14 Complete Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

When your diet is meat-free, it seems to be harder to get enough complete protein. Eggs and meat are complete proteins, which contain essential amino acids. Plant-based sources of complete protein do exist, though.

Although plant-based protein sources don’t contain all necessary amino acids, they supply the body with enough amounts of different amino acids that support the health of those who don’t eat eggs and meat. Check out meat-free foods and combinations high in complete protein to add to your plant-based diet for optimal health:

1. Buckwheat

One of the most underrated foods, buckwheat is actually gluten-free and protein rich. It’s absolutely safe for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.

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Vegans and vegetarians should also include buckwheat in their eating plans. This pseudocereal is an amazing source of complete protein. (1) Just one cup of cooked buckwheat offers about 6 grams of protein.

You can eat buckwheat noodles called soba or cook it as you cook rice or oatmeal. Besides protein, buckwheat is high in vital minerals, such as iron, manganese, phosphorus, copper, and magnesium. It aids in managing blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol, and regulating blood pressure.

2. Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the favorite foods of vegans and vegetarians and it’s for good reason.

Quinoa packs complete protein, manganese, magnesium, iron, fiber, and many other nutrients. Known for its nutty flavor and crunchy texture, quinoa is often added to salads and breakfast porridges.

There are about 8 grams of protein in a single cup of cooked quinoa. Like buckwheat, quinoa is gluten-free. (1) If you don’t like the taste of quinoa, you can use quinoa flour to make gluten-free cookies or muffins. You’ll get your plant-based protein without noticing it.

3. Edamame beans

Edamame beans are whole green soybeans that are served either boiled or steamed. Raw edamame beans make a healthy, protein-rich snack, too. Edamame contains omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and complete protein, along with iron, fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, and vitamins C and K.

There are all the essential amino acids, including tryptophan, threonine, lysine, leucine, etc., found in edamame beans. One cup of whole edamame supplies the body with a whopping 16 grams of protein, making these beans a fantastic source of energy for vegetarians and vegans.

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4. Tofu and tempeh

Both tofu and tempeh are great complete protein sources. A serving of 85 grams of tempeh offers about 11 grams of protein while the same serving of tofu contains about 8 grams. Tofu and tempeh are also loaded with calcium, potassium, iron, fiber, and a variety of other nutrients in smaller amounts. (2, 3)

Tofu is a popular soy product that’s generally used in recipes to replace meat. The firmest tofu has the richest protein content. Tempeh is also the perfect meat substitute; you just need to learn how to cook it correctly so that you like its taste.

5. Spirulina paired with nuts or grains

Almost every vegan or vegetarian takes spirulina supplements or use spirulina powder in smoothies, salads, soups, and baked goods. This type of blue-green algae is overflowing with powerful antioxidants and a diversity of nutrients, including iron, copper, and B vitamins. (4)

Most importantly, spirulina is a nearly complete protein with about 4 grams of protein in one tablespoon of dried spirulina.

Spirulina with nuts or grains makes a great complete protein combo to munch on the go. Why is it so vital to mix spirulina with nuts or grains? The problem is, spirulina lacks in histidine, methionine, and lysine, which is why it’s referred to as a nearly complete protein. When eaten with nuts or grains, spirulina becomes a complete protein.

6. Pita and hummus

One whole-wheat pita combined with 2 tablespoons of hummus will provide your body with about 7 grams of protein. Pita lacks an important amino acid called lysine while hummus made from chickpeas or edamame is high in lysine. This is an ideal staple for those following plant-based diets.

7. Amaranth

A gluten-free pseudocereal, amaranth is a plant-based source of eight essential amino acids. This pseudocereal is particularly rich in lysine, which is lacking in wheat and corn. Amaranth is considered to be a complete protein source. (1)

There are about 9 grams of protein in a cup of cooked amaranth. Additionally, it’s packed with iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and other nutrients needed for optimal health. You can use amaranth in your breakfast porridge, salads, homemade granola bars, soups, and gluten-free baking. It also makes a delicious protein rich side dish.

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8. Beans and rice

This classic food pairing has all nine essential amino acids, forming a complete protein source. Beans are low in an amino acid called methionine and rich in lysine. White and brown varieties of rice are rich in methionine and low in lysine. When you eat these two foods together, you get a complete protein.

A cup of beans and rice is suggested to contain nearly 10 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein. This food combo goes well with roasted veggies and guacamole. When choosing the type of rice, consider eating brown or black varieties.

9. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are increasingly popular among vegans and vegetarians. These nutrient-dense seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidants. Plus, they offer all nine essential amino acids, albeit are low in lysine. There are 4 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons of chia seeds.

You can add chia seeds to your oatmeal, yogurt bowls, smoothies, salads, and baked goods. You can also make pectin-free jams and vegan puddings.

10. Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids, yet they’re not 100% complete protein. That’s because they’re low in amino acid like lysine. If you pair hemp seeds with foods high in lysine like nuts or grains, you’ll get a vegan source of complete protein. There are about 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons of raw hemp seeds.

Apart from protein, hemp seeds pack a complete nutritious punch, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s and omega-6s. 30 grams of hemp seeds can supply your body with 15% of the recommended daily intake of iron.

11. Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a staple in a plant-based diet. Vegetarians and vegans consume nutritional yeast for its increased B vitamin content. However, nutritional yeast is also a complete protein source – especially if you add it to other protein-rich meals.

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There are 8 grams of protein found in 15 grams of nutritional yeast. If you choose fortified nutritional yeast, you can enhance your intake of manganese, copper, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. Some varieties are fortified with vitamin B12.

12. Ezekiel bread

Made from sprouted legumes and whole grains, Ezekiel bread is a great source of complete protein. Just 2 slices of Ezekiel bread 8 grams. When compared with other types of bread, Ezekiel bread contains all essential amino acids thanks to the combination of legumes and whole grains in it.

According to scientific reviews, sprouting legumes and grains enhances their content of amino acids, including lysine. (5, 6) Spread some nut butter over a piece of Ezekiel bread and top with chia seeds or have it with tofu and tempeh for an extra complete protein boost.

13. Peanut butter

When it comes to nut butter, homemade peanut butter is one of the richest sources of protein. Combine it with other foods high in protein and you’ll meet your daily value for protein while on a plant-based diet. Classic peanut butter sandwich made from 2 slices of whole wheat and 2 tablespoons of homemade peanut butter offers nearly 15 grams of protein.

Nutrients found in natural peanut butter can help you to keep your heart healthy, manage blood sugar levels, and promote weight loss. Stay away from store-bought nut butters that contain sugar and other additives.

14. Seitan

One ounce serving of seitan offers about 21 grams of protein, making it an ideal food for vegan and vegetarians. Even though seitan is overloaded with protein, it’s still low on the amino acid lysine. Seitan goes well with roasted veggies and Ezekiel bread, which is high in lysine.

The final word

When you follow a plant-based diet, it might seem like a challenge to find complete protein sources. Now that you have this list of foods and food combinations rich in complete protein, this is not a challenge anymore.