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Adopting a Plant-Based Lifestyle: Best Vegan Protein Options

Vegan protein sources including beans, almonds, and soy milk

If you’ve historically followed an omnivorous diet, being suddenly forced to adopt a largely vegan diet due to food allergies caused by a tick bite can leave you searching for alternative sources of protein. These foods are the best vegan protein options that work for folks living with alpha-gal syndrome (AGS).

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

When my vegan friends decided to adopt a plant-based diet, they actively researched the diet, thoughtfully replacing animal proteins with high-protein vegan foods. But when I was forced to immediately stop consuming mammalian meats and dairy, I was so focused on avoiding hidden sources of animal products so that I wouldn’t get sick that I didn’t give my daily protein intake much thought.

So I spent the next year incorrectly thinking I was ok scrambling two eggs for breakfast, making a smoothie with almond milk for lunch, and eating a big salad for dinner. But two eggs are only 25% of my daily protein needs, almond milk is mostly water, and, while packed with nutrients, leafy greens aren’t a good source of protein.

Fast forward to my annual checkup a year later, and my doctor informed me that I had a serious protein deficiency (which explains why my hair was falling out by the handful and I was exhausted all of the time).

Woman holding a "go vegan" sign

    

In This Article

How Much Protein Do I Need Daily?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (That’s about 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.)

Vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals who are above the age of 40 (when it’s common to start losing muscle mass due to age) should bump up their daily protein requirement to 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. And if you’re someone who exercises regularly, shoot for 1.1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight.

Sage Advice: Use the table below to get a ballpark figure for your daily allowance of protein, or use this nifty protein calculator to get a more precise recommendation.

Chart of recommended daily protein intake

Foods That Contain Alpha-Gal

Alpha-gal, officially known as galactose-α-1,3-galactose, is a sugar molecule found in most mammals. Foods like hamburger, steak, bacon, and sausage contain high levels of alpha-gal and are immediate no-nos for alpha gals. People living with alpha-gal may also experience an allergic reaction when consuming gelatin made from beef or pork or foods cooked in animal fat, like lard or tallow. 

While cow’s milk may contain alpha-gal, many people living with AGS are able to tolerate traditional dairy products. But if you are not one of them, you’ll also need to avoid these foods.

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What Can You Eat with an Alpha Gal Allergy?

While vegetarians typically eat eggs and dairy (but not meat) and vegans don’t consume any animal-based foods, I summarize an alpha-gal diet as vegan + eggs + poultry + fish. If you’re an alpha gal who can tolerate dairy, then you can summarize your diet as vegetarian + poultry + fish.

Related Article: Best Vegetarian Protein Sources

Sage Advice: If you’re an alpha gal who cannot consume cow’s milk, it’s important to note that no federal legal definition of “vegan” exists in the United States. Because the U.S. Food & Drug Administration hasn’t defined the term, food manufacturers are free to use it as they like. To ensure that your vegan foods are completely free of animal and dairy ingredients, look for products that have been certified by Vegan.org, The Vegan Society, or VegeCert.

Vegan certification logos

Plant-Based Protein Sources for Vegans (and Alpha Gals)

In addition to poultry, eggs, fish, and seafood, people living with alpha-gal syndrome can also enjoy these vegan protein sources.

Bags of Dried Beans

Beans

Whether you choose black, kidney, or garbanzo (also known as chickpeas), beans are excellent sources of protein for anyone who wants to stick to a plant-based diet. Additionally, studies show that eating a serving of beans daily can significantly lower cholesterol levels, reduce belly fat, and manage blood sugar levels. This must-have protein for vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

Margaret Smith, a registered nurse who shares healthy life tips at Days Well Spent, is a big fan of beans as a source of protein in a meatless diet. “When patients ask me how to use plant-based proteins, I explain the easiest way is to replace ground meat with beans. If you enjoy tacos, try replacing the ground meat with black beans, It will quickly become a family favorite!”  

Vegan protein sources infographic.

In addition to substituting black beans for ground beef in classic Mexican dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and nachos, you can make a batch of cowboy caviar to enjoy with chips. Or add kidney beans to your favorite chili recipe, and enjoy garbanzo beans whipped into hummus. You can also savor a filling vegan breakfast or fashion red beans into these vegan meatballs. Or snack on a batch of roasted chickpeas.

Related Article: The Best Beans for Protein (Includes 30+ Tasty Recipes)

Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are tiny black or white seeds from the salvia Hispanica plant native to Central America. Not only do they introduce texture and flavor to any dish, but they’re loaded with antioxidants and are high in calcium and other nutrients important for bone health. Chia seeds also include iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Two tablespoons of chia seeds add 4 grams of protein.

There are many ways to eat chia seeds. You can easily incorporate chia seeds into your vegan diet by sprinkling them on oatmeal, blending them in smoothies, or tossing them into a salad. You can also enjoy dark chocolate chia pudding with pistachio or kiwi coconut milk chia pudding as a sweet treat.

Green Peas

Consuming peas will also help you get enough protein in your vegan, vegetarian, or alpha-gal diet. One cup of cooked peas contains nearly 9 grams of protein, slightly more than in a cup of milk. Peas are great in green smoothies, soups, and creamy ravioli.

Bowls of Lentils

Lentils

A staple in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, lentils are known for their versatility, flavor, and high protein content. There are five main types of lentils: brown, red, green, black, and Le Puy (also known as French green lentils). A cooked cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein, which delivers a big chunk of one’s recommended daily protein intake. For this reason, lentils are a popular ingredient in vegan and vegetarian diets.

Enjoy lentils in this simple Indian dal tadka (yellow lentil curry) dish or misir wot, an Ethiopian red lentil stew. Or use split red lentils to make these vegan lentil burgers with avocado sauce.

Bowl of nutritional yeast

Nutritional Yeast

While vegetarians and many alpha gals can consume dairy, nutritional yeast is a good cheese substitute for vegans and alpha gals who do not tolerate milk-based products. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of brewer’s and baker’s yeast. It is sold as a yellow powder or in flakes that can easily be sprinkled on just about any dish. An ounce of nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, so sprinkle it on popcorn in lieu of butter or on cooked pasta instead of grated cheese. 

Sage Advice: When buying nutritional yeast, you may encounter some options that have been fortified, which simply means that they contain added minerals and vitamins.  

An assortment of nuts and seeds on a table

Nuts, Nut Butters, and Seeds

Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios and other nuts are a great addition to any plant-based diet. With a ¼ cup serving delivering around 7 grams of protein, a handful of nuts is a healthy snack that will keep you feeling full between meals. Or go beyond ordinary with these air fryer cashews made with chaat masala and paprika. 

Chopped nuts can also add crunch to your favorite salad, or you can whip them into a protein-packed butterAlthough peanut butter is one of the most common nut butters, vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals may also enjoy almond butter, cashew butter, and hazelnut butter. Made from roasted sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter is a perfect alternative to peanut butter for people with nut allergies. It also has a unique taste that makes it one of my favorite nut butters, especially when it’s the center of these dark chocolate sunflower butter cups.

Sage Advice: In its purest form, peanut butter is simply roasted peanuts that have been ground into a creamy spread. However, some brands add extra fat, salt, sugar, and other ingredients to enhance its taste. If you are trying to avoid trans fats and added sugars, always read the ingredients carefully before selecting a store-bought nut butter.

Finally, seeds are a great way to increase your protein intake without much effort. In addition to chia seeds (covered above), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds are also good sources of protein for vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals. Derived from the cannabis sativa plant, hemp seeds are a particularly excellent option as they contain more than 30% protein. 

Need nuts to satisfy a sweet tooth? Try these vegan chocolate peanut butter energy bars or make your own peanut butter cups.

A bowl of oats

Oats and Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a popular breakfast food because it is easy to prepare, and it’s filling, with one cup of oats providing 10 grams of protein. While oats don’t offer as much protein as other items on this list, they do contain a higher percentage of it than other grains like rice and wheat.

Try this apple pie porridge with chunks of fresh apples, or make these overnight oats for a grab-and-go breakfast option packed with protein. In addition to cooking them as oatmeal, you can add a handful of oats to a smoothie or grind them into flour for baking. 

A woman pouring a scoop of protein powder into a shaker

Vegan Protein Powder

A scoop or two of vegan protein powder in a smoothie or protein shake is an instant way to  increase your protein intake. My favorite is Orgain’s Organic Protein. It is available in several flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter, as well as seasonal flavors like strawberry and pumpkin spice. Two scoops of this gluten-free, plant-based protein powder will give you 21 grams of protein. It is also packed with berries, greens, and other nutrient-rich ingredients. 

Quinoa

Quinoa

First grown nearly 7,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains, the Incas called quinoa “the mother grain,” a term possibly derived from its complete protein form. What is a complete protein? It’s a protein source that includes all nine types of amino acids that humans need to obtain from food. So when you replace rice or pasta with quinoa, you add 8 grams of quality protein per cup to your diet.

Make a batch of quinoa in the Instant Pot to use all week in recipes like this filling quinoa tabbouleh salad or this tricolor salad with roast vegetables. You can also pack acorn squash with protein by stuffing squash halves with quinoa, walnuts, and peas. Or, use the superfood to make these delicious quinoa stuffed tomatoes.

Related Article: Power Up with Quinoa, A Complete Protein

Seitan

Also known as wheat meat, seitan is high in protein, packing 20 grams in a 3-ounce serving. It closely resembles the look and feel of actual meat when cooked, making it a great meat replacement for people transitioning from an omnivore diet to a strictly plant-based one. It can be cooked in myriad ways, including pan frying, sauteéing, and grilling. Or whip up this seitan curry dish in just 20 minutes.

A plate of tofu on a woven mat with chopsticks surrounded by soybeans

Soybean Products Like Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame

Soy-based products are popular meat and dairy replacements for vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals because they are complete protein sources. Soybean products are very popular in East Asian cuisine where they are hailed for their immense nutritional value. Edamame are immature soybeans that need to be boiled or steamed before consumption. Snack on them with a sprinkle of salt, or add them to soups and salads for extra flavor and texture.

Tempeh and tofu can both be used as meat substitutes in many dishes, like these crispy tempeh bites made in the air fryer and this miso glazed tofu recipe. Tempeh’s firm but chewy texture makes it an excellent addition to sandwiches and salads. Both tempeh and tofu are flavor sponges, absorbing the rich flavors of any other ingredients in the dish. These soybean products contain 12 to 20 grams of protein per cup. 

Sage Advice: When it comes to milk alternatives for vegans and alpha gals who cannot tolerate dairy, soy milk is my favorite plant-based milk because it contains as much protein and calcium as cow’s milk.

Wild Rice

Wild rice is rice that hasn’t been stripped of its bran, making it more nutritious than long-grain options. Compared with basmati and jasmine rice, wild rice contains 60% more protein per cup.

What are Your Favorite Vegan Protein Sources?

What are some of your favorite high-protein vegan foods? Any additional tips or to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Thank you for sharing!

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