Adding a vegan protein into your weekly meal plan can seem a little scary if you’re a newbie. But with a vast array of vegan proteins to choose from, you really have no excuse not to jump on this train and incorporate them into your diet.
If you’re concerned that you won’t get enough protein in every meal, plant-based health coach and founder of Green Beat Life Susan Tucker says you should put that fear aside. “High amounts of protein can come from four of the five plant food groups: vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It’s about understanding the vegan food groups and feeling assured that your meals are providing you with the protein you need,” says Tucker.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the kinds of vegan protein you decide to add to your plate. “It’s easy to become a junk food vegan,” says Tucker. “There are many delicious vegan processed foods on the market, which may offer protein but are also filled with excess fat, sugar, and sodium. Then we will face the same health challenges that are all too familiar. Golden rule: keep it real. Establish a whole-food, plant-based approach, meaning [eat] unprocessed for the majority of your meals and keep those yummy processed vegan choices as your occasional foods or treats. Follow this guideline, and you will meet your vegan protein needs in the healthiest way.”
An estimated 2 million Americans have already adopted a totally vegan lifestyle, so there are new recipes and food options popping up every day. But you don’t have to go fully vegan to reap the health benefits of this diet—adopting more plant-based eating habits will go a long way to helping the environment and benefiting your health.
To further convince you that you should add vegan protein options into your diet, we connected with a couple of experts to provide eight sources of vegan protein that will easily fit into your weekly meal plan.
Edamame is one of the easiest vegan protein options you can add to your meals. Whether you eat these tender little soybeans with a bit of salt or add them to your salads, they’ll make you feel full long after you’ve finished eating. “[Edamame is] a great source of protein that provides all the essential amino acids. It also provides 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber for a half a cup of the beans. It’s great as a snack out of the pods or stir-fried for variety,” says certified nutritionist Mary Jane Detroyer.
2. Black beans
Black beans have become a great go-to protein alternative for meatless meals. Because one cup has 15.2 grams of protein, you can mix them into any dish to help get your daily serving. “[Black beans] are great in soups, burritos, and [can be added] to rice with veggies and vegan cheese. They provide flavor and a nice creamy texture with about 9 grams of fiber and a small amount of iron in a half cup cooked,” says Detroyer.
“Tofu is another source of protein that provides all of the essential amino acids; it comes in different densities, providing the most protein per serving. Firm tofu provides 8 grams of protein for a 3-ounce can and 1 gram of fiber. It’s also a good source of calcium and provides some iron,” says Detroyer. Luckily, tofu is a versatile vegan protein that can be mixed into smoothies and soups, while firmer options can be baked in the oven or cooked in stir-fries. The options are endless!
Tempeh is a nuttier, chewier version of tofu, and a great healthy vegan protein that will add variety to your meals. “This is another form of tofu [that has] all essential amino acids. It provides 16 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber for 3 ounces. It can be cooked in stews, braised or marinated, and grilled or baked in the oven. While it can be bitter, this [taste] can be removed by cooking it for a few minutes while being submerged in an inch of water in a pan,” says Detroyer.
Hummus is not the only way you can incorporate this vegan protein into your diet. With 10.7 grams of protein per cup, you’ll want to include chickpeas into every weekly meal plan you create. “These can be cooked into soups and can be added to pasta dishes and stews. They also work well in pancakes, muffins, and other non-yeast types of loaves of bread,” says Detroyer.
While you may not have heard of seitan, it has 42% of the daily value of protein you need in just one ounce. This vegan protein is made from gluten, so might not work for everyone, but if you’re interested in trying it, know that it’s high in fiber and provides a good amount of iron.
While quinoa might not be for everyone, it’s a great source for protein, especially when you mix it with other vegan proteins, such as tofu, legumes, or tempeh. “[Quinoa] is a small, light grain that provides all the essential amino acids. It can be added to a salad, a pilaf with added veggies, and can also be added to legumes to make vegan burgers,” says Detroyer.
According to Detroyer, lentils are a good source of protein and fiber, especially when mixed with grains and starchy vegetables. You can accomplish this by creating lentil soups, mixing them into cold salads, or creating quinoa/lentil burgers from scratch.