Vegan Protein Sources Chart [Free Download]
“Vegan Protein Sources Chart [Free Download]” was written by Kate Spurgin & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Kate is pursuing her B.S. in Dietetics at Eastern Michigan University.
Eating ample protein every day can feel challenging, especially if you prefer vegan sources. Let us take the guesswork out of this for you!
Below, you will find tips on how to calculate your daily protein needs and make sure you get enough protein, plus access to a free vegan protein sources chart that you can use right away.
Why Is Protein Important?
Protein is an essential nutrient for life. It is present in every cell in our bodies and is critical to good health. This is especially true for older adults, but people of all ages must consume adequate amounts of protein to stay healthy and maintain physical functions.
How the Body Uses Protein
Our bodies use protein in many important ways. It is used to make the body’s cells and tissues, including our organs, bones, blood, skin, and more. It supports our immune systems and helps us maintain muscle mass.
Protein can also help us recover from illness, injuries, and medical procedures like surgeries.
Effects of Not Getting Enough Protein
When older adults do not eat enough protein, they can develop sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass with aging. Muscle loss can lead to increased falls, injuries, and hospitalizations. It can also cause difficulty performing activities of daily life and loss of independence. (1)
Can You Eat Too Much Protein?
In healthy adults, excess dietary protein is usually flushed out of the body in urine. But too much protein can cause problems like increased risk of developing kidney stones, cancer, and heart disease. These effects may be less likely with vegan protein sources, though. (2)
Plant-based/vegan protein sources may actually offer protection against kidney stones and cancer. (3) They do not contain as much saturated fat as red meat and full-fat dairy, so are also less likely to raise the risk of heart disease. (4)
Any high-protein diet that does not include enough carbohydrates and water can cause problems like constipation, dehydration, and bad breath. (4) It is important to make sure older adults get adequate carbohydrates and fluids, along with protein.
It is important to note that anyone who has kidney disease may need to limit their protein. Talk with your doctor or dietitian to learn how much protein you should eat every day.
Protein Needs for Older Adults
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for healthy adults 18 years and older is a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Adults older than 65 years need more protein than this due to the physical changes that accompany aging. (1)
How Much Protein Is Needed?
Current research shows that adults 65 years and older should consume 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. This will prevent muscle loss and help support good health, immune function, and physical capabilities. (1)
There is not yet a specific guideline for the safe upper limit of protein. For most people, experts recommend not eating more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. (2)
For further information, learn more about protein requirements for older adults.
How to Calculate Your Protein Needs
Older adults’ protein needs are 1.0-1.2 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. This translates to 1.0-1.2 g/kg/day.
One kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds. To convert pounds to kilograms, divide your body weight by 2.2. For example: 150 pounds / 2.2 = 68.2 kg.
Multiply your weight in kilograms by 1.0-1.2 grams to get the range of protein you should be eating every day.
To continue the example from above, this would be: (68.2 kg x 1.0 g) to (68.2 kg x 1.2 g) = 68.2 to 81.8 grams of protein daily.
1. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms (kg).
2. Multiply your weight in kg x 1.0 g and 1.2 g to get the low and high ends of your protein range.
How to Eat Enough Protein Every Day
Eating the recommended daily amount of protein may feel challenging at first, but it can be done in a way that works for you.
By eating a variety of protein foods throughout the day, you can easily meet your needs.
Another strategy is to enrich your foods with extra protein. Try substituting almond flour for half of grain flours in your baked goods.
Use soymilk in smoothies in place of water. Add chopped nuts and seeds to your morning oatmeal. There is a lot of room for creativity with this!
Be sure to check out our High Protein Foods SERIES that includes a high protein food list, grocery list, and meal planner.
Eat Protein Throughout the Day
To preserve muscle mass, it is best for older adults to eat protein throughout the day. (5) This means including good sources of protein at every meal and snack, starting with breakfast.
Here is an example of how protein-rich foods can be eaten throughout a day:
- Breakfast: A bowl of steel cut oats topped with hemp seeds and soymilk.
- Midmorning snack: A sliced apple with peanut butter.
- Lunch: A bowl of split pea soup with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and whole wheat toast.
- Afternoon snack: Hummus dip and vegetables.
- Dinner: Stir-fried tofu and broccoli over quinoa.
Try to plan your meals and snacks ahead of time to take the guesswork out of eating enough protein. And keep protein-rich foods on hand for when hunger strikes.
Eat Protein from a Variety of Sources
Different forms of protein have different nutrients and qualities—we will discuss this more later in the article. Eating protein from a variety of sources will help ensure you have a balanced and complete diet. It will also keep your diet more interesting and enjoyable.
Your Protein Adds Up!
Keep in mind that most foods contain some protein. The foods included in our chart are high-protein, but you will be eating protein in many of the other foods you eat each day. Every bit of protein you eat counts toward your overall needs.
While a medium banana is not considered a protein-rich food, it does contain more than 1 gram of protein. Half a cup of cooked brown rice provides about 2.5 grams, and 1 cup of cooked broccoli contains nearly 4 grams. (6) All of this protein adds up over the course of a day.
Let’s consider this using our protein needs calculation from above. We determined that a 150-pound older adult needs about 68-82 grams of protein each day. A banana, brown rice, and broccoli eaten within a day would contribute about 10% of their required daily protein.
Plant Vs. Animal Protein Sources
Plant and animal proteins have many differences. They provide different amounts of protein and other nutrients, and our bodies use them differently. For older adults who have difficulty chewing, many plant proteins offer a softer alternative to meats.
Total Amount of Protein
Meat, pork, fish, and poultry are typically muscle, which is a very protein-dense food. For example, a 4-ounce chicken breast contains 34 grams of protein—about half of the daily need of a 150-pound older adult.
Plant sources of protein are less protein-rich, so it is necessary to eat more of them for the same amount of protein. To get the 34 grams of protein in a chicken breast, we would need to eat a serving each of soymilk, oatmeal, lentils, almonds, and tofu.
At first, it may feel like you will need to eat too much to get enough protein from vegan sources. If this is the case for you, try planning out what you will eat each day as you get started. This will help you avoid filling up on low-protein foods and consume adequate protein.
There are also vegan protein powder supplements available for people who are unable to eat enough whole-food protein. These may include formulas made with pea protein, soy protein, or hemp powder.
Bioavailability is a measure of how easily the body can digest and absorb a nutrient contained in a specific food. Protein in whole plant foods, such as those included in our chart, have lower bioavailability on average than protein from animal sources. (7)
This means that your body may not absorb as much protein from plant-based foods as it would from meat, eggs, or dairy products. It is another reason it is important to plan carefully and make sure you are eating ample protein each day.
What Else Do These Sources Contain?
The foods we eat contain more than just protein. This is where we see some major differences between plant and animal protein sources.
Vegan protein sources contain several important nutrients and are cholesterol-free. Many of them are loaded with fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and improve bowel health. (8) They also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that help keep us healthy.
On the other hand, animal protein sources do not provide fiber but do contain cholesterol. Saturated fat content varies between different foods, but animal protein generally contains more saturated fat than plant-based sources. (9)
Some dietary vitamins and minerals are provided mostly or solely through animal products. Talk with your doctor or dietitian if you are following an all plant-based diet, to learn whether any supplements are needed.
If you are vegan and experiencing unintended weight loss, read about the 15 best high calorie vegan foods.
By eating a balanced diet and a variety of foods, we can ensure we are getting enough complete proteins. Let’s dive into the science behind this concept to learn more.
What Are Complete Proteins?
Protein is made up of many amino acids that are linked together, kind of like a string of pearls. There are 20 different amino acids, and our bodies only make 11 of them. We rely on our food to get the other 9, which are called “essential” amino acids. (10)
Foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids are called “complete proteins.” Most complete proteins are animal food sources, except for whole soybeans and products made from them. This includes tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and edamame. (10)
How to Eat Complete Proteins
Soybeans are not our only plant-based option for complete protein. Many foods, like those in our vegan protein sources chart, contain some of the 9 essential amino acids. By eating a variety of these foods, we can combine their amino acids to get complete proteins. (10)
We do not need to eat specific foods together at each meal. Instead, we should eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds each day. By doing this, we take in all the essential amino acids needed by our bodies. (10)
Vegan Protein Sources Chart PDF
Here is a downloadable chart of plant-based protein foods.
This chart provides an overview of many vegan protein sources and some of the nutrients they contain.
Sneak Peak of Vegan Protein Sources Chart
|Protein Source||Serving Size||Protein in Each Serving||Also a good source of:|
|Seitan / Vital wheat gluten||3 ounces||16 grams||Calcium, iron (some brands)|
|Tempeh||3 ounces||11 grams||Fiber, iron|
|Tofu||3 ounces||8 grams||Calcium|
|Refried beans||1/2 cup||9 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium|
|Cannellini beans||1/2 cup||8 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium|
|Kidney beans||1/2 cup||8 grams||Fiber, iron|
|Lentils||1/2 cup||8 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium|
|Pinto beans||1/2 cup||8 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium|
|Split peas||1/2 cup||8 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium|
|Black beans||1/2 cup||7 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium|
|Edamame / Soybeans (shelled)||1/2 cup||7 grams||Fiber, iron|
|Black-eyed peas||1/2 cup||6 grams||Fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc|
|Garbanzo beans / Chickpeas||1/2 cup||6 grams||Fiber, vitamin B6, iron, potassium|
|Lima beans||1/2 cup||6 grams||Fiber, iron, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium|
|Soy milk||1 cup||6 grams||If fortified: Calcium and other vitamins & minerals|
|Nuts & Seeds|
|Hemp seeds / “hearts”||3 tablespoons||9 grams||Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium|
|Peanuts||1/4 cup||8 grams||Fiber, vitamin E, magnesium|
|Peanut butter||2 tablespoons||8 grams||Vitamin E, magnesium|
|Pumpkin seeds / Pepitas||1/4 cup||8 grams||Iron, magnesium, zinc|
|Almond butter||2 tablespoons||7 grams||Magnesium|
|Almonds||1/4 cup||6 grams||Fiber, calcium, vitamin E|
|Chia seeds||3 tablespoons||6 grams||Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, calcium, iron|
|Pistachios (shelled)||1/4 cup||6 grams||Fiber, vitamin B6|
|Sunflower seeds (shelled)||1/4 cup||6 grams||Fiber, vitamin E, magnesium|
|Cashews||1/4 cup||5 grams||Iron, magnesium, zinc|
|Hazelnuts / Filberts||1/4 cup||5 grams||Fiber, vitamin E, magnesium|
|Sesame seeds||3 tablespoons||5 grams||Fiber|
|Walnuts||1/4 cup||5 grams||Omega-3 fatty acids|
|Almond flour||1/4 cup||3-6 grams||Vitamin E, magnesium|
|Potato with skin||1 medium-large potato||5-8 grams||Fiber, vitamins B6 & C, iron, potassium|
|Green peas||2/3 cup||5 grams||Fiber, vitamin C|
|Corn||1 cup or 1 large ear||4-5 grams||Fiber, vitamin C, potassium|
|Broccoli||1 cup||4 grams||Fiber, vitamins A & C, potassium|
- S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central – fdc.nal.usda.gov
- NutritionData – nutritiondata.self.com
- Product packaging
What The Vegan Protein Sources Chart Includes
Our chart contains foods from a variety of food groups and includes each food’s serving size and the amount of protein per serving. All of the foods listed are commonly available and contain at least 4 grams of protein per serving.
We have also listed some of the other nutrients each food provides at 10% or more of our daily requirements. This is not all-inclusive—these foods contain more nutrients than those listed. As you will see, many of these foods contain some of the 7 key nutrients for senior nutrition.
How to Use The Vegan Protein Sources Chart
After calculating your daily protein needs, you can use this chart to plan how you will eat enough from vegan sources. Keep in mind that most foods contain protein. These will not be your only daily protein sources but will help ensure you have covered your protein needs.
It is important to note that the protein per serving for these foods will vary between brands. Check the labels on the brands you buy to ensure you have the best information.
If you are transitioning to a plant-based diet, you may use this chart for meal ideas. Use a protein-rich food as a starting point to build a recipe or meal around. Try something new or swap a low-protein ingredient out for one of these foods.
Putting It All Together
As you begin using our Vegan Protein Sources Chart, we recommend first calculating your daily protein needs. This will help you plan for getting adequate protein from your meals and snacks.
It is important to eat a variety of protein-rich foods throughout the day to preserve muscle and good health. Remember that most of the foods you eat contain some amount of protein. All of the protein you eat will add up each day and count toward your daily needs.
Keep in mind that plant-based foods contain less bioavailable and smaller amounts of protein than animal protein sources. This makes it especially important to eat ample protein every day. Plan ahead to take the guesswork out of this and keep protein-rich foods on hand.
Vegan protein-rich foods offer many benefits and they provide a softer alternative to meats. We hope our chart will help you take advantage of these healthy foods.
(Feel free to use this infographic; please link back to this post and give credit to The Geriatric Dietitian!)
- Bauer J, Biolo G, Cederholm T, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: a position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14(8):542-559. doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2013.05.021.
- When it comes to protein, how much is too much? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/when-it-comes-to-protein-how-much-is-too-much. Published May 2018. Updated March 30, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2020.
- Shu X, Calvert JK, Cai H, et al. Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones: Results from the Shanghai Men’s and Women’s Health Studies. J Urol. 2019;202(6):1217-1223. doi:10.1097/JU.0000000000000493.
- Cronkleton E. Are there risks associated with eating too much protein? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/too-much-protein. Published December 11, 2017. Updated April 13, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2020.
- Farsijani S, Morais JA, Payette H, et al. Relation between mealtime distribution of protein intake and lean mass loss in free-living older adults of the NuAge study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(3):694-703. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.130716.
- FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/. Accessed October 24, 2020.
- Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, Walrand S. The role of the anabolic properties of plant- versus animal-based protein sources in supporting muscle mass maintenance: a critical review. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1825. doi:10.3390/nu11081825.
- Fiber. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/fiber. Published November 2, 2019. Accessed October 27, 2020.
- Protein. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein. Published September 18, 2012. Accessed October 27, 2020.
- Do I need to worry about eating ‘complete’ proteins? Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/do-i-need-to-worry-about-eating-complete-proteins. Published March 12, 2019. Accessed October 28, 2020.