Top Sources of Protein in a Vegetarian Diet
by Yalla Mediterranean
January 17, 2018

top sources of protein in vegetarian diet

Maintaining a balanced diet is difficult for everyone, even the health and fitness conscious. Keeping up with your caloric intake, nutrients and vitamins, proper foods, and even exercise is not easy. However, for people with special dietary requirements, such as the gluten-free, the vegans or the vegetarians, it can be even harder.

For those of us with dietary restrictions, we can’t just pick up anything off the shelf and eat it. It requires a lot of label and ingredient reading to ensure something is suitable. For instance, if a sweet or candy is made from gelatin it’s not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. But you wouldn’t know just by looking at the food or sweet. Instead, you have to read the nutrition label and pay attention to the list of ingredients and additives.

Of course, protein is one of the most important nutrients in a proper diet, but it can also be the hardest to find, especially on a strictly vegetarian diet. The most common source of protein is meat, but it’s not a food for everyone, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, meat isn’t the only food that contains protein. There are actually a lot of different foods and sources of protein if you know where to look. Plant-based protein, believe it or not, is incredibly abundant.

That’s why we’re going to explore some good sources of protein for vegetarians today. But first, let’s talk a bit about why protein matters.

Why Do Our Bodies Need Protein?

Protein is a critical element of your body’s survival, as it used to make chemicals the body and many organs need. Enzymes and hormones, for example, are broken down into amino acids that use protein as building blocks, which your body then converts into alternate nutrients.

You’ve probably heard that the human body consists mostly of water or fluids. But did you know that protein also happens to be a large portion of your body’s makeup. It’s in your bones, muscles, skin and blood. Without it, you become weak, and your body cannot function normally. In fact, there are a few symptoms of protein deficiency that can make quality of life less pleasant for those suffering.

Early signs of a protein deficiency are:

  • Muscle loss
  • Fatigue
  • Low sex drive
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anemia

There are also risks on the opposite end of the spectrum, from eating too much protein. If your body receives too much protein, it starts relying on it as a fuel, instead of a building material to help make chemicals. This also leads to increased nitrogen levels in your urine, expelled in the form of ammonia. You’ll often notice after taking in too much protein that your urine changes color or even odors. A buildup of ammonia can then lead to issues with your kidneys and result in an unexplained loss of appetite.

These are a handful of reasons why it’s important to maintain healthy levels of protein in a balanced diet. Other issues include heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, diabetes, and atherosclerosis – the narrowing or constriction of arteries.

How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?

In the US, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight.

Of course, this number is merely an average. If you are more active or athletic, you may want to take in more protein than that to make up for the strenuous exercise.

protein is critical

What Are Some Good Protein Sources for Vegetarians?

Vegetarians – not to be confused with vegans – don’t eat meat or any part of an animal, including gelatin, but they will eat other animal produce like eggs and milk. There are a lot of vegetarian protein foods that everyone can incorporate into their diets, regardless of limitations they have. Here are the top 15 protein options for vegetarians, along with a few meal options to incorporate each one.

  1. Lentils.

Lentils are loved by some, hated by others, but there’s no denying the fact that they’re an excellent source of protein. A single portion can add 9 grams of protein to your diet and 15 grams of fiber. They are a must if you’re looking to increase your protein levels relatively fast. They’re also super easy to mix with just about anything. You can make a soup, side, or even main dish that incorporates this lovely dried bean.

Some vegetarian recipes that incorporate lentils include:

  1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are such a great way to add protein into anyone’s diet, even the fussiest of eaters, because they can be mixed with existing meals and have little to no flavor. That means they won’t change the taste of the meal, at least not to a noticeable extent.

Chia seeds can be made into a chocolate dessert, smoothie, bread, salad topping, and more. In addition to providing 9.4 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, they also help supply plenty of omega-3s, fiber, and vitamins as a bonus, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Here are 21 chia seed recipes you can incorporate into your diet as a breakfast or snack. 

  1. Peanut Butter

Whether it’s chunky, extra chunky or smooth, peanut butter is a classic form of protein. You can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter toast, homemade Reese’s cups, and you can even dunk fruits and vegetables into PB for a delicious snack.

2 tablespoons of this nutty goodness give you a whopping 8 grams of protein. If you’re feeling bold, you could really just eat a spoonful or two of peanut butter on its own. Sadly, even with high protein content, that’s no excuse to live on a diet of peanut butter cookies, Reese’s cups, and the like. You’ll still want a healthy and balanced diet of other nutrients too.

You can find some awesome peanut butter recipes here.

  1. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder or Chocolate

This may come as a shock to some, but you can always get some protein from chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder. You only get about 1 gram of protein per tablespoon, so it’s not the best source ever, but it still offers a great excuse to make some hot chocolate.

The best way to incorporate cocoa powder as a source of protein, however, is as an accent to existing meals. As you might expect, the low concentration mixed with foods that have a higher concentration is a great idea.

Here are some savory vegetarian chocolate recipes you can whip up.

  1. Quinoa

Just like chia seeds, quinoa contains magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, folate and all nine essential amino acids your body needs. More importantly, it contains 8 grams of protein per cup, making it a robust and reliable source of protein for all.

Another great thing about quinoa is it soaks up a lot of water – similar to rice – which means it will make you feel full, faster. If you’re counting calories, exercising portion control, or simply following a much stricter diet than quinoa is an ideal substitution.

Here are a few quinoa recipes for you to try and love.

peanuts source of protein

  1. Spirulina

Spirulina has 4 grams of protein per tablespoon, and it’s super easy to use or mix. It’s a blue-green algae commonly found in all-natural smoothies and health beverages. It also contains enough iron and amino acids to help you achieve those daily nutrients requirements too.

It does look funky, especially if you’ve never seen it before. It may even have a strange texture to you if this is your first time eating it, unless it’s mixed with something else. But don’t let its appearance fool you. It tastes great and is healthy to boot.

Here are some more spirulina recipes that don’t look as alien as the plant itself.

  1. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are one of the main ingredients of hummus, but they make a great snack all on their own. Just a half a cup will provide 6 to 8 grams of protein, depending on the brand you use.

In addition, you can grind and bake chickpeas to make a natural chip, better than those oily or greasy potato chips your kids love. There are a ton of chickpea recipes for you to try too.

  1. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are so easy to incorporate into any diet, whether you roast or salt them, add them to a recipe or simply eat them as they come. They’re a great source of protein for vegetarians and are natural too.

Each nut and seed has a different amount of protein but you can find the breakdown of the healthiest nuts here. Once you’ve decided which nuts you want to try to incorporate into your diet, read how to add nuts and seeds into stunningly tasty food.

  1. Eggs 

Eggs are a very good protein as long as they are eaten in moderation. Each large egg contains about 7 grams of protein. You can eat them boiled, fried, over-easy, scrambled or poached.

Here are a few recipes that will change the way you eat eggs forever!

  1. Green Beans

Half a cup of green beans contain 4 grams of protein, but they’re also packed to the brim with vitamin B6 and fiber. Green beans pair with every meal, and taste great whether they’re fully cooked or raw and fresh off the vine.

Here are just a few more ways you can eat your green beans.

nuts and seeds source of protein

  1. Guava

This tropical fruit has the highest protein of any fruit, with more than 4 grams per cup and 600% of your daily vitamin C per cup. That’s equal to nearly 7 medium oranges worth.

Guava can make a quick, get-up-and-go breakfast if you slept in late. You can also add it to a fruit salad, regular salad, or even cereal as a topping. Toss it in some yogurt or cottage cheese if you need to incorporate dairy into your diet too.

You can find loads of Guava recipes on Pinterest, from guava cream cheese to guava pastelitos (pastries).

  1. Triticale

Triticale is another great source of protein, though you’ve likely never heard of it. It’s one of the better sources of protein for vegetarian dieters on this list, especially in smaller amounts.

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and contains a whopping 12 grams of protein per half a cup serving. You’ll also find healthy amounts of iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. And since it’s a type of grain, you can incorporate it in just about any type of food or recipe including cookies, bread, salads, and more.

Here are some recipes that will help introduce you to your new favorite grain.

  1. Sun-Dried Tomatoes 

Tomatoes are delicious and juicy, and great to put on a sandwich or in a salad. But did you know that sun-dried tomatoes are just as good, if not better for you?

With 6 grams of protein per cup, they’re bursting with lycopene – an antioxidant shown to decrease the risk of cancers in the bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach. Sun-dried tomatoes are also rich in fiber and potassium.

You can always chop them and add them to pasta, salads, or even make your own ketchup. One of our favorite recipes is this Vegan sun-dried tomato meatball dish.

  1. Banza Pasta

Banza pasta is a unique type of pasta made from chickpeas. Unlike pasta, however, it has more than double the protein and half the carbs. So if you’re a fan of pasta or you’re not planning to do any strenuous exercise after your meal, Banza pasta is an exceptional alternative. Plus, since it’s made from chickpeas, it’s naturally gluten-free.

It offers 14 grams of protein per every 2 ounces, 8 grams of fiber, and approximately 30% of your daily iron intake. There’s a lot to love here, especially since it tastes just like conventional pasta. And while you’re at it, why not try these other Banza recipes?

  1. Soy Products and Soybeans

Soy products and soybeans provide an endless list of options when it comes to using them, consuming them, or adding them to your meals. Depending on what you’re eating, you’ll get anywhere from 2 to 21 grams of protein with every meal or snack. Soy milk is also a good source of protein for vegetarians offering up to 2 grams of protein per half a cup, as well as magnesium, which is essential for muscle development.

Here are a few recipes that incorporate Soybean to add to your cook books.

tomatoes source of protein

Additional Soy Products

In addition to soybeans, are a few other soy products you may want to consider adding to your diet. These, as you might expect, are made differently and so they also contain varying amounts of nutrients and protein.

  • Okara: It’s made from mashed, cooked soybeans which are then strained. The remaining product is soy milk and okara. The creamy, delicious liquid is often used to make soybean ice creams and yogurts. Here are a few of our favorite Okara recipes
  • Soy sauce: Soy sauce is traditionally used as an Asian condiment and varies from light to dark, thick to light. Want a few recipes or uses for Soy sauce?
  • Soy yogurt: Soy yogurt is naturally lactose and gluten-free but packed with protein for vegetarians. It also includes calcium and vitamins B12 and D. You can buy natural soy yogurt, adding it to your cooking or eating it solo. You can even have a crack at making your own soy yogurt and coming up with any flavor you want.
  • Tempeh: Not to be confused with tofu, tempeh is processed much less, and healthier for you, as it contains higher levels of protein and fiber. You can add this produce to any meal, or wrap other foods in it. To explore some great recipes for Tempeh visit this site.
  • Edamame: Edamame can be purchased in nearly every supermarket. Whether you purchase them raw, dry roasted or frozen, you can be sure that they’ll taste delicious. Whatever dish you decide to put them in they will be gobbled right up, because they’re just too good to leave behind. Add them to your children’s lunch boxes as a healthy snack or binge on them while watching a film, like popcorn. Here are some other ways to add these sweet tasting beans to your diet.

If you can’t get enough of these foods, be sure to check out these plant-based proteins for some more vegetarian and high-protein deliciousness.

Vegetarian Protein Is Good for You

There’s no reason to sit here and lecture you on a healthy, balanced diet. If you’re here, you get it. What is important is that you remember to include or substitute the nutrients you cut out. If you’re a vegetarian, for example, it is critical that you incorporate protein into your diet another way. You don’t have to eat meat, but you absolutely need protein. In fact, plant-based proteins are often much better and come in higher concentrations than meat.

With all the recipes we’ve mentioned here, there’s no end to the possibilities you can try. But everyone gets tired of cooking. If you’re looking for a break from the kitchen and want to know where you can find a delicious meal full of vegetarian protein, look no further than Yalla Mediterranean. Check out our menu and stop by one of our California locations today.