What is a High Protein Vegetarian Diet?

Greer Hed

Since vegetarians and vegans consume little or no protein from animal sources such as meat, cheese, or eggs, they must seek other sources of protein to maintain a healthy diet. A high protein vegetarian diet will usually include proteins derived from plant sources, although ovo-lacto vegetarians may also receive protein from eggs and dairy products. Many vegetables are high in protein, such as broccoli, beets, kale, and spinach, and many fruits also have high protein content, including avocados, tomatoes, and squash. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of protein and are important parts of a high protein vegetarian diet. In addition, there are many meat and dairy substitutes available that are made from soy or other high-protein vegetable sources.

Quinoa is high in protein.
Quinoa is high in protein.

A common myth is that people who choose a vegetarian diet cannot receive sufficient nutrients. This is probably based on the fact that most plant proteins are considered lower quality proteins due to their lack of one or more important amino acids. Additionally, vegetables that have been cooked or preserved often have lower protein content than their raw equivalents. However, a vegetarian or vegan who eats a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and soy products will probably receive more than adequate protein from these sources.

Chickpeas are a good source of protein.
Chickpeas are a good source of protein.

Many foods that are high in fiber are also a good source of protein. A high protein vegetarian diet will probably include a large number of cereal grains, such as bulgur, buckwheat, whole wheat, and quinoa. These foods are not only high in protein but also can form the basis of many hearty, meat-free meals. Most proteins found in grains have low levels of the amino acid lysine, but eating them together with other sources of protein, like legumes, can make up for this deficiency.

A vegatarian dish containing tofu, a source of protein.
A vegatarian dish containing tofu, a source of protein.

Legumes contain very high amounts of protein. About 25% of the total weight of most types of beans or peas is protein. The type of protein contained in beans and peas is also easy for humans to digest. A high protein vegetarian diet will probably include a lot of dried and fresh legumes, including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, and black-eyed peas. Proteins found in pulses and legumes have low levels of the amino acid methionine, making them a lower quality protein. The combination of beans and whole grains, however, results in a high quality protein whose nutritional benefits rival that of some animal proteins.

Beans are a good source of protein in vegetarian meals.
Beans are a good source of protein in vegetarian meals.

Proteins derived from soybeans are very high in quality. Soybeans are also a versatile food that can be prepared in many ways. They may be steamed with salt and eaten whole, or made into soy milk, soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, or textured vegetable protein (TVP). Tofu is made by concentrating soy milk into large curds that are then formed into blocks and pressed to express excess water. TVP is a meat substitute made with soybean flour, and tempeh is made from cooked whole soybeans that are then fermented.

Avocados are a good source of protein.
Avocados are a good source of protein.
Soy milk is considered a good source of protein in a vegetarian diet.
Soy milk is considered a good source of protein in a vegetarian diet.
Kale contains a high amount of protein.
Kale contains a high amount of protein.
Lentils are often used to make vegetarian meals.
Lentils are often used to make vegetarian meals.
Vegetarian meat crumbles are made of textured vegetable protein.
Vegetarian meat crumbles are made of textured vegetable protein.
Soybeans are high in protein, making them a popular choice for a vegetarian diet.
Soybeans are high in protein, making them a popular choice for a vegetarian diet.
Squash has a high protein content.
Squash has a high protein content.
Approximately 25% of the total weight of peas is protein.
Approximately 25% of the total weight of peas is protein.
Spinach is a good source vegetable source of protein.
Spinach is a good source vegetable source of protein.
Soya mince is a great meat substitute and an inexpensive source of protein.
Soya mince is a great meat substitute and an inexpensive source of protein.
A high protein vegetarian diet should also provide servings of whole grains and fresh fruit daily.
A high protein vegetarian diet should also provide servings of whole grains and fresh fruit daily.
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein.
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein.
Low in fat, black beans are rich in fiber, protein, iron, and folate and other B vitamins.
Low in fat, black beans are rich in fiber, protein, iron, and folate and other B vitamins.

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