Anyone who’s been vegan or followed a plant-based diet for more than a few weeks will almost certainly have been questioned (usually by a concerned relative) about how they could possibly get enough protein. As we have explained in numerous articles on this site, it is really not difficult to get enough protein on a vegan diet. In fact, with a little planning and forethought, it’s relatively easy to get 100g of protein per day on a vegan diet (which is lots more than most people will need, as we’ll discuss later).
Of course, someone who wants or needs plenty of protein in their diet might not want or need to consume lots of carbs. A diet high in protein and relatively low in carbs is often cited as one of the most effective for losing weight, though in truth, weight loss alone typically comes down mainly to a calories in, calories out equation, irrespective of where those calories come from.
Where to Look for “Lean Vegan Protein”
Nonetheless, in this article, we’ll be focussing on vegan sources of protein that are low in carbohydrates, referred to in some quarters as “lean vegan protein” (though this term might also be used to denote vegan protein sources that are low in fat and/or calories). These low-carb protein sources will fall into two categories:
- Vegan Foods – This will include both fresh, unprocessed foods (e.g. nuts and seeds) and also those that have undergone some level of processing (e.g. baked beans).
- Vegan Supplements/Health Products – This will include things like vegan-friendly protein powders, shakes, protein bars and other products.
We’ll also give a brief outline of how much protein and carbs the average person should consume based on the advice given by organisations, such as the British Nutrition Foundation. Though for more detail on that in relation to protein, check out our main vegan protein page. Also have a read of our article comparing plant protein with animal protein to get a handle on the potential differences and how to ensure you obtain all the essential amino acids.
Best High Protein, Low Carb Vegan Foods
There are numerous good protein-rich foods that contain no animal products (and hence which are fine for vegans to consume). They range from nuts, pulses and seeds to semi-processed options, such as seitan and tofu. But let’s take a look at some of the best lean vegan protein foodstuffs that are both (relatively) high in protein and low in carbs.
Vegan Meat Alternatives & Substitute Products
As we explain in our article on vegan substitutes and alternatives to meat, it’s easier than ever to purchase vegan burgers, sausages or even bacon. Here are the best options for those seeking lean vegan protein.
|Protein (per 100g)
|Carbohydrates (per 100g)
|Usually contains some calcium
|Contains various minerals in reasonable quantities
|Often fortified with B vitamins
|Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages
|Also contains 6.6g of fibre
|Quorn Vegan Fillets
|Also 7.8g of fibre and less than a gram of fat
|This Isn’t Bacon Plant-Based Rashers
|Also contains 5.2g of fibre and added iron and vitamin B12
|Beyond Meat Beyond Burgers
|Contains no sugars, soy or gluten
|Vivera Plant Mince
|Almost 6g of fibre too
As you can see, many of these options contain protein levels that are comparable to meat. Chicken breast is a go-to staple of meat-eaters looking for lean protein and that contains around 25g of protein per 100g. That means that seitan and certain other vegan protein sources contain as much, or even more, protein. That said, whilst chicken is totally carb-free, these lean vegan protein options typically contain a few grams of protein per 100g serving.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are not only a brilliant source of natural protein, they are also high in fibre and tend to contain various vitamins and minerals that can be hard to come by on a vegan diet. They are also low in carbs and though they tend to contain a fair amount of fat, most of it is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated and some research suggests these could lower levels of bad cholesterol in the blood (though we go into more detail about that in our article on the healthiest vegan cooking oils).
|Protein (g per 100g)
|Carbohydrates (g per 100g)
|Good levels of copper, magnesium, phosphorus and other minerals, plus vitamins B1, B6 and K
|Brilliant source of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus
|Good source of minerals, especially manganese, plus contains various vitamins especially B vitamins
|Good levels of vitamin E and other vitamins and minerals
|Great levels of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus plus good amounts of iron, zinc and B vitamins
|Great source of calcium, iron, zinc and other minerals, plus a good source of B vitamins
|Brilliant source of vitamin E, plus great quantities of B vitamins and various minerals
|Great source of α-linolenic acid (ALA) from which omega-3 fatty acids can be synthesised, plus good levels of various vitamins and minerals
|Brilliant source of protein but also contains various vitamins and minerals in good levels
Note that if by “lean vegan protein”, we mean low in calories or fat, rather than just carbs, nuts and seeds would not perhaps be ideal. Their high fat content means they pack a lot of calories, especially compared to the protein they offer. An ounce (just under 30g) is often recommended as a standard serving size but this will usually deliver between 150 and 200 calories and just 2g-6g of protein. That’s ok in terms of calories for a snack but some less-informed people may just think, “nuts are healthy, I can eat loads” and consume three or four ounces in one go, or around 700 calories. Not ideal for a “lean” snack.
Fruit & Veg
Fruit and vegetables tend not to contain too much in the way of protein and most don’t contain too much in the way carbs either. But these are the fresh fruit and veg options you should opt for when attempting to maximise your protein intake while minimising the amount of carbs you consume. The values here are meant as a guide only as they can vary considerably depending on how the fruit or vegetable is grown and/or cooked.
Note that the amount of protein contained within these is low compared to other foodstuffs mentioned in the article, but they are relatively high in fruit and veg terms and they invariably contain plenty of other nutritional goodies. Most are also very low in fat.
|Protein (per 100g)
|Carbohydrates (per 100g)
|Good source of fibre (5.1g), vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals
|Great source of vitamin K and good levels of folate, vitamin C, manganese and other vitamins and minerals
|Good source of B vitamins and – if exposed to sunlight – vitamin D
|Great levels of vitamin K and vitamin C, with good levels of a variety of other vitamins and minerals too
|Good range of vitamins and minerals, even if not loads of protein
|Contains a broad range of vitamins and minerals at decent levels
Other Vegan Foods
Here are a few more vegan-friendly foods that have a decent dose of protein without containing much in the way of carbs. Most of these are very convenient too and can come in handy if you want a quick, hassle-free meal or snack (though many of our vegan recipes fit into that category too and there are loads of options when it comes to making your own high protein vegan salads, which can be very low on carbs if you leave out the croutons and some of the grains).
|Protein (per 100g)
|Carbohydrates (per 100g)
|Great source of iodine
|Quite high in fat and calories and some has sugar added too, so opt for a brand without added sugar
|Great source of B vitamins and often fortified with vitamin D and other vitamins and/or minerals, though typically only a few grams would be consumed per meal
|Good source of fibre and some B vitamins
|Sometimes fortified with vitamins and/minerals
*Note that the vegan cheeses made from tree nuts tend to be higher in protein and lower in carbs than those made from coconut oil or oats – check out our Vegan Cheese page for the lowdown.
Low Carb Protein Powders, Shakes & Bars
People undertaking intense physical training or wanting to gain muscle mass and/or lose fat may want to get an extra dose of lean vegan protein. Of course, you could just eat more protein-rich foods. But for those seeking a more efficient (in relation to time and effort), and often cheaper way there are now loads of excellent vegan protein powders, protein bars and other products available that contain virtually no carbs and lots of vegan protein. Note, however, that some similar items, especially bars, cookies and similar protein-rich snacks, may contain relatively high amounts of carbs (and often including a fair amount of sugar too).
We go into a lot more details about such products in the vegan health and fitness section of the site, but here we’ll give a few examples of the kind of products available for vegans seeking that extra protein boost. Note that a typical serving of protein powder is around 30g, but we’ll give the nutritional figures for 100g to allow for a fair comparison with other products.
|Protein (per 100g/100ml)
|Carbohydrates (per 100g/100ml)
|Vegan Protein Powder Blend (Pea and Fava Bean)
|Pea Protein Isolate Powder
|Brown Rice Protein Isolate Powder
|Soy Protein Isolate Powder
|MyVegan Carb Crusher Bars
|MyVegan Choc Chew
|MyVegan Popped Protein Crisps (Thai Sweet Chilli)
|MyVegan Vegan Protein Water
How Much Protein Do People Need?
We’ve covered this in detail in other areas of the site so we’ll be relatively brief here. Ultimately, there’s not a set quantity of protein that everyone should consume as it depends on a number of factors, most notably your size. As such, health advisory bodies will generally recommend people consume a minimum quantity that is based on their body weight.
For instance, the British Nutrition Foundation suggests a Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. As outlined in the UK Government Dietary Recommendations (published in 2016), this amounts to around 56g per day for an average male adult and 45g per day for an average female adult.
There are lots of factors that might affect how much protein someone might need. For instance, elite athletes or those seeking to increase muscle bulk (such as bodybuilders) will generally require much more than average. As will those recovering from injury or illness, but such instances should be based on advice from medical/dietary professionals.
How Many Carbohydrates Do People Need?
The Government Recommendation for carbohydrate intake is 333g per day for an average male adult and 267g per day for an average female adult. As carbs come in long-chain (starchy carbs) and short-chain (sugars) types, the Government suggests that only 10% (33g/27g respectively) should be consumed as “free sugars”.
Further guidance is suggested by the British Nutrition Foundation that people should attempt to consume carbs that are higher in fibre and with a lower Glycaemic Index (GI). The GI measures how quickly glucose molecules reach the blood after foods are consumed. Wholemeal and wholegrain foods tend to have lower GIs than white, starchy foods, which are more processed. The wholemeal and wholegrain foods will also tend to be significantly higher in dietary fibre.
What Is “Low Carb, High Protein”?
Whilst various dietary and nutrition bodies set out minimum and healthy levels of the main macro- and micro-nutrients, there is no fixed definition of what “high protein, low carb” means (other than it means the same whichever order you write it in!). As such different people will have different ideas about which foods are worthy of the tag.
Ultimately, it will depend on your aims and what sort of diet you are attempting to follow. If you are looking to go super-low carb, on something like the keto diet, or the Atkins, then your definition of low carb will be different to someone who is simply looking to reduce their carbohydrates a little.
In the latter instance, foods like lentils, beans and other legumes, real nutritional powerhouses, are great to include. They deliver plenty of protein and are relatively low carb, especially if you use them as stand-ins for more traditional sources of complex carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta.
Mung beans, for example, serve up a massive 24g of protein per 100g (dried, raw), and whilst they have a lot of carbs too, much of that is in the form of fibre. Equally, standard lentils have 20g of carbs per 100g (cooked) but also give you 9g of protein. Using something like this as a base, replacing rice or pasta, alongside some tofu, seitan or tempeh, and vegetables, will give you a very healthy meal that is, by most standards, high protein and low carb.
Consuming Lean Protein as a Vegan Is Achievable
As we have seen above – and indeed as we’ve covered in various areas of the site – it is really not difficult for those on a plant-based diet to consume adequate amounts of protein, at least in terms of basic health requirements. It becomes a little trickier for those seeking plenty of lean vegan protein, that is food that is high in protein but low in carbs.
But as detailed above, that’s not such a problem if you put in even a little time and effort. Of course, making a few shrewd substitutions to your everyday diet could also help. For instance, instead of having rice with your vegan chilli, opt for a grain with more protein and fewer carbs, such as quinoa, or even lentils. Lentils and quinoa are not truly low carb but compared to rice, especially white rice, they have far more protein and less carbohydrates. Or you could go super-low carb, whilst retaining the protein of the chilli itself, by replacing the normal rice with cauliflower rice, or even cabbage rice.
Ultimately, there are infinite ways to combine those high-protein, low-carb foods mentioned above and a whole host of others you will no doubt encounter. And, there is certainly never a need to resort to eggs, dairy or, especially, meat to get the required amounts of protein. If you’re seeking more protein than your average person, there is always the option to plump for vegan protein powders, shakes or bars.