Finding the right proteins for vegans

Getting enough protein as a vegan can be tough, but these tips can help you reach your daily recommendation.

One of the first questions likely asked of vegans and vegetarians is: Where do you get your protein? It’s a fair question. In the United States we often believe that protein only comes from animal foods, and that we need large amounts of it daily. The good news for vegans is that protein comes from plant foods, too, and we don’t need the huge amounts most consume. The daily recommendation of protein for adults is 10-35 percent of calories. For a 2000-calorie diet, this is only 200 to 700 calories, or 50 to 175 grams of protein per day. In contrast, the recommendation for carbohydrates is 45-65 percent, and for fat is 20-35 percent. To find your specific daily protein recommendation, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2, then take that number and multiply it by 0.8. The answer is the amount of protein in grams that you require daily. For example, a 150lb adult needs about 54g of protein per day (150 ÷ 2.2 = 68 x 0.8 = 54).

Proteins are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids – some of these our body can make (non-essential), and some we have to get from our diet (essential). You may have heard the term “complete protein”, which refers to a food that provides all of the amino acids our body cannot make. Because vegetable proteins are typically not complete, it is important to consume a variety of foods that will provide all of the essential amino acids in a day’s intake. Protein plays a role in many functions of the body and unbalanced diets can lead to a compromised immune system, hormone imbalance, and lack of energy, among other things. If you are thinking about following a vegan diet, there are many reputable resources to help make healthy choices.

Protein counts for common vegan substitutes:

Seitan (1/3 cup)


Tofu (1/2 cup)


Soy milk (1 cup)


Nutritional yeast (1 ½ Tbsp)


Cashews (1 oz)


Almond milk (1 cup)


Rice milk (1 cup)


Flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax)


Medjool dates (3 dates)



Those practicing a vegan lifestyle can find high amounts of protein in foods like tofu, legumes, and whole grains:

  • A slice of whole-wheat toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter provides about 8 grams of protein.
  • A cup of black beans with a cup of brown rice provides 19 g of protein.
  • A ½ cup of raw peanuts contains 19g of protein

Even fruits and vegetables have some protein:

  • Banana has 1.2 g of protein
  • A potato contains about 3 g of protein

Almost all whole foods contain some protein. A vegan who is eating an adequate amount of calories should have no problems fulfilling daily protein requirements. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Sugar contains no protein; a high sugar diet will be low in protein.
  • Alcohol contains no protein
  • High quality proteins are legumes eaten with whole grains (such as beans with rice, peanut butter with toast)

Whether vegan, vegetarian, or someone who is simply looking to eat healthier, it’s important to focus on eating a wide variety of whole foods every day. Michigan State University Extension, along with USDA recommends avoiding packaged and processed foods as much as possible; cutting back on added sugars by avoiding sweet beverages, and sweet baked goods; eating a large amount of fruits, vegetables and fiber every day; and not eating too much at any one time.

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