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10 Vegan Protein Sources - Some Will Surprise You

by
author image Amanda Kirpitch, MA, RD, CSSD, CDE
Amanda Kirpitch works as a diabetes educator in New York City. Helping people find the balance between managing their chronic disease and living their best life is her passion. Recently relocated from Boston to New York City, she enjoys finding her own balance in exploring the outdoors and city life.

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10 Vegan Protein Sources - Some Will Surprise You
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Whatever the reason -- health benefits, animal rights or environmental sustainability -- more and more people are embracing plant-based eating. Despite the restriction of several food groups, with planning, adequate nutritional intake can be achieved. A vegan diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains, can offer an abundance of vitamins and minerals. When starting a vegan diet, a common concern is getting enough protein. Here’s a list of high-quality proteins that can be easily incorporated into a tasty and well-balanced vegan diet. Some might surprise you.

1. Nutritional Yeast (2 tablespoons = 8 to 10 grams of protein, depending on brand)
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1 NUTRITIONAL YEAST (2 TABLESPOONS = 8 TO 10 GRAMS OF PROTEIN, DEPENDING ON BRAND)

From a technical standpoint, nutritional yeast is an inactivated yeast form that is cultured for several days to achieve the final product. But for vegans, nutritional yeast means a delicious (animal-free) cheesy flavor loaded with protein, fiber and B vitamins. It’s a complete protein, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids, and buying the fortified type offers a good dose of vitamin B-12 -- a nutrient often lacking in vegan diets. It can be a great addition as a nutty, cheesy-tasting condiment, incorporated into baked goods, sprinkled on popcorn or even added to smoothies.

Related: Secrets of 16 Strange and Popular Superfoods

2. Peas (1 cup = 5 grams of protein)
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2 PEAS (1 CUP = 5 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Yes, the vegetable you pushed around your dinner plate is actually a good source of protein (moms are always right). Technically speaking, peas are actually seeds from a fruit -- the pea pod -- although we typically think of them as a starchy vegetable. High in fiber and supplying vitamins A, B-6 and K as well as phosphorus, magnesium and iron, they are powerhouses of nutrition not to be left on the dinner plate or hidden under your mashed potatoes. They’re a versatile culinary ingredient in the kitchen too. Eaten alone, they are usually boiled and pair well with mint or simply salt and pepper. Peas are also tasty in soups, stews casseroles and even smoothies.

Related: 9 Out-of-the-Ordinary Breakfast Smoothies

3. Spirulina (1 tablespoon = 4 grams of protein)
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3 SPIRULINA (1 TABLESPOON = 4 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Spirulina, a blue-green algae, is available as a dietary supplement and can be consumed as a flake, a powder or in tablets. It has all nine essential amino acids and is a significant source of calcium. Although inadequate in B-12, spirulina contains other B vitamins, niacin and iron. Due to its mild taste, it can be easily incorporated into juices and smoothies, and powdered forms can be sprinkled on foods. There are some risks involved with algae contaminated with toxic metals, harmful bacteria and microcystins. It’s important to ensure purity of the spirulina product chosen to optimize benefit and avoid risk.

Related: 8 Vegan Foods That Arent as Healthy as You Think

4. Lentils (1/2 cup = 9 grams of protein)
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4 LENTILS (1/2 CUP = 9 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Talk about a protein powerhouse! Lentils come in many varieties of color and size and can be sold as a whole product or split like the pea. Lentils are high in folate, thiamin, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Lentils are high in resistant starch, giving them a favorable blood glucose response and effectiveness in diabetes management. Cooking times for lentils vary, and they can be paired with rice or other grains -- or eaten all by themselves as a soup.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

5. Sunflower Seeds (1/4 cup = 6 grams of protein)
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5 SUNFLOWER SEEDS (1/4 CUP = 6 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

A popular snack on their own, sunflower seeds are high in protein, fiber, B vitamins, copper, magnesium, folate, zinc and vitamin E. As well as being high in healthy fat, sunflower seeds also contain phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. These little kernels of goodness are great on their own, or they can be a tasty, and crunchy addition to salads and granolas.

Related: 8 Vegan Foods That Arent as Healthy as You Think

6. Brown Rice (1 cup cooked = 4.5 grams of protein)
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6 BROWN RICE (1 CUP COOKED = 4.5 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Commonly thought of in vegetarian cooking alongside beans, this nutritious staple can be incorporated in many ways. Brown rice is a whole grain, so it holds on to all of its nutritional properties that are removed to make white rice. In addition to being a source of protein, brown rice is high in iron, B vitamins and fiber and is a great source of magnesium. Add rice to soups and stews, or mix it with some nutrient-rich vegetables and form into patties.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

7. Hemp Seeds (2 Tablespoons = 6 grams of protein)
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7 HEMP SEEDS (2 TABLESPOONS = 6 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Hemp seeds come from the same plant as marijuana, but it’s a different variety. Despite the association to other forms of this plant, hemp and hemp products (including seeds) contain negligible levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). What hemp seeds are high in is protein, magnesium, zinc, iron and fiber. Two tablespoons of seeds contain the same protein content as one large egg. The seeds can be eaten on top of a favorite cereal, mixed into baked goods or incorporated into smoothies.

Related: 8 Vegan Foods That Arent as Healthy as You Think

8. Tempeh (1 ounce = 7 grams of protein)
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8 TEMPEH (1 OUNCE = 7 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

Tempeh’s mild, nutty flavor makes it a very versatile food in the vegan diet. This fermented soy-based protein is functional as a grain and can be incorporated into stews or served as a stand-alone side. It’s also a helpful binder in veggie burgers. Tempeh is high in fiber and iron as well.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

9. Bulgur (1 cup cooked = 5.5 grams)
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9 BULGUR (1 CUP COOKED = 5.5 GRAMS)

Bulgur is a hearty cereal grain that has a superior nutrient profile to unenriched white rice, but can be used in many of the same ways. In fact, it’s so versatile that it’s been dubbed as “Middle Eastern pasta.” Bulgur is a quick-cooking whole grain (boil for about 10 minutes), but it breaks down slowly in the body and has a higher fiber content than quinoa, corn and millet, making it a great whole-grain choice. It’s popular for its role in the Middle Eastern dish tabbouleh, or try it in your next pilaf.

Related: 8 Vegan Foods That Arent as Healthy as You Think

10. Almond Butter (2 tablespoons = 6.5 grams of protein)
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10 ALMOND BUTTER (2 TABLESPOONS = 6.5 GRAMS OF PROTEIN)

A great substitute for traditional peanut butter, many enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits of almond butter. Compared to PB, almond butter is higher in fiber, calcium and iron. Although slightly higher in total fat, almond butter has half the amount of saturated fat, making it a heart-healthier choice. It’s also an easy swap for anyone with peanut allergies. Whether adding it to your favorite sandwich or mixing it into your favorite recipe, almond butter is an excellent choice.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Were you surprised by any of these plant-based proteins? Which ones? Do you regularly eat any of these proteins? Is there anything missing from this list that you believe should have been included? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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