes, but they can easily increase the protein content of your meals by up to 3g.
Greens provide a wide variety of minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, zinc and copper. They are also good sources of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K.
5 | Use protein powders
An easy way to get more protein into your diet is by using protein powders. You can get up 30g of protein with just one scoop of it. That said, I don’t think everyone needs to use them.
If you regularly engage in intense strength-training exercises or if you’re an athlete, they could be beneficial.
I don’t use protein powders as often as I used to when I started my plant-based journey. At the time, I was concerned about getting enough protein in my diet, and to stay on the safe side, I thought it would be a good idea to use them in my smoothies and oats.
My favourite by far is the one from Vivo life.
The ingredients in Vivo Life’s protein are way more superior than the other two, and the protein is fermented to help digestion, which is absolutely amazing.
If you know anything about protein powders, you know that they usually cause bloating and flatulence. Because the protein is fermented, no such problems occur with Vivo Life’s raw plant protein.
Vivo Life’s protein also does not have that chalky after-taste characteristic of protein powders. It blends in exceptionally smoothly in smoothies and even when mixed with oats.
Protein is very overrated, what we all should be concerned about is getting enough fibre. Rest assured knowing that if you’re eating enough calories from whole foods for your weight and activity levels, you are getting enough protein in your diet.