Proteins are known as the building blocks of life—In the body, they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. You probably know that animal products—meat, eggs and dairy—are good sources of protein; unfortunately, they can also be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. What you may not know is that you don’t need to eat meat or cheese to get enough protein. Here are 14 good vegetarian and vegan sources, and tips on how to add them to your diet today.
Tempeh and Tofu
Foods made from soybeans are some of the highest vegetarian sources of protein: Tempeh and tofu, for example, contain about 15 and 20 grams per half cup, respectively. They’re highly nutritious, and they can really take on the taste and texture of whatever type of food you’re looking for.
Also known as garbanzo beans, these legumes can be tossed into salads, fried and salted as a crispy snack, or pureed into a hummus. They contain 7.3 grams of protein in just half a cup, and are also high in fiber and low in calories.
There are many different varieties of beans—black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc.—but one thing they all have in common is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams.
Not crazy about meat substitutes? Get your servings of soy the way it appears in natures: Straight from the soybean, still in the pod. Boiled edamame, which contains 8.4 grams of protein per half cup, can be served hot or cold and sprinkled with salt. Try it as a snack, an appetizer before dinner, or as add-on to salads or pastas.
Foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein, and peas are no exception: One cup contains 7.9 grams—about the same as a cup of milk. Women should get about 46 grams of protein per day and men need about 56. If you don’t like peas as a side dish, try blending them into a pesto.
Nuts and Nut Butter
All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet. But because they are high in calories—almonds, cashews, and pistachios, all contain 160 calories and 5 or 6 grams of protein per ounce. Nut butters, like peanut and almond butter, are also a good way to get protein.
Most grains contain a small amount of protein, but quinoa—technically a seed—is unique in that it contains more than 8 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair, but cannot produce on its own. Because of that, it’s often referred to as a “perfect protein.”
Vegetables don’t have nearly as much protein as legumes and nuts, but some do contain significant amounts—along with lots of antioxidants and heart-healthy fiber. Two cups of raw spinach, for example, contain 2.1 grams of protein, and one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams.
These seeds are an easy way to add protein, with 4.7 grams per ounce or about two tablespoons, and fiber to almost any recipe. Chia seeds can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, or blended into smoothies. They plump up and take on a gelatinous texture when soaked in a liquid.
Another meat substitute popular with vegetarians, seitan, is made from wheat gluten, seasoned with salt and savory flavors and loaded with protein—36 grams per half cup, more than either tofu or tempeh. It looks like duck meat and tastes like chicken, and can be used in any recipe that calls for poultry.
Milk alternatives aren’t just for the lactose intolerant. They can be great additions to any diet. Plain soy milk, for example, contains about 100 calories per cup—comparable to skim milk’s 80 calories. Soy milk has the most protein, at 4 to 8 grams per 8 ounces, but almond, hemp, and rice milk also contain about 1 gram per cup.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
Bet you didn’t know you can get protein from chocolate! Unsweetened cocoa powder—the type used in baking—contains about 1 gram of protein per tablespoon. The powder is bitter all by itself, so most recipes call for lots of sugar and fat. Stick with nonfat, and choose calorie-free sweeteners for a healthy, low-cal hot cocoa.