14 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Sources
Meat- and dairy-free protein options can help you stay slim and healthy
More than just meat
© Daniel Hurst Photogrpahy
Most grains contain a small amount of protein, but quinoaâ€”technically a seedâ€”is unique in that it contains more than 8 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair, but cannot produce on its own (Because of that, it's often referred to as a "perfect protein") Plus, it's amazingly versatile: Quinoa can be added to soup or vegetarian chili during winter months, served with brown sugar and fruit as a hot breakfast cereal, or tossed with vegetables and a vinaigrette to make a refreshing summer salad
Nuts and nut butter
All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet But because they are high in caloriesâ€”almonds, cashews, and pistachios for example, all contain 160 calories and 5 or 6 grams of protein per ounceâ€”choose varieties that are raw or dry roasted Nut butters, like peanut and almond butter, are also a good way to get protein, says Penner: "Look for brands with as few ingredients as possibleâ€”just nuts and maybe salt," she says "Skip the ones with hydrogenated oils or lots of added sugar"
There are many different varieties of beansâ€”black, white, pinto, heirloom, etcâ€”but one thing they all have in common is their high amounts of protein Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams (almost the same as a Big Mac, which has 25 grams!) And you don't have to make beans from scratch to reap their nutritional benefits, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor's Detox Diet "If you want to buy them dried and soak them overnight before you cook them, that's fine," she says "But it's also perfectly okayâ€”and much easierâ€”to buy them canned, rinse them, and heat them up over the stove"
Also known as garbanzo beans, these legumes can be tossed into salads, fried and salted as a crispy snack, or pureed into a hummus They contain 73 grams of protein in just half a cup, and are also high in fiber and low in caloriesChia seedsThese seedsyes, from the same plant thats used to make Chia Pet productsare an easy way to add protein 4. "You can make a really great meal with some whole-wheat flatbread, some veggies, and some homemade hummus," says Gerbstadt "Just toss a can of chickpeas in the blender with some herbs and some tahini or walnut oil and you're good to go"
Tempeh and tofu
Foods made from soybeans are some of the highest vegetarian sources of protein: Tempeh and tofu, for example, contain about 15 and 20 grams per half cup, respectively "They're highly nutritious, and they can really take on the taste and texture of whatever type of food you're looking for," says Gerbstadt "I love that you can get a really soft tofu and mash it with a fork, or you can get a firm one and have a really substantial product that can stand in for meat"
Not crazy about meat substitutes? Get your servings of soy the way it appears in nature: Straight from the soybean, still in the pod Boiled edamame, which contains 84 grams of protein per half cup, can be served hot or cold and sprinkled with salt Try it as a snack, an appetizer before dinner, or added to salads or pastas (minus the shell, of course)
Vegetables don't have nearly as much protein as legumes and nuts, Gerbstadt says, but some do contain significant amountsâ€”along with lots of antioxidants and heart-healthy fiber "If someone is eating a lot of vegetablesâ€”and a wide variety of different types of vegetablesâ€”it will certainly add up to a good amount of amino acids," she adds Two cups of raw spinach, for example, contain 21 grams of protein, and one cup of chopped broccoli contains 81 grams
Adding hemp to your diet does not mean you're eating rope (or marijuana), says Gerbstadt; you can find it in some cereals and trail mixes, or you can buy hemp seeds (10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons) and add them to smoothies, pestos, or baked goods Hemp milk can also be a dairy-free way to add protein to your diet, and it's even lower in calories than skim milk
These seedsâ€”yes, from the same plant that's used to make Chia Pet productsâ€”are an easy way to add protein (47 grams per ounce, about two tablespoons) and fiber to almost any recipe: Chia seeds can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, blended into smoothies, or they can take center stage: They plump up and take on a gelatinous texture when soaked in a liquid, forming a rich and creamy pudding-like treat
Sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds
Milk alternatives aren't just for the lactose intolerant: They can be great additions to any diet; just watch out for lots of added sugar and flavors, says Penner (Plain soy milk, for example, contains about 100 calories per cupâ€”comparable to skim milk's 80 caloriesâ€”but the flavored varieties can contain much more) Soy milk has the most protein, at 4 to 8 grams per 8 ounces, but almond, hemp, and rice milk also contain about 1 gram per cup