As a vegan, here are some of the best foods to ensure you’re meeting your protein needs.

Typically found in small amounts in plants, lysine is one of the most important nutrients that those on a plant-based vegan diet need to pay close attention to.  Here are a few of the best foods to ensure you’re meeting your essential protein needs for a healthy vegan lifestyle.


With 20 amino acids that our body uses regularly to build various proteins, we have evolved with the ability to make 11 of those through the food we consume. The remaining 9 are essential amino acids, which we must obtain through our diet.

Of those 9 essential amino acids, there is one that vegans should pay particular attention to: lysine.

Known as the “limiting amino acid” in vegan diets, lysine is the least abundant amino acid obtained through plant foods. That means vegans must consciously include enough lysine-rich foods in their diet to supply the body with all the protein building blocks it needs.

So why is lysine so important?

It’s the least abundant amino acid to come by when consuming plant-foods. Plant proteins high in lysine are also great sources of many of the other essential amino acids.

By focusing on lysine and eating a balanced plant-based diet, you can ensure you’re getting your essential amino acid needs met, and thereby provide your body with all the unique building blocks it needs to make everything from muscle fibers to neurotransmitters in the brain.

How much lysine do vegans need?

There is a common myth that vegans and vegetarians should combine proteins at meal times in order to receive all the essential amino acids.

Research has shown that you simply need to eat from a variety a protein sources over a period of about 2-3 days to ensure adequate intake of all the essential amino acids. Teenagers and adults should aim for about 40 mg of lysine per kg of body weight, which comes out to about 2000 – 3500 mg of lysine per day, depending on your body weight.

Let’s take a closer look at these 8 lysine-rich foods and how to easily incorporate them into a healthy vegan diet:


This cultured soy product contains about 15 grams of protein per ½ cup serving, and 754 mg of lysine. Tempeh has a lovely chewy texture and nutty flavor.  Use it in a stew, curry, or lightly browned with some tamari and minced garlic alongside some veggies and a roasted sweet potato for a simple, satisfying meal.


Made from pure wheat gluten, seitan may not be for everyone (especially those with Celiac disease, or are sensitive to wheat protein).  For those without a sensitivity, it can be a great source of lysine with a walloping 20 grams of protein and 656 mg of lysine per 3 oz. serving. Shred it and add to your favorite taco recipe in place of meat, or thinly slice it and add to sandwiches or salads.


These quick-cooking superstars are a cinch to add to fresh salads, and play a central role in delicious Indian dishes such as dal. Just ½ cup serving contains about 8 grams of protein, and 624 mg of lysine.


This protein-packed little bean is also rich in antioxidants. It packs in about 7 grams of proteins per ½ cup serving, and 523 mg of lysine. Add it to your favorite chili recipe, or quick tacos with some quinoa, pico de gallo, avocado, and a cheesy nacho flavored cashew cream sauce.


Quinoa is the only grain that is also a complete plant-protein, and is actually considered a seed, botanically speaking. It has a health halo for a reason; just one cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 442 mg lysine, as well as other important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Swap it with rice in everyday cooking, or use in place of couscous for a delicious twist on Mediterranean tabbouleh.  Just don’t forget to rinse your quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer prior to cooking! This will wash away saponin compounds that can reduce bioavailability of some nutrients (and may upset your stomach too).


Just 1 cup with your morning cereal or smoothie provides about 9 grams of protein and 439 mg of lysine. Not to mention, it’s often fortified with other essential nutrients like calcium!


These flavorful green beauties have about 6 grams of protein per ½ cup, containing 367 mg of lysine. Take a handful with you on your way to work, or serve them chopped over your favorite salad.


Tiny but mighty, just ¼  cup provides 8 grams of protein, and 360 mg of lysine. Sprinkle over oatmeal, salads, tacos, or soups; or grab a handful as a snack after a long day.


Carly Slawson, RD is a Registered Dietitian in San Diego, CA on a mission to share the joys of healthful plant-based living with those around her. As a lifelong vegetarian and vegan over the last decade, she helps individuals ranging from the simply veg-curious to dedicated vegans find the balanced, practical lifestyle they choose to lead. Visit Carly at The Mindful Vegan!


  1. I would humbly request you to use proper measurement units when providing dietary recommendations. I have zero grasp of what “cups” mean in this context, please provide the recommended amounts in grams.

    1. Hi Hans, apologies for the confusion! The cups mentioned in the article are standard imperial measuring cups (1 cup = 8 ounces). I do not personally work with gram measurements often, as clients with a North American viewpoint typically find it difficult to picture the amounts. However, there are many conversion calculators online that can provide gram estimates if that helps. Thank you for the feedback!

    1. Hi JD, you are correct that all foods have different ratios of amino acids. The focus of this article is on how lysine is an amino acid that vegans in particular should be aware of. The dietary needs and focus for those suffering with herpes is a different concern, and the ratio you mention is relevant for that. Like they say, different strokes for different folks! Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Doctor Cambell in his “Chinese study” writes , that while feeding fats with vegetarian food and giving them a cancerogen, their cancer rate was low. But after adding in food lysine their cancer rate gtew up to the cancer rate of rats eating animal food (methionine). So lysine is the main factor which differs animal food from vegetarian one. Be cautious!

  3. Many people think the vegan diet is unhealthy and difficult, but a well planned vegan diet can be the healthiest around. Also, there are egg, dairy, meat, pretty much everything replacements, although most vegans agree it’s better to stick to whole foods.

  4. I’m confused about God’s containing lysine and arginine. There seems to be a mixup. Please help me understand. Especially poultry.

  5. Thanks, this is a very helpful article! It would be even more useful to know the best arginine to lysine ratio vegan foods as well. I would like to eat a vegan diet, but everytime I do I become ill with viruses / infections and have acne flare ups, which does not go until I introduce some sheeps milk yoghurt / cheese and cut out nuts and soy (which I love and would happily eat all day long if I could also stop feeling so ill). Associating this with arginine after much research and experimenting repeatedly. It’s so frustrating and any further tips would be much appreciated!

  6. I’ve always understood seitan aka wheat gluten to be lysine deficient making it an incomplete protein. Is this a mistake or something else?

  7. This is a compliment to the writer. Questions were answered; gained new information, and the way it is written conveyed exactly what I could easily and permanently use. The fact that over a period of several days plays into this question of lysine, helps.

  8. Lysine is the limiting amino acid in seitan. So probably not the best food to promote for foods high in lysine.

  9. Thank you for this information. I look forward to learning more about the nutrients in our food.

  10. A good blog always comes-up with new and exciting information and while reading I have feel that this blog is really have all those quality that qualify a blog to be a one

  11. Also, regarding lysine and arginine, based on what I’ve read, they are competing amino acids. So if a food has more arginine than lysine, the lysine doesn’t matter in that food.

  12. Thank you very much for sharing this information. I was myself trying to adopt a green lifestyle and follow the path of veganism and purity. I was searching for different foods that were rich in protein and essential amino acids. And this article provided me with all the info I needed. Thanks.

  13. Most people I know look up info about lysine specifically in order to counter cold sores.

    For very important medical reasons you really do need to put a note at the beginning about the high arginine contents in these foods, not just dismiss the concerns people bring up in the contents because you’re “only talking about vegans and access to nutrients.”

    Now, perhaps you’re like me and think people who only use one source of information are utter idiots, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are going to be the majority of your readers.

    Idiots though I find them, they’re human and are worthy of consideration and basic compassion, not a flippant disregard for important medical facts that should be stated at the outset.

    Consider your audience, consider the reason most people are going to be looking up lysine (cold sores), and have basic human compassion.

    Vegans who are unaware of the arginine coldsore connection won’t know to look that information up, and you’re setting them up for pain by leaving that information out.

    Don’t undermine veganism by posting partial information that can actually make us ill. That’s what makes me angry at your disregard of the other person’s very valid concern. You’re vegan? You’re in support of veganism? That comes with responsibility to provide complete information, not partial information that can hurt people actively trying to improve their lives.

    Don’t undermine my way of life while pretending to support it.

  14. Great Article!! All foods have both lysine and arginine, but it’s the ratio that’s important, so some of your information is very misleading. For example, while soy does have a nice dose of lysine, it actually has more arginine, so can be consumed by people with herpes, but in limited amounts.

  15. Love your site. Very informative. Really appreciated.
    Can you tell us what are the best high lysine flours for baking.
    Love and blessings.

  16. Well described post. Thanks for sharing this useful information. As always awesome content, I love reading your articles, much appreciated!

  17. Brilliant . Didn’t know about Pistachios , don’t get on with Soy and I believe you might mention buying Organic to avoid a lot of Pesticides and man made Fertilisers. Not to mention the questionable GMOs. I came to this site to gain specific info on Lysine and especially its presence in Quinoa. I received much much more. As once was said in Great Britain “Thanks a Bunch” of Quinoa seeds in this case. It is permanently in my cupboards , soon to be joined by Pumpkin seeds (once revered ) and Pistachios (liked but now sort out with reason) . May retry Organic Soy products.

    All this was triggered by reading Dr Zak Bush’s work with Biom and specifically Tetrahydrite which has the effect of increasing Lysine in the system via Bacteria in the Gut Biom.
    Anyway what you offer in advice is premium stuff.

    Thank you and take care Mick Duncan

    Virtual Shiatsu , and other allied methods , to stimulate others Innate Healing Potential. Food is a worthwhile Addition.