It is commonly believed that the best source of protein is from meat, and therefore vegetarians must lack this essential dietary element. In actuality, this is untrue, as there are plenty of sources of protein other than animal flesh that vegetarians can include in their diets. Protein is needed in order to allow the body to build muscle, repair tissue, and maintain healthy and effective hormonal and immune systems. According to WebMD, an adult woman needs 46 grams of protein per day, whereas an adult male needs 56 grams per day. With a little bit of planning before grocery shopping and meal preparation, vegetarians can get all of the protein they need from non-meat sources.
With more than 40 types of legumes that are commonly consumed in the world, this is the best and cheapest source of protein for vegetarians. This is also a suitable protein source for all types of vegetarians, including vegans who avoid animal products entirely. Kidney beans, chic peas, split peas, and lentils are all legumes with high levels of protein. To easily include legumes in your diet, try substituting them for ground meat in a dish. For example, lentils work great rather than meat in shepherd’s pie. Chili is just as hearty with kidney beans rather than ground beef. For a low-fat and high-protein snack, dip veggie cuts in hummus, which is made from chic peas.
Dairy is a suitable source of protein for lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning those who include milk and eggs in their diets. Make sure to always choose organic dairy products, as this is the only way to guarantee that the product is free from rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone that forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15%. Look for low fat cottage cheese, which contains approximately 14 grams of protein in a 100 gram serving. Buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself using fresh fruit and/or honey. Yogurt is a good source of protein, but the flavored varieties tend to be high in refined sugar.
Nuts are an excellent source of protein, as well as “good fats.” Again, make sure to pay attention to labels when purchasing nuts. Oftentimes flavored nuts and nut spreads are high in salt and/or sugar. Peanuts are highest in protein, containing 25 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. Almonds are second on the list, with 21 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. It should be noted that by themselves, nuts do not form a perfect protein. However, when combined with another plant food, such as a slice of whole grain bread, this forms a complete protein because all of the essential amino acids are present.
Soybeans are the richest source of plant based protein, followed by lentils. You have probably seen soy beans take on a lot of different forms, such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame. Companies such as Morningstar Farms and Lightlife make a whole variety of meat substitute products from soy, including hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken patties, sausage and bacon. When replacing animal protein, soy protein is healthier for a variety of reasons. It helps to lower bad cholesterol in those who have high blood cholesterol levels, and is processed by the kidneys more easily than animal protein. Soybeans are high in B vitamins and fiber, and in fermented forms such as tempeh, are also high in iron.
Another good choice for lacto-ovo vegetarians, eggs are a source of complete protein. While egg yolks do indeed contain a decent amount of cholesterol, they also contain valuable nutrients such as essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K. The yolk also contains more than 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate found in eggs. As far as protein is concerned, the white contains 57% of an egg’s total protein. You need to consume the yolk to get the other 43%. For a super quick and easy egg meal, toss together some fresh veggies for an omelet or frittata. If you really are concerned about your cholesterol levels, use just one egg yolk per two egg whites.
Seitan is an excellent source of protein for anyone who is not gluten-sensitive. It has been eaten in China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the Middle East for hundreds of years. Seitan (or Kofu as it is called in China) is made by mixing whole wheat flour with water. Once a dough is formed, this is kneaded in water, and rinsed to remove the starch and the bran. What remains is the gluten, or the insoluble protein in wheat. This is then simmered in broth, and the longer it is simmered, the more firm it becomes. Seitan is very versatile, and can be used in many ways from casseroles to stir fries. It may even be formed into a loaf and sliced similarly to a roast. As a protein source, it packs 31 grams of protein in a 4 ounce serving, which gives it even more protein per serving than tofu. To find seitan, you may need to look in your local natural foods store. Or, do a quick internet search to figure out how to make it yourself from whole wheat flour.