If you're worried about getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet, you may be in for a surprise. Are you sitting down? The truth is, most Americans get way too much protein, and vegetarians can easily get more than enough protein in their diet as well. Many people still believe that protein is only available from meat and animal sources and we will all fall over dead without animal protein! Unless you're pregnant or an Olympic bodybuilder, you will likely get more than enough protein without even trying. Here are the best sources of protein for vegetarians.
1. Quinoa and other whole grains
Whole grains are a great source of protein, but the queen of whole grains when it comes to protein content is quinoa. Unlike many sources of vegetarian protein, quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a "complete protein". Just one cup of cooked quinoa contains 18 grams of protein, as well as nine grams of fiber. Other whole grains, including whole grain bread, brown rice, barley are all healthy protein-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans as well.
Protein content: One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 18 grams of protein.
2. Beans, Lentils and Legumes
Why you should eat it: Beans are one of the most common protein-rich foods for vegetarians. You can find beans in the grocery store or on the menu just about everywhere you may be.
3. Tofu and other products
Soy is such a flavor chameleon that you'll never get bored! You may have tried tofu and soy milk before, but what about edamame, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy nuts or soy cheese? TVP and tempeh are also protein-rich soy foods. As an added bonus, many brands of tofu and soymilk are fortified with other nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12. And yes, I did just give you permission to eat soy ice cream to get your protein.
Protein content: A half-cup of tofu contains 10 grams, and soy milk contains 7 grams of protein per cup.
Why you should eat it: You can add a bit of tofu to just about anything you cook, including stir-fries, pasta sauces, soups and salads.
4. Nuts, Seeds and Nut Butters
Nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts all contain protein, as do seeds such as sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Because most nuts and seeds are high in fat, you don't want to make them your primary source of protein. But they're great as a post-workout or occasional snack. Nut butters are delicious as well, and kids of course love peanut butter. Try soy nut butter or cashew nut butter for a little variety if you're bored of peanut butter.
Protein content: Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains about 8 grams of protein.
5. Seitan, Veggie Burgers and Meat Substitutes
Read the label of your store-bought meat substitute products and veggie burgers and you'll find they are quite high in protein! Most commercial meat substitutes are made from either soy protein, wheat protein (wheat gluten) or a combination of the two. So toss a few veggie burgers on the grill or in the microwave, and watch those daily protein grams add right up. Homemade seitan is quite high in protein as well.
Protein content: One veggie patty contains about 10 grams of protein, and 100 grams of seitan provides 21 grams of protein.
Why you should eat it: Seitan and mock meats are great for barbecues or anytime you just want something hearty and filling.
6. Protein Supplements
So what if you are an Olympic body builder or are trying to gain some serious muscle? In this case, your protein needs will be higher than us average vegetarians and you may be considering supplementing with protein powders or protein shakes. My personal trainer says to read the label and watch out for cheap fillers in whey and soy protein powders. She says it's best to shell out and invest in a good quality. Hemp protein and green proteins work great as well.
Protein content: Varies by brand, so read the label.
Spirulina contains a high amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is about 60-70% protein, which is greater gram for gram than both red meat and soy. It also contains all of the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein; this is not very common in plant foods. It contains a large amount of Vitamin B12, which is very difficult to find in other plant foods. That is one reason why Spirulina is such a great choice for vegetarians. Spirulina is very rich in iron, which is the most common mineral deficiency.
Spirulina also contains calcium, magnesium, and Vitamins A, B, C, D and E. Due to its ability to withstand high temperatures, it is able to retain its nutritional value during processing and shelf storage. Many other plant foods will deteriorate at these temperatures. It only contains 3.9 calories per gram and still has all of these great benefits. It is a low calorie, nutrient dense food.
Spirulina has been known to increase energy. It may also be useful in helping diabetics to control their food cravings, which would result in decreased insulin intake. It also has been used to help with weight loss/treat obesity, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, hay fever, stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, and premenstrual syndrome. It may also help with alcoholism, herpes, arthritis, and cancer. As little as 2-3 grams per day can have great health benefits.