Plant-based protein: what, why and where to find it

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No discussion about veganism is complete without a nod to the age-old question of plant-based protein sources, but is it really that hard to get enough?

Protein, protein. Wherefore art thou protein? Pretty much everywhere, when you start really delving into the issue, which is great because one person’s perfect edible treat is another’s nightmare plate addition.

So let’s find out more.

What is plant-based protein?

vegan protein sourcesLet’s start with the basics and ask what protein in general is. In layman’s terms, it’s a nutrient that is essential for the creation of muscle mass. Identified as a critical building block in all beings, it is also a key energy source.

Traditionally, those looking to increase their protein intake have turned to meat and dairy products, resulting in the stereotype that vegans struggle to get enough protein in their diet.

Plant-based protein not only exists, but is also available in a number of different guises. The key difference between plant and animal protein is that the latter is considered to be “complete”, because it is very similar to the protein naturally found in the human body, containing all of the essential amino acids needed.

Plant protein is not complete as it lacks one, sometimes two, of the necessary amino acids. These can be supplemented through other dietary additions, but naturally, this takes more planning and a deeper understanding and analysis of daily macros.

Why is plant protein important?

plant proteinWe’ve already established what protein does for the body, so it stands to reason that anybody following a vegan diet might look to up their levels by adding certain protein sources to their everyday meal plans. Supplementation is not just reserved for pro athletes and bodybuilders, though the fact that there is an ever-increasing legion of sports superstars revealing their vegan status proves that it’s an effective lifestyle adaptation.

Recognised as a major food group and therefore an important inclusion in any balanced diet, if protein was exclusively found in animal products, it wouldn’t be possible to survive, let alone thrive, as a vegan. Plenty of us are living proof that this is clearly not the case, thanks to natural plant-based options, as well as synthesised protein powders.

Essentially, plant protein is a building block of life that requires no sacrifice from a living being. If nothing else, that’s aptly poetic, no?

Find out how much protein you should be getting as a vegan.

Where to find it

Now to the really big questions. Where can you find plant protein and can it be tasty? The short and very happy answer is that it is found in so many foods it’s almost impossible to avoid, and tasty? Try delicious!

The following are just a few of our personal favourite protein sources:

Nut butters

peanut butterNuts — they’re all the same to us, especially once they are blitzed into a creamy treat that tastes fantastic straight out of the jar. When we’re feeling less lazy, we’ll use nut butters as granola toppings, sandwich fillings, energy ball ‘glue’ and smoothie flavourings but honestly, nothing beats a spoonful of nutty goodness, just on its own.

Plus, the protein levels in nuts are fantastic, so no guilt needed here. Be more adventurous than just plumping for peanut butter too. Once you’ve tried almond, hazelnut, cashew and pistachio varieties, you’ll never be the same.

Check out our in-depth review of the UK’s best peanut butters.

Soy products

soy productsNotoriously good sources of plant protein, soy products can help up your protein intake, while also giving you a healthy, saturated fat-free meal component. You’ll find that soy can be found in various forms, including meat substitutes, as soy milk and, of course, as good old tofu, the king of plant foods for many of us. Though we all know that pressing, cooking and flavouring bean curd can take a bit of practice, so hang in there.

The only drawback to soy is that it has been in the news frequently thanks to a claim that it increases the risk of breast cancer. This has since been shown to be a myth due to different types of estrogen being banded in together. In fact, recent studies have shown that eating natural soy items such as edamame beans and tofu could actually lower your risk of breast cancer. Just one more reason to fall in love with the curd.

Seed sprinkles

high protein vegan foodsHemp seeds, chia seeds, heck, even the old fashioned sunflower seeds have a place in our hearts when it comes to adding some easy protein to our plant-based diets, because they go in almost everything.

Enjoying some cereal for breakfast? Throw in a tablespoon of chia for a more filling and protein-enriched dish. Blitz them in your smoothies and you’ll never know they are there. Add to salads for some tasty texture, and we’ve even been known to throw a few on top of a chili too.


chickpeas proteinAre pulses called as such because they get our hearts all aflutter with love and healthy protein? Wow, we might have just discovered something there. All jokes aside though, chickpeas are the ultimate do-all pulse and offer a whopping 19g protein per serving of 100g.

When you know this, you probably won’t think twice about adding a cup of cooked pulses to your next curry, but don’t snooze on hummus as a protein packed snack too. Finally, another reason to eat it by the bowlful.

Meat substitutes

plant based meatThe variety of faux meat products available now is getting almost too much. We’ve got soy, pea and wheat gluten-based options coming out of our ears and they all contain a valuable amount of protein, so which do you choose? This one all comes down to personal taste.

If you like a really realistic texture, pulled pea products seem to be leading the charge, but for the maximum protein hit, it has to be homemade seitan. It’s easy to make, can be flavoured exactly as you want and isn’t as expensive as pre-made items. Essentially, you can have all the taste of meat, if you miss it, just with none of the animal protein.

Nutritional yeast

nutritional yeastLet’s finish with a surprising plant protein source, just for fun. Yes, it’s good old nooch! Loved by many for the nutty and cheesy flavour it adds to food, as well as the necessary injection of vitamin B12, it’s easy to overlook what a brilliant source of protein it is as well.

What’s more, it’s a complete protein, as it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that we need, meaning that it will not only help us maintain good muscle mass, it will keep us healthy and repair our tissues quicker as well. Nooch! Who knew?

Next time you’re asked where vegans get their plant-based protein from, you might find it easier just to reply: “Where don’t we get it from?” with a wry smile.

Amy Buxton
Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and their beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor, before moving into her external content director role. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.