Protein is a vital component of any healthy diet. Our bodies need protein to survive and thrive, from building muscle to fueling vital functions that keep our hearts beating. Our bodies also need proteins to build other essential elements, like hormones and enzymes.
Gram for gram, animal-based foods are the best source of protein for humans. Lean protein like chicken, eggs, and fish pack a powerful protein punch. But vegetarians often get left out of the protein conversation. Is it possible to eat the recommended amount of daily protein without consuming meat?
Yes, it is. Here are the top five vegetarian protein sources to keep you healthy and strong.
1. Greek Yogurt
Many dairy products contain a fair amount of protein, but Greek yogurt beats them all. This thicker, strained yogurt has more protein per ounce than its thinner and more liquid counterparts. It’s lower in lactose but has twice the protein as other yogurts. It also contains plenty of calcium, potassium, vitamins, and probiotics.
When choosing Greek yogurts, look for products without added sugars (read more about the dangers of a high-sugar diet here). Plain yogurt is an excellent choice; use it as a substitute for mayonnaise, sour cream, and other high-fat dairy products, or eat it with some fresh berries and a drizzle of honey.
While the exact protein content varies depending on the brand, most Greek yogurts contain about 15-20 grams of protein per cup.
Beans, beans: they really ARE the magical fruit! Except, you know, they’re not a fruit. They’re…beans.
Anyway, beans are an incredible source of vegetarian protein. They’re also incredibly affordable and readily available, and you can incorporate them into almost any recipe with ease. In the United States, you’ll most often see a variety of beans, including black, kidney, fava, navy, and pinto beans, among others. Chickpeas, also known as Garbanzo beans, are another great source of protein, even though they’re not technically a “bean.” But hey, let’s not get into the specifics.
Each variety of bean contains different nutritional values, but most contain around 15 grams of protein per cup. And that’s not all! Studies have shown that a diet high in beans can help you lose weight, increase good cholesterol, and help you feel full longer.
No, seitan isn’t a big, scary monster with horns. Contrary to the scary-sounding name, seitan is really good for you!
So, what is seitan? It’s a meat alternative, similar to tempeh or tofu. But unlike these other ingredients, which are mainly soy-based, seitan is derived from wheat gluten. It also pairs well with many flavors, making the taste and texture mimic meat.
You can find seitan in the meat alternatives section of your local grocer or health food store. Use it to replace meat in nearly any recipe you have. Seitan contains the most protein per cup of any food on this list – some 60-70 grams!! It’s also a good source of iron and calcium.
However, those with gluten intolerances or celiac disease should steer clear of seitan.
While lentils and beans are related, they’re more like cousins who occasionally go to the same family reunion instead of close siblings who shared a bedroom. Beans and lentils are both from the legume family, but lentils are grown and processed differently than beans.
Lentils are tiny, disc-shaped seeds that pack a large punch in the protein department – about 24 grams per cup! They’re also high in fiber and rich in iron, folate, potassium, and manganese. And they’re easier to cook than traditional beans, making them a simple addition to your meal.
It may be hard to pronounce, but it’s an easy vegetarian protein source! Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a whole grain with a unique superpower. While it only contains about 8 grams of protein per cooked cup, quinoa is known as a “complete protein.” That means each tiny grain contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs to build proteins. These amino acids are only found in foods, and not every protein source is a complete protein.
Quinoa is also an excellent alternative for people with gluten intolerances or celiac disease and can be added to any meal. The grain takes about 20-30 minutes to prepare, and the nutty flavor and tender texture are absolutely delicious. Plus, this grain is packed with fiber, antioxidants, and a multitude of vitamins and minerals.
Bonus Protein Sources for Vegans
If you’re following a vegan diet, you’ll want to steer clear of any protein source derived from animals, including Greek yogurt from the list above. But don’t fret: there are a few other vegan-friendly protein sources you can incorporate into your meals to boost your protein:
- Nuts and Seeds