Proteins are known as the building blocks of life: In the body, they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. (They also take longer to digest than carbohydrates, helping you feel fuller for longer and on fewer calories - a plus for anyone trying to lose weight.)
You probably know that animal products - meat, eggs and dairy - are good sources of protein; unfortunately, they can also be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. What you may not know is that you don't need to eat meat or cheese to get enough protein. Here are 11 good vegetarian and vegan sources, and tips on how to add them to your diet today.
1. Quinoa - 14g per 100g
Quinoa has been in the national spotlight due to its healthy elements, and the fact that it's gluten-free. It contains a substantial amount of protein for not being a meat, and that's just one of the many features it has. Quinoa is rich in nutrients, and contains all of the essential amino acids the body needs. This makes it a very well-rounded addition to your diet. It's also full of fiber, potassium, and other minerals that will help you feel better overall. There are many more benefits of quinoa, including it being low on the Glycaemic Index, lowering your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
2. Peanut Butter - 25g per 100g
Here's a yummy alternative to meat that contains plenty of protein. Peanut butter is one quarter protein, and can contribute to your overall protein needs, and tastes great which means you'll have no trouble eating it regularly. Peanut butter is also high in potassium and a good source of fiber, and also contains magnesium and potassium to help the body function at its best. It also contains Vitamin B-6, which will help benefit the liver as well as several other metabolic processes. If you're looking to lose weight you'll want to make sure not to overdo it with peanut butter, as it is high in fat. Just the right amount can spur on your weight loss efforts, too much will be counterproductive.
3. Black Beans - 21g per 100g
Black beans have been gaining in popularity over the years as a healthy side dish, but vegetarians and vegans have known just what a great source of protein they are for quite some time. Black beans are often recommended to those with diabetes as they help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. They are digested gradually by the body, and can help you feel fuller longer. They also help the digestive tract because of their ratio of protein and fiber. You can use black beans as part of a weight loss program or weight management efforts because of their low fat content and healthy mix of fiber and protein.
4. Almonds - 21g per 100g
Almonds contain a decent amount of protein for a nut, and their portable nature makes them a great bring-anywhere snack. There is also a lot of fiber in almonds, and they could just as easily make a high fiber foods list with the amount of fiber they contain. Other notable highlights include calcium, iron, and potassium, even magnesium to help you sleep. They have a high fat content, it is mostly healthy fat but you'll still want to take it easy on them and not over consume them for their protein. Opt for organic almonds to avoid pesticides and other chemicals that are present in conventional almonds. Also, stick with raw almonds over dry roasted, as these won't contain added oil and sodium.
5. Sunflower Seeds - 21g per 100g
Sunflower seeds pack in the protein in a small package, and they'll help boost your daily intake of protein in no time flat. Sunflower seeds are emerging as a bona fide super food for all of the benefits they provide. In addition to being high in protein they also help bring down cholesterol levels, and the magnesium they contain can help calm you down. They also contain selenium, which could help prevent cancer. A handful of sunflower seeds can be taken with you anywhere, so use them as a way to hold you over between meals.
6. Cottage Cheese - 11g per 100g
Low-fat cottage cheese is often recommended on diet programs because it provides plenty of protein, without a lot of fat and calories. When paired with fresh fruit it provides a balanced meal of protein and carbohydrates. Cottage cheese also contains vitamins and minerals, but is a bit high in saturated fat so you won't want to eat too much of it in an attempt to make up a lack of protein from not eating meat or cutting back on meat. Vegans will of course take a pass on cottage cheese because it's made from milk, and therefore an animal by-product. Most vegetarians will eat dairy products.
7. Greek Yogurt - 10g per 100g
Greek yogurt has surged in popularity over the past years due to its higher protein content, lower fat content, and ability to replace sour cream in a recipe. Greek yogurt can contain up to twice as much protein per 100 grams than regular yogurt. That is why if you're going to eat yogurt, you should make it Greek yogurt. And if you're going to eat sour cream, you should switch it to Greek yogurt if you're trying to increase your protein intake, as it has nearly 5 times more protein than sour cream. You can find Greek yogurt in several different flavors and varieties. We recommend going organic so that you know your yogurt was made from organic milk and will be free of antibiotics and growth hormones found in conventional milk.
8. Tofu - 8g per 100g
The quintessential vegetarian food, tofu ranks surprisingly low in protein relative to the other foods on our list. It is easily the most often substituted item for meat, and has been popular in vegetarian cuisine for decades. It has its origins in ancient China and comes in many different forms, tastes, and textures. Even though tofu is used to replace meat in many vegetarian dishes, its protein content is not as concentrated as chicken breast, beef, or fish, so it's not exactly the best at accounting for the loss in protein if you're giving up meat completely. Consider some of the other meatless protein items like seitan or tempeh for more bangs for your protein buck.
9. Hummus - 8g per 100g
Hummus, the Middle Eastern dip made from chickpeas, is a very good source of protein, and can help round out your daily need for protein if you're trying to get it from non-meat sources. Hummus not only contains chickpeas, but also tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, so it gets the nutritional benefit of these ingredients and makes it all very easy to eat. These benefits include calcium, healthy fats, and antioxidants to help with a wide range of health issues. Eating chickpeas directly is a better way to meet your protein needs, but not quite as tasty in most instances. One hundred grams of chickpeas will give you 19 grams of protein.
10. Milk and Soy Milk - 3.3g per 100g
Cow's milk and soy milk have the same amount of protein per serving, so vegans can opt for soy milk, and ordinary vegetarians can go with cow's milk. Both soy milk and skim milk have been used as part of a healthy diet to promote weight loss and both contain calcium for stronger teeth and bones. Since many recipes call for milk they're both great ways to bump up the protein level without adding much in the way of fat and calories. No matter which form of milk you go with, be sure it's organic. You'll be avoiding antibiotics and hormones found in ordinary cow's milk, and you'll be staying free of pesticides and herbicides used to grow conventional soybeans.
11. Lentils - 26g per 100g
If you're not eating lentils on a regular basis, you may want to start. They have a surprising amount of protein in them, taking the number two spot on our list. Lentils pack a ton of fiber, so in the same 100 gram serving that nets you 26 grams of protein you're getting your entire days' worth of fiber met. You probably wouldn't eat that serving size in one sitting, but adding it to your diet in any amount is going to be big plus.