The Best Protein Sources for Vegetarians
Here are some healthy options for your fridge, freezer and pantry.
Meat's often cited as the easiest way to get protein, but if you're a vegetarian or even a flexitarian, you have plenty of great options for protein sources. "I prefer whole-food or minimally processed sources of vegetarian protein over meat substitutes," says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, a dietitian in Lubbock, TX. "They generally have less sodium and can be much more affordable."
These five protein-rich foods for vegetarians are all whole or minimally processed foods. Plus, they're all delicious!
"These are so versatile and a wonderful pantry staple," says Tawnie Kroll, RDN, a dietitian in Fresno, CA. "One of my favorite beans is black beans. They're a great choice for a nonmeat source of iron, which is key to sustaining high energy and strong immunity." Per 3/4 cup of cooked black beans, you'll score 11 grams of protein, per the USDA National Nutrient Database. Add black beans to a Black Bean and Corn Salad, a Black Bean Burger or Black Bean Lasagna.
"These are an excellent protein and nutrition source for vegetarians," says McMordie. A large egg offers 6 grams of high-quality protein, per the USDA Nutrient Database. You also get the nutrient choline, which may benefit brain health, as well as the eye-helping carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. "Eggs are very affordable and so versatile," says McMordie. "They're an easy way to add protein to salads, stir-fries, grain bowls and baked goods." Incorporate eggs into Mini Italian Frittatas, Protein French Toast or a New York-Style Chopped Salad.
3. Cottage cheese
Love dairy? Good, because cottage cheese is a winner when it comes to vegetarian protein. "Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians, with 28 grams of complete protein per cup," says McMordie. "It also contains B vitamins and calcium, which may be harder for vegetarians to get from their diets than meat eaters. I love eating cottage cheese as a snack with fruit, but it's also great for adding to smoothies and blending into pancake batter for a protein boost." Enjoy this vegetarian protein source in a Cottage-Cheese Tzatziki Mezze Plate, a Cottage Cheese Parfait or Zucchini Lasagna.
This complete vegetarian protein provides all nine essential amino acids, with 8 grams of protein per cup of the cooked grain, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. "I often recommend quinoa to people," says Kroll. " It provides fiber, iron and phosphorus — and is easy to prepare. It cooks in just 20 minutes on the stovetop!" Whip up Herbed Quinoa, Quinoa and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers or a Citrus Salad Recipe.
"Green peas are a surprisingly good source of protein," notes McMordie. Indeed, a cup of peas provides 8 grams of protein, per the USDA National Nutrient Database. You also get an equal amount of fiber, plus plenty of vitamins and minerals. The bonus? "Peas are so easy to cook with!" says McMordie. "Since they're readily available frozen, you can throw them into soups, salads and pasta at a moment's notice. You can also mash them up with avocado and spread onto toast." Add green peas to Green Pea Soup, Peas with Dates and Walnuts or Pasta, Pesto and Peas.
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She's a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, ReadersDigest.com, NBCNews.com, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy's Eat List, where she shares easy, healthy recipes. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.