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44 Vegetarian Foods With Highest Protein For Everyday Diet

| Reviewed By Karthika Thirugnanam

Popularly known as the 'building blocks of a body', proteins are one of the most important nutrients that are required for humans to maintain optimum health levels. Proteins mainly consist of amino acids that help in cell growth and repair [1].

Nutritionist Karthika points out, "Twenty different amino acids bond together to form a protein of which eleven are produced by our body and the other nine need to be obtained from food and hence are considered essential amino acids. When people talk about protein, they often use a term called 'complete protein'. A food source is said to be a complete protein when a it contains all 9 essential amino acids."

Proteins take a longer time to be digested in the body in comparison to other foods, thus providing a feeling of fullness and in return aiding in weight loss.

There is a misconception that only animal sources can provide the necessary protein that humans need [2][3]. Contrary to this, plant-based sources, eaten in the right combination and frequency, can also provide as much protein as animal sources [4]. These two protein types are digested differently in our body. It is easy to obtain the daily dose of protein from vegetarian sources as long as you choose the right kind of a vegetarian or a vegan source [5].

In this article, we will bring you some of the best and easily available sources of plant-based protein, that are vegan-friendly as well. Let's take a look.

1. Seitan

Seitan is a plant food (made from hydrated gluten in wheat) that can be used as a substitute for non-vegetarian food products and is packed with protein [6]. It provides more than 25 per cent protein in one serving and is a good source of plant protein for building muscles [7].

Protein per 100 g = 75 g (can vary based on manufacturer).

2. Soybeans

Raw soybeans are one of the best and healthiest sources of plant-based protein [8]. While soybeans tend to be low in the amino acid methionine, they are still considered a complete protein. It is due to this reason, several products are made from soybeans, such as tofu, soy milk, edamame etc. [9].

Protein per 100 g = 36 g.

3. Hemp Seeds

These tiny seeds are high in protein content and also contain healthy fats plus minerals, which nourish the body from within [10]. The vitamin E content in these powerful seeds also adds a nice glow to the complexion [11]. Hemp seeds are used in various vegetarian snacks like protein bars, smoothies and baked goods.

Protein per 100 g = 31.56 g.

4. Peanuts

Peanuts are one of the best sources of plant-based protein [12]. Healthy and high in various vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds, peanuts can be consumed raw (after soaking in water), fried or roasted.

Protein per 100 g = 26 g.

5. Peanut Butter

Two spoons of peanut butter a day provides about 8 g of protein [13]. A high source of protein, peanut butter can be added to protein shakes or smoothies for those who cannot consume it as it is. However, beware of eating too much of peanut butter, as it is also very calorie dense and hence can widen your waist if consumed in large amounts [14].

Protein per 100 g = 25 g.

6. Almond

Not only is it a high fibre food, but also is a good protein-rich food for vegetarians [15]. This healthy food is best to consume after it is soaked in water. Almonds also contain lots of healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E, which can help promote your health [16].

Protein per 100 g = 21.15 g.

7. Sunflower Seeds

These tasty and healthy seeds are a good source of protein, which can help improve your overall health. Sunflower seeds are also rich in linoleic acid, polyunsaturated fat and vitamin E [17]. You can consume it raw or mix it in a cup of water, leave it for 15 minutes and drink it for the benefits.

Protein per 100 g = 21 g.

8. Paneer

Often compared with tofu, this dairy product is a good source of protein. Paneer works on keeping your muscles strong and also helps to keep your metabolism rate high [18]. Consuming paneer twice in a week is good for you. Make sure you consume it in limited quantities as paneer has a high saturated fat content [19].

Protein per 100 g = 19.1 g.

9. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as Channa, is another vegetarian food that is rich in protein [20]. It also comes with high fibre and low-calorie content, which is good news to all you health-conscious people out there. Be it the popular 'Channa Batura' (maybe minus the batura) or the Mediterranean delicacy, 'Hummus', chickpeas definitely deserve to be a part of your daily diet [21].

Protein per 100 g = 19 g.

10. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a good source of protein and they contain all nine essential amino acids and hence are considered a complete protein [22]. Plus, the fibre and fat content of these seeds make them perfect for keeping you full for a long period, even if you just eat a tablespoon mixed with your breakfast cereal or your daily smoothie [23].

Note: Chia seeds are hygroscopic in nature. That is, they absorb water and become large gelatinous globules. So make sure you do not consume them dry and wash it down with water as it will create a block in your oesophagus, which will require endoscopic intervention for removal.

Protein per 100 g = 17 g.

11. Wild Rice

Wild rice helps boost our immune system and also aids in the digestive process. Wild rice also strengthens the bone due to the generous amount of minerals contained in it [24]. A good source of protein, wild rice is not stripped off of its bran, increasing the fibre content [25].

Protein per 100 g = 15 g.

12. Amaranth

Also called rajgira in most parts of India, amaranth is one of the oldest food grains on Earth. Other than being completely gluten-free, this grain is chock full of proteins, including the essential amino acid lysine, which is usually missing from most food grains [26][27]. Some of the other important nutrients in amaranth are calcium and iron [28].

Protein per 100 g =13.56 g.

13. Buckwheat

Also called kuttu ka atta in Hindi, buckwheat is a gluten-free food grain that is rich in protein, fibre and magnesium [29]. Eating buckwheat can help promote heart health and control blood sugar levels [30].

Protein per 100 g = 13.25 g.

14. Black Beans

Black beans can be used in various vegetarian recipes to make your diet protein-rich. Along with proteins, black beans also contain antioxidants that are important in regulating your health [31][32]. Add it in your salads or make a bean burrito, either way, your protein requirement for the day is taken care of.

Protein per 100 g = 13 g.

15. Cottage Cheese

An excellent source of protein, cottage cheese is beneficial for your health. It is low in calories and packed with several nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and selenium [33].

Protein per 100 g = 11 g.

16. Edamame

Edamame is soybeans that are harvested early and is a very rich source of protein [34][35]. These young beans are often boiled or steamed in the pod. Once cooked they are shelled and served alongside other main course dishes.

Protein per 100 g = 11 g.

17. Black Eyed Peas

Black eyed peas contain a whopping 10 grams of protein per ¼ cup and help fill you up instantly. These also contain folate, thiamine and fibre that are required for a healthy digestion process [36].

Protein per 100 g = 11 g.

18. Greek Yoghurt

Greek Yoghurt is another good source of protein. Packed with protein and loaded with various nutrients, Greek yoghurt may help you feel fuller for longer [37]. Consuming it on a regular but controlled quantity can help provide the required amount of protein.

Protein per 100 g = 10 g.

19. Lentils

One of the best sources of protein for vegetarians, one cup of lentil soup has as much protein as 3 boiled eggs [38]. Because of the versatility, lentils can be added in dishes ranging from salads to soups to curries. Also a source of healthy carbohydrates, lentils contain a good amount of antioxidants and other plant compounds that are beneficial for your overall health [39].

Protein per 100 g = 9 g.

20. Lima Beans

These contain plenty of proteins, and one cup delivers 10 g of the muscle-building macronutrient. Lima beans also contain filling fibre and potassium that are great for cardiovascular health [40].

Protein per 100 g = 8 g.

21. Tofu

Tofu, also known as "Bean curd" (since it is made from soybean) supplies almost 15 to 20 grams of protein per half-cup. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 fats, tofu is a heart-healthy food which must be included in your daily diet [41][42].

Protein per 100 g = 8 g.

22. Green Peas

Green peas are tiny protein-packed veggies that can help you achieve your protein intake goals for the day. Along with proteins, green peas are also rich in leucine (alpha-amino acid) and other amino acids that are essential for metabolism [43][44].

Protein per 100 g = 5 g.

23. Quinoa

Unlike other grains, quinoa is unique in its way, as it comes with around 8 grams of protein per cup. It provides all the nine essential amino acids that are mandatory for growth and repair of the body and hence is also considered a complete protein [45][46].

Plus, quinoa contains L-arginine, which is an essential amino acid that promotes muscle development over fat production, and so it is perfect for boosting your metabolism. The bonus point is, it can be taken as a cereal at breakfast or can be mixed with veggies to make a tasty and healthy salad.

Protein per 100 g = 4.4 g.

24. Kale

This green leafy vegetable is perfect for those who are on a weight loss diet [47]. The protein content present in kale is known to be higher than that found in spinach and mustard greens [48]. It is also a good source of calcium and hence is a high protein plant that vegetarians must opt for.

Protein per 100 g = 4.3 g.

25. Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprout, a type of cruciferous vegetable, is the finest source of protein amongst the surfeit of green vegetables [49]. Possessing a taste somewhat similar to that of cabbage, Brussels sprout can be dubbed as a total health package [50].

Protein per 100 g = 3.4 g.

26. Soy Milk

Perfect for a vegan diet, soy milk is rich in protein and contributes to the daily requirement of protein [51]. Soy milk also provides a good amount of potassium that is beneficial for your overall health [52].

Protein per 100 g = 3.3 g.

27. Corn

A decent source of protein, corn can be added to your diet for enjoying the benefits of protein. However, the protein content can vary according to the variety of corn [53]. Boil them, roast them or mash them; have them as part of a meal or simply as a snack.

Protein per 100 g = 3.2 g (American corn).

28. Mushroom

A tasty and healthy source of protein, this fungus variety is a great addition to your diet. They may be lacking colour but the nutrition is not one bit less [54]. One cup of sliced mushrooms can give you approximately 3.9 g of protein.

Protein per 100 g = 3.1 g.

29. Spinach

A good source of protein, spinach contains a high amount of iron, vitamin A and vitamin K [55]. Adding spinach to your diet will help in boosting your immune system, along with promoting a healthy brain function and healthy bones [56].

Protein per 100 g = 2.9 g.

30. Broccoli

In India, broccoli might not have been a regular at meals, but is one of the vegetables with good protein content and is surely taking a place in Indian cuisine these days. A cup of broccoli has 2.5 grams of fibre and protein each. Broccoli is also an excellent source of cancer-fighting phytonutrients and vitamin C [57].

Protein per 100 g = 2.8 g.

31. Guava

One of the best fruit sources of protein, guava contains more protein than any other fruit [58]. The fruit provides four times your daily Vitamin C needs in a single serving [59] and can help improve your overall health in several ways.

Protein per 100 g = 2.6 g.

32. Oatmeal

Commonly used as part of a breakfast dish, oatmeal is another source of protein that contains three times the protein that is present in brown rice [60]. It is also advised to consume oatmeal before a workout to keep your energy levels up and going.

Protein per 100 g = 2.4 g.

33. Prunes

Eating prunes can help fill the lack of proteins in your body due to the ample amount of the nutrient in the fruit [61]. Prunes are also equally beneficial for your bone health and blood pressure [62].

Protein per 100 g = 2.2 g.

34. Asparagus

One of the healthiest green sources of plant-based protein, asparagus contains heart-healthy folate and insulin to support the digestion process and have a healthy gut [63].

Protein per 100 g = 2.2 g.

35. Avocado

A decent and healthy source of protein, avocados can be added to your foods for a protein-rich diet. Although a serving of avocado provides less than one gram of protein, consuming a whole one can be beneficial for your health [64].

Protein per 100 g = 2 g.

36. Potato

No other food indeed has the range of our beloved potatoes. From mashed to boiled, potatoes are packed with proteins and has no fat [65].

Protein per 100 g = 2 g.

37. Jackfruit

Rich in proteins, jackfruit contains significant amounts of dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C and many different antioxidants [66].

Protein per 100 g = 1.72 g.

38. Sweet Potato

A variety of potato, sweet potatoes contains various nutrients such as water, fibre, magnesium, and vitamin B6 that act as a natural laxative [67]. Sweet potatoes contain sporamin, a type of unique proteins that account for more than 80 per cent of their total protein content.

Protein per 100 g = 1.6 g.

39. Mulberry

Mulberries are sweet fruits that are highly praised for their unique flavour and impressive composition of nutrients [68]. Mulberries are often consumed dried, similar to raisins and have a good content of protein, compared to other berry varieties [69].

Protein per 100 g = 1.4 g.

40. Blackberry

One of the best sources of protein, blackberries contain high levels of antioxidants and fibre [70]. Studies have asserted that blackberries are one of the healthiest foods and are packed with several nutrients beneficial for your overall health [71].

Protein per 100 g = 1.4 g.

41. Apricot

Another great source of plant-based protein, apricots are a good addition to your diet [72]. Apart from protein, apricots are extremely rich in vitamin A and C that protects your body against free radical damage [73].

Protein per 100 g = 1.4 g.

42. Nectarine

Nectarines are packed with nutrients and antioxidants and is one of the good sources of protein in fruits [74]. The amount of protein for a variety of types and serving sizes but not by much.

Protein per 100 g = 1.1 g.

43. Banana

A good source of protein, bananas are good for your overall health [75]. An easy source of the required amount of this nutrient, bananas helps in maintaining a healthy weight and also in improving your digestion [76].

Protein per 100 g = 1.1 g.

44. Kiwi

Rich in vitamin C, potassium, phytochemicals and several nutrients, this green-fleshed fruit has a good protein content [77].

Protein per 100 g = 1.1 g.

Note: Most fruits and vegetables offer anywhere between 1-3 g protein per 100 g. Although they are not the 'richest' source of protein, including them in your diet along with other protein-rich foods can help provide the necessary amount of protein, your body requires.

Plant-based Protein vs Animal Protein

Before going into comparing the two types of protein sources, let's get to know what animal-based proteins are. Animal products such as meat, eggs, and fish are some of the best sources of animal-based protein [77].

Animal products are complete proteins, that is, they contain all the amino acids. The difference between animal and plant proteins lies in the number of amino acids present in them [78]. However, most plant products lack in either one or the other required essential amino acid, making it less efficient in providing complete protein nutrition.

There is a difference of opinion when it comes to the benefits of animal-based and plant-based protein with people pointing out that the amino acids present in plant-based are so less that the effect is almost not beneficial [79].

That is, while both the type of sources of protein are beneficial, one must always mix different types of nutrients for complete nutrition.

On A Final Note...

Vegetarian protein sources can be great alternatives to animal sources if chosen wisely. The ratio maybe a little less compared to meats but they are equally important. However, when it comes to protein, vegetarian foods are increasingly beneficial due to the way it affects our body through their phytonutrient content in addition to protein content [80]. Don't depend on poultry and sorts all the time, mix up your diet with some healthy vegetables.

Frequenlty Asked Questions

Q. How do vegetarians get enough protein?

A. Consuming foods rich in protein, such as the ones mentioned above can help provide the required amount of protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet (avoid dairy products).

Q. How can vegetarians get 150 grams of protein a day?

A. Consuming foods rich in protein such as soybean, lentils, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds etc. can help.

Q. How much protein do I need a day?

A. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That is, 56 g per day for the average sedentary man and 46 g per day for the average sedentary woman.

Q. Can lack of protein make you tired?

A. Yes. It can cause weakness and fatigue and with time, a lack of protein can make you lose muscle mass, which in turn cuts your strength, makes it harder to keep your balance, and slows your metabolism.

Q. Which Dal is a good source of protein?

A. Moong dal

Q. How much fat is in 100g paneer?

A. 25 g

Q. What happens if you lift weights but don't eat enough protein?

A. If you're chronically not eating enough protein, within a week, it can cause muscle loss.

Q. What happens if you eat too much protein?

A. When you consume an excess of fat, it is usually stored as fat, while the surplus of amino acids is excreted. This can lead to weight gain over time, especially if you consume too many calories while trying to increase your protein intake.

Although no major studies have linked high protein intake to kidney damage in healthy individuals, excess protein can cause damage in people with pre-existing kidney disease. This is because of excess nitrogen found in the amino acids that make up proteins.

Q. Is peanut butter a complete protein?

A. No, but you can spread it on a piece of bread to make it a complete protein.

Q. Does broccoli have more protein than beef?

A. Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak, and per calorie, spinach is about equal to chicken and fish.

Q. Is cheese a fat or protein?

A. It is a fat and protein. Proportion varies based on the type of cheese.

Karthika ThirugnanamClinical Nutritionist and Dietitian
MS, RDN (USA)
Karthika Thirugnanam
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