Best Protein Sources For Vegetarians
Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice that has been around for a long time – but the recent surge in ‘veganism’ is a huge, growing trend driven by warnings from the World Health Organisation about red meat consumption and documentaries such as Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
Whatever their reasons, it seems more people than ever are now aiming to cut down on their meat consumption. For bodybuilders, this can be tough – meat is a great way to get your protein intake. However, there are lots of tasty vegetable sources of protein that are often cheaper to buy, taste great and are quick to prepare.
Even if you don’t plan on cutting down on meat, it’s useful to know how to cook up meals that contain more vegetables, whilst still meeting your daily protein requirements.
With that in mind, here are the 8 best protein sources for vegetarians by protein content, along with some meal suggestions.
Quinoa is a terrific protein source. It’s a popular health food these days, but the grain is a great side dish in any recipe, or component of a main source of food, such as a stuffed pepper.
Quinoa is a relative of spinach, beets and chard, Quinoa is more of a seed than a grain – which makes it gluten free!
It’s a complete protein – meaning it has the full range of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). White quinoa is the most commonly sold type, while red quinoa is good for salads as it holds shape well. Black quinoa is known for having an earthier, sweeter taste and is often used to spice up certain salads.
Protein content: Approximately 4.5 grams per 100g serving.
Meal ideas: Quinoa is a replacement for rice and can be used in any rice dishes. It’s great in stuffed peppers and can also be used for baking fritters and cakes.
Whether they’re eaten in falafel, thrown into a tagine or used to bulk out your meals, chickpeas are a wondrous source of protein. Used to create hummus and other snacks, half a cup of chickpeas provides a good amount of protein. They are ideal for creating veggie curries.
Need a snack? Chickpeas can be dry-roasted to be eaten on the go as a protein-rich snack.
Protein content: 6-8 grams per half cup serving.
Meal ideas: Falafel burgers and wraps, chickpea and artichoke paella, chickpea, spinach and potato curry.
Okay – so you’re wanting to cut down on meat but can’t fathom a meal without meat texture. Enter Seitan – which is made from wheat gluten. If you’re not coeliac or suffering from a gluten intolerance, this is a great meat substitute, and packs in an incredible amount of protein.
However, it is not a ‘complete’ protein – you’ll be missing lysine from the BCAAs list. Still – as a way to pack in protein in a meatless meal, not many sources can rival seitan.
Protein content: 75 grams per 100 gram serving. 75!
Meal ideas: because of its meat like texture, you can use Seitan in stir fries, stews, pies and more. It’s completely vegan and extremely versatile.
Okay, so this section is cheating a little. There are so many different kinds of beans it’d be hard to list them all. Edamame beans are great in sushi, cold salads and stir frys. Black beans are great for salad and burgers. Most contain around 7-8 grams of protein per half cup serving.
Like chickpeas, beans are incredibly versatile. You can throw them into burritos, cook up an enormous pot of bean chili for meal prep, or have them in a stew.
Protein content: varies depending on the type of bean, but typically around 20-22 grams per 100g.
Meal ideas: Three bean Mexican chili, edamame stir fry and bean burritos.
Whether you’ve had it in a stir fry at an Asian-style restaurant or glimpsed it on the shelves and wondered what it is, Tofu is a great choice for vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike. It’s a versatile form of fermented soy, containing lots of protein while also being great to cook with, thanks to its versatility.
Tofu comes in silken and normal varieties, with each of these offering different levels of firmness. Silken tofu is a good replacement for scrambled eggs and other more gelatinous foods. Firm tofu is what you’ll want for stir fries and other dishes.
Most importantly, Tofu has little to no carbohydrates and is rich in calcium; ideal for people cutting dairy out of their diets. The versatility on offer is almost unrivaled by any other food: tofu can be used in breakfast, lunch, dinner or desserts.
Protein content: 8g per 100g
Meal ideas: Soba and tofu stir fry, crispy tofu tacos, tofu scramble, chocolate chunk cookie bars.
Need something to snack on or boost up a breakfast? Chia seeds might be the perfect choice. While they can be pricey if bought from health sections of the supermarket, you can often find them cheaper elsewhere.
Chia seeds are a complete protein source, and pack in 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons. It’s great to add to yoghurts or desserts,
Protein content: 17g per 100 g.
Meal ideas: whole-wheat chia seed pancakes, chia seed granola, chia seed pudding.
Broccoli, spinach and asparagus
We’re cheating again by including multiple foods in one subheading, but these three greens are amazing for veggies and meat-eaters alike. Broccoli contains a lot of vitamin C, fibre and vitamin K but contains just 30 calories alongside 4 grams of protein. Asparagus can be added to virtually any meal and also has 4 grams of protein per cup. Spinach is the most versatile leafy vegetable of all and has 5 grams of protein per cup. All of these vegetables have the benefit of containing relatively few calories, but plenty of essential nutrients, making them perfect for people who want to achieve a balanced diet.
Protein content: Fresh baby spinach contains 2.8 grams per 100g. Broccoli contains around 2.8 grams per 100g serving. Asparagus has 2.2g – which may sound low until you realise that’s a 20 calorie serving.
Meal Ideas: Greens can be used in virtually any dish, to enrich curries, as a side or as a stew. Let your imagination run wild.
One of the world’s best snacks, nuts are among the most versatile of protein rich foods. Thrown into stir-fries, eaten by the handful as a snack or adorning desserts, nuts are great for adding in protein and useful fats to your diet.
There’s also a nut for almost any occasion – but you’ll have to watch how many calories you’re consuming as nuts are one of the more calorific snacks. 100 grams of almonds, for instance, equates to 576 calories.
Avoid salted nuts or those soaked in oil. Dry roasted variants are better, but nothing is as good for you as raw nuts the way nature intended them.
Protein content: This varies heavily from nut to nut. Here are some of the more common variants:
- Peanut – 26g per 100g
- Almond – 21g per 100g
- Cashew – 18g per 100g
- Walnut – 15g per 100g
- Brazil Nut – 14g per 100g
Meal Ideas: Almond cake, pad thai, nut crackers.
These are just a few of the best protein sources for vegetarians – but by including these in your meals and cooking, you’ll be able to up your protein intake both cheaply and easily. Healthy home cooking often yields better nutrition than microwave, freezer-packed meals and buying fresh veggies encourages you to cook them and use them before they go bad.
Embrace the vegetables and get your protein in!