While that question may earn the ultimate eye-roll from a long-term vegan, it’s understandable why people keep on asking. After all, popular wisdom (and the food pyramid) has long suggested that animal products are the only source of the amino acids we need. That’s completely false, of course … given that bulls get their protein from plants, why should humans be any different?
Luckily, people like David Carter, Rich Roll, and Serena Williams are showing the world that plants build muscle better than their meaty counterparts. (Keep in mind, if you’re not a professional athlete — it’s likely you need a lot less protein than they do. Use this handy protein calculator to determine how much you need per day based on your sex, age, weight, etc.)
So with mythbusting in mind, here are our top 10 vegan protein sources:
While fermented tofu may not sound super appetizing, it’s much tastier than its description may suggest. A four-ounce serving of the meaty ingredient offers up around 21 grams of protein. For some people, that’s half their daily need! What makes this foodstuff extra awesome is the fact that it contains every essential amino acid in one delicious package.
Yes, veggies are a valid protein source — particularly those nutrient-dense leafy greens like broccoli (one cup = 4.2 grams of protein), spinach (one cup cooked = 5 grams of protein), Brussels sprouts (one cup = 5 grams of protein), and collard greens (one cup cooked = 5 grams of protein). Make a batch for every meal and you’ll be bulking up in no time.
Nothing screams Americana like nut butter (with jelly of course!), and one serving of that old-school ingredient has nearly a quarter of your daily protein allowance (8 grams). If you’re into traditional eats, stick to peanut butter (preferably all-natural) or opt for the even more mineral-rich almond, walnut, or sunflower butters.
Despite the fearmongering about soy that tends to flood the interwebs, tofu is extremely healthy and packed with nutrients — plus it boasts 10 grams of protein in a half cup serving. Calm your fears with this list of why the ancient ingredient is so awesome, then add it to your stir-fry, breakfast tacos — or even sauces.
Beans, beans the magical fruit … we think you know the limerick. But seriously though, beans and legumes are the BEST. While protein counts do vary by bean, you can rest assured that they’re all heavy on the magic ingredient. One cup of cooked lentils = 9 grams; kidney beans = 19.3; black beans = 15.2; and garbanzo = 14.8. All in all, you can’t beat that protein punch. Add ’em to salads, pile ’em into tacos, make burgers out of ’em — find as many way to eat beans as you can. It might just save your life.
Made from beans or nuts, it makes sense that non-dairy milks would be packed with protein. They’re an easy, liquid way to get those extra grams. Organic soy milk has the highest count (one cup = 8-11 grams of protein), but almond milk (one cup = 2 grams of protein) or hemp milk are good alternatives (one cup = 5 grams of protein).
In addition to its ability to be made into almost anything (from clothes to paper to fuel), hemp has some amazing nutritional qualities. Just one small tablespoon has 5.3 grams of protein — plus fiber, potassium, iron, and vitamin A. Pour on cereal, add to smoothies, or use them as a non-dairy yogurt topper.
Quinoa’s definitely the popular kid in the cafeteria. This ubiquitous seed (yes, it’s actually a seed) has made the mainstream over the past several years, and with good reason. It has a whopping 8 grams of protein per cup — and there are more than 100 varieties, so you can go nuts trying ’em all out. Quinoa is awesome paired with stir fry; mixed with non-dairy milk and fruit for breakfast; or mix it in with some hearty soup.
Otherwise known as “nooch,” this ever-popular condiment has a massive 8 grams of protein per tablespoon. While some newbies may wonder what they’re supposed to do with this pervasive ingredient, the truth is, it’s good for almost everything! It can make a mean cheese sauce, adds flavor to almost any savory dish (think of it as grated cheese), and one heaping tablespoon more than meets the daily requirement for vitamin B-12.
This dark green sea plant has a well-earned rep as a superfood. Per tablespoon (which you can easily add to a morning smoothie), it has 4 grams of protein, plus vitamins B1, B2, B3, copper, iron, antioxidants, chlorophyll, and lots of other goodies. It’s maybe the healthiest food you can eat, so load it in with those bananas and almond milk.