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How Can Vegetarians Eat Enough Protein Each Day?

Seattle Times / Getty

"Where do you get your protein?" It's a daily conversation for most vegetarians, but it's actually easier to get plant-based protein than you might think. Learn through our handy guide what meals and snacks to focus on to make sure you're meeting your daily needs. 

Anyone who has ever eaten vegetarian knows the typical question that crops up every time their dietary preferences are revealed: "How do you get protein?" While some vegetarians may be likely to pull out studies and facts to justify their protein intake, others will simply smile and say, "From plants!" 

Despite Americans' deep love of all things meat and their heavy conviction that only animal sources can provide enough protein, it's easily doable (and definitely tasty) to live solely off of protein from non-meat sources. A recent Harvard study found that people who eat plant-based protein were likely to live longer than their meat-eating counterparts, even with unhealthy lifestyle choices like heavy drinking or smoking.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends for Americans on average to consume 50 grams of protein per day. Most people who abstain from meat easily meet these guidelines without much trouble.

Two categories of people live off meat-free protein: vegetarians and vegans. Some vegetarians eat eggs and cheese, but vegans abstain from all animal products. While eggs are healthy and can be a great source of protein for vegetarians, those who rely on dairy products as a protein option will be disappointed with the amount of saturated fat and sodium they're consuming as well. Vegans rely solely on plant-based proteins like legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 

The key to making sure you get enough protein when not eating meat is to ensure there's some present at every meal and snack. Be smart about your choices, and you'll realize that it's not that difficult to meet your needs. Here are a few examples of high-protein foods for every meal of the day: 

  • Breakfast - Oatmeal, tofu scramble, whole-wheat toast with nut or seed butter, or breakfast burritos
  • Lunch - Lentil salad, hummus sandwich, tofu lasagna, veggie burger, or black bean tacos
  • Snack - Homemade granola bar, roasted edamame, hummus, roasted nuts or seeds, baked chickpeas
  • Dinner - Chili, curry, enchiladas, stir-fry with tofu or tempeh, brown rice bowl, or daal

Still not convinced how easy it is? Check out our one-day menu that's packed with protein (48 grams to be exact) for plant-based eaters:

Sara Tane

Breakfast

9 grams of protein: Quick and easy, Blackberry Almond Butter Toast is a grown-up play on a PB&J. Natural almond butter packs a good amount of protein, while the whole grain bread adds a bit, too. Any nut butter would do. They're all filled with protein and heart-healthy fats. Just keep in mind that they're high in calories and sometimes salt and sugar, too.

Photo: Jen Causey

Lunch

12 grams of protein: Both black and pinto beans contribute towards the protein in this Smoky Two-Bean Vegetarian Chili. Serve with some cornbread on the side for additional whole-grain goodness. If you have any leftover grains, such as quinoa, you can stir those in for an extra hit of protein, too.

Photo: Karry Hosford

Snack

5 grams of protein: Notorious for being flavorless, these Tofu Bites break the mold thanks to soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. They're good to eat cold or warm, which makes them a great solution for packing on-the-go vegetarian snacks. If you like a little spice, add chile powder or paprika. You could even use hot chile oil in place of some of the sesame oil for an added layer of flavor.

Dinner

Photo: Jennifer Causey

22 grams of protein: Chewy and filled with umami, tempeh is a soybean-based veggie protein option that's great for sandwiches, wraps, or loafs because it's firm. It also has incredibly flavor adaptability, so we used it in this Tempeh with Charred Peppers and Kale as a vegetarian meatloaf alternative. Bonus: tempeh also fulfills your daily need of vitamins A and C.