Vegetarian protein sources
We all need protein in our diet and it is recommended that the average adult consumes at least 0.8 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight. Protein is an essential macro nutrient (the other two being carbohydrate and fat) that helps build & repair muscle tissue, keeps nails and hair healthy and allows your red blood cells to transport oxygen around your body efficiently. Omnivores usually do not suffer from protein related deficiencies since meat is rich in it and contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Vegetarians on the other hand have to take particular care that they obtain adequate protein on a daily basis. Having a diet rich in carbohydrates will provide you with energy for a while, however you will soon feel the negative effects of lack of protein. Not all of the foods listed in this article are complete proteins, but by including most of them in your diet and combining them when you cook will mean you get all the amino acids your body requires.
Through our research we have found that Seitan (also called wheat gluten or wheat meat) which is obtained from wheat (think you may have guessed!) is the highest source of protein available to vegetarians. Boasting an amazing 75 grams of protein per 100 grams, it looks very much like meat when cooked and is often used as a substitute. Seitan is prepared by washing away starch from wheat flour – doing so leaves behind a squishy dough like material. The seitan can then be flavored and dried, ready to be used in a variety of recipes. One thing to note is that seitan has a very high gluten content so avoid it if you are on a gluten free diet.
Pronounced ‘keenwah’, this is a complete protein source and makes an excellent meat alternative. It contains 14 grams of protein and can be used as a replacement for rice in lots of dishes (this will reduce carbohydrate content and replacing it with protein though). Quinoa is very nutritious being rich in fiber, manganese, magnesium and iron. Additionally unlike seitan, it is gluten free which makes it a perfect ingredient for those on a gluten free diet. You can use it in a variety of dishes, some recipes can be found here.
3. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is obtained from milk and can either be bought in store or made at home. It is rich in casein protein, a slow digesting protein and is a favorite of body builders because they can have it as a late night snack. Cottage cheese does not have a very pleasant taste (or smell!) on its own but if you mix it with some bananas or use it as a topping on baked potatoes, it tastes quite nice. Cottage cheese has around 10 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Tofu is popular in Asian (particularly Chinese) cuisine and can be found in a lot of dishes. It is made by coagulating soy milk (which is obtained from soya beans) and then getting rid of the excess liquid. It has a white rubber consistency and tastes bland – this means it can be spiced up in a variety of different flavors, making it a delicious meat substitute. Tofu can be used as an ingredient in soups, stir fried on its own or blended with bananas, strawberries and milk for a delicious protein rich milkshake. Tofu contains 8 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Similar to tofu, tempeh is made from soya beans. Instead of coagulating the soy milk, cooked soya beans are fermented with a mold, giving it a chewy texture. It contains more than twice the amount of protein found in tofu, clocking 19 grams compared to 8. Tempeh can be used in a variety of recipes, is nutrient dense and aids cardiovascular health.
Eggs bring many health benefits and are probably one of the best known vegetarian high protein sources in this list. They make an excellent ingredient for breakfast and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Each large egg has around 6 grams of protein, 100 grams of eggs containing roughly 13 grams or so. If you are concerned about cholesterol, minimize the number of egg yolks you eat and replace them with egg whites.
Lentils are popular in Indian culture, being used to make ‘dhal’, a curry like dish that is typically eaten with rice. Lentils can also be used to make soups and salads. They have 9 grams of protein per 100 grams, help lower cholesterol, are good for digestion (due to their fiber) and keep your heart healthy. Combine lentils with quinoa for added protein.
There are many different kinds of beans including kidney, black, green, white and soya. Almost all beans are rich in protein and very versatile to cook, making them an excellent source of protein for vegetarians. Beans also contain fiber & low glycaemic carbohydrates which means they can be eaten as a meal on their own. Beans can be used in salads, wraps, soups and burgers to name a few.
9. Nuts & seeds
Similar to beans, there are many different kinds of nuts and seeds such as hemp, sunflower, almonds, cashews and chia. They are rich in healthy fats, vitamins and fiber. Nuts and seeds can be eaten on their own, mixed into porridge or added to milkshakes. Additionally, a lot of butters made from nuts such as peanut and almond butter are high in protein.
10. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is low in saturated fat and high in protein (10 grams per 100 grams) and can be eaten on its own, as a topping / dip or mixed with fruits and nuts. It is easy to digest, loaded with probiotics and can be used as an alternative to regular yogurt or sour cream.
A lot of cheeses are high in protein but unfortunately they are also high in fat. For example Parmesan cheese is 42% protein but also has 28% fat. Eaten in moderation however, cheese can be a great protein source. We mentioned cottage cheese early on as this is a fantastic source of protein, due to its very low fat content.
12. Leafy greens
Compared to the other foods mentioned in this article, leafy greens have only a fraction of the protein content. Non the less they should be included in your diet as they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. In particular, you should eat more spinach, kale and broccoli, combining them with other ingredients like quinoa, tofu and beans.
We hope the foods mentioned in this article will help keep your protein needs in check. You can use most of them in a large number of recipes, which will prevent meal times from becoming monotonous. If you are trying to build muscle e.g. working out in the gym, you may want to consider adding a supplement such as a soy, hemp or egg based protein powder.
For a list of protein rich vegan foods, check out our article here.