How to Avoid Protein Deficiency on a Vegan Diet

Whether you’re a longtime herbivore or you’ve recently considered switching to a plant-based diet, you’ve probably wondered about how to get more protein as a vegan. 

As an essential micronutrient, protein plays many important roles in the body, helping with everything from muscle growth to tissue repair to immunity strength. Because most types of protein-rich food come from animal sources, hitting your recommended amount of protein each day can get tricky if you don’t eat meat, poultry, dairy or eggs — but luckily, it’s far from impossible.

Below, we’ll give you some tips and tricks to help you diversify your diet and prevent protein deficiency.

How do vegans get enough protein?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s current version of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily amount of protein to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight

For instance, if you weigh 190 pounds (86 kilograms), you should aim for 68.8 grams of protein per day. Keep in mind that this recommendation applies to average sedentary adults. Older adults and physically active individuals will need slightly more protein each day.

If you follow a plant-based lifestyle, you can reach this recommended amount by adding some of these vegan protein sources into your diet: 

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Nutritional yeast

6 protein intake tips for vegans

Vegan protein powder in jar and measuring spoon high-res

Yulia Naumenko/Moment/Getty Images

Looking for ways to increase your plant-based protein consumption or avoid protein deficiency? Try these tips.

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Use quinoa instead of rice

While both of these grains are good sources of carbohydrates and fiber, quinoa is the better choice if you’re aiming to increase your protein intake. When cooked, quinoa contains 8 grams of protein per cup, compared with 5 grams of protein per cup of brown rice.

On top of that, quinoa is also a complete protein, meaning that it has all nine types of essential amino acids that your body can’t produce but needs for key functions like energy production, tissue repair and immunity. Most other complete proteins come from animal sources, which makes quinoa stand out in terms of its nutritional benefits for vegan diets.

Utilize vegan protein powder

Incorporating vegan protein powder into your diet is a quick and easy way to crank up your protein intake — especially if you’re in a rush to get moving in the morning.

Even better? There are many plant-based protein powders available today, and you can use them in all kinds of ways. For example, you can get an energizing start to your day by mixing your protein powder with water or non-dairy milk. For a more substantial vegan-friendly meal, you can stir the powder into oatmeal, add it to baked goods or blend it into a smoothie or protein shake.

Provide your body with essential amino acids 

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, 11 of which the body can produce on its own. The other nine can be found in food products. As we’ve mentioned, when foods contain all nine essential amino acids, they’re called complete proteins. 

Most complete proteins are animal-based products (including meat, eggs and dairy). For vegans, there aren’t many foods that contain all nine amino acids that aren’t created in the body. However, some plant-based proteins are high in certain essential amino acids, such as soybeans, tofu, seeds, nuts, beans and lentils. By upping your intake of these amino acid-rich foods, you can get closer to hitting your daily protein goals.

However, beans alone lack all of the essential amino acids. Consider combining beans and rice to make a complete protein. When eaten together, each food contributes to what the other is missing. 

Start each day with protein

If you kick off your morning with a protein-rich meal, there’s less pressure to figure out how to reach your protein target for the rest of the day. Plus, eating protein at breakfast time will help you feel full and satisfied and give you the energy to take on the day.

Oatmeal is a great example of a protein-rich vegan breakfast. Compared with other grains, oats are high in protein and have a nice balance of essential amino acids. For a little more flavor, you can add things like fruit, nut butter or seeds. Other protein-forward breakfast options include a tofu or tempeh scramble or fruit smoothies with non-dairy milk and vegan protein powder.

Add beans to everything 

Beans and legumes are one of the most exciting plant-based protein sources simply because there are so many varieties and no shortage of ways to use them in your meals. Plus, in terms of protein content, they pack a serious punch. For example, cooked chickpeas contain 14.5 grams of protein per cup, while a cup of cooked lentils has 17.9 grams of protein.

Need some inspiration on how to incorporate more beans and legumes into your vegan diet? If you enjoy soup, you can add kidney beans or lentils to kick up the protein. Or, you can make vegan-friendly bean tacos with black beans or pinto beans. You can also bulk up your salads with peas or chickpeas. (Also, no matter what you’re whipping up, these kitchen tools can help with vegan meal prep.)

Sprinkle nutritional yeast on your meals

Nutritional yeast is a plant-based food product with a savory flavor and a high protein content. (There are 3 grams of protein in every two teaspoons of nutritional yeast.) It’s also a complete protein, featuring all nine essential amino acids that you have to get from food.

Even though nutritional yeast is plant-based, it has a nutty, cheese-like flavor — which is ideal for vegans who want a little taste of something savory. You can sprinkle nutritional yeast on everything from popcorn to soups to pasta, simultaneously enhancing the flavor of your food while also increasing its protein content. On top of that, nutritional yeast is very high in vitamin B12 — a common deficiency in vegans since B12 is often found in animal products. 

Bottom line

Getting enough protein each day is a common concern among many prospective and first-time vegans — but it doesn’t have to be. From using plant-based protein powder to choosing amino acid-rich foods, there are plenty of ways to get your recommended daily amount of protein on a vegan diet.

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