August 28, 2020

Though vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, there’s still a misconception that exists: that vegetarians must be missing out on essential proteins because they don’t eat meat. There’s not actually any truth to this at all. Animal products are often promoted as the best protein sources, but there are plenty of meat-free alternatives that contain just as much, or even more, protein per gram than your typical meat products.

Whether you’re keen to ditch the meat for good or you’d just like to incorporate a few plant-based dishes into your diet, adjusting to this change can be difficult, even unhealthy. If you’re used to having meat as a main staple in your dish, you might not know what to eat instead. It’s important that you’re aware of your no-meat protein options as a vegetarian, and incorporate them into your diet sensibly. 

vegetarian diet

You might be surprised to learn that many of the foods you eat and enjoy already are great sources of protein for vegetarians. This means you don’t have to get used to eating something completely foreign to you like tofu and seitan – though go for it if you like a cooking challenge! In this guide, we’ll be covering the common and less common vegetarian sources, so whether you’re looking to make simple changes or you’re keen to get stuck into prepping and cooking new foods, there’s something for everyone.

If your mind goes blank when you try to think of the best vegetarian protein options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, stay tuned – we’ll be covering everything you need to know. 

Top 8 Best Protein Foods For Vegetarians

1. Almonds

Though they’re widely considered a nut, almonds are actually the edible seeds found on the almond tree. You’ll be more familiar with shelled almonds, which are those with a rough, dark brown coating, or blanched almonds, which have had their shell removed, and are white and creamy in colour. You can safely eat raw almonds in any of these forms.

What makes almonds truly impressive is their protein content. Even a small 23-gram serving of these nuts contains nearly 6 grams of protein – which equites to around 15 percent of your daily intake.

Almonds aren’t only a good protein source, either – they’re also packed full of fibre, heart-healthy monosaturated fats, and a broad range of essential nutrients, from magnesium and calcium to B vitamins and zinc. 

Almonds as source of protein

It couldn’t be easier to add almonds to your diet. Some people find them tasty eaten on their own as a healthy snack, but they can also be used to add some crunch to your yogurt, porridge or cereals. You can even use almonds to make your own nut butter or milk, if you’re particularly creative in the kitchen.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate almonds into savoury dishes, too – why not roast them and add them to a curry dish or a salad?

2. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are one of the highest protein plant based foods, and are also considered one of the healthiest foods in the world. Otherwise referred to as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are available in tinned form – and can be eaten warmed up or straight from the can – or dried – which requires more effort as you’ll need to soak them, but generally offers a higher nutritional value. 

Being high in fibre, chickpeas are incredibly satiating, with a single cup (around 164 grams) offering 29 percent of the protein we need on a daily basis. They’re a great meat substitute for both vegetarians and vegans, and can be used in a variety of savoury and even sweet dishes. Other health benefits of consuming chickpeas include regulation of blood sugar levels, digestive tract support, and a decreased risk of heart attack.

Because chickpeas are so versatile, you won’t have a problem incorporating them into your diet. Chickpeas are particularly popular in vegetarian curries and stews, but they also make a fantastic addition to salads and Mexican dishes.

You can boil, fry and even roast chickpeas, depending on whether you’re looking for a soft or crunchy texture, and they can also be blended with vinegar and lemon juice to make simple homemade hummus. 

3. Eggs

Whether you’re taking slow steps towards a fully plant-based diet or you’re simply trying to cut down on meat sources of protein, you don’t need to cut out animal proteins entirely. Eggs, for instance, are one of the highest sources of protein per gram, making them a great option for anyone who’s looking to move away from meat without ditching the animal products entirely. 

Fresh Eggs

A large egg contains around 6 grams of protein, but its protein content is far from the only benefit of this breakfast staple food. Eggs are highly nutritious, and are low in calories while packed full of vitamins and minerals.

There’s a reason why eggs are often advised as protein sources in a weight loss diet, as studies show that, when prepared the right way, they can help improve cholesterol levels lose body fat. Eggs can even protect your eyes, and they’re great for overall health.

Keep in mind that the way you cook your eggs will determine whether they’re a healthy or unhealthy addition to your diet. If your health is important to you, or you’re trying to lose weight, boil or poach your eggs without oil.

They make a fantastic accompaniment to toast, salad, and oven bakes. If you’re into your fitness, you might also add raw eggs to your protein shakes and smoothies for an extra protein hit. 

The Top 8 Best Complete Protein Foods for Vegetarians

4. Peas

It’s rare that peas are recognised as being anything other than one of your five a day, but it’s about time they were celebrated for their incredible health benefits. Small but mighty, peas are one of the best vegetable sources of protein, with a single 145-gram cup of peas offering around 8 grams of protein.

For a bit of context, that’s 2 grams more protein than you’ll find in a large egg. Peas are also a good source of phytonutrients, which offer a host of anti-inflammatory, free radical-fighting benefits. If sustainability is important to you, you’ll be happy to know that of all the vegetable protein sources out there, peas are some of the most environmentally friendly options.

You probably don’t need any advice on how to add peas to your diet! They’re versatile enough to add them to pretty much any savoury dish, from curries and roast dinners to pasta bakes, soups, salads, stir fries and stews. You can bake, fry or boil them, or even eat them raw. 

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5. Tofu

Tofu is becoming more and more widely available nowadays, and has become a staple vegetarian and vegan cooking ingredient. Though its popularity in the Western world is on the rise, tofu has been used for years in Asian cooking. It’s made from condensed soymilk, and can be found in three forms: firm, soft (or silken), and extra firm.

The reason why tofu is so often used as a meat substitute is because it has a protein content that’s equal to, or even higher than, meat. A single serving of tofu is low in calories but has an impressive 11 grams of protein.

A single serving of ground beef, on the other hand, only offers 8.9 grams of protein. Compared to many meat sources, tofu is lower in fat, and, according to numerous studies, it can lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Though tofu is a staple food in its own right, when you cook it right, it can mimic certain meat textures, especially chicken. You just need to buy the right type of tofu for your needs and cook it properly.

Silken tofu can be added straight to sauces and dessert dishes, but firm tofu should be pressed with a can for a couple of hours to squeeze out the excess water. The best way to cook tofu is to bake it or fry it, and marinating it can cause it to take on whatever flavour you fancy. You could also fry it in an egg and breadcrumb coating for a crispy outer texture. 

6. Sprouted bread

Unless you’ve been looking out for it, it’s unlikely you know much about sprouted bread. Most supermarkets stock it in their bakery aisle, and you can use it instead of your usual wholegrain or white bread. Sprouted bread is made from whole grains that have been left to sprout before they’re milled into flour.

Not only is sprouted bread considered healthier than white and even wholegrain bread, but it’s also a great source of protein. That’s because when grains sprout, the level of protein-rich amino acids in the bread increases.

A single serving of sprouted grain bread contains just over 15 grams of protein – which is really impressive, especially as this single serving only contains around 80 calories, and has a lower fat and sodium content than your average slice of bread.

It’s easy to add sprouted bread to your diet – just use it instead of your usual loaf when you make sandwiches or toast. Eat it as it is or toast it and top it with your favourite healthy foods like hummus, avocado, egg, or peanut butter. 

7. Sweet potato

A few years back, sweet potato started cropping up in supermarkets around the world, and an obsession was born. Sweet potato is bright orange in colour, and is known for being a high-protein, high-fibre alternative to a regular potato. It’s also classed as one of your five a day, and is a healthy source of carbohydrates – so if you’re not already adding this tasty veggie to your diet, you’re missing out!

Sweet Potato Caserole for Protein

The biggest benefit of sweet potato for vegetarians and vegans is its protein content. A single 133-gram sweet potato serving contains roughly 2.1 grams of protein, making it a great healthy protein source to use in place of meat.

High protein content aside, sweet potatoes are also a great source of a variety of healthy minerals and vitamins. They’re a slow-releasing carbohydrate, which means you’ll stay fuller for longer after eating them, and they provide slow-releasing energy throughout the day. Being packed full of fibre, sweet potatoes can also help you to burn fat, build muscle, and control your appetite.

You can boil or roast sweet potato and added to curries, stews, soups, and any other meal in place of meat. You could also use sweet potato to make healthier homemade fries, mash or potato wedges, and even incorporate it into desserts for a healthy take on an old favourite recipe. 

8. Greek yogurt

You’re probably wondering if there are any high-protein vegetarian options for breakfast aside from eggs. If you’re a sweet breakfast person, don’t worry – just switch up your usual yogurt with Greek yogurt. Made with milk that’s strained extensively to remove lactose and liquid whey, Greek yogurt is thicker than normal yogurt, and many people love it for its texture alone.

If you’re exclusively looking for high-protein foods, you’ll be happy to know that Greek yogurt contains nearly double the protein of regular yogurt – roughly 17 grams per 170-gram container. Like all dairy products, Greek yogurt is also a great source of calcium and can help to maintain bone health. According to studies, Greek yogurt can also improve your gut health, boost your metabolism, and even reduce anxiety and stress.

Mix Greek yogurt with granola and berries for a high-protein breakfast, or use it to thicken fruit smoothies. You can also add Greek yogurt to curries and pasta bakes for a little creaminess, or incorporate it into desserts like cheesecake and fruit pies. 


Vegetarian meal with egg

Whether you plan to make the switch to full veggie or you’re taking things one step at a time, there are plenty of ways to incorporate protein into your diet without relying on meat products. It’s best to make gradual changes, slowly replacing your usual meat dishes with vegetarian alternatives.

You’ll realise it’s easier than you thought to become a vegetarian – and your body will love you for it!

And don’t forget there are some excellent vegetarian protein powders on the market to give you a boost as well, CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

About the author

Rachel Perono

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