It’s hard to get a lot of protein on a vegan diet without eating too many calories, especially if you’re targeting some tough macros while trying to lose weight.
Ultimately, you will need to rely on vegan protein powder, soy products, or seitan. But there are other good sources of plant based protein as well to include in your diet as well.
To help you, I’ve compiled the best vegan food sources when it comes to maximizing your protein intake and minimizing overall calories.
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High Protein Low Calorie Vegan Food Sources Table
I compiled nutritional data for over 200 vegan foods, and originally came up with a list of the best vegan protein food sources.
Then I sorted those list based on the percentage of calories that come from protein.
Here are the 50 best foods that I found. Note that all measurements are based on a 100 gram serving of each food.
|Food||Energy (kcal)||Protein (g)||Protein %|
|Vital wheat gluten||370.0||75.2||81.3|
|Lettuce (red leaf)||12.9||1.3||41.0|
|Green bell pepper||20.1||0.9||17.1|
Many vegetables actually have a high amount of protein relative to calories, the challenge is eating a lot of them.
In a practical diet, you should certainly be eating as many vegetables as you can (they have tons of vitamins and minerals as well), but most of your protein intake will likely come from other top foods on this list like:
- Alternative meats (i.e. tofu and seitan)
- Protein shakes (usually made from pea protein)
Vegan Foods LOW in Protein to Limit
Another way to look at things is to see which vegan foods are very low in protein.
I sorted my data in terms of the foods with the lowest percent of calories coming from protein (the last column below) and this is what I found (per 100 gram serving):
|Food||Energy (kcal)||Protein (g)||Protein %|
Two types of plant-based foods dominate this list:
- Fruit – Not surprising, since they are mostly all sugar
- Nuts – Even though nuts are often cited as “high protein”, they have a ton of calories. So while they are fine if you’re trying to bulk up, most people shouldn’t be eating too many nuts in order to get protein.
The 9 Best High Protein Low Calorie Vegan Foods
1. Vital Wheat Gluten (Seitan)
Vital wheat gluten is essentially protein powder extracted from wheat. Since it is pure gluten (a protein), people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can’t eat it.
However, most people don’t have any digestive problems from eating it, and it’s by far the best high protein low calorie vegan food – Just over 81% of its calories come from protein.
It’s used to make seitan by combining vital wheat gluten with other ingredients to form some sort of mock meat.
Depending on the seitan recipe that you use, the macros will vary. However, most seitan recipes are still very high in protein after adding other ingredients, and usually only incorporate a few other ingredients like nutritional yeast (also high in protein).
With just over half their calories coming from protein, mushrooms are an amazing vegan source of protein.
If you don’t like mushrooms, it may just be the way that you’re cooking them. Here’s a great video from one of my favorite vegan YouTubers on how to cook them properly:
On top of protein, mushrooms are a decent source of other nutrients like B vitamins, including:
- Vitamin D
3. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens don’t have many calories, but a large percent of those calories can come from protein.
For example, in a 100 gram serving of watercress, there’s 2.28 grams of protein (9.12 calories) and only 12 calories total.
The obvious limitation is that you’re not going to be able to get all of your protein from leafy greens, or you’d be eating all day. But, salads consisting of these can help you reach your macro goals.
Almost all leafy greens have a relatively high amount of protein for their calorie content, but here are the top ones from the list above, from best to worst:
- Water spinach
- Collard greens
- Bok choy
- Mustard greens
- Lettuce (red leaf)
Soybeans have a lot of protein, but also quite a bit of fat and carbohydrates. Approximately 35% of calories in soybeans come from protein.
Most people don’t eat soybeans whole, instead the most popular ways to consume them are:
- Soy milk
Both tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans and are great sources of protein. It turns out that they have a slightly higher percent of protein than soybeans themselves, usually around 40% depending on the brand. And since soybeans have a pretty good profile of the nine essential amino acids, tofu is essentially a complete protein.
Even soy milk is a decent source of protein compared to other plant milks, and can be added to smoothies and cereals for a bit extra.
In addition to protein, soy products also usually contain a significant amount of:
5. Broccoli and Cauliflower
Both broccoli and cauliflower are similar cruciferous vegetables that have a substantial amount of protein and overall nutrition.
Due to being about 90% water, they are low in calories.
In addition, just over 30% of their calories come from protein, and both broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
6. Beans (Legumes)
When it comes to protein content, lentils are the best of the legume family.
However, all legumes have a respectable amount of protein, they just also have quite a few carbohydrates.
1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates (but 16 grams of fiber).
The best thing about legumes for vegans is that you can eat a lot of them without too much difficulty. You can’t really get 100 grams of protein from lettuce in a day, but you could from beans if you wanted to (although that’s pushing it).
In terms of protein content, here are the most common legumes from best to worst (excluding soybeans):
- Fava bean
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Mung bean
- Green bean
- Adzuki beans
- Navy beans
- Lima beans
There are literally thousands of vegan recipes that feature beans, so there’s always a way to mix things up to avoid boredom. Most of these recipes are high in protein and low in calories.
Beans and other legumes are also among the best vegan sources of:
7. Squash and Zucchini
All varieties of squash are very low in calories because they are mostly water.
The calories they do have come almost entirely from carbohydrates and protein. About 30% of a squash’s calories come from protein.
On top of being one of the best vegan sources of Vitamin C, they also have a significant amount of vitamin B-6 and magnesium.
Most recipes with zucchini or a spaghetti squash either involve cutting and roasting them, or using them as a low calorie pasta substitute.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are another one of those vegetables that a lot of people hate because they were served poorly cooked ones.
But roasting some lightly oiled and seasoned brussels sprouts is a great filling vegan snack that also has quite a bit of protein.
There’s 3.4 grams of protein per 100 gram serving, and just 43 calories (although that changes if you add other ingredients).
Seeds have a lot of protein, but a lot of healthy fats, which is why they’re way down here on this list.
In terms of protein content, hemp seeds are the best, but just about all seeds have a decent amount, including:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
While not all seeds have a great omega 3 to 6 ratio, they are still one of the best vegan sources of omega 3 fats. In addition, most seeds contain a lot of:
I’m going to cut off the list at this point, which is where foods start to have 20% of calories or fewer coming from protein. This includes other vegetables, peanuts (and peanut butter), and whole grains like oats.
It’s nice that you can get protein from these sources, but you likely won’t plan your vegan diet around them.
Questions About Eating A Lot of Protein As a Vegan
How do you eat a high protein low fat vegan diet?
Most vegan protein sources also contain a lot of fat or carbohydrates. To eat a high protein and low fat diet, focus on plant foods with a lot of protein and low to moderate amounts of carbohydrates, and stay away from processed foods with added sugar.
How can vegans get a high amount of protein a day?
Eating upwards of 150 or 200 grams of protein is hard on a vegan diet. You’ll either need to eat several large meals and a high amount of calories, or eat more protein powder, tofu (or tempeh), and seitan. These are the only great vegan protein sources that don’t also come with a ton of calories.