Protein-Rich Foods for Vegetarians

vegetarian protein sourcesIf you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or just want to enjoy meatless meals from time to time, you’ve likely wondered about how to get enough protein.

It’s a common belief that vegetarian foods are low in protein, and that following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet means you won’t be getting enough. Protein is a key ingredient of a healthy diet, and you can get plenty of it without eating meat.

Foods Rich in Protein

1. Peanut Butter

Use peanut butter on your bread or toast instead of butter or jam and you’ll have a tasty snack that’s packed with proteins. You can also use peanut butter in smoothies and baked goods, or use it along with some whole-wheat crackers or fresh apple slices for when you need a satisfying snack.

Other nut butters are also high-protein options. Almond butter, walnut butter, and pecan butter have become more popular, so much so that most grocery stories now carry offerings. If your more of a do-it-yourself type, you can even try making your own.

2. Greek Yogurt

If you regularly eat yogurt, consider this thicker, strained variety, which has up to twice as much protein as regular yogurt. When it comes to fat content, Greek yogurt is typically 2% or whole, so it will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied.

Go organic when possible. Recent research shows that organic milk contains more heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids. Look for plain Greek yogurt, and, if needed, sweeten it with fruit or a natural sweetener such as agave or honey.

3. Eggs

With 6 grams of protein each, eggs are an ideal food that can fuel your muscles and boost metabolism while regulating hunger.

Eggs are also one of the most nutrient-filled vegetarian protein sources around. They contain a host of health-promoting nutrients including choline, a major fat-burning nutrient that also plays an important role in brain health.

4. Quinoa

A quarter cup of uncooked quinoa (which fluffs up to about a cup when cooked) has 170 calories, a mere 2.5 grams of fat, and a hefty 7 grams of protein.

Plus this is the only grain known to be a complete protein and containing all essential amino acids. Beans typically need to be combined with other foods to become a perfect protein, but quinoa actually contains all the nutrients you would get from eating meat.

5. Tempeh

Yet another protein-rich soy product, tempeh is essentially fermented soybean cake. Indonesian in origin, it’s a cousin of tofu with a slightly bitter edge.

In order to prepare it, you can steam it to get rid of any tang while simultaneously softening it. Tempeh can be crumbled, sliced, cubed, or even cooked whole.

What’s more, Tempeh is 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.

6. Soy

While soy beans are normally low in the amino acid methionine, soy is a complete protein and an ideal protein substitute for meat-free diets. Soy foods such as tempeh and natto are made by fermenting the beans, but tofu is probably the best known soy product.

7. Nuts

Although some people shy away from nuts because they’re high in calories and fat, nuts are a great source of nutrients, fiber, and protein. One cup of almonds or walnuts can have 17 grams of protein.

Despite their high calorie content, eating nuts can help you lose weight because they contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids to boost your metabolism.

You should make space for them in your daily meals as well as for a snack. Try toasted almonds or cashews in an Asian stir fry or ground almonds as a paste to place on top of entrees for an added protein boost.

8. Guava

The highest-in-protein tropical fruit, guava contains more than 4 grams per cup, along with 9 grams of fiber and only 112 calories. Guava also contains 600% of your RDA of Vitamin C per cup, the equivalent of more than seven medium-sized oranges.

Add guava to your morning fruit salad or enjoy it solo as a snack to benefit from its many beneficial nutritional properties.

9. Seitan

Wheat gluten gets demonized a lot these days, but with the obvious exceptions of celiac-sufferers and the gluten intolerant, it’s nothing to be afraid of. First created more than a thousand years ago as a meat substitute for Chinese Buddhist monks, seitan is made by mixing gluten (the protein in wheat) with herbs and spices, hydrating it with water or stock, and simmering it in broth. Use a soy sauce-rich broth to add gluten’s missing amino acid (lysine).

Seitan may be a little obscure and admittedly difficult to prepare, but there are pre-cooked packaged products available in select supermarkets, especially those in more Asian-centric areas.

10. Buckwheat

Every half-cup serving of this gluten-free seed offers 3 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, and half a day’s magnesium, a mineral essential to muscle development and carbohydrate metabolism.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher magnesium intake was associated with lower levels of fasting glucose and insulin, markers related to fat and weight gain.

Fill up your plate with this nutritional powerhouse to maintain your flat stomach and keep your protein levels high.

11. Tofu

Consider this soybean block a blank canvas. I’ll soak up the flavors of whatever you add to it. Use lighter, less-dense varieties for blending into smoothies and pudding while saving firmer tofu for baking or stir-frying into chewy pieces and tossing into salads, sandwiches, veggie bowls, and noodle dishes.

The harder it is, the more protein it contains. Many vegetarians choose tofu over meat as their primary source of proteins.

12. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese makes for a great snack and a welcome addition in most pasta-dishes, sandwiches, or as a side snack with veggies and fruit.. It’s affordable, comes in reduced-fat versions, and also contains significant amounts of calcium.

You can also hide it in creamy dishes, or sub it out for ricotta cheese or sour cream too. You’ll still be getting a powerful dose of protein regardless of how you choose to eat it.


Whether you’ve decided to go meatless once a week or have adopted a full vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, you need to keep nutrition on the forefront regardless of what you’re eating.

Protein functions in a way that builds and maintains your body. While it may seem difficult to get a full dose of protein per day, implementing a few of these high-protein foods into your diet can help you reach your protein goals.


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