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.
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.
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.
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.
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.