If you are a vegetarian, you might just be getting a lot of these questions: “How do you get protein as a vegetarian?”, “Can you get enough protein on a vegetarian diet?”, “Are there any high-protein foods that are vegetarian?”
Today, a lot of people still believe that protein only comes from animal sources. Although they are consumed and preferred by many, plant-based proteins have been increasing their popularity in recent years.
Protein is essential for growth, muscle building, keeping your hair and skin healthy. It also increases the satiety of a meal (how full and satisfied you feel).
Although the amount of protein each person needs depends on age, activity level, and other factors, adults should consume a minimum of 0.8 g of protein for each kilogram of body weight according to the Dietary Guidelines on protein.
Contrary to popular belief, one can get enough protein on a vegetarian diet. But it’s important to plan your diet properly.
Animal products are considered complete proteins. However, not all vegetarian protein sources are complete proteins, meaning they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, or at least in high enough levels to be useful, that have to be obtained through diet.
Don’t worry, there’s an easy way to turn incomplete protein sources into complete proteins. You will find out how to do that as you continue reading.
American Dietetic Association mentions that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12.
If you are a vegetarian, you might still be eating dairy and eggs, which are animal sources of protein. However, if you don’t consume them, the good news is there are plenty of other vegetarian high protein foods for you out there!
Check out our list of top vegetarian protein sources.
Vegetarian High Protein Foods
Eggs are probably the most consumed breakfast food in the world! They are low in calories, high in protein, and high in essential minerals like calcium and iron. One large egg contains 6 g of protein and is only 70 calories.
We’re happy to remind you that eggs don’t raise cholesterol, so stop throwing away the yolk and just eating the whites. Most of the vitamins and minerals are hidden in the yolk, and you don’t want to miss them out!
You can enjoy 1-2 eggs/day, any time of the day, depending on your diet. Check out our delicious egg recipes!
Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk are packed with high-quality protein and are high in calcium, vitamins A and B12.
Cheese is widely consumed in many cultures and can fit into many recipes. However, you should be careful about portion size if you’re trying to lose weight since cheese is generally high in saturated fat and calories.
Cottage cheese is a great alternative when trying to cut back on calories. It provides between 14 grams of protein and only 2.3 g of fat per ½ cup. So it makes a perfect high protein, low-fat option for your diet.
Yogurt is a great way to add protein and gut-friendly probiotics to your diet. One cup of low-fat plain yogurt contains 12.9 g of protein.
If you’re looking for higher protein content per cup, then Greek yogurt is the answer! It provides the highest protein amount with approximately 20 grams per cup. You can also choose the nonfat or low-fat versions when trying to cut back on fat calories.
Greek yogurt is delicious to add to smoothies or substitute sour cream. It can also be mixed with fruit and oats for a healthy parfait.
Milk provides 8 grams of high-quality protein per cup. It is easily portable; you can fit a single 200 ml milk carton in your bag and have it as a filling snack when stuck in traffic or a meeting.
You can opt for low-fat or nonfat versions if you’re concerned about fat intake. You can also choose lactose-free or plant-based milk options like soy if you have lactose intolerance.
Legumes are available all year round in every part of the world. They are one of the cheapest sources of protein. One cooked cup of each provides the following:
- Lentils: 17.9 g of protein
- Chickpeas: 14.5 g of protein
- Pinto beans: 15.4 g of protein
- Kidney beans: 15.3 g of protein
- Peas: 8.6 g of protein
You can eat these high-protein legumes as a side or main dish. They add a boost of fiber and protein to your salads, work well in soups, curries, and chilies.
Check out our recipes that include legumes. We’re sure you’ll find something you love!
Now you might ask: are beans a complete protein? The answer is no, they’re incomplete proteins. But the good news is you can make them complete by combining them with grains. For example, you can combine lentils with rice or have hummus with whole wheat bread to get a complete protein.
If you cannot get them fresh, don’t worry; you can get canned beans and use them immediately without further cooking necessary.
You can also find dried or frozen beans. Frozen ones can be cooked directly without thawing, but dried ones should be soaked in water before cooking.
The content and bioavailability of iron and zinc are enhanced by soaking dried legumes in water and discarding the soaking water before cooking.
4. Soy products
Soy is a complete protein source containing all of the essential amino acids. Studies show that soy products help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which is crucial for people with cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Soy products come in many different forms. The most commonly consumed forms of soy are edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
Edamame, immature soybeans, contains 18 g of complete protein in one cup. Although mostly found in Japanese restaurants, they can also be found in the freezer section at your grocery store. They boil in a couple of minutes, and you can easily add them to your salads, soups, bowls, or stir-fries.
Tofu, depending on being soft or firm, has a protein content ranging between 4.8 g to 17.3 g per 100 grams serving. Is tofu a complete protein? Yes, because it contains all nine essential amino acids. From breakfast cups to vegan bolognese, we have some delicious tofu recipes for you!
Tempeh provides 20.3 g of protein per 100 grams serving. It’s also a good source of manganese, calcium, and iron. Don’t know how to include tempeh in your meals? No problem, we’ve been there too! Start with our delicious tempeh sandwich and tempeh salad.
Soy Milk provides 7 grams of protein per cup. It can be consumed on its own or in coffee, cooked oats, or baked goods. If you want to keep your calories and added sugars to a minimum, it’s better to choose unsweetened varieties.
Seitan is a well-known protein source among vegans and vegetarians. It’s made from gluten, which is the protein in wheat. It also looks like meat that some people call the “wheat meat”.
The exact amount of seitan protein varies, depending on whether other plant protein flours are added during production. But it usually contains between 15-25 grams of protein per 100 grams.
If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you should avoid seitan as it’s made from wheat.
6. Nutritional yeast
This nutrient powerhouse contains 8 g of protein in one 16 g serving. And before you ask, let us proudly say that nutritional yeast is a complete vegetarian protein source!
It usually comes in powder or flake form and has a cheese-like flavor. It goes well when sprinkled on cooked pasta, mashed potatoes, scrambled tofu, or even popcorn!
A type of blue-green algae, spirulina is packed with nutrients. One tablespoon of spirulina powder contains 4 g of complete protein and is only 20 calories. It is also high in many vital micronutrients like iron, thiamine, and copper.
A small study found that type 2 diabetic patients who used 2 g of spirulina supplement every day for 2 months had improved lipid and blood glucose levels. This is an important finding, especially since these patients have a hard time losing weight compared to non-diabetic people.
Almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, and peanuts are all great sources of protein, healthy fats, and fiber – our favorite nutritional trio! A 30 g portion size of nuts provides between 5-7 grams of protein.
They are low in volume, which makes them a perfect portable snack. Besides being a handy snack, you can also sprinkle nuts on salads or add them into stir-fries for an extra boost of nutrients and crunch!
Not into crunchy nuts, no problem, nut butter is also a tasty way of adding protein to your diet. Peanut butter and almond butter have around 7 g of protein per 2 tablespoons.
But watch out for nuts and nut butter when trying to lose weight; they are high in fat and calorically dense. You can aim for a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter with fruit slices as a snack.
One of the most popular seeds, chia seeds pack nearly 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons. They are also high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. No wonder these tiny black nutrient-dense seeds have earned their superfood status!
Check out our chia seed article to find out how you can benefit from these seeds in your diet. And while you’re reading, feel free to enjoy one of our delicious Chia Pudding recipes.
Hemp seeds provide nearly 10 g complete protein per 3 tablespoons. In addition to being high in protein, they are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
What’s more interesting is that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in hemp seed oil is between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered optimal for human health!
You can sprinkle hemp seeds on smoothies, smoothie bowls, or oatmeal.
A lesser-known source of protein, grains provide a delicious and easy way to supplement your protein intake.
Quinoa is one of the most popular high protein grains. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.
Is quinoa a complete protein? We want to shout out by saying YES because it contains all nine essential amino acids, which is quite unusual for a plant-based protein source. It is also high in fiber and rich in minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, and folate.
As a bonus for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, quinoa is gluten-free.
Have a great start to your morning with Fluffy Quinoa Egg Muffins or Quinoa Breakfast Porridge. Quinoa also makes a great addition to salads. Check out our Thai Quinoa and Lentil Quinoa Salad recipes for a healthy lunch or dinner option.
As you can see, most vegetarian diets are composed of complete protein sources, meaning that they contain all the essential amino acids.
Looking for ways to incorporate these amazing vegetarian high protein foods into your diet? Then check out our high protein vegetarian meals for plenty of variety. You can enjoy them as a filling main course or as a delicious side dish.
Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss
Now that we have our list of the best vegetarian protein sources, let’s take a look at how to use them for weight loss.
It’s important to remember that being high in protein doesn’t mean you won’t gain weight when you consume them excessively. As with any food, you should keep track of how much you are eating from protein-rich foods.
If you’re looking for a well planned vegetarian meal plan for weight loss, we’ve got you covered! Check out our 7-Day High Protein Vegetarian Meal Plan for Weight Loss for a balanced and delicious plan.
In conclusion, always remember that balance is key. To lose weight, you should eat fewer calories than you burn. Whether you’re going overboard on protein, fat, or carbohydrate doesn’t matter, you will end up gaining weight if you go over your daily caloric intake.