Protein Hierarchy: Tofu, Seitan, Beans … Which Is Best?

Paleo dieters tell me not to eat beans. Gluten free fanatics say “no” to seitan. Clean eaters suggest staying away from processed foods, such as imitation meat products. Others are saying soy, and thus tofu and tempeh, are not good.

But I’m a vegan. I won’t eat meat or dairy so these other, plant-based proteins are my main options for creating a protein-heavy diet to support my athletic lifestyle.

I know that everything has protein in it — spinach has 5 grams per cup and pasta can have 12 — but which veg source is best? Here are my thoughts on what to eat and what to avoid of several different vegan protein-dense foods. The numbers included are their average ratio of calories to grams of protein:

Quinoa

27:1

Eat lots because: Contains all of the essential amino acids.

Beans

15:1

Eat lots because: On top of being easy to find, they are protein dense and full of fiber. Prepare dried beans for the best option. If you go for cans, rinse them to get rid of excess sodium and lower your risks of gas.

Lentils

12.5: 1

Eat lots because: They aren’t just cheap, they are also fast and easy to prepare and a good veggie source of iron.

Tofu

9:1

Eat some because: Soy is controversial, with adamant defenders on both sides, but it’s high protein content is a great source for vegans, especially athletes looking to eat a high-protein diet.

Tempeh

11:1

Eat some because: It’s also a soy product, but because it is fermented it is easier to digest. And because it’s closer to whole bean form, it has higher fiber and vitamin levels.

Almonds (and other nuts)

27:1

Eat some because: They are quick, easy, readily available, very nutritious … but also very high in fat.

Seitan

5:1

Eat some because: It’s the most protein-dense food on my list here and is lower in fat than the rest as well. Sodium content, however, is higher than the rest.

Processed “Fake Meats”

Various

Eat as a special treat only: They aren’t the devil, but they are definitely no angel either … and I think you know why. Enjoy occasionally as a splurge.


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3 Comments

Filed under Nutrition, Veganism

3 responses to “Protein Hierarchy: Tofu, Seitan, Beans … Which Is Best?

  1. This is sooo helpful! Thanks for enlightening me! Any idea whether the different colored quinoas are better than others? I’m a huge red quinoa fan.

    • Looks like they are all pretty close. Regular quinoa has a little more fat and a little less of almost everything else (sodium, carbd, fiber, sugar, protein, B vitamins). Black has the most fat and sodium and least carbs. But, when I see more and less, I mean a gram or less difference.

  2. Doris Andersen

    A very nice, clear article. Thanks for doing the research.

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