Vegetarian Protein Sources: Foods to Add to Your Plate
When the average person thinks of protein, they likely imagine a big slab of steak or a sizzling salmon filet. But chowing down on meat and fish isn’t the only way to get adequate protein.
There are plenty of vegetarian protein sources that make it easy to get your daily fill of this essential macronutrient when eating meat-free. We’ll share the top vegetarian protein sources shortly, but first, let’s review some protein basics.
What Is Protein and Why Is It Important?
Protein is one of the three major macronutrients that humans require (the other two being fat and carbohydrates).
Proteins are made up of chemical “building blocks” called amino acids. Your body uses amino acids for a variety of critical functions, including:
- Building and repairing muscles and bones[*][*]
- Producing hormones and enzymes[*]
- Supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails[*][*][*]
- Maintaining blood pH[*]
- Supporting immune function[*]
- Promoting satiety and weight management[*][*]
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Most adults should aim to get about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.[*] That’s about 54 grams for a 150-pound adult. But that’s just a starting point. The amount of protein you require may differ depending on factors like age, physical activity level, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and desire to increase muscle mass.
Top Vegetarian Protein Sources
Those eating a vegetarian diet exclude meat, poultry, and fish, but allow other types of animal-based foods, including dairy products and eggs.
Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetarian protein sources will enable you to obtain all the protein you need. In fact, contrary to common myths, there’s no evidence to suggest that those who eat a varied vegetarian or vegan diet are likely to be protein deficient.[*]
Let’s take a look at the top vegetarian protein sources to add to your plate.
Whether they’re green, brown, yellow, or red, lentils are a high-protein powerhouse that can be used in soups, stews, curries, tacos, or salads. Adding a mere ½ cup of cooked lentils to your meal tacks on an impressive 9 grams of protein—not to mention, 8 grams of fiber![*]
#2: Greek Yogurt
Smooth, delicious, and oh-so-creamy, Greek yogurt is an excellent smoothie addition or snack, especially when dressed up with nuts and antioxidant-rich berries. One cup of this dairy-based food offers a whopping 23 grams of protein.[*] Greek yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium and gut-healthy probiotics.
Quinoa is unique among plant proteins, as it’s considered a complete protein (which most other plant-based proteins aren’t). This means it contains all nine essential amino acids.
One cup of cooked quinoa offers 8 grams of protein, as well as a good dose of magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, iron, and folate.[*] As a bonus, quinoa is a gluten-free pseudo-grain, making it a safe choice for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are plant-based diet staples that originate from soybeans—another source of complete protein. These foods provide between 12 and 20 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces, plus a substantial amount of iron and calcium.[*][*][*]
These soy-based protein sources make a nutritious addition to salads, stir-fries, and curries.
Nuts and nut butters are filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats—a winning combo that keeps you full and satisfied. A couple tablespoons of nut butter provides about 8 grams of protein, while an ounce of whole nuts offers about 6-8 grams of protein.[*][*]
Try smearing peanut butter or almond butter on a piece of whole-grain toast or topping your oatmeal or salads with pistachios, cashews, almonds, or walnuts.
From chia and hemp seeds to flax and sunflower seeds, seeds are a protein powerhouse in a tiny package, offering around 3-5 grams of protein per tablespoon.[*][*][*]
Seeds are also great sources of fiber, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and certain B vitamins. Add them to smoothies, oatmeal, and salads for an extra protein hit.
Unlike those on a vegan diet, people following a vegetarian diet can consume eggs—a low-cost and nutritious source of complete protein. One large egg provides 6 grams of protein, as well as naturally-occurring vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins.[*]
No list of vegetarian protein sources is complete without beans. Half a cup of any bean variety (chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, etc.) packs about 6-9 grams of protein, plus 6-8 grams of fiber to keep your belly full.[*] Beans have also been shown to lower cholesterol, manage blood sugar, and support a healthy weight.[*][*][*]
Beans are an inexpensive and delicious way to add protein to dips, tacos, salads, and soups. You can even make tasty bean dips like hummus to enjoy with veggies or crackers.
#9: Green Peas
Green peas often get overlooked as a protein source, but they’re a legume that should definitely be in your vegetarian diet rotation. One cup of cooked green peas provides 8 grams of protein and makes a delicious, filling addition to soups, salads, and curries.[*]
#10: Protein Powder and Bars
While the bulk of your protein should come from whole foods, supplementing your vegetarian diet with high-quality, healthy protein powder and protein bars is an excellent way to support your protein intake.
Seek products in which the protein comes from minimally-processed sources. For example, IQBAR offers 12 grams of pure plant-based protein per bar from sources like nuts, pea protein, and flaxseeds.
Plus, each vegan and keto IQBAR contains six key brain nutrients shown to support sustained cognitive energy, performance, and health. These include omega-3s, MCTs, lion’s mane, flavonoids, vitamin E, and choline.
IQBAR is available in several delicious flavors, including Chocolate Sea Salt, Peanut Butter Chip, Almond Butter Chip, Banana Nut, Lemon Blueberry, Wild Blueberry, and Matcha Chai. Not sure what flavors you’ll like? Try our 7-Bar Sampler to find your favorites!
As a vegetarian, you can easily get enough protein by incorporating the above protein-rich foods into your diet. It might take a bit more planning and diligence, but rest assured you can get the nutrients your body needs if you prefer a diet sans meat.