For vegans who also need to avoid gluten, getting enough protein can seem challenging. However, there are many naturally gluten-free plant-based foods that are high in protein. With some planning, gluten-free vegans can easily meet their daily protein needs.
Why do some vegans eat gluten-free?
There are a few main reasons why some vegans choose to also eat gluten-free:
- They have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity – Medical conditions where gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction or inflammation.
- To reduce inflammation – Some find that removing gluten from their diet helps with inflammatory issues like joint pain, even if they don’t have celiac disease.
- Prefer to avoid wheat and related grains – Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. Some vegans prefer to avoid all grains, especially refined ones.
Regardless of the reason, gluten-free vegans need to ensure they are still getting adequate nutrition, including protein.
How much protein do vegans need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. This equals:
- 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man
- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman
However, many health experts recommend vegans and vegetarians aim for closer to 0.9 to 1 gram per kilogram, since plant proteins tend to be less well absorbed than animal proteins. So a gluten-free vegan who weighs 150 pounds would need 55 to 68 grams of protein daily.
Best gluten-free protein sources for vegans
Thankfully, there are many naturally gluten-free options to help vegans meet their increased protein needs. Here are some of the top choices:
Beans, lentils and legumes
Beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas and soy foods are nutrition powerhouses for vegans. They provide a hefty dose of protein, fiber, iron, zinc and folate. Some great choices include:
- All types of beans – Black, pinto, kidney, white, etc.
- Lentils – Red, brown, French, beluga, etc.
- Split peas
- Edamame (soybeans)
Aim for at least 1-2 servings per day. One serving equals 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils or peas or 4 ounces of soy foods like tofu or tempeh.
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts and seeds are very high in protein. Nut and seed butters are great options too, as they provide protein in a more concentrated amount with less fat per serving compared to whole nuts. Some smart choices include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Almond butter
- Cashew butter
- Sunflower seed butter
Aim for 1-2 servings of nuts or nut butters per day. One serving equals 1/4 cup of nuts or 2 Tbsp nut butter.
Quinoa is a gluten-free seed that can be eaten like a grain. One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein. It can be used as a base for grain bowls, added to salads or made into porridge. Opt for quinoa over less nutritious gluten-free grains like white rice for a protein boost.
Seed and nut based vegan meats
Vegan meat alternatives based on soy, seeds, nuts and legumes are a convenient way to add plant-based protein to meals. Options like seitan, tofu veggie burgers and sausages can be handy when you don’t have time to cook dried beans or peas. Just check the labels to ensure the products are gluten-free.
Hemp, rice, pea and soy protein powders provide an easy way to boost your daily protein intake. Look for unsweetened, unflavored varieties to use in smoothies, oatmeal or even blended into soups, stews and sauces.
Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast grown on molasses or sugar beets. It has a savory, cheese-like flavor that makes it popular with vegans. Just 2 tablespoons provides about 8 grams of protein. It can be sprinkled on popcorn, soups, pasta and salads.
Sprouted grain bread or wraps
Sprouted grain breads and wraps made from rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat or amaranth are great gluten-free options with a decent amount of protein. Use them for sandwiches, avocado toast or to make vegan wraps filled with hummus and veggies.
Some vegetables like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, corn and mushrooms also provide small amounts of protein that can add up over the day. Eat a variety of protein-rich veggies at meals and snacks.
Chia, flax and hemp seeds
These tiny seeds pack a big protein punch, with about 5 grams per tablespoon. They make great toppings for oatmeal, salads, yogurt and smoothies. Since the seeds are so small, opt for ground versions to reap their protein benefits.
Sample high protein gluten-free vegan meal plan
Here is a sample one day meal plan that provides over 75 grams of vegan protein without any gluten-containing ingredients:
|Tofu scramble with spinach, tomatoes, nutritional yeast and salsa wrapped in a brown rice tortilla. Fresh fruit.
|Lentil soup with carrots, celery and potatoes. Side salad with chickpeas, sunflower seeds and balsamic vinaigrette.
|Apple with almond butter
|Quinoa stuffed peppers with black beans, corn, cashews and vegan cheese. Steamed broccoli.
|Vegan protein smoothie with pea protein powder, almond milk, banana and cocoa powder.
Foods to avoid on a gluten-free vegan diet
To stay gluten-free, vegans need to avoid all foods and beverages containing wheat, rye, barley and other gluten-containing ingredients like malt. Watch out for hidden gluten in these types of products:
- Breads, cereals, baked goods
- Beers, ales and lagers
- Crackers and pretzels
- Soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
- Salad dressings and sauces thickened with wheat flour
- Imitation meats containing wheat, barley or rye
- Oats, unless labeled gluten-free
Also be cautious at restaurants and social gatherings where cross-contamination from gluten is common. Communicate your gluten allergy clearly so proper precautions can be taken in food preparation.
Tips for eating gluten-free and vegan
Here are some tips to help you meet your protein needs on a gluten-free vegan diet:
- Cook a batch of beans or lentils at the start of each week. Use them throughout the week in salads, burritos, soups, etc.
- Always keep nuts and seeds on hand for snacks and to add protein to meals.
- Try new whole grains like amaranth, millet and teff that are naturally gluten-free.
- Load up your breakfasts with protein using tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and vegan protein powder in smoothies.
- Read food labels carefully to check for hidden gluten ingredients.
- Find gluten-free vegan recipes online or in specialized cookbooks.
- Pack snacks when eating away from home so you always have gluten-free protein options on hand.
Potential deficiencies to watch out for
Removing gluten-containing grains from your diet can increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Here are some to watch out for:
- Iron – Found in fortified breads and cereals. Ensure you eat plenty of beans, lentils, spinach and Swiss chard.
- Calcium – Found in fortified milk alternatives and bread products. Eat tofu, tempeh, tahini, figs and dark leafy greens.
- Fiber – Found in whole grains. Get fiber from beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and gluten-free whole grains.
- B vitamins – Found in fortified cereals and bread. Eat nutritional yeast, legumes, potatoes, bananas and chia seeds.
- Zinc – Found in wheat germ, whole grains and fortified cereals. Choose beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and nutritional yeast.
Consider taking a vegan multivitamin to help cover any potential gaps in nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium and vitamin D.
Balancing the need for increased protein with a gluten-free diet may seem challenging for vegans. However, there are plentiful natural, plant-based options to get adequate gluten-free protein. Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy foods, quinoa and gluten-free whole grains can all contribute protein to meet daily needs.
Gluten-free vegans should ensure they are consuming sufficient quantities of these protein-rich foods and also eating a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and gluten-free whole grains for optimal nutrition. With some effort and planning, vegans who avoid gluten can thrive and feel their healthiest.