I adore beans. Truly, I do. I love the variety, texture and versatility of beans. They provide a good source of plant-based protein, iron, and other key vitamins and minerals. While many people I know and clients I work with love beans as well, some people do not. For those clients and individuals, they may be wondering….what protein sources are vegan and not beans?? Turns out there are quite a few! As a plant-based registered dietitian, I’m giving you my 10 favorite vegan protein sources that aren’t beans. Let’s dive on in!
10 Vegan Protein Sources (That Aren’t Beans)
1. Tofu – 1/4 extra firm tofu block provides ~10g grams of protein, 8% iron, 40% calcium
Tofu is a splendid protein source that can come in a variety of firmness levels. In general, the more firm tofu is, the more water has been pressed out and it it contains more protein. So for example, in Trader Joes Super Firm Tofu, each serving has more like 15g of protein! That’s the same amount at a whole cup of most beans and if beans aren’t your jam, tofu may be. Tofu can be sauteed, grilled, or crumbled. If cooking it any of these ways, extra firm and super firm work the best and you’ll still want to squeeze out the extra water. Also, keep in mind that cooking tofu can be absolutely amazing and delicious but similar to other foods, if you aren’t used to cooking it, it may require a bit of a learning curve. Want a full proof way to cook tofu? Try Roasting Tofu with THIS recipe – it’s one of our favorites!
2. Tempeh – 1/2 block contains about 20 grams of protein, 12% iron, and 6% calcium
Tempeh is fermented a fermented soy bean food that’s been eaten in Indonesia (where it originated) for centuries. This has got to be one of the most nutrient and most protein dense plant-based proteins out there. Tempeh has a firm, slightly nutty texture and I think it goes best on the grill after marinating it for 30 minutes to a few hours! Use your favorite marinade blend, or try THIS recipe if you need some inspiration for this vegan high protein.
3. Seitan – 1oz serving contains about 21 grams of protein, 8% iron, and 2% calcium
Seitan is sometimes referred to as the “wheat meat” as it’s made from the protein from wheat and contains very little carbohydrate or fat. You can make your own seitan using vital wheat gluten (it looks like a powder similar to a flour but gets stringy – that’s the protein fibers – once a liquid is added. If making it isn’t your thing, you can find many seitan based meat substitutes in the refrigerated section of a grocery store, by the tofu area. I enjoy eating seitan in thin strips on a sandwich or grilled as it has quite the robust texture that holds up well on the grill.
4. Sunflower Seeds – 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds contains 6 grams of protein, 13% iron, and 2% calcium
Sunflower seeds are a favorite high protein vegan option because they are tiny morsels that are easy to sprinkle on salads, wraps, bowls, or as a casserole topping. Sunflower seeds are also great to add into your hot or cold breakfast cereal or homemade granola bars. They are versatile and allergen friendly, making them a vegan family favorite. Sunflower seeds are not only a great vegan protein option but they are a good source of vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin E.
5. Peanut Butter – 2 tablespoons contains 8 grams of protein, 3% iron, and 1% calcium
Although technically considered a legume, peanuts for the most part are considered a nut or seed and peanut butter is generally referred to as a high protein vegan nut butter. In a very small portion (2 tablespoons), you can find 8 grams of protein, fat soluble vitamins, and a bit of fiber. Peanut butter based sauces are some of my favorite vegan high protein meals with 1/2 cup or more of peanut butter in the sauce along with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, plus tofu and veggies.
6. Almond Butter – 2 tablespoons contains 7 grams of protein, 3% iron, and 5% calcium
With a similar nutrition profile to peanut butter, almond butter is a great vegan protein source that also contains a bit more plant-based calcium. Two tablespoons is easy to eat (in fact, I frequently eat more than this on my english muffins or toast!). Almond butter can be an easy vegan protein option to add into smoothies, curries, or just eaten as a snack as is!
7. Nutritional Yeast – 2 tablespoons contains 4 grams of protein, 4% iron, 2% calcium
While nutritional yeast is generally not considered a protein source, I think it should be a regular vegan protein option in your diet – especially if it is fortified with vitamin B12. Each two tablespoon serving contains 4 grams of protein and because nutritional yeast is super easy to add into soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes or sprinkled onto pizza, baked potatoes, and wraps, this vegan superfood is a great way to boost your vegan protein intake without consuming beans.
8. Quinoa – 1 cup cooked contains 8 grams of protein, 15% iron, small amounts of calcium
Quinoa gets a lot of press for being a complete vegan protein but I think it’s even more impressive that in 1 cup of cooked quinoa, you’ll find just about the same amount of protein as an egg and a great source of plant-based iron. In general, if you’re not eating whole grains and ancient grains, you’re missing out on a vegan protein source.
9. Farro – 1/2 cup cooked farro contains 7 grams of protein, 10% iron, and 2% calcium
Farro is a whole grain used in Italian cooking that is very high in protein, as it contains about the same amount of protein as quinoa but in half the size (8 grams of protein in 1 cup cooked quinoa while 1/2 cup cooked farro provides 7 grams of protein). Yes, quinoa is that complete protein but farro is certainly a heavy hitter and can easily be added into a meal with greens or tofu to help round out the meal and provide adequate nutrition. Typically, farro takes a long time to cook but I like to buy the quick cooking farro at Trader Joe’s and while it’s a bit more expensive, it only takes 10 minutes instead of 45 minutes! The other farro bonus aside from it being high in vegan protein is that farro plumps up enough when cooking so you don’t have to add a particular amount of water. Simply boil the water, add farro, and strain just like you would with noodles.
10. Whole Wheat Noodles (any variety) – 1 cup cooked contains 8 grams of protein, 10% iron, and 2% calcium
Speaking of noodles, I don’t think many people realize that whole wheat noodles are a great source of protein, fiber, and iron. The whole grain makes all the difference when it comes to the nutritional density of a grain product. Do you think of pasta being high in vegan protein? Likely not! But, now you know that your favorite whole wheat spirals or speghetti noodles pack a lot of plant-based protein. And, since this is a bean free post, it’s important to note that while bean based pastas made with chickpea or lentil flours are becoming quite popular and while they can be good options for some, the texture may be a bit too hearty for some and the whole wheat noodles can be a good option.
There ya have it friends, 10 vegan protein options that aren’t beans. Which ones are your favorite? Did any of them surprise you?