Vegetarian Protein Sources
Whether you’ve decided to go meatless once a week or adopted a full vegetarian lifestyle, you need to keep nutrition on the front burner. Since you’ve nixed the meat, making sure your body is getting enough protein to stay strong is crucial. Protein functions to build and maintain your body, fight off disease, and keep energy levels high so you can stay alert all day. While it may seem difficult to get a full dose of protein per day (on average 46g for women, 56g for men), implementing a few of these high-protein foods into your diet can help you reach those protein goals.
Protein: 6 grams per egg
Start your day off right with protein-packed eggs. This will give your morning a boost and fuel you until lunch. Cooking with eggs brings breakfast to a whole new level. Mix it up a bit with omelets and quiche or try cooking eggs scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, or sunny-side-up.
Protein: 13 grams per 1/2 cup
Cottage cheese makes a great snack. It’s affordable, comes in reduced-fat versions, and also contains calcium to keep your bones strong. But you can also hide it in creamy dishes, or sub it out for ricotta cheese or sour cream in certain dishes, too. Try combining with fresh veggies for a savory treat, or adding fruit and cinnamon for something more sweet.
Protein: 8 grams per 1 cup (cooked)
Pronounced KEEN-WAH, this wonder grain is not only high in protein but also low in cholesterol and a good source of iron and fiber. Eating quinoa often is a good idea for vegetarians or anyone looking for a healthy protein. Plus, some varieties only take 20 minutes to cook—you’ll know it’s done when it turns slightly translucent.
You can make quinoa salads, or use instead of rice for a higher protein whole-grain at lunch and dinner. Quinoa is also a great option in yogurt bowls or served in place of oatmeal at breakfast.
Protein: 7 grams per 1 ounce
Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are a great grab-and-go snack or topping for salads and soups. While they are available year-round in stores, you can roast fresh seeds at home in fall, when pumpkins come into season. Nuts and seeds can be high in calories and fat, so be mindful of your serving sizes.
Protein: 12 grams per 1 cup (for black beans)
Dried black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, and pinto beans are all delicious choices for low-fat, fiber-filled protein. Using dried beans allows you to control the sodium and additives that go into the dish. Soak dried beans overnight in a large bowl of water, rinse until the water runs clean, then simmer for 2 hours on medium/low heat to enjoy. Spice with cumin, garlic, red pepper, or other spices.
Protein: 8 grams per 1 cup
While all soy, including tofu and soybeans, are excellent sources of protein, soy milk is convenient and versatile. In addition, some brands offer options that are fortified with extra calcium. Chocolate flavors are available for when your sweet tooth strikes, vanilla is great in cereal and coffee, and original is a great substitute for baked goods and smoothies. Be sure to watch the added sugar numbers. The sugar makes the alternative milk more palatable to first-time drinkers, but be aware of it if you're combining with other sweet options like granola.
Protein: 15 grams per 6-ounce container
In most cases, Greek yogurt packs as much as double the protein of regular yogurt. It’s also thick, filling, and often less sweet than some regular varieties, all while staying in the low-calorie range. It’s great on its own, with fruit, or as a substitute for sour cream. Prep individual containers of Greek yogurt, and top with fresh berries or low-sugar granola for a quick and satisfying snack or grab-and-go breakfast.
Protein: 8 grams in 2 tablespoons
Bring back this crunchy or creamy childhood favorite by spreading peanut butter on toast instead of butter and jam for more protein in your morning routine. Also, try using it in smoothies and baked goods, or just keep some stashed away with a package of whole-wheat crackers or fresh apple slices for when you belly is rumbling. Other nut butters are also high-protein options. Almond butter, walnut butter, and pecan butter are becoming more popular in grocery stores. Of course, you can always make your own.
Protein: 18 grams per 3-ounce serving
Seitan, AKA wheat-meat, is hailed by vegetarians because of its substantial texture and high protein. Unlike tofu, seitan is a meat substitute that mocks the texture of chicken, making it ideal for sandwiches, soups, or any dish where you would traditionally use meat. Made from wheat gluten, seitan may not be sold in all grocery stores, so stock up at specialty markets.
Protein: 6 grams per ounce
Go nuts over almonds—the monounsaturated fats they contain have been shown to reduce heart disease. A serving size is about one handful of almonds, or 2 tablespoons of almond butter. Try sliced almonds on top of salads or create your own spiced recipe to liven them up a bit.
Protein: 21 grams per 4 ounces
Tofu has a bad reputation. White and jiggly, it doesn't always have the most appealing appearance, but a little marinade or sauce can make a world of difference. Whether braised, baked, or fried, tofu takes on the flavors of what accompanies it, so that beige mass can easily end up being an umami-rich, crispy coated dinner that will satisfy even the most hesitant meat eaters.
Protein: 22 grams per 4 ounces
Yet another protein-rich soy product, tempeh is a fermented soybean cake. Indonesian in origin, it's a firmer cousin of tofu with a slightly bitter edge. Steaming gets rid of any tang while simultaneously softening the tempeh. It can be crumbled, sliced, cubed, or even cooked whole. It's ready to eat straight from the package, so throwing slices into a stir-fry or crumbling into a pasta sauce can make for a quick addition of protein.
Lentils: 9 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked
Ever versatile, lentils are a protein powerhouse that come in almost every shade of the rainbow. Commonplace is dals and soups, they can also add a hearty texture to veggie burgers, taco fillings, and pasta sauces. For a creamy consistency, stick with lentils that easily break down (such as red lentils), or choose a firmer type (like brown or puy lentils) for a chewier texture.