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Top 5 Sources of Protein for Vegetarians

Updated on August 21, 2014

Vegetarian Protein Sources -- Are You Getting Enough?

As every smart vegetarian knows, there are many different sources of protein for vegetarians. Even so, most of us learned in school (at least, we did 'back in the day') that protein = meat. It's the first thing that tends to come to mind. Because of that, vegetarians often have to field questions such as, "Where will you get your protein from? You need meat for that!", and worries from our loved ones that we are not getting enough protein.

Those on a mostly-vegetarian diet who choose to eat fish have an easy answer. But strict vegetarians and vegans need not despair. It is possible to stay healthy and get just the right amount of protein from other sources. Fortunately, this includes a range of delicious foods that can be either eaten as snacks or form part of your everyday meals.

Image by gamene on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

Why do we need protein?

Protein is essential for healthy growth. It builds tissue and muscle.

Quinoa -- a great source of protein (image by sweetonveg on flickr, CC licence)
Quinoa -- a great source of protein (image by sweetonveg on flickr, CC licence)

1. Quinoa

A 'complete' protein

Quinoa is often spoken about these days as a wonder-food, and when it comes to vegetarianism it's easy to see why. This 'super grain' (in reality, it is a seed) contains a balance of all the essential amino acids and can be up to 20% protein.

It is also a good source of nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, iron and copper (source: WHFoods).

Quinoa is quick and easy to prepare. It needs to be rinsed thoroughly or it can taste a little bitter. Then put it in a pan with double its volume of water, salt lightly, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

I have tried quinoa as a breakfast dish with apples and cinnamon, but like it best as an accompaniment to main meals. It tastes great with peanut butter!

Oh and by the way, my quinoa packet says it is pronouced 'keen-wah'.

Quinoa image by sweetonveg on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

Beans are so versatile and packed with protein
Beans are so versatile and packed with protein

2. Beans

Tasty and versatile

The mention of beans might raise a smile, but they are serious contenders when it comes to veggie protein. Whether you choose garbanzo beans (we call 'em chickpeas over here), lima, pinto, navy or kidney beans, these little wonders are packed with nutrients and make a versatile addition to any diet.

They also have in the region of 20% protein, varying a little with each variety (broadbeans, or fava beans, have 26%) and are low in fat. Beans alone won't meet all your protein needs, but eaten as part of a wholesome diet they can certainly contribute. Eat with rice or bread to complement the amino acid mix.

How about soybeans?

These are in a class of their own when it comes to protein, but also the cause of some controversy. Some sing the praises of soy-based foods in combatting everything from menopause symptoms to cancers, others warn us to steer well clear. I'm not well-informed enough to take a stance. However, if you do find eating soy products acceptable, they will give you many meat-free options.

Image by avlxyz on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

Tofu is the classic vegetarian protein source
Tofu is the classic vegetarian protein source

3. Tofu

The vegetarian classic

Most vegetarians have at least tried tofu. It's one of those classic ingredients that are associated with a vegetarian diet. And with good reason. Tofu, made from fermented soymilk, has a soft texture (although you can buy firmer varieties, and also the creamier silken tofu). It also has little flavor of its own which means it tends to blend well with other foods.

Tofu is a fantastic source of non-meat protein. It contains 9 of the essential amino acids. Tofu is also a great way to get calcium in your diet, especially if you avoid dairy foods.

You can eat tofu in so many Asian dishes, or use it as a cheese substitute in salads and pasta dishes. Marinate it, grill it or bake it. You can even puree tofu.

Image by avlxyz on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

Nuts are a tasty snack -- peanuts are best for protein
Nuts are a tasty snack -- peanuts are best for protein

4. Nuts

A wonderful wholefood

We're always being told to eat more wholefoods, and they don't come much more whole than nuts, especially if you've got the time to shell them yourself. Even if you don't, if you buy unsalted nuts you still have a food that has had the minimum of processing. Go easy on the salted, roasted versions, though. (And on the chocolate-covered ones. Sorry. I love them too.)

The best thing about nuts is that you can eat them just as they are (assuming you've shelled them first, otherwise you'll need to be a squirrel, in which case you probably aren't reading this anyway). Joking aside, that makes them a perfect snack.

However, they are a delicious ingredient in both sweet and savoury meals. A toasted nut topping is heavenly, and I water at the mouth just thinking of all the scrumptious desserts you can make with nuts.

Again, these are not simply a protein source. Almonds are packed with Vitamin E, cashews are tops for copper, walnuts are a wonder when it comes to getting your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, and the brazil nut is a valuable source of selenium. All are high in the feel-good amino acid tryptophan that acts as a pre-cursor to serotonin.

But for protein, the humble peanut is leader of the pack. Another good reason to enjoy peanut-butter guilt-free! Of course, all things in moderation, since nuts are high in fat. But if it's a choice between nuts or candy, you know which to choose!

Image by s58y on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

Sesame seeds are an easy way to add protein and other nurtrients
Sesame seeds are an easy way to add protein and other nurtrients

5. Seeds (not just for the birds)

Protein can come in small packages

Ah yes, good things in life DO often come in small packages, and that's certainly true with seeds. Just like nuts, they make a fantastic snack food and offer plenty of variety. And they all make a good source of protein, with sunflower seeds topping the list at 24%.

Seeds do all kinds of other great things for your body too, providing a variety of beneficial minerals from calcium (great non-dairy source for vegans) and zinc to copper and magnesium.

I often throw a handful into the bread machine along with the usual bread ingredients -- poppy seeds, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, whatever I have to hand. Or sprinkle on a salad or cooked meal to add texture. You can even mix them into your breakfast cereal or use them to make your own muesli/granola. Another way to eat sesame seeds is as tahini, which is sesame seed paste and can be eaten on rice cakes or used as a base for hummus.

Image by The Gifted Photographer on flickr shared under Creative Commons license.

A Great Book for a Balanced Vegetarian Diet - Get all the facts

This vegetarian diet guide is highly rated by Amazon customers and makes planning a well-balanced vegetarian diet easy!

I'd love to hear your favorite ways of adding protein to your vegetarian diet.

I hope you found these ideas for sources of vegetarian protein helpful - Got any of your own to add?

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Pressure-Cooker 5 years ago

    It is always good to get some more ideas. I do cook with beans very often, but I am not always sure what to do with nuts other than peanut butter.

  • livinglargeandh profile image

    livinglargeandh 5 years ago

    I came looking based on the Peanut Butter Quest and actually looked through several pages on peanut butter--or containing the word peanut butter. I am new, and wanting to see good examples of how to use Squidoo. Kudos to to--nice Squidoo. Very easy on the eye and interesting content.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    my mom always gives me assorted nuts when I see her, she likes to know I'm eating something healthy.

  • profile image

    MobileAppMan 5 years ago

    Thanks for the great info.

  • BusinessSarah profile image

    BusinessSarah 5 years ago

    Love this lens! My fiance and I are infrequent meat-eaters, but we save it for going out -- at home, we always prepare vegetarian food. I have to say, I was not aware of a debate concerning soy beans, but I'm definitely going to educate myself now.

    Thanks for a great lens and some lovely mouthwatering pictures!

  • verymary profile image

    Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

    Love all of these foods, although with soy I try not to overdo it. Did not know quinoa was a seed, vs. grain. Thrilled to hear it's so nutritious, as it's really tasty!

  • mettnaka profile image

    zainolzamir 6 years ago

    thanks for ideas about vegetarian protein source...it is a great lens...i like it very much....

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    I had never realized the benefits of seeds. Thank you for this very informative Squidoo lens on vegetarian protein. I really gained some nice meal ideas here. Thank you!

  • profile image

    goatlover_and_pescetarian 6 years ago

    @poptastic: Yay join the club! Tuna munchers unite!!!

  • profile image

    goatlover_and_pescetarian 6 years ago

    I like lentils for protein they make brill curry

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

    @TWOnline2: A good point. I've seen soya and tofu presented both as healthy foods and as foods to avoid. It sounds like you are clued up on what works for you with regard to a healthy and healing diet. Thanks for commenting!

  • profile image

    TWOnline2 7 years ago

    good lens, however, when i see websites for saving the lives of those w bad illness, they always leave out the tofu. apparently tofu is not healthy enough for healing. because of that i choose to leave it out of my regular diet.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @squid-janices7: It's all about finding the balance that works for us, I think. Thanks for having a read!

  • squid-janices7 profile image

    squid-janices7 7 years ago

    Great informative lens. If only I could stand the taste of beans and the texture of tofu - maybe I could go even more vegetarian. Right now, I do chicken and fish to get protein every once in a while (in addition to veggies). Not a fan of red meat or pork.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @kimmanleyort: Thanks Kim, I'm glad you enjoyed these delicious veggie protein ideas!

  • profile image

    kimmanleyort 7 years ago

    Oh, you have made all of these protein sources look delectable. I do eat meat, but it is only a small portion of my diet. Great Why Veg lens! And thanks for being the first to stop by my compassion lens and give it a blessing. That made my day.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @justholidays: LOL, I feel quite honoured that such a dedicated meat-eater stopped by :) Thanks for taking the time and I'm glad you have discovered quinoa and tofu -- they can be really tasty.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 7 years ago

    Couldn't live without meat, you know but I definitely love and enjoy to eat quinoa and tofu; which I used to cook a lot when I lived in Brussels - they're hardly available in the countryside. As for the others, I eat them a lot of course, they're entire part of countryside food :)

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @poptastic: Thank you, good to know it is of use. There are loads of yummy vegetarian sources of protein, I hope you find one or more that you love. :)

  • poptastic profile image

    Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

    Pear Angel, thank you for all this info! I recently decided to go vegetarian (ok, mostly-vegetarian since I still eat fish) for health reasons so this will now be my go-to page for protein sources. Excellent resource! (:

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @KarenTBTEN: Thanks Karen, I look forward to reading your Are Supplements Needed? page and am heading there now!

  • KarenTBTEN profile image

    KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

    This is an excellent resource -- informative, with a little humor thrown in. I lensrolled it back to Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives and also featured it on The Vegetarian Diet: Are Supplements Needed?

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @hlkljgk: Delighted to contribute. I love the template and it's a great idea for a club!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Sylvestermouse: Thanks very much, Sylvestermouse. I'll call by and take a look at them.

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    What about VTP. Vegitable Textured Protein is suppose to have goodness knows how much more protein than meat. I have enjoyed cooking with it. Thanks for the lens and the information.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @jptanabe: Yes, there's lots of tasty ways to get protein on meat-free days or just for some variety. Thanks for your visit!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: Excellent suggestion, thank you. I'll need to add that one in. Thanks for stopping by here.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Wednesday-Elf: Thank you for visiting, Pat!

  • hlkljgk profile image

    hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

    thanks for this resource - very helpful!

  • Sylvestermouse profile image

    Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

    I definitely need this information! Lensrolling to my 2 veg. lenses.

  • jptanabe profile image

    Jennifer P Tanabe 7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

    Lovely - all looks so delicious! I'm not vegetarian but I do like to eat most of these items and it's good to know we're getting a variety of protein in all these goodies.

  • Wednesday-Elf profile image

    Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

    I'm not a vegetarian (sorry, I love meat) :-), but you have included some great suggestions for vegetarians to add protein to their diets.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @HorseAndPony LM: Thanks HorseAndPony, I'm glad it was useful!

  • HorseAndPony LM profile image

    HorseAndPony LM 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing these protein tips. We are not vegetarians but would like to cut back on the amount of meat we eat without protein issues. This was very helpful thanks.