Food & Nutrition

The 22 Best Vegetarian Sources Of Protein

The moment you begin any kind of weight-loss plan or exercise kick you’ll be told to up your protein intake. Protein can make you feel fuller for longer even if you’re following a low-calorie diet, as well as being the fuel that rebuilds muscles after the stress of exercise – and maintaining muscle mass is crucial to keeping your metabolism going if you’re successfully losing body fat.

The good news is that consuming large amounts of protein is no great hardship, even if you’re training hard and have a substantial protein target like 2.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That’s because a significant amount of protein is present in many foods, including plenty you might not think contains it. Think mozzarella, almonds and pumpkin seeds – heck, even broccoli contains over 4g of protein per 100g.

That’s good news if you’re an omnivore because getting your protein from a wider spectrum of foods will bring with it the range of other nutrients your body needs. It’s also excellent news for vegetarians and vegans who don’t have to choose between their long-term dietary decision and getting sufficient quantities of the muscle-building macronutrient.

“There’s no evidence to show that vegetarians or vegans are deficient in protein,” says dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine. “However, their diet needs planning. If someone does decide overnight that they’re going to cut out meat and fish, and dairy and eggs too if vegan, without replacing it with some sort of plant-based or fungal protein then they could become deficient.”

By fungal protein she means mycoprotein, which is available in the form of Quorn in the UK. We met Ludlam-Raine at a Quorn cook-along, and because we’re always keen to get a dietitian’s advice (they are very trustworthy), we quizzed Ludlam-Raine on the finer points of non-animal proteins. We’ve then listed 22 tasty vegetarian sources of protein to add to your shopping basket.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of getting your protein from non-animal sources?

If you’re getting protein from the mycoprotein in Quorn you’re going to be getting more fibre and less saturated fat. The main type of fat you want in the diet is unsaturated, which is found in lots of plant-based foods like nuts and seeds.

The main disadvantage if you’re following a 100% plant-based diet is that you’re rarely going to be getting all of the essential amino acids that you need within one product. Meat and fish contain all nine, while not all meat-free foods with protein contain all nine. Those that do include things like soya, quinoa and mycoprotein.

That’s why diets need planning. If you don’t include mycoprotein, quinoa or soya, or meat and dairy, you have to “protein combine”. That’s having things like rice and beans together, or pitta and hummus. Aim for at least a couple of different plant-based proteins within a meal and on the days that you’re training have meat, dairy or mycoprotein to help your body repair any muscle damage.

For omnivores looking to lose weight, a high-protein diet can be a good approach. Is that a good idea if you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking to lose weight?

Higher-protein diets are definitely beneficial when it comes to weight loss, helping to preserve lean muscle mass and promote fat loss. I promote it with my bariatric [obese] patients, especially if they’re going to be exercising.

You can quite easily lose weight on a vegetarian and vegan diet because you’re eating more fibrous foods and less saturated fat, and if you swapped from a hamburger to a Quorn burger you can save 150 calories. Consuming 100 fewer calories on a consistent, daily basis adds up to a massive amount. But on the flip side, there are lots of junk vegan foods which provide a lot of calories.

Cheese is high in protein – should vegetarians looking to up their protein eat a lot of cheese?

I advocate eating cheese and nuts within the context of a healthy diet, but they wouldn’t be my top sources of protein. When it comes to dairy, fat-free Greek yogurt and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk are better proteins and they’re lower in calories than cheese, which also contains a lot of saturated fat.

Following a vegetarian or vegan diet can go wrong if you’re having high-fat cheese and too many nuts because you can gain weight.

The Best Vegetarian Protein Sources (Per 100g)

  1. Parmesan 32g
  2. Pumpkin seeds 30g
  3. Peanuts 25-28g
  4. Edam 27g
  5. Cheddar 25g
  6. Seitan 25g
  7. Stilton 24g
  8. Almonds 21g
  9. Pistachios 20g
  10. Tempeh 20g
  11. Cashew nuts 18g
  12. Mozzarella 18g
  13. Chia seeds 17g
  14. Walnuts 15-17g
  15. Quorn mince 14.5g
  16. Brazil nuts 14g
  17. Edamame beans 13g
  18. Eggs 13g
  19. Tofu 12g
  20. Cottage cheese 10g
  21. Greek yogurt 10g
  22. Quinoa 4g

Meat Replacements

Seitan

Protein content: 25g

Wheat gluten is the key ingredient in this protein-packed meat alternative, which has a chewier texture than the likes of tempeh and tofu. It’s not the easiest food to find and the protein content does tend to vary a fair bit from product to product, so check the label carefully.

Tempeh

Protein content: 20g

Indonesian staple tempeh is a soy-based meat alternative like tofu, but outdoes the latter on several nutritional fronts since it contains more protein, fibre and vitamins.

Quorn

Protein content: 14.5g

Quorn products dominate the meat-free aisles of supermarkets, making it one of the most convenient high-protein veggie foods to incorporate into your cooking. As well as being a source of fibre and all nine essential amino acids, according to Ludlam-Raine it scores higher than beef and is on par with milk on the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (how well the body digests and absorbs the nine amino acids).

Tofu

Protein content: 12g

While tempeh does have a slight edge on tofu in the protein stakes, tofu hits back by being far easier to find in shops.

Eggs And Dairy

Parmesan

Protein content: 32g

When it comes to protein per 100g, parmesan is one of the best foods out there full stop. It’s probably not wise to eat 100g of the fatty cheese in a sitting, but a sprinkle of the stuff on your pasta will nudge the protein count of your dinner up.

Edam

Protein content: 27g

The Netherlands’ most famous cheese (you heard us, Gouda) is a protein-packed delight. Once again, and this is going to be a theme with cheeses, it’s also fatty and salty as heck.

Cheddar

Protein content: 25g

Should imported cheeses become extortionately expensive after March 2019, rest assured that Britain’s greatest cheese is also a quality source of protein.

Stilton

Protein content: 24g

Bring on the cheese course – it’s probably the tastiest way to up your protein intake.

Mozzarella

Protein content: 18g

Do: slice some mozzarella into a healthy tomato and basil salad. Don’t: eat loads of pizza claiming you need the protein.

Eggs

Protein content: 13g

The king of breakfast protein sources. Boiled, scrambled, sunny side up… however you like them, eggs are a top-shelf way to start the day.

Cottage cheese

Protein content: 10g

A common sight in the protein connoisseur’s shopping basket, cottage cheese is a relatively low-fat dairy option and you can even find versions of the stuff with added protein.

Greek yogurt

Protein content: 10g

Greek, NOT Greek style. Remember that, because it’s the truly Greek stuff that has the highest protein content.

Nuts, Seeds And Legumes

Pumpkin seeds

Protein content: 30g

Next time you scoop out the insides of a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern (and that should be at Halloween, doing it at any other time is odd) make sure you save the seeds to roast for a simple high-protein snack.

Peanuts

Protein content: 25-28g

Forget all the trendy nuts out there, because ’tis the humble peanut that packs in the most protein. Do try and avoid the roasted and salted varieties though, if it’s a healthy snack you’re seeking.

Almonds

Protein content: 21g

A snack endorsed by Barack Obama, no less, almonds are a good source of vitamin E as well as protein.

Pistachios

Protein content: 20g

If there’s a more moreish snack out there than salty pistachios, it would probably be dangerous to know about it. As with all nuts, the roasted, salted varieties are the less healthy pick, even if they are oh so delicious.

Cashew nuts

Protein content: 18g

Another first-rate nut that brings bags of flavour to the table alongside its high protein content.

Chia seeds

Protein content: 17g

High in protein, fibre, and minerals like calcium and magnesium, chia’s on-trend status is backed up by some rock-solid nutritionals.

Walnuts

Protein content: 15-17g

A tough nut to crack, but get through a walnut’s shell and you’ll find a great source of protein, fibre and unsaturated fats inside.

Brazil nuts

Protein content: 14g

Selenium is an essential mineral that’s generally found in meat and fish, so vegetarians and vegans will be pleased to learn that brazil nuts are a great plant-based source of the stuff.

Edamame beans

Protein content: 13g

A plate of edamame beans and a bowl of soy sauce is one of the greatest food combos there is. As well as protein and deliciousness, edamame beans also bring high amounts of fibre and a variety of vitamins and minerals to the table.

Quinoa

Protein content: 4g

This seed is notable for being one of the few plant-based complete proteins, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. When you add to that almost 3g of fibre and close to 20g of wholegrain carbs, it should be the favoured sidekick in many a post-workout meal.

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Nutrition

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