You can get nearly complete dietary protein from plant sources like grains, seeds, and meat substitutes. A food must contain all nine essential amino acids to be a complete protein source.

While many animal products contain all nine essential amino acids, few plant-based proteins are complete and provide all nine.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. While your body can make some of them, you must obtain nine through your diet. These are referred to as essential amino acids and include:

  • histidine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine

Many plant sources of protein are too low in or missing one or more of these essential amino acids.

Still, given that plant foods contain varying amounts of amino acids, you can get enough of each essential amino acid throughout the day by eating a varied diet and combining complementary plant proteins.

For example, grains like rice are too low in lysine to be a complete source of protein. But because lentils and beans are higher in lysine, you can obtain all nine essential amino acids by eating them with grains.

Several plant-based foods and combos contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.

Here are 13 complete protein sources for vegetarians and vegans.

Two bowls of quinoaShare on Pinterest

Quinoa is a complete protein. It’s an ancient grain that looks similar to couscous but has a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.

It doesn’t grow from grasses like other cereals and grains, so it’s technically considered a pseudocereal and naturally gluten-free.

One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides approximately 8 grams of protein.

In addition to being a complete protein, quinoa provides more magnesium, iron, fiber, and zinc than many common grains.

In most recipes, you can substitute quinoa for rice. You can also simmer it in plant-source milk for creamy, protein-rich breakfast porridge.

Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all made from soybeans and are excellent plant-based complete protein sources.

Tofu is made from condensed soy milk pressed into white blocks. It comes in a variety of textures, including:

  • silken
  • firm
  • extra-firm

Though it is bland in flavor on its own, tofu takes on the flavor of the foods with which it’s cooked.

A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of tofu provides approximately 8 grams of protein. It also offers 12% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium and smaller amounts of potassium and iron.

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, often combined with other seeds and grains, forming a firm, dense cake. It is chewier and nuttier than tofu. Three ounces (85 grams) of tempeh contain 11 grams of protein. It also provides a good source of fiber and iron and contains potassium and calcium.

Edamame beans are green, whole, immature soybeans with a slightly sweet, grassy flavor. They’re usually steamed or boiled and can be enjoyed on their own as a snack or added to salads, soups, or grain bowls.

A 1/2 cup (85 grams) of whole edamame provides 8 grams of protein and a good amount of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.

Amaranth is another pseudocereal that’s a complete source of protein.

Once considered a staple food in Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, it has become a popular gluten-free grain alternative.

Amaranth is a versatile grain that can be boiled for a side dish or porridge or cooked in a skillet to add texture to granola bars or salads. Similarly to quinoa, it has a delicate, nutty taste and retains its crunch even when cooked.

When ground into flour, amaranth can substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baking.

One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides approximately 9 grams of protein. It’s also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.

The same amount also provides about 91% of the DV for manganese, a trace mineral important for brain health.

While not as high in protein as quinoa or amaranth, buckwheat is another pseudocereal that’s a plant-based source of complete protein.

Nutty in flavor, the hulled kernels, or groats, can be cooked similarly to oatmeal or ground into flour and used in baking. In Japanese cooking, buckwheat is commonly consumed as noodles, which is called soba.

One cup (168 grams) of cooked buckwheat groats provides approximately 6 grams of protein. It’s also a good source of many essential minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, copper, and magnesium.

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, including barley, soybeans, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt. This combination of whole grains and legumes in Ezekiel bread makes it a complete protein.

Two slices (68 grams) of the bread contain 8 grams of protein.

Studies suggest that sprouting grains and legumes increases their amino acid content, especially their content of the amino acid lysine.

For an extra protein boost, use Ezekiel bread to make a vegan BLT sandwich with tempeh instead of bacon, or toast the bread and top it with peanut butter and chia seeds.

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that’s a popular supplement among those on vegan and vegetarian diets. It provides a complete protein.

Add powdered spirulina to smoothies, granola bars, soups, and salads for a boost of nutrition.

Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina provides 4 grams of protein.

Spirulina is also rich in antioxidants and a good source of several B vitamins, copper, and iron.

Hemp seeds are a complete protein.

Coming from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, hemp seeds are members of the same species as cannabis, but they contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis.

Technically a nut, the edible whites inside hemp seeds are called hemp hearts and are incredibly nutritious.

Three tablespoons (30 grams) of raw, hulled hemp seeds boast an impressive 10 grams of protein and 15% of the DV for iron. They’re also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

Hemp hearts are particularly rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).

Hemp hearts have a mild nutty flavor and can be sprinkled over yogurt or salads, added to smoothies, or included in homemade granola and energy bars.

Note that hemp seeds could potentially become contaminated with TCH from other parts of the plant during harvesting or storage. Be sure to purchase seeds from trusted brands that test for THC.

Chia seeds are tiny round seeds that are often black or white and a complete protein.

They can absorb liquid and form a gel-like substance. As a result, they can substitute for pectin in puddings and jams. People also commonly use them as an egg substitute in vegan baking.

You can also use chia seeds raw as a topping for oatmeal or salads, mix them into baked goods, or add them to smoothies.

Two tablespoons (28 grams) of chia seeds provide 4 grams of protein. They’re also a good source of omega-3s, iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae grown specifically as a food product. It is a complete protein.

You can find nutritional yeast as a yellow powder or flakes with a distinctive umami flavor. It adds a cheese-like flavor to vegan dishes like popcorn, pasta, or mashed potatoes.

A 1/4-cup (15-gram) serving of nutritional yeast provides 8 grams of protein.

When fortified, nutritional yeast can also be an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and all the B vitamins, including B12.

Rice and beans are a classic pairing that’s a source of complete protein.

Both brown and white rice are low in lysine but high in methionine. In contrast, beans are high in lysine but low in methionine. Combining them allows you to get enough of each and the remaining seven essential amino acids to count as a complete protein.

One cup (147 grams) of rice and beans provides 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

While you can enjoy the mixture on its own, rice and beans can be topped with guacamole, salsa, and roasted vegetables for a simple, filling meal.

A Middle Eastern classic, pita and hummus are another combination that provides all nine essential amino acids.

Similarly to rice, the wheat used to make pita is too low in lysine to be considered a complete protein source. However, chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are rich in lysine.

One medium-sized (64-gram) whole wheat pita with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of hummus provides approximately 8.7 grams of protein.

In addition to serving as a snack, adding fried or baked ground chickpea balls, known as falafel, increases the protein content of your pita and hummus.

A lunch box staple, natural peanut butter sandwiched between whole grain bread is another common combination that results in a complete protein source.

While wheat is low in lysine, pulses like peanuts make up for it by being high in lysine.

Two slices (62 grams) of whole wheat sandwich bread with 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter provide approximately 14 grams of protein.

The exact amount of protein may vary depending on the brand of bread you buy.

When choosing peanut butter, aim for a product with minimal ingredients, ideally only peanuts and maybe a bit of salt.

Mycoprotein is a meat substitute product marketed under the name Quorn that is a complete protein.

Made from a naturally occurring fungus called Fusarium venenatum, it’s sometimes mixed with eggs or milk protein before being shaped into patties, cutlets, or strips. As a result, not all mycoprotein products are vegan.

It’s a rich source of essential amino acids and low in sodium, sugar, and fat, and often offered as a plant-based alternative to chicken.

While the amount of protein varies by product, one 75-gram Quorn Chik’N patty contains 9 grams.

Despite some concerns over getting adequate protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet, many high protein, plant-based foods are available.

Several plant-based foods provide all nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered complete proteins.

To ensure you’re meeting your amino acid needs on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try incorporating a variety of these complete protein sources or combinations of nearly complete choices into your plant-based diet.