One of the biggest misconceptions about a vegan diet plan is that you need to eat lots of nuts and seeds for protein. While there is protein in nuts and seeds, that’s not my main reason for eating them.
To calculate your protein needs as a vegan, check out my protein calculator.
Since numbers are the easiest way to understand this, let’s look at the breakdown of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) in nuts and seeds.
Looking at the numbers as a percentage of calories is really useful to compare different types of foods, since calorie density in a specific volume of food can very quite a bit.
Nuts and Seeds
- Almonds – 15% carbs, 13% protein, 72% fat
- Cashews – 22% carbs, 11.5% protein, 66.5% fat
- Peanut Butter – 13% carbs, 17% protein, 70% fat
- Walnuts – 8.5% carbs, 8% protein, 83.5% fat
- Pecans – 8% carbs, 5% protein, 87% fat
- Flax seeds – 22% carbs, 12% protein, 66% fat
- Pumpkin seeds – 13% carbs, 16% protein, 71% fat
- Sesame seeds – 17% carbs, 11% protein, 72% fat
- Sunflower seeds – 17% carbs, 11.5% protein, 71.5% fat
The breakdown shows that nuts and seeds are made up mainly of fat – and that’s the reason I eat them. They’re an excellent source of healthy, whole food fats. They do also have protein, but because you only need a couple of tablespoons of nuts or seeds to pack in a couple hundred calories, they should really be kept in moderation.
Now let’s compare the protein in nuts to the protein content of other plant foods.
Beans and Legumes
- Split peas – 73% carbs, 24.5% protein, 2.5% fat
- Lentils – 70% carbs, 27% protein, 3% fat
- Aduki beans – 79% carbs, 20% protein, 1% fat
- Kidney beans – 73% carbs, 24% protein, 3% fat
Beans and legumes easily beat the protein in nuts, and are predominantly carbs. This is a really good balance of nutrients to give you lasting energy.
- Buckwheat – 82% carbs, 12% protein, 6% fat
- Millet – 82% carbs, 11% protein, 7% fat
- Oats – 70% carbs, 15% protein, 15% fat
- Quinoa – 70% carbs, 15% protein, 15% fat
- Whole wheat flour – 81% carbs, 14.5% protein, 4.5% fat
Are you noticing that these grains are on par with the protein in nuts and seeds?
- Asparagus – 68% carbs, 27% protein, 5% fat
- Beets – 86% carbs, 11% protein, 3% fat
- Mushrooms – 50% carbs, 37% protein, 13% fat
- Broccoli – 71% carbs, 20% protein, 9% fat
- Zucchini – 72% carbs, 18.5% protein, 9.5% fat
Now comes the really interesting part – there’s less protein in nuts than some vegetables. Now, you do have to eat a mountain of vegetables to get a lot of grams of protein since they’re so low in calorie density, but they also have a ton of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.
- Watermelon – 89% carbs, 7% protein, 4% fat
- Orange – 92% carbs, 6.5% protein, 1.5% fat
The really surprising thing is that there’s more protein per calorie in watermelon and oranges than in pecans.
My overall message here is not to avoid nuts and seeds. They’re a great source healthy fats and important vitamins and minerals. But don’t eat them just for protein, and don’t eat them in mass amounts. It’s easy to get carried away snacking on them, and the calories and fat will add up really quickly without you even realizing it.
Where do you get your protein? You may want to check out my protein book for more info.