If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re probably used to people’s sudden interest in your protein intake upon them finding out you don’t eat meat. It’s literally always the first thing people ask, along with “do you not miss [insert meat-based foodstuff here]?” Whilst you do need to keep an eye on your protein intake when you’re living your best plant-based life, there are tonnes of ways to make sure you’re getting the right amount. So, whether you’re just looking for ways to change up your diet, you’re new to The Green Side, or you just want a list of sources of protein for vegetarians to send to people who ask you, we’ve got you covered!
What Is Protein and Why Do We Need It?
So, what is all the fuss about when it comes to protein? Protein is a nutrient that’s made up of smaller molecules, known as amino acids. Basically, these molecules act as building blocks for our cells. This means they’re pretty much essential for producing muscles, bones, and tissues in the body. They’re also needed to repair damaged cells too.
How much protein you need will differ depending on your body type, your age, and how active you are. For instance, athletes will need more protein as they need it to repair damaged muscles. Equally, you’ll need to up your protein intake if you’re hoping to build muscle in the gym. Protein is also essential to make sure your hair, skin, and nails are looking and feeling healthy!
According to Harvard Medical School, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is just 0.8 g per kg of body weight. To figure out how much protein you should be getting, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36. Alternatively, you can use an online calculator – however, make sure you’re using a reliable one. Or, you can discuss with your doctor for more accurate information, based on your body type/ age.
Where Do We Get Protein From?
For those of us who follow an omnivorous diet, you can find protein in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Therefore, if you’re wondering how to get protein without meat, but you’re vegetarian rather than vegan, you can get protein from eggs and dairy products.
However, there are tonnes of other sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Let’s take a look at some of our favourites.
1. Plant Milks
Not only do plant milks taste amazing in your morning flat white, they’re also a wonderful source of protein, just like cow’s milk. However, some plant milks are better than others when it comes to protein content. For the sake of comparison, cow’s milk offers about 8 g of protein per cup, on average.
The OG dairy alternative, soy milk, was originally made as a by-product of the tofu-making process. While protein content will vary from brand to brand, you should be able to get between 7 and 20 g of protein per cup of soy milk. Oat milk, a relatively new plant milk, offers a thicker texture that’s more akin to the texture of animal milks. Not only is it an extremely sustainable plant milk, it also offers approximately 3 or 4 g of protein per cup. Because of its creamy texture, it’s ideal for baking vegan-friendly treats!
The newest kids on the plant milk block are pea milk and hemp milk, both of which are super sustainable, and they offer impressive amounts of protein. Hemp milk has a delightfully nutty flavour and it’s creamy like oat milk. As well as providing you with approximately 4 g of protein per cup, it’s also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Pea milk, on the other hand, offers a whopping 8 g of protein per cup. Many people who are used to consuming cow’s milk find that pea milk is the closest plant milk in terms of taste and consistency.
2. Soya and Tofu
Just like soy milk, soy products are a wonderful source of protein. Tofu is made from the curds of soy milk and it’s super versatile. Just 100 g of tofu offers about 8 g of protein. You can marinade it and fry it, using it for stir fries. Alternatively, you can bake it or steam it to eat on its own, or add to miso soup.
If you’re vegan or a vegetarian who doesn’t consume eggs, you can also use it as a replacement for scrambled eggs. Simply break the tofu up into small pieces until it resembles a scrambled egg. Then fry it until it’s cooked through, seasoning with cracked black pepper and black salt. It tastes and smells just like scrambled eggs!
Soy beans can be eaten as they are, or they can be turned into other soy products like tempeh or meat substitutes. 100 g of soy beans contains a whopping 15 g of protein.
Meat Substitutes Are Good Sources of Protein for Vegetarians
If you’re moving from a meat-inclusive diet to a plant-based diet, you might miss cooking some of your favourite dishes that include meat. The good news is it’s 2021, and the supermarket shelves are full of meat substitutes, many of which are wonderful sources of protein for vegetarians.
This means that you can cook your go-to meals without having to worry about getting protein without eating meat.
3. Soy Protein
Many meat substitutes are made using soy protein which is made by removing the fat from soy flour. This gives us a high-protein, low-fat product known as Texturised Vegetable Protein (TVP). If you’re browsing the vegetarian section of the freezer in your local supermarket, chances are most of the products in there are made from TVP. The good news is that ½ cup of TVP offers an impressive 14 g of protein!
4. Pea Protein
If you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for a long time, you have definitely noticed the increase in vegan-friendly meat substitutes in supermarkets these days. Gone are the days when we were limited to one frozen veggie sausage option that had a cardboard-like texture! Many of the newer meat substitutes are made using pea protein, and just like pea milk, it’s one of our top sources of protein for vegetarians.
If you’ve ever tried a Quorn vegetarian product, you’ve tried mycoprotein, and chances are you liked it. Mycoprotein is a protein that’s made by combining mushroom spores with fermented glucose to form a dough. This dough looks and tastes remarkably like processed chicken. Not only can you use it to make your “chicken” nuggets but you can use it to boost your protein as 100 g of mycoprotein offers approximately 11 g of protein!
6. Legumes and Pulses
You might not think it but legumes and pulses are all wonderful sources of protein for vegetarians, and they’re super easy to work into your diet. You can add them to casseroles, stews, salads, curries, and soups to bulk them up and boost your protein intake. The best part? They’re super cheap, and they’re ideal for your pantry as they’re either dried or tinned, so they have a long shelf life.
Lentils, dried or tinned, offer 9 g of protein per 100 g. Beans are also one of our favourite sources of protein for vegetarians as you can add black beans or kidney beans to your burritos or stews for a little boost. Even baked beans on toast can help bring you closer to your protein goals.
If you haven’t heard of spirulina, it’s definitely something you should consider adding to your smoothies. Not only is it packed with tonnes of B vitamins, iron, and copper, it’s also one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians. Just one tsp of dried spirulina boasts 4 g of protein.
But what is it? Spirulina is a blue-y, green algae that can be dried and consumed as a powder or in capsules. You can add it into your smoothies, salads, overnight oats or soups! It does have a very bright colour so don’t go overboard or your lunch might look a little radioactive (we’re speaking from experience here).
8. Hemp Seeds
It wouldn’t be a real Candid Mag list of our favourite sources of protein for vegetarians if we didn’t have something hemp-related in here somewhere. Along with all of the other benefits associated with hemp seeds, they have an impressive protein content. Just 3 tbsp of raw, hulled hemp seeds holds a whopping 10 g of protein.
In addition, these little seeds contain tonnes of essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6. They have a nutty flavour and you can pop them into almost any dish. Sprinkle them over your overnight oats, smoothie bowls, or salads. Alternatively, you can add them to your homemade energy balls or granola.
Pronounced say-tan – yes, just like Satan himself! Luckily, the foodstuff and its namesake have nothing in common as it’s extremely good for you. It’s one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians because just one portion (approximately 90 g) of seitan contains 20 g of protein!
It’s super easy to make too. All you have to do is combine water, gluten and flour to make a dense dough. Then you can tie it in knots, season it, and cook it by steaming, boiling, or frying it. Different ways of cooking it will provide a slightly different texture but generally speaking, it has a meat-like texture, almost like pulled pork.
10. Chia Seeds
There’s a reason why everyone was on the chia seed hype a couple of years ago – it’s one of the top sources of protein for vegetarians! Just 2 tbsp of those tiny little seeds hold approximately 4 g of protein, and they’re easy to incorporate into your daily diet. You can add them as a topping for salads, baked treats, or on your porridge. Or, you can add milled chia seeds to your smoothies.
Chia seeds are also a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and Omega 3. Weirdly enough, these little wonder-seeds also absorb liquid like there’s no tomorrow. When you leave them to soak in water or plant milk, they form a jelly-like substance that you can use to make jams or puddings. Whilst they might not look very appealing in their jelly-form, they’re very nutritious!
Grains like oats, buckwheat, barley and quinoa are all great sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans and they can fit into your meal plan with little to no effort. You can add cooked grains to salads, curries, stews, soup, homemade energy balls or granola bars to bulk them up and make sure you’re getting enough protein.
For instance, just 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 g of protein, whilst 50 g of rolled oats with milk has about 2 g of protein. Just as impressively, 1 cup of cooked buckwheat contains approximately 6 g of protein.
Whilst there are tonnes of ways to add grains to your diet as they are, you can also boost your intake by opting for products made from grains. For instance, why not swap sugar-heavy breakfast cereals for one that has more protein? Swapping Frosties for Special K and using protein-packed pea milk is a breakfast of champions! Alternatively, you can swap your egg noodles for Soba noodles which are also made using buckwheat.
12. Nutritional Yeast
If you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for a while, we’re sure you’ve already hopped on the nooch bandwagon. For those of you who are new to The Green Side, we’re more than happy to elaborate! Nutritional yeast, more affectionately known as “nooch”, is a deactivated form of yeast. It’s specifically made as a foodstuff and it comes as a yellow powder in flakes that look a little like fish food.
Nooch has a distinctive cheesy, umami flavour and you can add it to almost any dish to get a lovely cheesy flavour. Don’t worry, the flakes dissolve when you stir them into your food! You can add it to pasta sauces, mashed potato, popcorn,
But what about the protein content? Well, nutritional yeast is usually used by plant-based people as a source of vitamin B12 but it also has quite a lot of protein. Just ¼ cup of nooch contains 8 g of complete protein!
Nuts are also one of our favourite sources of protein for vegetarians because, like grains, pulses and legumes, you can add them to your daily diet in so many ways. For instance, cashew nuts are packed with a whopping 18 g of protein per 100 g, and 100 g of almonds offers 21 g of protein. However, peanuts are the clear winners as 100 g of peanuts offer a massive 25 g of protein!
If you’re feeling a little low on energy, why not reach for a portion of nuts? Or you can chop them up to sprinkle over salads and stir fries. Alternatively, you can make your own nut butters at home! You can enjoy them on toast or bagels, or you can add them to smoothies, brownies or even your own homemade peanut butter ice cream?
14. Protein Powders and Protein Bars
As we know, protein is vital when it comes to building and repairing muscle, especially if you’re hitting the gym regularly. For many plant-based fitness fanatics, protein shakes and bars are their favourite vegetarian protein sources. That’s because they can make sure they’re getting exactly the right amount, as needed for their fitness goals.
If you’re worried about getting enough protein, you can always add a little protein powder into your morning smoothie, along with some spirulina, plant milk and milled nuts and seeds. This way you’ll feel energised every morning and you’re sure to hit your protein goals. Just make sure you get a protein powder that’s suitable for vegetarians! Our favourite Huna Labs Protein Powder is delicious and it contains your morning dose of CBD – why not feed two birds with one scone?
If you’re new to the plant-based lifestyle and you're wondering how to get protein in your vegetarian diet, don’t worry. As you have seen, there are plenty of meat-free foods that offer plenty of protein, all of which are amazingly easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
In fact, if you’re enjoying a relatively healthy and balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough protein already! It’s as simple as adding a couple of nuts, seeds, grains and legumes into your diet, as well as treating yourself to a couple of seitan “chicken” nuggets every so often! And if all else fails, you can always top up with a scoop of veggie-friendly protein powder.
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