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As, yes, the age-old question: but where do you get your protein? If you’ve been plant-based for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard this asked in at least five different ways. At least here in North America, it seems as though people really struggle to wrap their heads around the idea that you can get enough protein without eating meat, dairy or eggs. This issue becomes especially pronounced when we talk about vegan keto diets.
I’m going to be direct here: it’s entirely possible to get enough protein on a vegan keto diet. It’s not as easy as a non-vegan keto or low-carb diet for sure, but it’s still possible and it’s not really that much of a challenge. You can even get enough protein if you are soy-free or just want to eat whole foods without supplementing with protein powders or eating mock meats. No, really, it’s true!
A quick note: if you are looking to stay under 20g of net carbs per day, then using protein powders or mock meats is the easiest way to achieve this. For a list of keto-friendly plant-based protein powders, click here. And for a list of keto-friendly mock meats, mosey on down to this page.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
This is a bit of a tricky question, but we’ll go with approximations here. Protein intake is dependent upon your lean muscle mass, activity levels and fitness goals, so there really isn’t one answer to this question. However, you can find out a rough estimate of how much protein you should eat every day either with a fitness app (like Cronometer or My Fitness Pal) or a keto calculator.
Whole Foods Vegan Sources of Protein
Because using protein powders and mock meats doesn’t really require much of an explanation, this post is going to focus on the vegan-keto-friendly whole foods that are rich in protein. This table below highlights the main sources of plant-based protein for vegans on a low carb or ketogenic diet. The serving size is based on the serving listed on packaging, which is why it’s not totally consistent, food to food. This gives a more realistic idea of how much of these foods you will have to eat to meet your protein requirements.
LOW CARB PLANT-BASED PROTEIN SOURCES (G PROTEIN | G NET CARBS | SERVING SIZE):
- Hemp Seeds (hulled) | 10g | 0g | 3 tbsp
- Nutritional Yeast | 8g | 1g | 2 tbsp
- Tofu (firm): 9g | 1.9g | 3ox/85g
- Tempeh: 19g | 4g | 3.5oz/100g
- Seiten: 20g | 4g | 3oz/85g
- Soybeans (mature, yellow): 14g | 3.5g | 1/2 cup
- Soybeans (edamame, green): 11g | 6g | 1/2 cup
- Peas: 5g | 9g | 2/3 cup
- Soybeans (dry roasted): 17g | 10.5g | 1/2 cup
- Spinach (frozen): 4g | 1g | 1 cup
- Almonds | 6g | 2.5g | 1/4 cup
- Sunflower Seeds | 7.3g | 4g | 1/4 cup
- Pumpkin Seeds | 8.8g | 2.3g | 1/4 cup
- Peanut Butter | 6g | 4g | 2 tbsp
- Lupins (lupini beans) | 26g | 11.4g | 1 cup
Other great places to sneak in some protein are veggies: greens, broccoli and mushrooms all have a decent amount of protein and are low in carbohydrates.
Complete Proteins and Lysine
But what about complete proteins? I need all of the amino acids! So, yes, you do need to eat a full complement of amino acids in the right proportions, but this idea of needing everything in the same food (or even by combining in the same meal) is a little out-dated. Recent findings indicate that so long as you ingest the full range of amino acids in the proper amounts each day (not each meal), you should be fine.
One amino acid that vegans on a low carb diet need to watch out for is lysine, this is especially true of soy-free diets. Lysine is an essential amino acid that is most commonly found in beans. If you are eating soy on a vegan keto diet, you are most likely obtaining enough lysine, but if not, this could be of concern. The good news is that lysine is present in other beans (like peas or lupins), and barring that, protein powders. Pretty much any quality vegan protein powder blend will have all of the amino acids in proper ratio. And of course, legume-derived protein powder (so, pretty much pea protein powder) will have lysine as well.
For more info on low carb vegan protein powders, check out this post.
Putting It All Together: What to eat in a day to get enough protein on a vegan keto diet.
Here’s a sample one-day meal plan to show how easy it is to get enough protein from whole-foods sources on a vegan keto diet. I’ve even chosen soy-free and gluten-free recipes (well, all the recipes on this site are gluten-free). Incorporating seitan or tofu would make this even easier!
Breakfast: 2 vegan keto bagels w/1 oz nut-based cream cheese
Lunch: Zucchini Pad Thai (from my meal plans!)
Dinner: 1 serving vegan keto Kathmandu curry & 1 cup cooked spinach w/2 tbsp nutritional yeast & 1 tsp olive oil
Dessert: Almond Butter & Jelly chia pudding (from my cookbook!)
Total nutrition: So, this menu is something that I would eat in a day to hit my own personal targets. Usually, I eat between 1800-2200 calories, around 70g of protein and under 30g of net carbs. This is what works for me. Obviously, you will have a different set of targets, but this is to give an idea. Calorie and macro breakdown below!