I haven’t gotten as many nutrition posts up lately as I’d like to, so I figured a good juicy one like this was more than due.
While I am not a vegan or vegetarian, I do incorporate many plant-based meals into my diet. I love a good steak just as much as I love a good tempeh sandwich, and I’ve really learned to just listen to what my body wants at the moment. Honestly, though, I find vegetarian meals less intimidating and easier to cook, so they do win over more often than not, unless we seem to have copious amounts of chicken sausage on hand.
Vegetarian staples are not only extremely high in fiber and nutrients, but research also shows that you can meet your protein recommendations (as well as other nutrients) without relying on meat.
So, let’s talk about these high protein sources! I’ve reached out to some friends in the blogging world, and we’ve compiled some great ideas for incorporating more meatless meals into your lifestyle.
Eggs are one of those foods I eat everyday. Whether it be mixing them in with oatmeal, having a hard boiled egg for a snack on the go, a breakfast hash, or putting eggs over pizza, these little guys are nutrient-dense power foods.
1 Large Egg has:
- 6-7 grams protein
- 75 calories
- Vitamin D (one of few foods that you can find Vitamin D!)
- Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and B12, iron
Egg muffins, like these from Julias Album, are also great for on the go snacks and are very customizable.
I used to think tofu was too slimy and watery for me, but I have found so many flavorful and delicious ways to prepare it that it’s a staple in my normal diet now. It generally takes on whatever taste and seasoning you want it to, which makes it very forgiving. It can be baked, grilled, fried, steamed or sauteed.
When choosing tofu, know that the more firm versions will have slightly more protein.
1 cup of Tofu has:
- 20 grams of protein
- >70% daily needs of calcium and iron
- Healthy unsaturated fatty acids
You can use it and bread it like you would chicken in tofu parm.
Or, you can totally rock out with the plant based proteins and combine hemp and tofu like in this Hemp Crusted Tofu from Food, Pleasure and Health.
Another soy product, tempeh, is similar to tofu in that it takes on whatever seasonings or flavors you’re combining it with.
What sets it apart from tofu is that it also has probiotics in it, as it is a fermented soybean. Probiotics are great helpers for our gut bacteria, and help outnumber the “bad” bacteria and toxins.
Personally, I prefer the texture of tempeh to tofu and love seasoning it with barbeque sauce or a maple balsamic blend. Once it’s grilled up, you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from meat.
Or, chop it up like ground meat and throw it in tacos, like these black bean tempeh tacos, from The Garden Grazer.
One 4 oz serving of tempeh gives you:
- 20 grams protein
- 12 grams fiber
- High daily values for manganese, copper, magnesium
Edamame, or soybeans as most commonly known, are also protein and fiber superstars. They are easy to add to any mixed dish, or even eat on their own. You can buy them frozen or dried and are one of my favorite on-the-go snacks!
1 cup of edamame provides:
- 17 grams of protein
- 8 grams of fiber
- Folate, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium
Use it in power bowls, or mixed with other grains and legumes for a protein packed bowl!
I’ve only recently realized how much I love lentils. I used to pass them in the grocery store and not even give them a second glance. But now, I’m careful to always have them on hand at home.
Aside from being virtually fat free, a cup of lentils gives you:
- 18 grams of protein
- 16 grams of fiber
- Respectable amounts of potassium, iron, magnesium, folate and Vitamin B6
Try out lentils in meatballs, burgers, over salads, or mixed with rice or legumes.
This lemon tahini lentil dip is my easy, go-to lentil recipe.
It’s also super easy to use lentils in sauces, like in this lentil bolognese, via Nutritioulicious.
I’ve paired these together because pairing grains and legumes ensures you are getting the complete amino acid profile. Unlike meats which have all the essential amino acids (building blocks for proteins) that we need, not all vegetarian sources have a complete profile. For example, grains are usually low in the amino acid, lysine, while beans are normally low in the amino acid, methionine.
However, when you combine them, the complementary profile is complete. 1 serving of grains normally gives you between 4-8 grams of protein, while a 1/2 cup serving of legumes offers about 8 grams of protein.
Grains and legumes are also high in:
- B Vitamins, iron and magnesium
Whole grains can also help lower cholesterol and control blood glucose.
Think outside of the box when it comes to grains, beyond the normal brown rice and whole grain bread. There’s also farro, barley, couscous, spelt, freekah, millet, and sorghum.
Some out of the box recipe ideas:
Sorghum chicken, veggie lettuce wraps from Nutrition Starring You.
Roasting chickpeas is another great way to enjoy legumes as well as add in extra veggies, like in this Buffalo Roasted Chickpea Bowl from Grateful Grazer.
Nutritional yeast deserves a whole post in itself (see here). It is extremely nutrient-dense, while low in calories. In just two tablespoons, you get
- 40 calories
- 6 grams of protein
- Daily recommendations for most of the B vitamins, as well as a healthy dose of zinc and selenium
While you can find it in bulk bins, I order mine off Amazon and have it within a day or two. It’s a great topping for oatmeal, soups, salads, dips, sandwiches, popcorn, etc. With it’s inherent cheesy taste, it’s a great topping on popcorn. Since nutritional yeast imparts a cheesiness, it is a great option for vegan mac n cheese alternatives, like in this Cauliflower Mac n Cheese from Produce on Parade.
A few years ago, quinoa wasn’t even on the radar and now I’d venture to bet that you can find it in a majority of restaurant kitchens and even your cabinets at home! It may not be the “fad” grain anymore, but unlike legumes and some other grains, it’s a complete source of protein, meaning it provides all of the essential amino acids your body can’t make.
A cup of quinoa boasts:
- 8 grams of protein
- 5 grams of fiber
- Manganese, B vitamins, potassium and iron
One of my favorite parts about quinoa is that it’s just as good cold as it is hot!
For a cool, refreshing twist on quinoa, I love this Mango Lime Quinoa Salad as a great substitute for your pasta salad.
For another twist on the grain, or to serve it hot, try this Cauliflower Hummus Burger from Dishing Out Health.
HEMP SEEDS & CHIA SEEDS
Hemp seeds are another newbie to my diet, within the last year or so. I really love the Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts, and order a bag every month. They are great as toppings on oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, salads, or even mixed in with cookies and rice/beans. I love adding them to cake batter smoothie bowls or protein energy bites.
3 tablespoons of hemp seeds gives you:
- 10 grams of protein
- 3 grams of fiber
- 20% daily iron, %45 daily magnesium and phosphorus, 20% of daily zinc, as well as a range of B vitamins
2 tablespoons of chia seeds:
- 5 grams of protein
- 10 grams of fiber
- 23% daily magnesium, 20% of daily calcium and 15% daily iron
As you can see, though they be little, they are fierce! The nutrients can add up quickly.
Nuts can also offer great sources of protein, healthy fats and fiber. The healthy unsaturated fats in nuts have also been shown to reduce cholesterol, as well as a myriad of other benefits.
There are many different protein bars boasting nuts and high protein content, but always make sure that there is more protein than sugar! Otherwise, you’re basically buying a candy bar. Along with seeds, nuts are perfect toppings for oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, salads and even in sauces. These spicy asian zucchini noodles from The Real Food RDs uses almond butter for the creamy sauce.
You can also easily find almond meal (I like this one) and other nut flours online or in most health stores, which add some variety to baking as well. I love the texture of almond meal in baking, like in these almond butter banana muffins.
Anyone who knows me well knows I can’t live without my greek yogurt. I rely on it every day as my mid afternoon snack and for a protein boost.
For those who tolerate and eat/drink dairy, 1 cup of cow’s milk provides 8 grams of protein, in addition other nutrient such as calcium, potassium and Vitamin D. It can be a great liquid for smoothies, and for cooking oats! While those who follow vegan lifestyles may chose almond or coconut milk, beware that they have virtually no protein. Soy milk, though, is comparable with 8 grams of protein per cup.
5 oz of greek yogurt provides 15 grams of protein, as well as calcium, potassium and probiotics.
While I love adding greek yogurt to overnight oats for a creamier texture, there are many other ways to incorporate this powerhouse in meals. It can be substituted for mayo and sour cream, perfect for chicken salad or tuna salad. The substitution offers that creaminess, with less fat and more protein.
Greek yogurt can even be thrown in guacamole and other dips!
Fellow dietitian, Toby Amidor, has even just published a book with 130 greek yogurt recipes! Obviously, there are many other ways to incorporate this gem into your meals and snacks.
[Tweet “11 great sources of #vegetarian protein to add to your diet! #plantbased #meatlessmonday #RDchat”]
There are many more honorable mentions that may deserve a future post! In the meantime I hope you found this helpful and share it with someone who may be looking for it. I’m linking up with Deborah and Sarah for Meatless Monday and Annemarie from The Fit Foodie Mama, Farrah from Fairyburger, Esther from Chocolate Runner Girl and Jess from Hello to Fit for Foodie Friday!
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Favorite meatless meal?