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Protein Ideas for Vegetarians

Updated on October 15, 2013
Eggs contain high quality protein
Eggs contain high quality protein | Source

Protein Ideas for Vegetarians

If you are a vegetarian and you maintain a healthy diet, it is likely you consume plenty of protein each day. If you are not consuming enough protein, you should be delighted to know that there are many tasty options available. As a bonus, a number of the choices are quick and easy.

Many nutritionists recommend .37 grams of protein each day for every pound of body weight. That means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume about 56 grams of protein each day (.37 x 150 = 55.5). That may seem like a lot of protein for someone that does not consume meat, but little bits here and there add up quickly. As a vegetarian, you should keep several foods in mind that provide quality protein, and include them in your diet.

If you do not already read food labels, you should begin to do so. You will soon get a feeling for which foods are a good source of protein. As a bonus, when you are a more informed consumer and you know the nutritional make-up of foods, you will be more likely to make healthier choices. Meanwhile, this article contains a list of excellent choices that are rich in protein.

Nutritional information for each food will vary from product to product. Information provided below should only be used as a general guideline. Be sure to read food labels for more accurate data specific to the brands and varieties you select.


Many vegetarians eat beans nearly everyday. Not only do beans contain a decent amount of protein, but they are also packed with nutrition. The nutritional value of beans varies, based on the type of bean.

Black beans contain a hefty 15 grams of high quality protein per cup. They also pack in 3.6 mg of iron, which is 20% of the daily value (DV), based on a 2,000 calorie diet. That is excellent news for vegetarians, who may otherwise have a difficult time finding sources of iron. An impressive 256 mcg (64% DV) of folate can also be found in one cup of black beans. Black beans contain almost an equal amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (181 mg of Omega-3's and 217 of Omega-6's per cup). Black beans are versatile and can be used in many great ways, including tacos, soups, quinoa, and rice recipes.

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, have a similar nutritional profile to black beans. Like black beans, they also contain 15 grams of high quality protein per cup. They contain a bit more iron and folate, packing in 4.7 mg (26%) per cup of iron and 282 mcg (71%) per cup of folate. Garbanzo beans contain 71 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids and 1,825 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids per cup. Garbanzo beans may be excellent in many recipes, but one of my favorite ways to use garbanzo beans is to make a mock-tuna sandwich with them.

An excellent way to enjoy beans is roasting them. While most beans roast well, garbanzo beans are perhaps the best candidate for roasting. Roasted beans are excellent for snacking.

Another excellent way to eat beans as a snack is by making hummus and using it as a veggie dip. Of course, you can also eat hummus with pitas or on a sandwich. I am sure you have at least one other creative way to incorporate hummus into your diet. Perhaps with crackers. Again, garbanzo beans are the most popular choice for making hummus.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is among the best sources of protein for vegetarians. One cup of 1% milkfat cottage cheese contains only 163 calories and an astounding 28 grams of high quality protein! The good news does not stop there for cottage cheese. Vitamin B12, which vegetarians have a difficult time finding in food sources, is found in cottage cheese. In fact, one cup of cottage cheese contains 1.4 mcg (24% DV) of vitamin B12. Cottage cheese also contains 138 mg (14%) of calcium.

Be careful though, cottage cheese can tend to be high in sodium. One cup of cottage cheese contains 918 mg (38%) of sodium.

When you select cottage cheese, pay close attention to the ingredients list. Some varieties may use gelatin, which is an animal by-product. Luckily, most varieties currently appear to leave the gelatin out (recipes may change over time).


One cup of milk (made with 1% milkfat) contains 8 grams of good quality protein. Milk is a great source of calcium, with 290 mg (29% DV) per cup. Similar to cottage cheese, milk contains a decent amount of vitamin B12, with 1.1 mcg (18%) per cup.

Vitamin D is a vitamin that is not found in many vegetarian friendly foods, but can be found in milk. One cup of milk provides 127 IU of vitamin D (32%).

Some non-dairy milk contains protein. However, you are more likely to find that most varieties do not contain a substantial amount of protein, while a few varieties have a bit more protein. Check the labels to find which milk fits best into your diet.


One cup of plain yogurt made with skim milk contains 14 grams of protein. Yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium, with 488 mg (49% DV) per cup. One cup of yogurt also contains 37.2 grams of choline and 1.5 mcg (25%) of vitamin B12.

Greek yogurt has approximately twice the grams of protein as other yogurt varieties. The straining process that makes Greek yogurt so thick is what causes it to be so rich in protein. On the negative side, a lot of calcium is lost during the straining process.

Not only is yogurt a healthy snack, but it can also be used to make other healthy foods. Try yogurt herb dip, yogurt pops, or adding yogurt to a smoothie.


One large egg contains six grams of high quality protein. One large egg also contains 0.6 mcg (11% DV) of vitamin B12 and 126 mg of choline. You will find an assortment of other vitamins and minerals in an egg, such as 0.9 mg (5%) of iron, 0.2 mg (14%) of riboflavin, and 244 IU (5%) of vitamin A. The bad news is one egg packs in 211 mg (70%) of cholesterol. This probably comes as no surprise to you, considering eggs have developed a bad reputation because of their high cholesterol content.

Eggs are incredibly versatile and can be eaten in many ways. They are great as omelettes, scrambled, or hard boiled. They can be dropped into broth to make a delicious soup or used to make quiche or a frittata for lunch or dinner. They also go well in many baked goods, from muffins to cookies to sweet breads. The list goes on, making it easy to benefit from the protein eggs provide.


Tofu is a popular choice for vegetarians and our vegan friends. One half cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein. In addition, 2.0 mg (11% DV) of iron and 253 mg (25%) of calcium are contained in a half cup of tofu. There are also 228 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids and 2,019 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids in a half cup of tofu.

Tofu is known for being excellent at absorbing flavors, making it a great addition to many meals. Popular choices for tofu are to throw it into stir fry, salad, rice dishes, pasta, and soups. Some enjoy eating tofu in the morning by preparing it similar to an omelette (omitting the egg). I enjoy dry-fried tofu topped with barbecue sauce.

Tofu is made from soybeans. A bit of controversy exists behind soy and whether it is good or bad for our health. That topic easily would require an article of its own, so I will not weigh in on that. I personally eat soy in moderation.


Quinoa is a seed that is commonly mistaken to be a grain. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of high quality protein. Quinoa is high in iron, with 2.8 mg (15% DV) per cup of cooked quinoa. One cup of cooked quinoa also contains 5.2 grams (21%) of dietary fiber, 77.7 mcg (19%) of folate, and 0.2 mcg (19%) of vitamin B6.

Because it is grain-like, quinoa goes great in dishes where you would otherwise use rice. Quinoa is also used in salad recipes and even granola recipes. If you are looking for a real protein boost, you will be pleased to know quinoa and beans make a great pair.

Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, and Sesame Seeds

Snacking on pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds is one way to boost your protein intake. An ounce of pumpkin seeds will provide you five grams of protein. You will similarly get six grams of protein in an ounce of sunflower seeds. Sesame seeds contain 5 grams of protein per ounce, making them an excellent addition to various recipes. Of the three, the quality of the protein in pumpkin seeds is the highest (they contain a complete protein).

As far as iron is concerned, all three of these seeds contain it, but sesame seeds are the winner with 4.1 mg (23% DV) per ounce. Pumpkin seeds contain 0.9 mg per ounce and sunflower seeds contain 1.2 mg per ounce. Sesame seeds are known for their high calcium content, with 277 mg (28%) per ounce.


Edamame is a green soybean that is prepared in its pod. Because it is a soybean, it should come as no surprise that it is packed with protein. One cup of prepared edamame contains 17 grams of good quality protein. Of course, that is not the only benefit edamame offers. You will also find 8 grams (32% DV) of fiber, 3.5 mg (20%) of iron, 9.5 mg (16%) of vitamin C, and 97.6 mg (10%) of calcium in one prepared cup of edamame. In that same amount of edamame, you will also find 482 mcg (121%) of folate, 560 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids, and 2,781 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids. The list goes on!

Edamame is great eaten as a snack, an appetizer, or as a side to an entree. Edamame is also great roasted.


Yum... cheese! Now that you know where I stand on the flavor of cheese, let us talk nutrition. A one ounce slice of cheddar cheese contains seven grams of high quality protein. Cheese is also a great source of calcium, with 202 mg (20% DV) per ounce of cheddar cheese. In that same ounce can also be found a close to even amount of Omega-3 fatty acids (102 mg) and Omega-6 fatty acids (162 mg).

Like eggs, it is amazing how many ways humans have found to use cheese. In fact, cheese goes great over eggs! I am sure we all have our favorite ways to eat cheese, whether it be grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, cheese and crackers, cheese sticks, string cheese, cubed cheese, or cheese fondue. Cheese is great on salads, over pasta, on pizza, on and in burritos, over chili, and melted over nachos. Cheese is great as a dip, as a spread, and as a topper.


One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. Other great nutrients that can be found in lentils include 6.6 mg (37% DV) of iron, 16g (63%) of dietary fiber, 358 mcg (90%) of folate, 0.4 mg (18%) of vitamin B6, and 64.7 mg of choline.

Lentils are quicker to prepare than other beans. That makes them great to keep on hand for quick, yet wholesome meals. Lentils are a popular addition to soups and salads. They also pair well with rice.


Keep in mind that though peanuts are not technically nuts (they are legumes), they have similarities in their nutritional breakdown. One ounce of peanuts contains 159 calories, 7 grams of protein, 14 grams (21%) of fat, and 1.3 mg (7%) of iron.


The protein in nuts varies based on the variety. Nuts are a high calorie food, which is why perhaps they should not be towards the top of your list of protein sources.

An ounce of almonds, for instance, breaks down like this:

  • 161 calories
  • 6 grams of protein (not high quality)
  • 14 grams (21% DV) of fat, mostly unsaturated
  • 1.0 mg (6%) of iron

An ounce of walnuts contains:

  • 183 calories
  • 4 grams of protein (not high quality)
  • 18 grams (28%) of fat, mostly unsaturated
  • 0.8 mg (5%) of iron

That is not to say that you should not eat nuts or that they are unhealthy. To the contrary, many varieties of nuts are quite healthy. Nuts can boost heart health, for instance. The trick is to control portion size.

The same logic holds true for nut butters, including peanut butter.


Seitan, which is wheat gluten, contains 21 grams of protein per 1/3 cup.

The texture of prepared seitan is similar to that of meat. For that reason, seitan makes a great meat-substitute in many meals, such as stew. Tempeh and seitan can both be a bit tricky to find, though many health food stores offer both. Seitan is gaining in popularity, so there is hope that it will become more widely available in the future.


Tempeh, which is made from soy, contains 5 grams of protein per ounce. Tempeh also contains a small amount of several minerals and vitamins, such as 0.8 mg (4%) of iron.

Tempeh can be added to salad, stir fry, or stew. Tempeh can be used to make a burger or used on other sandwiches. Bear in mind that tempeh may be a bit of an acquired taste and texture, but it may be worth a try.


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    • Audrey Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Baker 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you Andrija, that's good to hear.

    • Andrija Phillips profile image

      Andrija Phillips 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Wow, good article! I wrote something similar recently, and was gratified to see that all the facts you stated in this article match the facts I stated in mine!

      I think you and I are on the same page, as interests go...

      Onward, Girlfriend!


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