When someone mentions protein, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think of a juicy steak or some other cut of meat, right? Well, the fact is that protein can be found in a wide array of foods. Meat isn’t the only option, and for vegetarians and vegans, it’s easy to get the protein their bodies need from a variety of whole foods. Let’s take a look at some of these sources below.
Dairy and Eggs
If you aren’t vegan, eggs and dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are great sources of protein. If you’re concerned about calorie intake, you can choose skim milk or egg whites, while Greek yogurt and cottage cheese give you the most protein per serving.
Just a half-cup of cooked lentils delivers 12 grams of protein. Lentils are great in soups, salads, curries, and tacos. Check your local grocery store for deals on lentils. These little powerhouses are often overlooked as an adequate source of protein when, in fact, they are a versatile, protein-packed food.
Great as a snack or addition to salads and oatmeal, nuts pack a protein punch that’s quick and easy to enjoy. Peanuts offer the most protein per serving, with nine grams per ¼ cup. Almonds and pistachios are a close second and third, offering seven and six grams apiece.
Made from soybeans, tofu is a great substitute for meat in a variety of dishes. It can even be used in creamy dessert recipes. For each three-to-four-ounce serving of tofu, you get about eight grams of protein, making this a good alternative source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
Edamame (aka soybeans) is a complete protein that delivers all the amino acids your body needs but can’t make itself. Many people eat edamame as a snack or appetizer, steaming or lightly boiling it still in its shell. Just one cup of shell-free edamame has 18 grams of protein.
Delivering plenty of protein and fiber, beans are a great choice for vegans and vegetarians. Even if you’re just looking to lower your cholesterol, beans are a great addition to your diet. You may even get some digestive advantages from eating beans as they promote healthy gut bacteria. Just be sure to rinse and soak them before cooking!
Tempeh is another soy-based food, but because it is compacted into a firm block, it delivers more protein than tofu (about 15 grams per 3 oz. serving). This meat substitute also has prebiotics and other nutrients and has a chewy texture that makes it great on sandwiches or in salads. It can be crumbled and used as a substitute for ground beef in recipes.
Many milk substitutes offer protein without the calories associated with regular milk. Soy milk and pea milk, both available in sweetened and unsweetened varieties, offer almost as much protein as cow’s milk.
While not the most abundant in protein, many vegetables provide a fair amount of the macronutrient. For example, leafy greens like bok choy, watercress, and spinach are low in calories but high in protein content. If you’re eating a diet rich in veggies, you can rest assured you’re getting the protein your body needs.
When most people think of protein, they think of meat. The reality is, however, that protein can be found in a wide variety of foods besides meat. If you’re considering a diet change to vegetarianism or just want to eat healthier, try the healthy protein sources listed above.