When some people think about switching to a vegetarian lifestyle, they might wonder if it’s possible to get enough protein in their diet if they are no longer eating beef, pork, chicken or meat from other animals. They might mistakenly believe that they’ll be left munching only on tofu, with few other alternatives. In fact, there are lots of healthy, high-protein meal alternatives that vegetarians love to eat. They can be found at local farm stands, community farmer’s markets and any grocery store. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones.
How much protein do you need?
Protein cannot take a backseat in your quest for a healthy diet. It’s a building block for many basics our bodies need. Protein is used to create skin, muscles and tendons. It helps repair muscles, too, and has a hand in creating hormones and enzymes our bodies need to function properly.
But how do you know if you’re getting enough protein? While a person’s protein needs are determined by your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created general guidelines by age, using ounces of protein as the base measure. Here are the daily guidelines for adults:
Ages 19 to 30: 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein
Ages 31 and older: 5 to 6 ounces of protein
Ages 19 to 30: 6.5 to 7 ounces of protein
Ages 31 to 59: 6 to 7 ounces of protein
Ages 60+: 5.5 to 6.5 ounces of protein
For more details on the USDA guidelines for toddlers, children and teens, check its website here.
Vegetarian protein sources
For those who are fully vegetarian or leaning into a vegetarian diet, the key is to make sure the amount of protein being picked meets the daily ounce goal, and that there is variety in the types of proteins being selected. These protein source groups include eggs - for vegetarians who eat them - as well as canned or dried beans, peas, lentils, soy products like tofu and tempeh, and nuts and seeds, which includes nut butters.
High-protein meat alternatives
As with any food, the goal with vegetarian protein sources is to prepare them in delicious ways. Flavorful herbs, seasonings and light sauces and dips can make them meals to look forward to. Some of our favorites include: (For those doing the gram conversion math, there are 28 grams in one ounce).
Lentils. Don’t overlook the little but mighty lentil. These tiny legumes can be seasoned for a side dish, but we also love them simmered into soups and stews. Try them in place of rice or pasta and you’ll feel just as full. They pack fiber and good protein. They have 18 grams of protein per cup when cooked.
Canned beans. With several varieties to choose from, canned beans are anything but blah. They are so incredibly versatile; they could take a starring role in your dinners every night for a week and you’d never feel like you were eating the same thing. You can tuck black beans into fajita shells with a little cheese and sauteed onions and veggies. Red kidney and chili beans combined make a hearty meatless chili. Stir big cannellini beans into vegetable soup. Simmer some white beans with your favorite marinara sauce and scoop it up with pieces of whole wheat or sourdough bread. Beans have about 15 grams of protein per cup.
Nutritional yeast. Think of this as a protein-rich item that adds an almost cheese-like flavor to what you’re mixing it into. It can be sprinkled on mashed potatoes or stirred into scrambled eggs or tofu for an extra protein kick. It has 8 grams of protein per half-ounce.
Chia seeds. These little sprinkles of protein can be a powerhouse addition to lots of meals. Stir them into Greek yogurt or shake a spoonful over a fruit salad. They have 5 grams of protein per ounce.