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13 Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

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Audrey has received certifications from the Rouxbe Culinary School and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

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Do Vegans and Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?

If you are a vegan or vegetarian and you maintain a healthy diet, it's likely you consume plenty of protein each day. Protein deficiencies are rare. If you're concerned about your nutrients, consider consulting a physician and having lab work completed.

Many nutritionists recommend .37 grams of protein each day for every pound of body weight. That means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume about 56 grams of protein each day (.37 x 150 = 55.5). That may seem like a lot, but little bits here and there add up quickly.

If you don't already read food labels, try getting in the habit. You will soon get a feeling of which foods are a good source of protein. As a bonus, when you are a more informed consumer and you know the nutritional make-up of foods, you will be more likely to make healthier choices. Meanwhile, this article contains a list of excellent choices that are rich in protein.

You'll be delighted to know that there are many tasty options available! As a bonus, a number of the choices are quick and easy.

Nutritional information for each food will vary from product to product. The information provided below should only be used as a general guideline. Be sure to read food labels for more accurate data specific to the brands and varieties you select.

Beans

Many vegetarians eat beans nearly every day. Not only do beans contain a decent amount of protein, but they are also packed with nutrition. The nutritional value of beans varies, based on the type of bean.

Black beans contain a hefty 15 grams of high-quality protein per cup. They also pack in 3.6 mg of iron, which is 20% of the daily value (DV), based on a 2,000-calorie diet. That is excellent news for vegetarians and vegans who may otherwise have a difficult time finding sources of iron. An impressive 256 mcg (64% DV) of folate can also be found in one cup of black beans. Black beans contain almost an equal amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (181 mg of Omega-3 and 217 of Omega-6 per cup). This is excellent news, given foods are often unbalanced with more omega-6 than omega-3 (whereas we should consume more of the 3 than 6). Black beans are versatile and can be used in many great ways, including tacos, soups, quinoa, and rice recipes.

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, have a similar nutritional profile to black beans. Like black beans, they also contain 15 grams of high-quality protein per cup. They contain a bit more iron and folate, packing in 4.7 mg (26%) per cup of iron and 282 mcg (71%) per cup of folate. Garbanzo beans contain 71 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids and 1,825 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids per cup. Garbanzo beans may be excellent in many recipes, but one of my favorite ways to use them is to make a mock-tuna sandwich with them.

An excellent way to enjoy beans is roasting them. While most beans roast well, garbanzo beans are perhaps the best candidate for roasting. Roasted beans are excellent for snacking.

Another excellent way to eat beans as a snack is by making hummus and using it as a veggie dip. Of course, you can also eat hummus with pitas, on a sandwich, with crackers, or in a salad. You can even add cocoa powder, vanilla, and other goodies to create a dessert hummus!

Tofu

Tofu is a popular choice for vegetarians and our vegan friends. One half cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein. In addition, 2.0 mg (11% DV) of iron and 253 mg (25%) of calcium are contained in a half cup of tofu. There are also 228 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids and 2,019 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids in a half cup of tofu.

Tofu is known for being excellent at absorbing flavors, making it a great addition to many meals. Popular choices for tofu are to throw it into stir fry, salad, rice dishes, pasta, and soups. Some enjoy eating tofu in the morning by preparing it similar to an omelette (omitting the egg). I enjoy dry-fried tofu topped with barbecue sauce.

Tofu is made from soybeans. A bit of controversy exists behind soy and whether it is good or bad for our health. That topic easily would require an article of its own, so I will not weigh in on that. I personally eat soy in moderation.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a seed that is commonly mistaken to be a grain. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of high quality protein. Quinoa is high in iron, with 2.8 mg (15% DV) per cup of cooked quinoa. One cup of cooked quinoa also contains 5.2 grams (21%) of dietary fiber, 77.7 mcg (19%) of folate, and 0.2 mcg (19%) of vitamin B6.

Because it is grain-like, quinoa goes great in dishes where you would otherwise use rice. Quinoa is also used in salad recipes and even granola recipes. If you are looking for a real protein boost, you will be pleased to know quinoa and beans make a great pair.

Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, and Sesame Seeds

Snacking on pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds is one way to boost your protein intake. An ounce of pumpkin seeds will provide you five grams of protein. You will similarly get six grams of protein in an ounce of sunflower seeds. Sesame seeds contain 5 grams of protein per ounce, making them an excellent addition to various recipes. Of the three, the quality of the protein in pumpkin seeds is the highest (they contain a complete protein).

As far as iron is concerned, all three of these seeds contain it, but sesame seeds are the winner with 4.1 mg (23% DV) per ounce. Pumpkin seeds contain 0.9 mg per ounce and sunflower seeds contain 1.2 mg per ounce. Sesame seeds are known for their high calcium content, with 277 mg (28%) per ounce.

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Edamame

Edamame is a green soybean that is prepared in its pod. Because it is a soybean, it should come as no surprise that it is packed with protein. One cup of prepared edamame contains 17 grams of good quality protein. Of course, that is not the only benefit edamame offers. You will also find 8 grams (32% DV) of fiber, 3.5 mg (20%) of iron, 9.5 mg (16%) of vitamin C, and 97.6 mg (10%) of calcium in one prepared cup of edamame. In that same amount of edamame, you will also find 482 mcg (121%) of folate, 560 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids, and 2,781 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids. The list goes on!

Edamame is great eaten as a snack, an appetizer, or as a side to an entree. Edamame is also great roasted.

Lentils

One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. Other great nutrients that can be found in lentils include 6.6 mg (37% DV) of iron, 16g (63%) of dietary fiber, 358 mcg (90%) of folate, 0.4 mg (18%) of vitamin B6, and 64.7 mg of choline.

Lentils are quicker to prepare than other beans. That makes them great to keep on hand for quick, yet wholesome meals. Lentils are a popular addition to soups and salads. They also pair well with rice.

Peanuts

Keep in mind that though peanuts are not technically nuts (they are legumes), they have similarities in their nutritional breakdown. One ounce of peanuts contains 159 calories, 7 grams of protein, 14 grams (21%) of fat, and 1.3 mg (7%) of iron.

protein-for-vegetarians-healthy-choices

Nuts

The protein in nuts varies based on the variety. Nuts are a high calorie food, which is why perhaps they should not be towards the top of your list of protein sources.

An ounce of almonds, for instance, breaks down like this:

  • 161 calories
  • 6 grams of protein (not high quality)
  • 14 grams (21% DV) of fat, mostly unsaturated
  • 1.0 mg (6%) of iron

An ounce of walnuts contains:

  • 183 calories
  • 4 grams of protein (not high quality)
  • 18 grams (28%) of fat, mostly unsaturated
  • 0.8 mg (5%) of iron

That is not to say that you should not eat nuts or that they are unhealthy. To the contrary, many varieties of nuts are quite healthy. Nuts can boost heart health, for instance. The trick is to control portion size.

The same logic holds true for nut butters, including peanut butter.

Seitan

Seitan, which is wheat gluten, contains 21 grams of protein per 1/3 cup.

The texture of prepared seitan is similar to that of meat. For that reason, seitan makes a great meat-substitute in many meals, such as stew. Tempeh and seitan can both be a bit tricky to find, though many health food stores offer both. Seitan is gaining in popularity, so there is hope that it will become more widely available in the future.

Tempeh

Tempeh, which is made from soy, contains 5 grams of protein per ounce. Tempeh also contains a small amount of several minerals and vitamins, such as 0.8 mg (4%) of iron.

Tempeh can be added to salad, stir fry, or stew. Tempeh can be used to make a burger or used on other sandwiches. Bear in mind that tempeh may be a bit of an acquired taste and texture, but it may be worth a try.

Tempeh

Tempeh

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are packed with nutritional goodness, including 4.7 grams of protein per ounce (two tablespoons). One ounce also contains 12% of the daily recommended value of iron, 10 grams of fiber, and 17% of the daily recommended calcium! All packed in two little tablespoons, which incidentally is the perfect amount to make chia seed pudding. Just add 1/2 cup of your favorite non-dairy milk, a dash of maple syrup or stevia, some vanilla, and cacao powder (if you want chocolate). Allow it to sit in the fridge until the liquid has absorbed then top it with some berries, and enjoy!

Other ways to include chia seeds in your diet include stirring them into oatmeal, adding them to homemade salad dressing (note: they will absorb some of the liquid, so compensate for that), blending them into smoothies, or even adding them to baked goods!

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another healthy seed that you'll soon want to add to everything! Three tablespoons contain 9.48 grams of protein. This serving size also contains other wonderful nutrients like 2.38 mg of iron (13% of the daily recommended value), 2.61 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, and 8.61 grams of omega-6 fatty acids.

If you've never had hemp seeds, you may get them home and think, "now what?"! You can add them to just about anything. They have a nice texture that works sprinkled over soups, salads, and oatmeal. Blend them into smoothies and mix them into energy bars. You can even sneak them onto your sandwich if you're clever!

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal, even it contains a nice bit of protein. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains five grams. In addition, it packs in four grams of fiber, 8% of the daily recommended value of iron, and 2% of calcium, among other goodies! And that's before you add anything to it!

A few topping ideas for oatmeal include dried or fresh fruits (especially berries), nut butter, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, maple syrup, non-dairy milk, and raw cacao. Rather than using brown sugar, try date paste. Homemade date paste is as simple as blending dates with water and adding vanilla if desired. They'll blend best in a high-speed blender.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Audrey

Comments

Audrey (author) from Arizona on October 15, 2013:

Thank you Andrija, that's good to hear.

Andrija Phillips from Florida on September 01, 2013:

Wow, good article! I wrote something similar recently, and was gratified to see that all the facts you stated in this article match the facts I stated in mine!

I think you and I are on the same page, as interests go...

Onward, Girlfriend!

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