Vegan Protein: The Ultimate Guide

Last Updated 18th September 2020
vegan protein powders

One of the most, if not THE most, common misconceptions of the vegan diet is that it lacks protein.

This image of what constitutes a meal is not just outdated… it’s plain wrong!

Protein can be sourced from a variety of foods, plenty of which are vegan.

Protein can be easily consumed in two ways: either through protein-rich whole foods, or as a protein powder.

Protein powders are useful for people who don’t have time to plan a protein-rich meal. They are quick to mix up but contain a decent dose of nutrition.

Most protein powders are made from dairy by-products and therefore not suitable for vegans, but there are now vegan protein powders on the market available for purchase.

In this guide we’re going to explore all sources of vegan protein – the wholefoods and the protein powders in order to help you incorporate protein in your diet as best you can.

What is the Best Vegan Protein Shake in the UK?

The best vegan protein shakes contain a variety of different vegan proteins.

This is because no single source of vegan protein contains the optimum amount of different nutrients.

A vegan protein shake which contains a fantastic mixture of different vegan proteins is Nutribuddy’s High-Protein Sculpting Shake.

Nutribuddy High-Protein Sculpting Shake's natural wholefood ingredients

Nutribuddy’s High-Protein Sculpting Shake shake contains three vegan protein powders to capitalise on the health benefits of each. The three included in the blend are:

Pea protein: made from split yellow peas, pea protein rivals dairy-based proteins in its ability to promote satiety and muscular bulk

Hemp protein: extremely rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, hemp protein is also very easily digested, so gentle on the gut.

Rice protein: rice protein contains all the essential amino acids and has been proven to be as efficient as whey protein in sculpting body mass, muscle mass, muscle strength and recovery.

Each of these vegan protein powders has their own benefits and merits and so in combining them all with other whole food natural ingredients, this shake has a fantastic nutritional profile.

Which Vegan Foods Are High in Protein?

Despite popular misconception, there are plenty of whole foods that can be incorporated into a vegan diet that are rich in protein.

As with any diet, you need to plan properly to ensure a balanced nutritional profile with each meal, but it can easily be achieved – and there’s still plenty of choice!

1. Soy-Based Foods such as Tofu & Tempeh

Tofu and tempeh are both great examples of plant-based protein sources that can be easily incorporated into a meal as a main course.

Tofu is coagulated soy milk (basically, it’s curdled) and processed into white or beige-coloured blocks, and tempeh is fermented and compacted soybeans.

Both are frequently used as meat substitutes in dishes to make them vegetarian or vegan.

An 85g serving of tempeh contains 16g of protein, and of tofu, 8g

Both are rich in isoflavones, which have been proven to help reduce the risk of developing some cancers and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Tempeh is also particularly rich in prebiotics, which encourage healthy gut bacteria growth

2. Oats & Oatmeal

Just 80g of oats contains 13g of protein.

Often used as a breakfast cereal or as a thickener in liquid foods, oats (sometimes called oatmeal when processed) are often underrated when it comes to their health benefits – they’re about as dense in nutrients as you can get!

Oats contain an antioxidant that are completely unique to them, called avenanthramides.

Avenanthramides (can you pronounce it?!) have been studied at length by clinicians and have been found to lower blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory properties.

gluten-free oats

3. Seeds including Chia Seeds & Hemp Seeds

Sprinkling a few seeds on top of a dish is often done solely for texture (or even, sssh, presentation!) purposes, but it can actually boost the protein profile of a meal too.

Just 30g of hemp seeds contains 10g of protein as well as good doses of phosphoros, potassium, zinc and magnesium.

Chia seeds are also nutritious: less than 30g of chia seeds contain 4g of protein along with iron, calcium, magnesium and Omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Legumes including Lentils & Chickpeas

Legumes are a type of plant grown primarily for human consumption, and include lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, peas and peanuts.

Obviously, these foods are all quite different, but the plants they’re grown from are part of the same family.

Lentils are about 10% protein by weight, and also rich in polyphenols, which are anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective.

Chickpeas are about double that protein content (almost 20% by weight), and have been proven to be beneficial in promoting satiety to keep individuals feeling full for longer and not needing to snack or over-eat thereafter.

beans

5. Nuts including Almonds & Peanuts

The fat content of nuts is often the nutritional value most discussed, but they’re equally rich in protein and fibre too!

Each almond contains about 0.25g of protein, so a handful of them as a snack is a great way to up your protein intake. They’re also loaded with antioxidants, which can help you protect against internal cell damage and are particularly beneficial for current or ex-smokers (time to give up, folks!).

Peanuts (technically a legume and not a nut, but let’s include them as they’ll be on the same supermarket shelf) are just over a quarter protein by weight, so there’s about 26-27g protein in 100g of nuts.

Indeed, they’re considered one of the best plant-based protein sources!

However, it is the potent proteins in peanuts that those with allergies are unable to consume, so stay mindful and always avoid them if you have reason to believe you or someone around you may have an intolerance to them.

And many more…

That’s just a taster of some of the plant-based protein sources around.

Vegans can also enjoy rich protein content from seitan (a great meat substitute that’s easily made at home!), edamame beans, nutritional yeast, spelt, spirulina, green peas and quinoa.

There’s more out there than you may think.

healthy seeds used in meal replacement shakes

What Are the Key Vegan Protein Powder Sources?

Protein powders are, for many, a key ‘top-up’ of protein intake in their diet.

As traditional protein powders are made from dairy by-products, they’re not suitable for vegans: so specific cruelty-free and animal-involvement free powders need to be sought out in their place.

These are the most common vegan protein powders, and each has its own benefits and properties.

1. Soy Protein Powder

Soybeans can be eaten whole or made into a variety of foods; including tofu and tempeh, which we’ve already discussed above.

Soy protein powder is made from soybean flakes that have had the fat, sugars and fibre removed.

They are then dehydrated and powdered.

Pros of Soy Protein Powder

Soy protein powder is full of nutrition – indeed enough that it’s often used to make baby milk formula!

Less than 30g of soy protein isolate powder contains 23g of protein, 25% of an adult’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of iron, and over 20% of an adult’s RDA of copper, manganese and phosphoros.

Soy protein powder is a complete protein including all of the essential amino acids the body needs.

Cons of Soy Protein Powder

Realistically, you may struggle to find soy protein powder as a standalone product, as its primary usage is in baby formula so it’s not widely available as a health supplement.

However, studies have shown that soy protein powder performs best in humans when its combined with other dairy-based proteins – so actually, if you’re looking to use it effectively, it’s not suitable for vegans at all.

scoop of nutritious protein powder

2. Pea Protein Powder

Pea protein powder isn’t made from the little green vegetables your Mum used to have frozen ready to apply to bumps and bruises but is instead processed from split yellow peas.

Dehydrated, dried and then ground, pea protein is vegan and hypoallergenic, so can fit in just about anyone’s diet as a nutritional supplement. 

Pros of Pea Protein Powder

Pea protein is a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs.

In particular, pea protein is rich in BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids); an acronym you’ve likely seen printed in large letters on the side of big tubs of protein.

The BCAAs in pea protein are extremely effective at encouraging muscle growth.

Many people following a vegan diet worry about their iron intake, as this is also often mainly consumed from meat products.

However, pea protein is iron-dense and so can easily help increase this mineral in the body.

Cons of Pea Protein Powder

Despite being a complete protein, pea protein is low in methionine and so this needs to be supplemented with the consumption of other ingredients that are high in it.

Unfortunately, most of these are animal products!

It’s also fairly high in sodium content – so those avoiding sodium or salt should choose another vegan protein powder in its place.

Pea Protein

3. Rice Protein Powder

Rice protein powder can be made from both white and brown rice. It’s created by grinding out rice and adding an enzyme to it that separates out its starch content, before being dried and ground.

It’s fairly inexpensive and accessible online if not in many high street shops.

Rice protein powder is often underrated as the food is dismissed as simply a carbohydrate source, and rarely a protein one – but those in the know, know… it makes a great protein supplement!

Pros of Rice Protein Powder

Despite being widely unknown as a protein source, rice protein powder is easily comparable to the more mainstream whey product: and has been proven scientifically to be so!

Rice protein powder is a fantastic source of BCAAs, which is likely where these favourable results stem from. 

There have not been many clinical studies into the effects of rice protein powder on its own, but we’re positive these will start to happen as it becomes more popular in the light of increasing veganism levels. 

Cons of Rice Protein Powder

Rice protein powder technically doesn’t count as a complete protein, as although it contains all of the nine essential amino acids, it doesn’t have enough of each to meet the quota.

In particular, rice protein powder is low on lysine – but this is found heavily in pea protein powder, so the two are often mixed.

Rice protein can also be easily (and accidentally) contaminated with arsenic through the manufacturing process – so always choose a manufacturer of it who is transparent about their testing protocol; as some don’t at all.

High Protein Sculpting Shake

4. Hemp Protein Powder

If you read the word hemp and immediately think of marijuana, you’re not alone, but rest assured that hemp protein is not the same thing!

The plants grown for the purpose of producing hemp protein only contain tiny trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol), which is the euphoric compound that gets you ‘high’ – so it has no properties affecting the psyche.

For this reason, hemp is completely legal and can be found in lots of things, including beauty products, inks and foods.

It does however make for a tasty and effective protein powder!

Pros of Hemp Protein Powder

Unlike many other protein powders, hemp protein has a not unpleasant taste; often described as nutty.

This means that it doesn’t need to be flavoured in the way many other protein powders require.

It’s almost half protein by weight and a brilliant source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an Omega-3 fatty acid, as well as zinc, magnesium, iron and fibre.

Clinical trials have also found that hemp protein may help reduce blood pressure levels – but this has yet to be tested on humans. 

Cons of Hemp Protein Powder

Hemp too doesn’t count as a complete protein powder because of its low levels of lysine.

However, this nutritional value can be balanced when mixed with other protein powders to become more whole.

Hemp protein powder as a standalone ingredient hasn’t yet been widely studied or tested; but we expect this to change as authorities and administrations look to understand more on the cannabis sativa plant and its products/by-products.

hemp protein plants

What is the Best Vegan Protein Powder?

Dependent on your reason for consuming plenty of protein, you may find that one protein powder suits you better than others.

However, in order to achieve the optimum nutritional profile, a protein powder which contains a blend of different vegan proteins would be best.

Nutribuddy’s High-Protein Sculpting Shake is a blend of 3 different vegan proteins which pack a nutritional punch.

Nutribuddy products include a blend of hemp protein powder, rice protein powder and pea protein powder as these three ingredients work together to deliver high amounts of all amino acids – essential and otherwise.

All three are already richly beneficial on their own merits, so mixing them gives a super-powered boost that other proteins simply can’t match!

We exclude soy, because it’s an allergen; and Nutribuddy products are all free of the top named allergens.

That said, having reached the optimal nutritional profile with the other three, it would be an unnecessary and wasteful addition – and we hate food waste, so that’s just another reason not to include it.

Nutribuddy Shake by JustHelina
Nutribuddy Shake by JustHelina

What is the Best-Tasting Vegan Protein Powder?

Taste is subjective, so one person’s treat could be another person’s trash!

However, rice protein is often touted the best tasting protein powder. It doesn’t have a strong flavour although it does have a slightly grainy texture.

Therefore the best tasting protein which also has a mild texture would likely be a blend of rice protein and another protein powder such as pea to get a combination of a nice taste and texture.

What is the Best Vegan Protein Powder for Weight Loss?

Protein powders aren’t usually designed for weight loss, but rather for the encouragement of muscle growth.

If you want to lose weight, you’re best looking at weight loss shakes rather than protein shakes.

That’s not to say they can’t be part of a diet aiming at toning up and shedding some pounds, though!

Vegan protein powders are particularly effective in weight loss when they’re substituting solid food protein sources (as part of a wider healthier lifestyle and diet).

The Nutribuddy Meal Replacement Bundle is ideal for this – containing the Breakfast Shake, High-Protein Sculpting Shake and HotSlim, a low-calorie hot chocolate type drink.

Replacing up to two meals a day with these products can help you on your weight loss journey in a sustainable and healthy manner. 

When looking to lose weight, it’s critical to place importance on the nutritional profiling of a consumable product rather than just opting for something slimline.

In order to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, you must avoid ‘quick fixes’ that will just impact your health (and waistline) short-term.

Opting for a properly formulated and nourishing meal replacement shake has been proven to help you feel fuller for longer, speed up the rate of healthy weight loss compared to solid food diets and even reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

woman on weight loss scales

Which is Best: Protein Isolate or Concentrate?

Protein powders come in two different forms: protein isolate and protein concentrate.

The type is usually marked on the side of the packaging, and the former (isolate) is usually a little more expensive than the latter (concentrate).

Protein concentrate is achieved once the primary ingredient in the protein powder is processed in a way that it can be powdered and is ready for consumption right away.

Any such manufacturing to get it to this point can include the removal of fats or starch, but nothing else is added to the mixture.

Protein isolate is simply one step further manufactured than protein concentrate.

Once processed into a protein concentrate, the ingredient then has further processing to remove fats and carbohydrates, isolating the proteins further.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that anything artificial or nasty is added to it, but it’s always worth checking the label as this can in some cases already be considered over-involvement. 

Whilst protein isolate powders are a more concentrated form of protein because they’ve had so much else removed, we believe that protein concentrates are best – because they’re less processed and still include a whole host of other vitamins, minerals and nutrients!

Final Thoughts

Long gone are the days of needing to eat meat or pop pills to get your dietary fix of protein.

As the amount of people understanding and appreciating the benefits of following a vegan diet increases, so too does the amount of people following one – with the knock-on effect of more consumables suitable for them being made available on the mainstream market.

Vegan protein powders are just one such product, and as they’re easily manufactured and all created from readily available ingredients, they’re the ideal addition to your diet.

Nutribuddy’s nutritionist alongside the rest of the team have formulated the ideal blend of three vegan protein powders that meets (and exceeds!) the RDA of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients in its products.

The Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake, High-Protein Sculpting Shake, HotSlim and Shake Complete are all nutritionally balanced to give you a perfectly balanced meal on-the-go.

As understanding blossoms and education prevails, attitudes toward veganism are growing more positive.

We prove it with our products and the science behind them: you simply don’t need animal products to stay fit, healthy, happy and strong.

Viva la plant protein!

Nutirbuddy High-Protein Sculpting Shake
Nutirbuddy High-Protein Sculpting Shake by Bakey Doesn’t Bake

Stock image credit: UnsplashPexels & Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nutribuddy Ltd.

Author Bio!

Post by Lex

I’m a full-time Marketing Manager and Copywriter but also a qualified yoga teacher and keen runner; so I know a thing or two about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good dose of fitness! My previous roles include marketing and social media for the likes of the household names including the Cabinet Office and Aviva. Outside of work, I’m a Mum, passionate social rights campaigner and bookworm.