Vegan Wonder

Unlock the Power of Vegan Protein: A Complete Guide to Combining Sources for Maximum Nutrition

If you’re a vegan or are considering going vegan, you may have heard that plant-based diets can be lacking in one essential area: protein.

While it’s true that some plant-based protein sources are not “complete” and contain all the essential amino acids the body needs, this doesn’t mean you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet. It simply requires a bit of strategic planning.

The Science Behind Complete Proteins

To understand this concept, it’s important to first know what a “complete protein” is. A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own and must be obtained through food. These are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Valine

Animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy are considered “complete proteins” because they naturally contain all of these amino acids in the proper ratios.

Plant-based foods, on the other hand, can vary in their amino acid profiles. Some plant-based protein sources are considered “incomplete” or “partial” proteins because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids.

However, when you eat a variety of plant-based foods, you can easily get all the essential amino acids you need. The key is to eat certain plant-based foods together, as they contain complementary amino acid profiles.

How to Get Complete Vegan Protein

Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based foods that are considered “complete proteins” on their own. These include:

  • Soybeans and soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame
  • Legumes and pulses like beans, lentils, and peas
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Seeds like chia seeds, hemp seeds, and quinoa
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth

These foods not only provide adequate amounts of protein but also contain all nine essential amino acids the body needs.

For example, lentils are low in the amino acid methionine but high in cysteine, which the body can convert into methionine. Therefore, if you eat lentils with rice (which is low in lysine but high in methionine), you get a complete protein.

How to Combine Vegan Protein Sources

There are a few ways to ensure you’re getting complete proteins on a vegan diet:

  1. Eating complementary proteins at each meal. For example, you could have:
    • Black beans and brown rice
    • Hummus and whole wheat pita bread
    • Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread
    • Lentil soup with a side of quinoa
  2. Eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods throughout the day. This will ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids you need over the course of the day.
  3. Taking a vegan protein powder as a supplement. Look for one that contains all nine essential amino acids and is made from whole food sources like soy, pea, or brown rice.
How to Optimize Protein Absorption

It’s also important to note that how you prepare your plant-based protein sources can affect how well your body absorbs the protein. For example, soaking, sprouting, or fermenting your beans, lentils, and legumes can increase their protein bioavailability by making the protein easier to digest.

Additionally, eating your protein-rich plant foods with foods that contain bioavailable sources of iron (like leafy greens or fortified cereals) can help enhance protein absorption.


While it may take some intentionality to ensure you’re getting enough complete protein on a vegan diet, it’s definitely doable. By incorporating a variety of protein-rich plant foods into your meals and snacks, you can easily meet your protein needs and thrive on a plant-based lifestyle.