I remember the one vegan girl in my high school, Sara—she always seemed so mysterious, carrying around her slices of apples with peanut butter, never eating the dining hall lunch. At the time I was vegetarian, but even for me the thought of going 100% vegan was beyond comprehension because protein-rich foods are from animals (or so my thought process went). Did she have an eating disorder? I wondered. Could you really survive without any animal products?
This was 15 years ago now, and in that time the world has changed. You can find not only soy, but also almond, coconut, and cashew milks in most grocery chains, along with vegan Daiya shredded cheese and a variety of other dairy-free products. Aside from the massive influx of vegan recipe blogs, grocers have taken note and begun stocking all kinds of plant-based delights. If you live near a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, you can go crazy with cheesecakes, yogurts, and fried faux chicken tenders (check out this quick guide to all the vegetarian and vegan options at Whole Foods). One article from the UK based Telegraph states that veganism has risen by 360% in the last 10 years—certainly by now it’s fair to say that the idea of “doing without” is long gone in the vegan world.
I myself transitioned to veganism six years ago, and I often say it’s one of the unequivocally good decisions I’ve made as an adult. I love knowing that my diet is supporting a greener, kinder planet, and I absolutely love indulging in delicious, and often protien-rich vegan food! I must warn you, though, if you become vegan there is one question that will haunt you forever—this is something people all over the world will ask as if they are the first, and you always need your answer at the ready. The dreaded question is, “How do you get your protein?” and, in an anecdotal poll of my fellow vegan friends suggests that you can expect to hear it at least twice a week.
I’m here to help, fellow vegans! This list of plant-based, protein-rich foods will be sure to silence any critics.
- Quinoa (8 grams of protein per cup). This nutty grain makes a great base for salads, or can be eaten as a side in place of rice or pasta.
- Edamame (18 grams per cup). These naturally tasty soybeans make a great appetizer or afternoon snack, and they are full of protein. Just sprinkle on a little salt and enjoy!
- Rice and beans (7 grams per cup). I include this on the list because as a staple of many of our diets growing up, it’s a relief to find it’s actually great for you after you’ve grown up and quit the meat habit.
- Potatoes (4 grams per medium white potato). Although potatoes aren’t going to cover all your daily protein needs, it’s nice to know that such a delicious side dish is contributing to your nutrition baseline.
- Hummus and pita bread (7 grams per serving). The combination of wheat and legume here brings you a complete protein, so with some edamame and hummus as starters, you can fill up on protein before the main course.
- Steel cut oats (7 grams of protein per ¼ cup dried). Start your morning off with a protein boost in your cereal bowl. Pour in some soy milk and you can raise the protein level even higher.
- Lima beans (15 grams per cup). These buttery beans are very easy to make—just cover them in water and boil until tender, adding vegan butter and vegetable broth to taste—and really pack a nutritional punch.
- Peanut Butter sandwich (15 grams with 2 tablespoons peanut butter and two slices wheat bread). This easy, inexpensive staple can do you a big favor when it comes to boosting your protein intake with minimal effort.
- Spinach (6 grams per cooked cup). Thanks to Popeye, most of us think of spinach as an iron booster, and it is, but it turns out it’s a decent source of protein as well.
- Avocado on multigrain toast (the avocado contains up to 3 grams of protein per cup, and the bread can contain up to 5 grams per slice—always check the nutrient info on the package to verify).
Now don’t forget to do us proud and actually eat these things on a weekly basis—after all, there comes a day when we all must face the fact that Oreos and pasta with sauce don’t equal a balanced diet, no matter how tasty and filling they may be. And if you find that you’re still having trouble reaching your goal protein level, try this yummy plant-based protein powder in your morning smoothie.