Maybe you grew up eating meat and potatoes and are looking to make the transition to a plant-based diet. Or maybe you’re a long-term vegetarian and are looking to get more protein on each plate. Whatever your reason, if you’re eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s a good thing to be mindful of where you’re getting your protein.
It gets a bit boring constantly answering questions about where your protein comes from, and yes, there is protein in literally everything, even in lettuce. Still, in my experience both as a vegetarian of over 25 years, and from working with nutrition clients, most people feel best when they pay a little attention on where their protein is coming from.
While the notion that you have to combine plant proteins at the same meal in order to get a complete protein is outdated, it’s still worth noting that most plants are very low in at least one essential amino acid. So, for example while you could meet your daily protein requirements by eating nothing but brown rice, you’d need to eat over 14 cups of it in order to meet your daily requirement for lysine. Pair a cup of rice with half a cup of beans and not only would you meet your daily protein needs much more easily (and pleasantly), but you’d also easily meet your lysine needs in one simple meal.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the best vegetarian protein sources.
Beans, b*tches! Beans are one of the best vegetarian protein sources around. They are also one of the most affordable sources of protein there is going, especially if you’re soaking and cooking dried beans as opposed to buying canned — but canned are totally convenient in a pinch! You get good bang for your buck in the protein department with beans: 1 cup black beans contains 15 grams of protein; 1 cup kidney beans contains 13 grams of protein; 1 cup chickpeas contains 12 grams of protein.
Sticking in the legume family, lentils are another fantastic source of plant-based protein. Much like beans, lentils are inexpensive and versatile. Unlike most beans, lentils don’t require any soaking before you cook them, so they’re a much speedier option. And get this: 1 cup of cooked lentils contains a whopping 18 grams of protein.
Whether silken, firm, or extra firm, tofu is a great source of plant-based protein. Note that the firmer it is, the more protein tofu contains. Made from the curds of soy milk which are coagulated and pressed into a cake, tofu is like the little black dress of the plant-based protein world. You can dress it up in fancy marinades, grill it, steam it, stir-fry it, chuck it in your smoothies… there’s not much you can’t do with tofu. And the best part: a 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving of firm tofu contains 12 grams of protein.
Tempeh is tofu’s slightly more granola, patchouli-wearing cousin. Made from whole soybeans that have been fermented and treated with a special kind of mold called Rhizopus oligosporous in a process similar to cheese making, the nutrients in tempeh are particularly digestible. A 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving of tempeh contains 18 grams of protein.
Of all of the plant-based milks on the market, soy milk is the only one that matches the protein profile of cow’s milk, with 8 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. By comparison, almond milk contains only 1 gram per cup, so if it’s protein you’re after, soy milk is your best bet.
The little Peruvian seed has maintained a place in the superfood spotlight for quite some time now, and with good reason. 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, and unlike many other plant-based proteins, quinoa contains a satisfactory amount of all essential amino acids.
Yes! It’s true! Vegan pixie dust, aka nooch, aka nutritional yeast, is super high in protein. And I do mean super high: just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein. So sprinkle it on your popcorn, stir it into cheeze sauces, and do a protein happy dance.
Nuts and Nut Butters
While quite calorie dense, nuts and nut butters are a great source of plant-based protein. A ¼ cup (30 gram) serving of dry roasted peanuts contains 7 grams of protein, and almonds come in just behind at 6 grams of protein for a serving of the same size. Two tablespoons of peanut butter rings in at 8 grams of protein. Peanut butter sandwiches for everyone!
Hemp seeds are another queen in the protein department, with 10 grams of protein per three-tablespoon serving. They’re incredibly versatile too, great in both sweet and savory dishes, in smoothies, sprinkled on yoghurt, rolled into energy balls, and more.
Last but not least, leafy greens get an honorable mention in the plant-based protein department. Consider that 1 cup (packed) of steamed kale offers up all that green goodness AND 3 grams of protein. 1 cup of steamed broccoli florets also contains 3 grams of protein, and 1 cup of cooked chopped collard greens contains 4 grams of protein.
Vegetarian protein sources image via Shutterstock.