Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue, and even work as a fuel source for proper development of the body.
When digested, protein breaks down into amino acids. According to the Institute of Medicine, women need a minimum of 46 grams and men require at least 56 grams of protein daily.
The main sources of protein include meats, dairy products, fish and eggs. However, this does not mean that vegetarians cannot meet their protein needs. Nearly all foods, except for highly refined food products, alcohol and oils, contain some protein.
In addition, the benefits of not eating meat for protein are numerous. For instance, it can help avoid the high saturated fat and cholesterol content in animal-based protein sources. It’s also good for the environment and helps you save money.
Several foods are high in protein content that vegetarians can easily include in their diets. While it may be difficult to get a full dose of protein per day from one source, including a few non-animal based high-protein foods in your diet can help you reach your protein goals.
Here are the top 10 protein sources for vegetarians.
1. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt, which has the whey strained out, is a significant source of protein. A typical 6–ounce cup of Greek yogurt contains 15 to 20 grams of protein, which is much higher than regular yogurt containing about 9 grams of protein. This probiotic food also contains calcium, potassium and numerous vitamins and minerals.
Greek yogurt is a wholesome, nutritious post-workout snack. You can top it with fresh fruits, nuts or honey. Due to its thick, creamy texture, you can substitute Greek yogurt for other fats when making baked goods. It can also be part of savory dishes, smoothies and vegetable dips.
Eating this protein-rich food regularly helps maintain a healthy digestive system, boost the immune system, aid weight loss, prevent high blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol and fight yeast infections.
Lentils make a healthy alternative to animal sources for protein. However, they are not a complete protein food because they do not contain all nine essential amino acids.
One cup of boiled lentils contains 18 grams of protein. They also contain fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, folate and niacin.
Lentils belong to the legume family and come in different shapes, sizes and colors. They are available in the market in whole or split form.
There are many health benefits of eating lentils. They provide energy, reduce the risk of heart disease, help maintain body weight and keep the digestive system healthy.
Edamame comes straight from young soybean. They they remain in the pod and are harvested before the beans become hard.
This soy product is a complete protein food, which means it provides all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet. One cup of cooked edamame contains 17 grams of protein.
These beans also contain fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and K along with healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid. In addition, they are naturally gluten-free and low in calorie and contain.
You can buy them shelled or in the pod, fresh or frozen. You can eat boiled edamame (hot or cold) sprinkled with salt and dry herbs. You can use edamame in soups, salads, stews, casseroles or pastas.
This plant-based protein food reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It also promotes a healthy complexion and hair.
4. Kidney Beans
Kidney beans are an excellent source of protein. One cup of boiled kidney beans provides 15 grams of protein. They contain all the nine amino acids, but they are a little short on methionine, a proteinogenic amino acid, so they are not a complete protein.
In addition to protein, they are a good source of fiber, iron, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamins K and B6. They are also low in fat and cholesterol.
Kidney beans should be soaked in water for several hours. Before cooking the beans, drain the water, rinse them with clean water and then boil a big batch of beans for use throughout the week. You can use boiled kidney beans in soups, salads, stews or casseroles.
These healthy beans aid weight loss, regulate blood sugar, keep your digestive system healthy and prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol.
Tofu (bean curd), a soymilk product, is another good source of protein. Just ½ cup of tofu gives you 10 grams of protein. It contains eight essential amino acids as well as a good amount of iron and calcium.
It also has manganese, selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Made from soymilk through the process of curdling and then draining, you can buy tofu in fresh, dried or fried form. A staple ingredient in Thai and Chinese cuisine, it has a neutral taste and will soak up the flavors of whatever you add to it. You can use this soy product in baking, grilling, stir-fry dishes, soups, desserts, shakes and salads.
By adding tofu in your diet, you can lower your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Note: Tofu and other soybean products may not be suitable for people on a low oxalate diet. There is also some controversy over soybeans and thyroid health but with complicated and inconclusive scientific research.
6. Chia Seeds
When it comes to protein for vegetarians, chia seeds are a good option. Two tablespoons of superfood provides 9.4 grams of protein. These seeds are also one of the best plant source of omega-3 fatty acids.
They are also a powerhouse of fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. In addition to providing protein, they help improve digestion, treat anemia, make you energetic, regulate blood sugar, prevent premature aging signs and boost brainpower.
When including chia seeds in your diet, you can soak them in water and add the resultant chia gel to healthy recipes, even baked goods. You can also add whole or ground chia seeds to fresh juices and smoothies.
Quinoa is another good non-animal source of protein. It is a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8.14 grams of protein. This grain also contains fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and folate.
To cook quinoa, add 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water and cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa to make breakfast porridge. You can even combine cooked chilled quinoa with other vegetables and fruits to make a tasty salad.
Eating quinoa daily can help reduce inflammation and decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. It can also improve your digestion and help you maintain a healthy body weight.
8. Soy Milk
Soy milk is a popular milk alternative for vegans and people who are lactose intolerant. It is produced by soaking dried soybeans and then grinding them in water. It is chock-full of protein and contains vitamins A, B12 and D. Just 1 cup of soy milk contains 8 grams protein.
You can easily find soy milk in the market or you can even make it at home using a soy milk machine. A traditional staple of East Asian cuisine, soy milk is used in making soy yogurt, soy cream, soy kefir and soy-based cheese analogues.
Soy milk is good for your cardiovascular and bone health. It can even reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Note: As mentioned earlier, soy products may not be suitable for people on a low oxalate diet and those suffering from thyroid disorders.
9. Green Peas
Green peas, or simply peas, are one of the best sources of vegetable protein. They also contain fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, folate and vitamins B, C, A and K. In addition, they are low in calories. One cup of cooked green peas provides about 8 to 10 grams of protein.
You can enjoy green peas in fresh or frozen form. You can add them to soups, stews, stir-fry dishes, side dishes, casseroles and salads.
Apart from the versatile taste, green peas are also good for your health. They help in lowering the risk of heart disease, arthritis and Type 2 diabetes.
10. Peanut Butter
Just a few spoonfuls of peanut butter give you a quick and easy protein boost. This nut butter is a good source of monounsaturated fat and fiber.
It is also rich in vitamins E, B3 and B6, magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc and folate. Just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein.
Peanut butter is readily available in the market and you can even make it at home easily. You can spread peanut butter on toast, stir it into stews, whirl it into smoothies or use it on baked products.
When taken in moderation, this butter can help lower bad (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) cholesterol, reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, build muscle and help in weight management.