The Ultimate Guide To The Top Protein Sources For Vegetarians

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Last Updated: 5th October 2016

Many people have the misconception that being a vegetarian means you don't get enough protein in your diet. What a load of rubbish! Vegetarian diets may be raw food-heavy, but there is always a way to get protein even if you don't eat meat. In fact, the protein you eat will often be healthier, thanks to the fact that it's much lower in fat. You can still get plenty of muscle-building amino acids without having to touch animal flesh.

Below, you'll find a list of the top protein sources for vegetarians, complete with everything you need to know about the various foods. Happy eating!

Eggs

Eggs are sort of a "gray area" for vegetarians. Many vegetarians include eggs in their diet, making them "Ovo-vegetarians". While eggs do come from animals, no animals are harmed in their gathering. If you can consider adding eggs to your vegetarian diet, you'll be much healthier as a result!

What do you get from every egg you eat? Here is the nutritional data for 1 large egg:

Image Source: Egg Nutrition Center

That's a pretty impressive array of nutrients, all things considered!

Eggs are:

  • Low in calories -- Just 70 calories per egg, and yet you will feel surprisingly full from such a small quantity of food. Definitely a weight loss-friendly food.
  • Rich in protein -- With 6 grams per egg, that's an easy 12 to 20 grams of protein per meal.
  • Packed with nutrients -- Look at all the vitamins and minerals eggs contain: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin B6 and B12, Folate, Calcium, Zinc, Iron, and Phosphorus. All of these nutrients play key roles in your overall health, promoting proper circulation, brain health, immune function, hormone production, and the list goes on.

Compared to other protein sources--both animal and vegetable--eggs are one of the best foods you can eat. If you can stomach them, they deserve top billing in your diet!

Tofu

Tofu is one of those foods you either love or hate. It's definitely an unusual one--made from coagulating soy milk and pressing the curds into blocks--but it's a rich source of protein. The fact that it's derived from soybeans means that it's entirely vegetarian and vegan, making it the perfect option for your diet.

Here is the nutritional data for a single serving of tofu:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

Not bad! While it's not the best source of protein (less than 5 grams per serving), tofu is packed with potassium (an important electrolyte), Vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

However, while tofu is definitely a vegetarian-friendly source of protein, you need to understand that ALL soy products do come with risks.

  • Soy contains phytoestrogens--basically plant-made estrogen, the female sex hormone. These phytoestrogens can mess with your hormone balance, and can cause thyroid problems.
  • Tofu is often highly processed.
  • There is a chemical in tofu (called phytic acid) that can make it harder for your body to absorb the minerals.
  • Soy also lacks all the essential amino acids needed to produce muscle, making it an incomplete protein.
  • A large amount of soy produced in the world is GMO.

Understanding these potential risks will help you to make the right choice when it comes to whether or not to eat tofu.

Quinoa

Ahh, quinoa, one of the best of the grains! Quinoa is an ancient grain, a grain that has remained unchanged and unmodified by modern man--unlike corn, rice, and other GMO crops. Unlike these other grains, quinoa is an amazing source of protein. Best of all, it contains all the amino acids needed to produce muscle, making it one of the ONLY complete plant-based proteins.

Here's what you get from a single serving of the grain:

Image Source: FitFabFoodies

That's more protein than you get from eggs and A LOT more fiber! Like all grains, quinoa is an amazing source of energy (thanks to the carb content), but it has plenty of dietary fiber to balance it out. Thanks to all the minerals and vitamins, you get a VERY healthy food.

According to Authority Nutrition, quinoa provides:

  • Manganese: 58% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 19% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 18% of the RDA.
  • Iron: 15% of the RDA.
  • Zinc: 13% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2, and B6.

(Information courtesy of Authority Nutrition)

Best of all, quinoa contains antioxidants and flavonoids like kaempferol and quercetin, which can have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant effects. Definitely, a good reason to add more quinoa to your diet!

Beans

They're not called "the magical fruit" for nothing!

Beans are one of the best plant-based sources of protein around. They contain more protein per serving than most vegetarian foods and are packed with minerals.

Here is what you get from a single cup of beans:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

There are many good reasons to add beans to your menu:

  • They contain phytochemicals that can reduce your risk of heart disease and protect your cardiovascular system against oxidative stress.
  • They're weight loss-friendly, primarily thanks to their high fiber content. Beans are VERY filling!
  • They can fight cancer, thanks to their high antioxidant (isoflavone and phytosterol) content.
  • They contain a balance of complex carbs, protein, and fiber, making them a very good food to eat if you are diabetic.
  • They provide soluble fiber that will lower LDL cholesterol. Just 1 ½ cups of beans per day can reduce your cholesterol by as much as 10%!

However, despite these benefits, there are a few risks of eating beans:

  • They (like all legumes) can trigger migraine headaches or allergic reactions.
  • They can stop your body from absorbing Vitamins D and B12 from other foods.
  • They can raise your blood pressure if you are taking MAO inhibitors for depression.
  • They can trigger a gout attack thanks to their high purine content.
  • They can cause gastrointestinal problems, including gas.

Beans are definitely one of the healthiest vegetarian proteins around, but it's important that you understand both the risks and benefits.

Tempeh

Tempeh is another soy-based product, an alternative for those who don't like tofu. Of course, it comes with all the risks of tofu (see above), but it offers a VERY good source of vegetarian protein!

Here's what you get from a single serving of tempeh:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

Here are a few reasons to eat tempeh:

  • It's packed with probiotics that will improve your digestive tract function and promote healthy gut bacteria.
  • It's loaded with calcium for your bones and teeth. It also contains Vitamin D and Vitamin K, both of which are needed for calcium absorption.
  • It's rich in niacin and isoflavones, both of which help to combat high LDL cholesterol levels.
  • It is a natural anti-inflammatory, meaning it can help to manage inflammatory diseases, autoimmune conditions, and even cancer.
  • It can help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. This is due to the isoflavones and their ability to influence lipids in the blood.

All good reasons to eat more tempeh!

Buckwheat

The name "buckwheat" is a misnomer. Buckwheat isn't actually a type of wheat, but it's a type of grass that can be ground and used in place of wheat. If you've ever had buckwheat pancakes, you know how delicious it can be. Now you find out it's also very nutritious? Winning!

Here's what you get per serving of buckwheat:

Image Source: The Birkett Mills

As you can see, buckwheat contains a hefty dose of protein, making it one of the best vegetarian/vegan-friendly protein sources on the planet.

But it's so much more than that! Buckwheat has many health benefits:

  • Boosts heart health. The anti-inflammatory properties of buckwheat can improve heart and circulatory health, lower your bad cholesterol while elevating your good cholesterol.
  • Packed with antioxidants. These nutrients fight free radicals, toxins, and carcinogens in your body, and support your liver, brain, and digestive function.
  • Great for digestion. Thanks to the high fiber content of buckwheat, it's excellent to promote healthy digestion and elimination of wastes.
  • Good for everyone. Buckwheat contains no gluten, and it contains no allergens, meaning it's safe for those with wheat allergies AND gluten intolerance/celiac disease.

If you're looking for a healthy grain to add to your diet, you'll do well to consider buckwheat!

Nut Butters

Peanut butter may be the most common of the nut butter, but that doesn't make it the best. If you want truly healthy, almond butter is the way to go!

Here's what you get in each serving of almond butter:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

Compare that to peanut butter:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

Notice any differences?

  • Almond butter contains way less sodium, making it better for those with high blood pressure/hypertension.
  • Almond butter contains half as much saturated fat, meaning it has more unsaturated fatty acids.
  • Almond butter has twice as much fiber, but 1 gram of carbs less per serving.
  • Almond butter contains 5 times as much calcium as peanut butter.

Nut butter contain 3-4 grams of protein per tablespoon, but if you want the best of the best, always choose almond butter!

Pumpkin Seeds

All seeds and nuts contain protein, making them a healthy option for vegetarians. However, among them, pumpkin seeds stand head and shoulders above the rest.

A single serving (1/3 cup) of pumpkin seeds contains:

Image Source: VegOnline

That's 5 grams of protein from a tiny portion of pumpkin seeds! Sprinkle that over your salad, and you've got another excellent source of protein to add to your meal.

Be warned: seeds and nuts are fairly high in fat, so eat them in moderation. They're a "garnish" that should be added to your meals, not consumed as the main source of protein and nutrients.

Lentils

If you're not a fan of beans, lentils are a much less "gassy" legume to try. Don't worry: they're just as delicious and nutritious, but with far less after-effect!

Here's what you get in a single cup of lentils:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

The beauty of lentils is that you can cook them SO MANY ways--soup, stew, curry, even lentil burgers--making them one of the most varied vegetarian proteins around. There are many benefits of eating lentils:

  • They're packed with fiber, making them amazing for your digestive health. They're also very filling.
  • They can help to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve heart health. This is thanks to the fiber, folate, and magnesium in the legumes.
  • They're a source of complex carbs that will provide slow-burn energy without flooding your system with glucose.
  • They're packed with iron that will encourage healthy circulation.

The truth is that lentils are one of the best foods you can eat on a vegetarian diet. Definitely worth learning how to get creative with your lentil recipes!

Greek Yogurt

This is another "sort-of vegetarian" food--one that only lactovegetarians (lactarians) will eat. It's made from cow's milk, making it an animal-derived product. However, if you're only averse to meat, it's one of the best vegetarian-friendly protein sources.

Here's what you get from a single serving of Greek yogurt:

Compare that to a similar-size serving of regular yogurt:

Image Source: Quite Healthy

You'll notice that Greek yogurt has more than twice as much protein as regular yogurt, less than half the carbs (ergo, sugar), 30% less sodium, and more iron. While it doesn't have as much calcium as regular yogurt, the fact that it's a high-protein food makes it worthy of a spot on this list!

Downside: Greek yogurt contains fatter than regular yogurt. If you are trying to watch your fat intake, it's something to be aware of.

Conclusion

These protein sources are the best to consider if you are on a vegetarian diet and want to avoid red meat, pork, poultry, and fish. They're not only loaded with amino acids, but they're also an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Discipline coupled with regular exercise will help you get the most out of this diet. Make sure that you get all the nutrients you need to keep your health balanced and avoid posing risks of deficiencies.

Top Protein Sources For Vegetarians

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