vegetarian protein sources

Proteins are essential for our body. They are the building blocks of body tissue and also acts as a fuel source. If you are a vegetarian, it can be challenging to get your daily quota of protein if you are not aware of the best vegetarian sources of protein. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best vegetarian sources of proteins. Incorporate these into your daily diet to stay fit and healthy.

What is protein?

Protein is one of the three essential macronutrients that our body needs to be healthy. It is considered a building block and is found throughout the body. It makes up the enzymes that power chemical reactions in the body and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood.

Protein is made from amino acids. Our bodies produce these amino acids either from scratch or by modifying others. We get nine amino acids – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine – from food sources.

How much protein do we need?

According to the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is as follows (1) –

Infants and children

  • 0 to 6 months – 9.1 grams per day
  • 6 to 12 months – 11 grams per day
  • 1 to 3 years – 13 grams per day
  • 4 to 8 years – 19 grams per day

Males

  • 9 to 13 years – 34 grams per day
  • 14 to 18 years – 52 grams per day
  • 19 to 70 years and older – 56 grams per day

Females

  • 9 to 13 years – 34 grams per day
  • 14 to 70 years and older – 46 grams per day

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

  • All ages – 71 grams per day

Your protein intake also depends on your physical activity. According to a 2016 study (2) –

  • People with minimal activity levels should consume 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight.
  • People with moderate activity levels should consume 1.3 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
  • People with intense activity levels should consume 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight.

Best vegetarian protein sources

1. Lentils

One cup (198 grams) of lentils (cooked) contains 17.9 grams of proteins (3). Lentils are a good source of proteins, fiber, iron, and potassium. Their high fiber content makes them highly satiating, which helps in weight loss. They also contain the right amount of antioxidants and health-promoting plant compounds. Lentils can be added to salads, rice, curries, or stews to add to their protein content.

2. Beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.)

One cup (164 grams) of cooked chickpeas provides 14.5 grams of protein (4). One cup (177 grams) of red kidney beans contain 15.3 grams of proteins (5). Beans are a convenient and inexpensive way to add protein to dips, tacos, salads, and soups. They are also good sources of complex carbs, iron, folate, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.

A diet rich in beans can decrease cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure, and even reduce belly fat.

3. Green peas

One cup (160 grams) of green peas (cooked ) provides 8.6 grams of protein (6). Green peas contain every vitamin and mineral you need in addition to a significant amount of fiber. They also provide in polyphenol antioxidants, which are responsible for many of their health benefit.

Green peas support healthy blood sugar control, improve digestion, and protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Pease can be served as a side dish, turned into a soup or added to ravioli.

4. Seitan

One ounce (28 grams) serving of seitan contains 21 grams of protein (7). Seitan is a complete protein made by mixing wheat gluten and spices. It is an excellent protein-rich meat substitute. It is a rich source of selenium, and also contains iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

You can find this meat alternative if the refrigeration section of most health food stores. You can pan-fry, grill and sauté seitan. When you cook it in soy sauce, which is rich in lysine, seitan becomes a complete protein. People with celiac or gluten intolerance should avoid seitan.

5. Chia seeds

One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds contain 4.4 grams of protein (8). Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants. Though they can be eaten raw, you should soak them before eating. Chia seeds can be mixed with water and used as an egg substitute in cooking. You can also blend them into smoothies, use them for baking or make chia seed jam.

6. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame

A ½ cup (126 grams) serving of tofu contains 19.9 grams of proteins (9). One ounce of tempeh contains 5.1 grams of proteins (10). One cup (155 grams) of frozen, prepared edamame contains 16.9 grams of proteins (11). Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are soy products and are amongst the richest sources of plant-based proteins.

Tofu is made from bean curds and is a popular meat substitute. Tempeh is made by cooking and fermenting soybeans and pressing them into a patty. Edamame are whole, immature soybeans that have to be steamed or boiled. All three of these soy products are rich in iron and calcium.

7. Peanuts

One cup (146 grams) of dry-roasted peanuts contains 34.6 grams of proteins (12). Other than being rich in proteins, peanuts are also full of healthy fats, which help improve heart health. Peanuts are also a good source of vitamins and minerals like biotin, copper, niacin, folate, manganese, vitamin E, thiamine, phosphorus, and manganese. You can make peanut sauce for savory dishes or use peanut butter on toast or blend it into smoothies.

8. Almonds

One cup (95 grams) of ground almond contains 20.2 grams of proteins (13). Almonds are the world’s best sources of vitamin E, which helps lower the rates of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Almonds also help to lower LDL cholesterol a benefit blood pressure. They can also reduce hunger and promote weight loss.

9. Spirulina

One cup (112 grams) of dried spirulina provides 64.4 grams of proteins (14). This blue-green alga is also rich in iron, B vitamins, copper, and manganese. Phycocyanin, a natural pigment found in this algae, has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.

Spirulina also helps improve the immune system, reduces blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Spirulina is available in powdered form, and you can add it to water, juice or smoothies. You can also sprinkle it over salads and snacks.

10. Quinoa

One cup (185 grams) of quinoa contains 8.1 grams of protein (15). Quinoa is amongst the few plant-based foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids. It is also rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E, B vitamins, and other beneficial antioxidants.

Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free, and is usually grown organically. You can substitute it for pasta in soups and stews. You can also sprinkle quinoa on a salad or eat it as a main course.

11. Amaranth

One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth grain provides 9.3 grams of proteins (16). This ancient grain is incredibly nutritious and versatile. Amaranth is gluten-free and rich in fiber, protein, micronutrients, and antioxidants. It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. Amaranth is easy to prepare, and you can use it in different dishes. Before cooking amaranth, you can sprout it by soaking it in water and allowing the grains to germinate for three days.

12. Soy milk

One cup (243 grams) of soy milk contains 6.9 grams of proteins (17). Soy milk is made up of soybeans and water. This lactose-free milk is low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol. This healthy milk is a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium. It also contains vitamin A, vitamin B 12, vitamin D, and isoflavones. You can drink this milk directly or use it in cooking and baking.

13. Oats

One cup (81 grams) of oats provide 10.6 grams of proteins (18). Oats are amongst the most nutritious grains on earth. They are gluten-free, whole grain, and a great source of vitamins, mineral, fiber, and antioxidants. Oats contain a higher quality of protein as compared to those in wheat and rice. Oats help lower the risk of heart disease; they reduce blood sugar and also help in weight loss.

14. Hemp seeds

One ounce of hemp seeds provides 9.2 grams of proteins (19). Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis Sativa plant, which belongs to the same family as the marijuana plant. Like chia seeds, hemp seeds are a complete protein.

Hemp seeds also contain magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and selenium. These seeds contain omega-3 ad omega-6 fatty acids in the correct ratio. Hemp seeds help reduce inflammation, diminish symptoms of PMS, menopause, and certain skin diseases. You can add hemp seeds to your smoothie or muesli or salad dressing.

15. Wild rice

One cup (164 grams) of cooked wild rice contains 6.5 grams of proteins (20). Wild rice is not rice but the seed of an aquatic grass. This low-calorie rice is rich in nutrients like iron, potassium, and selenium. Wild rice is gluten-free, and it provides a higher amount of proteins than regular rice. It is amongst the few plant sources of complete protein.

16. Spelt

One cup (194 grams) of cooked spelt contains 10.7 grams of protein (21). Spelt is an ancient whole grain. Spelt is related to wheat, so if you are following a gluten-free diet, you must avoid it. It is higher in protein content as compared to regular wheat.

Spelt also contains calcium, selenium, vitamins B1, B6, and E. It is an excellent source of dietary fiber. Spelt flour can be used to bake nutrition-rich bread, pasta, and other baked goods.

17. Teff

One cup (252 grams) of cooked teff contains 9.8 grams of protein (22). Teff is an ancient grain that is rich in nutrition. Because the grain is teff is so small, the bulk of the grain consists of bran and germ. Teff is rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. It has an excellent amino acid composition, with lysine levels higher than wheat or barley.

It is also rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, aluminum, barium, and thiamine. You can eat it as porridge or grind it into flour and use it for baking.

18. Greek yogurt

A cup (175 grams) of Greek yogurt provides 18 grams of protein (23). Greek yogurt contains the most amount of proteins as compared to other yogurt varieties. It also contains calcium, probiotics, iodine, and vitamin B12. It improves metabolism, reduces hunger, improves bone health, lowers blood pressure, and is excellent for digestion.

19. Ezekiel bread

One slice (34 grams) of Ezekiel bread contains 4 grams of proteins (24). Ezekiel bread is loaded with micronutrients and macronutrients that keep you satiated and help you lose weight. It is made with four types of organic cereal grains – sprouted wheat, sprouted barley, sprouted millet, and sprouted spelt. It also contains sprouted soybeans and lentils.

Since this bread is made up to sprouted ingredients, it is higher in protein, which balances blood sugar and promotes satiety. It is also a great source of zinc, vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and iron.

20. Protein-rich vegetables

Kale, broccoli, artichokes, spinach and Brussels sprouts contain a decent amount of proteins. Since they are not enough to meet your daily protein requirement, you should eat them with other protein-rich food.

A large stalk of broccoli contains about seven grams of protein (25). A cup of cooked spinach can provide 5.3 grams of protein (26). One medium artichoke contains 3.5 grams of protein (27). You can make salads, soups or casseroles with these veggies. You can also blend them to make a healthy green smoothie.

21 Protein-rich fruits

Fruits can also be a vegetarian source of protein, though they provide less protein than beans, nuts, and vegetables. Some high-protein fruits include guavas, avocados, apricots, kiwi, blackberries, bananas, oranges, cantaloupes, raspberries, and peaches.

On average, a cup of fruit can provide between 1 to 10 percent of your daily value for protein. One cup of guavas contains 4.2 grams of protein (28). One cup of avocados contains 4.6 grams of protein (29). The advantage of adding fruit to your diet is that they provide many other nutrients which aid in protein synthesis.

Final thoughts

Protein is essential for maintaining muscles and keeping your skin healthy. It also keeps you satiated and helps you lose weight. Incorporate the above mentioned vegetarian protein sources to your diet, to get your daily quota of protein if you are a vegetarian.