How can I eat more protein within a vegan diet?
March 10, 2009 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I was shocked how little protein my current diet consists of. How can I make sure that I get enough protein? Problem: I am almost vegan

I have been a vegetarian since I am twelve and I have been almost vegan for two years now. Almost vegan means I eat vegan at home but when I am invited or eat outside I also eat cheese from time to time.

Last week I started a nutrition log at I was quite shocked about the little amount of protein in my current diet. My questions are:

(1) How much protein should one eat daily? The suggestion of 150 to 200mg seems extremly high to me. Do you need more or less protein, when all your protein sources are non-animal?

(2) What is the best vegan food to increase my protein intake besides soya milk and tofu? If you are vegan, how do you make sure to get enough protein?

(3) Is soya protein powder a good alternative?
posted by jfricke to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Rice and beans.
posted by Max Power at 3:45 PM on March 10, 2009

I don't know the answers for questions 1 or 3, but to boost protein intake, I'd try nuts or natural peanut butter.
posted by anderjen at 3:48 PM on March 10, 2009

The US RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your ideal body weight.

Beans and nuts are generally good non-animal sources of protein.
posted by Flunkie at 3:48 PM on March 10, 2009

The suggestion of 150 to 200mg seems extremly high to me.
Woah... didn't notice that on first read. That's not "extremely high". It's shockingly, dangerously low.
posted by Flunkie at 3:52 PM on March 10, 2009

Nuts, beans, soy/whey protein supplements. But really, lots of nuts and beans. Quinoa.
posted by billysumday at 3:52 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: Ups sorry... their standard goal for protein intake is 150 to 200 gramm not mg.
posted by jfricke at 3:54 PM on March 10, 2009

Legumes aka beans. Or lentils. Eat a lot of them. Every day. Or nuts, but those tend to push your fat intake up too quickly.

The FDA recommendations that drive food labeling are 50g protein per day for an adult, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. 200mg of protein is not very high at all... a serving of breakfast cereal has anywhere from 1g to 5g of protein.

Googling vegan protein brings up this and lots more. Though I think a cup of tempeh is a bit more than I'd eat as one serving. Maybe half a cup.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on March 10, 2009

OK, then that's shockingly high. Unless your ideal weight is a quarter ton or so, which means you're, what, about fifteen feet tall or something.
posted by Flunkie at 3:55 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, yeah - 150g to 200g is a lot of protein. At 4 calories per g that's 800 calories from protein or 40% of you daily intake which is a heck of a lot.
posted by GuyZero at 3:56 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here is a lot of useful information about a vegan diet from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:58 PM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: Specifically this page about protein intake for vegetarians and vegans.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I may as well give it to you. Via that page, according to the RDA, you should get around

Body weight (in pounds) X 0.36 = recommended protein intake (in grams)

in protein per day.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rice and beans.
Rice is not that great a source of protein.
posted by Flunkie at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2009

Very helpful stuff from Salvor Hardin - I also eat mainly vegan (cheese as a treat once in a while when out to eat with friends), and my daily protein intake (grams) coincides with what's stated there (my weight in pounds x 0.36). I achieve this by making sure I use a lot of protein in meals (sometimes doubling the number of beans or tofu or seitan a recipe calls for, for example) and snack on protein-rich things (nuts or - in a pinch - a vegan protein bar). Remember that vegans need to get our "good fats" in somewhere, so I think of nuts as my go-to snack. I'm open to corrections or suggestions, though! I also drink a large soy latte every day, and the protein in that is equivalent to what I get in an average (for me) lunch or dinner. I can feel my energy lag toward the end of a day where I haven't had enough protein, so I'll arrange my dinner accordingly.
posted by pammeke at 4:16 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Edamame soybeans have a lot of protein. The frozen sort can be found at most any grocery store, and they are quite tasty.
posted by HonorShadow at 4:19 PM on March 10, 2009

Mushrooms also have protein, though not huge amounts. (Button mushrooms are about 3% protein by weight.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:23 PM on March 10, 2009


-When you eat grains, eat whole grains. A cup of cooked brown rice, for example, contains 5 grams of protein. A slice of whole wheat bread contains 4 grams. Certain grains, like amaranth and quinoa, have about 8 grams per cup (cooked). Since most people eat lots of grain, this protein can really add up. Plus whole grains are really good for you in many other ways.

-For a snack, have a handful of nuts. There's a lot of research that shows that eating a handful of nuts each day gives significant protection against heart disease, and a little handful should have about 5 grams of protein. A cup of cashews has 22 grams of protein! (Also about 800 calories.) Peanut butters and other nut butters like cashew and almond are also a great way to sneak protein in to your diet.

-Many vegetables contain much more protein than you'd think. A cup of broccoli contains 3 grams of protein. A cup of spinach has 5 grams.

-As others have said, beans! Edamame (soybeans) is incredibly delicious and 1 cup contains 29 grams of protein! Lentils, chickpeas (do you like hummus?), black beans... lots of options there. Very easy to prepare.

I have been a nearly-vegan-vegetarian for about a year, and I've been vegetarian most of my life. I have kept extremely careful track of my diet every once in a while, mostly out of curiosity, and I have found that I consume about 50 grams of protein per day. (My weight is roughly 51 kilograms.) I am in very good health and certainly do not feel as though my diet is missing anything. Generally, I do my best to eat nutrient-dense foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits), and I honestly spend very little time thinking about individual nutrients. I don't stress out about what I'm eating but try to cultivate a taste for the most healthful whole foods by learning how to cook them really well, and that seems to be working for me.
posted by Cygnet at 4:24 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Rice is not that great a source of protein.

Rice has essential amino acids in it, but it needs to be combined with other plant foods in order for to create a complete protein. This is why rice and beans together makes a good protein source. Brown rice is better for this than white rice, because many of teh amino acids are in the husk.

Here is some information on how to combine different plant foods to create complete proteins.
posted by girlgenius at 4:26 PM on March 10, 2009

Nutrition advice for serious weight trainers tend recommend higher amounts of protein, but unless you're eating and training to put on serious muscle (and some fat), 150-200 grams is too high for most people.

OTOH, most recommendations of x grams of protein a day are based on an omnivore diet, not a vegan or vegetarian diet. Most vegetable sources are deficient in one or more amino acids compared to the gold standard of egg protein. You can get 50 grams of vegetable protein a day but still come up short of target amounts of each amino acid if you tend to get your protein from only one type of food, such as grains. So you should eat a variety of plant sources and try to balance complimentary proteins.

Look at charts of complimentary proteins such as this to get you started, but get more detailed information about the protein quality of specific foods by searching any ingredient here. You don't have to eat the recommended combos at the same meal -- in the same day is fine -- but this approach can help you plan nutritious and tasty meals.

On preview: rice with beans can be a better source of all the amino acids than beans alone, but not all beans are created equal. Poke around the Nutrition Data site for more info.
posted by maudlin at 4:26 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and PS:

The CDC, which I personally regard as a relatively accurate source of nutrition information, recommends that women age 19-70 get 46 grams of protein per day.
posted by Cygnet at 4:32 PM on March 10, 2009

girlgenius -

While protein combining can't hurt, it is a myth that it is necessary. You do not need to combine proteins at every meal. As long as you eat a variety of different foods, you do not need to worry about getting complete protein. You can find research supporting this in many places, but the USDA says so on this page.
posted by Cygnet at 4:37 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you need more or less protein, when all your protein sources are non-animal?

From the "not all beans are created equal" link in maudlin's answer:
This is as good a place as any to point out that the Amino Acid Score on Nutrition Data is not adjusted for the fact that vegetable proteins are somewhat less digestible than animal proteins. So the true protein quality for vegetable foods is going to be somewhat less than the Amino Acid Score suggests. (You probably don't need to worry to much about this for reasons I'll explain later.)
Presumably proteins in whole grains are somewhat less digestible than proteins in nuts or beans. I don't know how many somewhats it takes to make a substantial though.
Maybe beans and nuts are equally digestible to animal proteins, and it is only the whole grains that are harder?
posted by Chuckles at 4:53 PM on March 10, 2009

(1) How much protein should one eat daily?

The EAR (estimated average requirement) to maintain nitrogen balance is 0.67 g per kg of body weight per day.

Some people need more than this, some people need less. The RDA, which is set 2 standard deviations above the mean requirement, is 0.8 g per kg of body weight per day.

If you are trying to build muscle, you will obviously need more than this.

See the Dietary Reference Guidelines by the Institute of Medicine:
posted by tiburon at 5:02 PM on March 10, 2009

Quinoa is a good source of protein and fiber.
posted by aperture_priority at 5:10 PM on March 10, 2009

Look into lentils. They are a very high source of protein, as well as non-heme iron.
posted by thisjax at 5:11 PM on March 10, 2009

My understanding (and it may be outdated, but is based on "Diet for a Small Planet", a widely-known classic book) is that you don't actually need to eat a lot of "complete" protein (such as is found in soybeans). Rather, the body assembles its own proteins from amino acids. There are a few amino acids we don't synthesize, so we have to make sure to eat enough of each of those.

The author of "Diet for a Small Planet used to believe that it was important to have each of these nine amino acids at each meal, but in a more recent edition of the book she has said that they don't all need to be consumed at the same meal.

So, relax about the protein! It will be difficult to get enough if you're trying to bulk up your muscles a lot, but for most people it's not a huge problem.

Here's a link about protein and vegetarianism (I found it by Googling just now; it references the book I mentioned, which is respected, but I don't know this site well). A Google search for vegan protein turned up lots of promising links.

What you do need to watch out for, as a vegan or near-vegan, is that you get enough B12 and D vitamins. If you're not eating meat, it's surprisingly difficult to get enough sunlight (depending on your lifestyle, of course) to make enough D. B12 is found in dairy products, but if you only get a very small amount of these, you might want to look into supplementation.
posted by amtho at 5:13 PM on March 10, 2009

TVP is what I have mainly used for the past two years to ensure I get enough protein in my vegan diet, aside from nuts, beans, etc. You can make a lot of yummy stuff with it.
posted by peewinkle at 5:21 PM on March 10, 2009

Primal Strips! There are a variety of flavors and products they are made out of. I like the Thai Peanut and Mesquite Lime best. Texas BBQ and Terayaki are also good. You can find them individually at Whole Foods and can buy them in bulk on Amazon.

Seitan and Tempeh (which some of the Primal Strips are made of) are also great.
posted by reddot at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

My weight lifting book (well the lady version of that book) says a minimum of 0.5g of protein per 1 lbs of body weight at minimum, and 0.75-1g per 1 lbs of body weight if you are engaging in a weight training program. Just another guideline for you.

Also my roommate has some soy protein powder but it smells really gross. YMMV.
posted by sararah at 6:52 PM on March 10, 2009

A diet that is very high in protein is a risk factor for gout. (A diet which is very low in protein can lead to kwashiokor.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:10 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:47 PM on March 10, 2009

If you are so short on protein my guess is that you don't really like a lot of food that is high in it, and it hasn't killed you, so I wouldn't get too excited about all this. All you really need is more rice and beans.

If you are comfortable with cheese you can try whey protein - and you will be eating a byproduct of cheese making, and is easy to mix into a shake. If you've got a TJ's in your neighborhood they've got some good tasting powders, and I like the price/taste. Soy protein powders are fundamentally the same for protein, and watch your intake if you are not active - you can quickly pack on the weight if you overdo it.

If that isn't the direction you want to go in you, with all the shakes and other fixings, can try almond milk. Its got decent protein (not great) and easy to do -open carton-drink (chill if in the US and can't drink anything room temperature) and pretty tasty in the choco flavor.

You don't need very much protein if you aren't physically pushing yourself, it really depends on how much energy you expect to burn up. I would start at around 20g, I'm average male westerner, A typical single scoop of protein powder will usually have 20g and I would think twice about going over 40 grams of protein in supplements if I wasn't actively working out. Check out the Vegan Athlete series for serious consideration of the protein topic. Their answer for more protein: Beans and Rice. Also throws out some science (like using PDCAAS Scale) regarding the bioavailability of amino acids and the author notes that: Contrary to popular belief, plant protein sources like soy are some of the highest absorbable, and higher than beef. There are other scales or measures of this - but its not like 20% difference in bioavailablility is really going to make much a convincing argument to get you to switch to eating pork.

Also: your body needs a very small amount of b12, generally I would argue that scurvy is more a problem for the meat eating types that b12 deficiency is for the veggies and vegans adults*, if we are throwing around pirate diseases. People love pushing their lifestyle in the guise of nutrition or proper living, don't buy it. If you are looking for other supplements, you could do worse than something like the Floradix (interesting but I haven't used it) recommended in the third part of that athlete series, or some other multi to ensure you've covered all the basics.

*research on geezers and kids says b-12 is cheeeaap so better safe than crippled. Also: scurvy assertion not actual statistics or empirically verified in any way.
posted by zenon at 8:00 PM on March 10, 2009

I ate a vegan diet of only raw foods and got plenty of protein. You may want to track your daily diet on a site like in order to get used to the types of foods you can add to your diet to get more protein.

Here's some of what I would add to my diet:

Spirulina, raw
hemp seeds
flax seeds
yeast extract spread (tasted nasty, though)
pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
sunflower seeds

My salads contained lots of spinach and romaine, which have protein as well. Sites like are good to use because most people have no idea that vegans can get plenty of protein.
posted by Piscean at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2009

as a vegan i make sure i get 200g plus of protein a day (120kg powerlifter so possibly more than you would require). try to vary your protein sources as much as possible so that it's not all coming from soy products.

for breakfast i have a bowl of oats with soya milk (about 20grams) and then other meals during the day are based around

(1) beans: kidney beans, lentils, black beans, etc.

(2) tofu, tempeh and seitan products

(3) mock meats: vegan sausages, schnitzels, etc., almost always contain huge amounts of protein

(4) protein powders: there are a wide variety of non soy protein powders available today including pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp protein, artichoke protein, etc., and protein bars (clif builder bars are vegan)

(5) snacks including nuts and seeds, ground flaxseed is especially important for omega 3, peanut butters sandwiches, etc.

(6) cereal proteins to ensure a complete EAA intake: quinoa, brown rice, wholemeal bread and so forth

some good sources of further information are and
posted by deadchia at 12:31 AM on March 11, 2009

Miso and tempeh probably have the highest amount of usable protein because they are fermented, so some of it is pre-digested for you. Plus you get the probiotic bacteria. And delicious if prepared properly...much more so than fake meat.

Ditto for fermented beans in south indian foods like dosas and idlis.
posted by melissam at 1:23 AM on March 11, 2009

Seconding hummus.
posted by roxie5 at 7:17 AM on March 11, 2009

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