If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you’ve likely heard the shock and horror in people’s voices as they size you up and wonder how you’re still functioning without animal products.
Most people think animal products are the only protein sources available because the dairy and meat industry has led us to believe we need large amounts of animal products in our diet daily. But even meat-eaters get a good amount of their protein from non-meat sources every day. That's because protein is widely available in many common foods.
1. LegumesLegumes are commonly referred to as beans which are known as the “poor man’s protein.” But beans are actually extremely nutrient-rich. Legumes are high in selenium, zinc, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and folate. Virtually all types of legumes contain protein as well as iron and they're full of soluble fiber, which makes them superstars in the vegetarian world. Some of the most commonly consumed legumes include soybeans, pinto beans, fava beans, lima beans, red beans, black turtle beans, navy beans, mung beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, green peas, kidney beans and all types of lentils.
Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, and lima beans can provide your body with more than 20% of the daily vitamin value per serving. Legumes can be consumed on their own but are commonly mixed into processed foods such as tofu, hummus, tempeh, miso, falafel, soups, bread, pasta, crackers, chips, and sauces. Most legumes have an anti-inflammatory compound known as saponins. This compound lowers the cholesterol levels, boosts the immune system, and protects the body against cancer. Depending on the legume, you can get 15 to 68 grams of protein per serving. In many ways, beans outshine meat products because they are low in cholesterol and fat, which is why they are much healthier in comparison.
2. Gluten-Free Whole GrainsGrains play many important roles in the diet by providing protein and fiber. Unlike their refined cousins, whole grain is rich in nutrients. Gluten-free grains are low allergy risk and often times a much cleaner grain to consume. Gluten-free whole grains include amaranth, brown rice, corn, millet, oats, sorghum, buckwheat, teff, and quinoa. Quinoa and oats stand out in this group, as they are commonly known for their protein-rich properties.
Quinoa is a good source of fiber, iron, copper, thiamin, and vitamin B6 as well as an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and folate. One cup of cooked quinoa delivers 18 grams of protein!
Oats are a good source of fiber, especially beta-glucan, and are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants specifically a group of antioxidants called avenanthramides. These antioxidants are believed to have protective effects against heart disease. Due to beneficial health effects, such as lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, oats have gained considerable interest as a health food. Oats are a good source of quality protein, ranging from 11-17% by dry weight, which is higher than most other grains.
3. Hemp SeedsIf you haven't tried hemp products in your diet, you're missing out. Hemp seeds are high in nutrition and contain 20 different varieties of amino acids plus all nine of the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. Recent studies have shown that consuming hemp seeds whether raw or in oil form, have the capacity to aid in the healing process of diseases related to immune deficiency. Hemp seeds can be tossed on a salad or used in sauces that call for seeds.
4. Chia Seeds“Cha-cha-cha Chia!” Yes, those are the seeds that provide protein for health-conscious consumers. The South American chia seed is a great protein source as well as providing you with fiber, omega-fats, zinc, vitamin B3, potassium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. Known to be an important food by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, today Chia has gone mainstream and can be found in everything from yogurts, fruit juices, bread, dressings, sauces, desserts, and crackers. Aside from protein, chia also has a high amount of antioxidants that fight the production of free radicals that can damage molecules in cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer. Chia seeds are carb-friendly for those aiming to reduce caloric intake. The true carb content is only 1 gram per ounce.
Chia seeds are also excellent for hydration because they can hold up to 12 times their weight in liquid. When chia seeds are soaked in water they become gel-like and expand in your stomach. Chia seeds are usually grown organically, are non-GMO and naturally free of gluten. Each tablespoon of chia seeds is equal to about one gram of protein.
5. Pea ProteinPeas are part of the legume family but recently are being used in processed foods and supplements as a stand-alone protein source. Pea protein is an excellent alternative to whey or protein mixes. Pea protein is a highly bioavailable protein. Peas are allergen-friendly, non-GMO, and have a naturally balanced amino acid profile that includes high concentrations of branched-chain amino acids and glutamine. Strength-training athletes and bodybuilders are turning to pea protein as a quality vegetarian alternative because it is an ideal choice for building lean muscle development. Pea protein is typically easy to digest and doesn’t carry the negative reputation that other protein powders do such as cramping, discomfort, and bloating. Peas are also being used as an alternative to eggs in products like mayonnaise as they are easy to produce and are friendly to the environment in comparison. One serving of pea protein contains about 24 grams of protein.
6. NutsWhether you eat them whole, in an energy bar, trail mix, or as a nut butter spread, you can get a good protein boost from nuts. For example, in a one-ounce serving of almonds, you’ll get 6 grams of protein. In the same serving size, walnuts will give you 4.6 grams of protein and pistachios 5.9 grams of protein. Nuts are often mixed into smoothies, sauces, and processed foods such as butter, cookies, crackers, bread, cheeses, milk, and candy.
7. Fruits and VegetablesWe left this one for last because this is where most people don’t realize how much protein is hiding in the everyday fruits and vegetables we are all-consuming. Some top protein sources in the fruit section of the produce department include blackberries, apricots, nectarines, raspberries, oranges, jackfruit, cherries, bananas, and apples. All of these delicious selections have 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per serving.
Some standouts in the vegetable world include Kale, which has between 4 to 6 grams of protein per serving. Sprouts contain between 1 to 2 grams of protein per serving as do beets, broccoli, and squash. Brussels sprouts, spinach, sweet corn, mustard, parsley, collard greens, arugula, asparagus, and okra contain more than 3 grams of protein. Avocados contain more than 4 grams of protein per serving.