Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning that we can only get it from food.
Like all amino acids, it’s tougher to get enough of it on a vegan diet than one that includes animal products.
But of course it can be done, especially if you know which vegan foods contain the most of it.
That’s why I put together a collection of the 30 best vegan leucine-rich whole foods.
One thing before we get to that, is how much should you eat per day?
The minimum target is 42 mg per kg of bodyweight.
For example, I’m 170 lbs (77kg), so that’s 3234 mg, or 3.234 g per day.
If you’re an athlete, you’re going to want to aim for even more.
The Top Vegan Leucine Food Sources
I came up with this list by using the food database that the USDA provides, and extracting the nutritional information for over 120 vegan whole foods.
The table below is the result when I sort by amount of leucine per typical serving.
If you want to know which sources are the most calorie-efficient sources of leucine, go the the second table lower down on the page.
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Leucine (g)|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||1.454|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||1.274|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||1.227|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||1.218|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||1.207|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||1.099|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||1.006|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.986|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.978|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.972|
|Rye grain||1 cup||571||0.951|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.909|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.791|
|Pine nuts||0.5 cup||454||0.669|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.649|
|Swiss chard||10 leafs||91||0.624|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.411|
If one thing is clear, it’s that legumes are by far the best way to get leucine on a vegan diet.
Other than oats, every other food in the top 10 is a legume. Several types of beans, along with lentils and peanuts.
Most people, depending on their size, should aim to have at least one serving of each per day.
The Best Vegan Foods for Leucine if You’re Counting Calories
If you don’t mind eating a larger volume of food, you can get your lysine through vegetable sources. This will keep your overall calorie-intake down.
The issue is, you’ll have to eat a lot of them.
The following table has an additional column that shows you the amount of leucine per 100 calories of each food. This is often more than one serving of a food.
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Leucine (g)||Leucine (g) per 100 calories|
|Seaweed (dried)||1 tbsp||20||0.346||1.73|
|Water spinach||1 cup||11||0.082||0.7454545455|
|Bamboo shoot||1 shoot||17||0.118||0.6941176471|
|Bok choy||1 cup||9||0.062||0.6888888889|
|Swiss chard||10 leafs||91||0.624||0.6857142857|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||1.227||0.5453333333|
|Lettuce (red leaf)||0.5 head||20||0.108||0.54|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||1.218||0.5365638767|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.972||0.5197860963|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||1.099||0.5183962264|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||1.274||0.4996078431|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||1.454||0.4945578231|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.909||0.4349282297|
|Turnip greens||1 cup||18||0.075||0.4166666667|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.649||0.3909638554|
|Green bean||10 beans||17||0.062||0.3647058824|
The fact that most of the legumes still show up near the top means that they provide a lot of leucine for the calories that they contain.
But if you really don’t like legumes, you can stick to the other foods that have risen to the top of the list.
In particular, dark leafy greens. Watercress, spinach, bok choy, and kale all provide a good amount of leucine, plus a ton of other nutrients. You’ll have to eat several servings a day to hit the RDA, but it’s possible.
Why Do We Need Leucine?
Like any amino acid, leucine is involved in protein synthesis.
Beyond that, leucine is also involved in controlling blood sugar levels, and in making growth hormone (important for athletes).
Leucine is often mentioned on fitness forums because it does a few things that other amino acids don’t. It helps prevent muscle loss, which makes it especially useful during diets.