Vegetarian and vegan diets have stolen the spotlight. Just look at the current food trends! It’d never been easier to find dairy-free milk, meatless burgers, and vegan cafes.
In vegetarianism and veganism, meat is not eaten. Some vegetarians only skip red meat, but eat chicken or fish. However, veganism is more restrictive and doesn’t include animal products. This means no foods like milk, cheese, or even gelatin.
Despite these differences, vegetarian and vegan diets share a common concern: Protein. Both meat and animal products are complete sources. Meanwhile, most plant proteins are not.
By ditching meat, vegetarians are at risk for low protein intake. The risk is even higher for vegans.
Thankfully, there’s hope. It’s all about educating yourself. To start, learn about these seven best protein sources for vegetarians and vegans.
Top 7 Protein Sources For Vegans And Vegetarians
1. Beans & Other Legumes
Beans are packed with protein. They aren’t a complete source, but they’re up there. One cup has 16 grams!1 It doesn’t hurt that they’re cheap, too.
In fact, beans are one of the best foods for weight control. They’ll increase satiety and help you eat less. Plus, your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes will decrease.2
All it takes is one cup a day.3 Beans work well in pasta, salad, quinoa, or brown rice. You can even make a filling veggie dip, such as hummus.
Most plant-based foods aren’t complete protein – except quinoa. This “ancient grain” contains an impressive balance of essential amino acids.
It’s also rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Quinoa is also gluten-free and extremely filling.4 Basically, it’s a smart choice for both vegetarians and vegans.
Eat quinoa like rice or pasta. Toss with veggies or pack it into burgers. It’s also very versatile, so you can eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
3. Soy Products
Soy products, like tofu and tempeh, are complete protein sources. Additional foods include edamame, miso, and soy milk.
As a protein, soy promotes muscle growth and heart health.5 Yet, keep in mind that soy has estrogen-like effects. This can be bad news for people with hormone issues – like thyroid problems or breast cancer.6
Many store-bought “meat” products are made with soy. These are highly processed, so eat them in moderation.
Seitan or wheat gluten is a stellar source of protein. A 4-ounce serving offers 28 grams!7 Compared to soy, it has a meatier texture. Sometimes, it’s called wheat meat or gluten meat.
Aside from protein, seitan also provides niacin and some zinc.8 It’s perfect for “meat” dishes like vegetarian or vegan stews, burgers, or casseroles. You can even throw it on the grill.
Don’t forget that it’s made of gluten. If you’re sensitive or have celiac disease, skip seitan.
A list of meatless proteins wouldn’t be complete without nuts. In ¼ cup of any type, you’ll get 7 grams of protein.9
Like beans, nuts can help you lose weight. They’re also linked to lower rates of heart disease and diabetes.10 To avoid excess sodium, buy the unsalted kind.
Nuts are perfect alone or in trail mix, salad, or oatmeal. And don’t forget about nut butter! To boost your protein intake, add a spoonful to smoothies or toast.
Spelt is another “ancient grain.” One cup of cooked spelt boasts 10.67 grams of protein, making it perfect for vegetarians and vegans.
It even contains nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, niacin, and folate.11 To use spelt, eat it like rice or pasta for a nutritious meal. This is a great way to switch things up.
Spelt contains gluten. Don’t eat it if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Spirulina is a blue-green alga that’s rich in protein. In one tablespoon, you’ll get 4.02 grams.
This alga also prevents atherosclerosis, fatty liver, hyperglycemia, hypertension, oxidative stress, and digestive problems. Even allergies will improve. And aside from protein, spirulina contains carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals.12
Vegetarians and vegans can use spirulina as a supplement. In powdered form, it works well in smoothies and juices.
Protein isn’t all about the meat. With the right foods, it’s possible to meet your needs. Not sure how to use them? Check online for inspiration.
|↑1, ↑9||How much protein do you need every day? Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.|
|↑2, ↑10||Protein. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑3||Protein. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑4||Maradini Filho, Antonio Manoel, Mônica Ribeiro Pirozi, João Tomaz Da Silva Borges, Helena Maria Pinheiro Sant’Ana, José Benício Paes Chaves, and Jane Sélia Dos Reis Coimbra. “Quinoa: nutritional, functional and antinutritional aspects.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition just-accepted (2015): 00-00.|
|↑5||Paul, Greg, and Garry J. Mendelson. “Evidence Supports the Use of Soy Protein to Promote Cardiometabolic Health and Muscle Development.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34, no. sup1 (2015): 56-59.|
|↑6||Sukalingam, K., K. Ganesan, Srijit Das, and Zar Chi Thent. “An insight into the harmful effects of soy protein: A review.” La Clinica terapeutica 166, no. 3 (2014): 131-139.|
|↑7, ↑8||45194216, TRADITIONAL SEITAN, UPC: 016741311336. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑11||20141, Spelt, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑12||Selmi, Carlo, Patrick SC Leung, Laura Fischer, Bruce German, Chen-Yen Yang, Thomas P. Kenny, Gerry R. Cysewski, and M. Eric Gershwin. “The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens.” Cellular & molecular immunology 8, no. 3 (2011): 248-254.|