If you have been a vegetarian for years, or you are just starting to look into whether vegetarianism is for you, you might also be looking for ways to increase your intake of key nutrients.
This might be because, like some, you find it a challenge to get the right balance of nutrients in a largely plant-based diet.
Protein is just one of those essentials, needed for a balanced diet and overall good health.
So what are the best sources of vegetarian protein, when you cannot fall back on traditional meat sources?
Why do we need to eat protein rich food?
Protein is an integral part of a healthy, balanced diet and essential for the growth and repair of the body.1
Protein rich foods are not just for body builders or to aid weight loss – we all need good amounts of protein in our diet.
Our Health Hub article ‘why do I need protein?’ explains the essential role of protein in more detail.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are used to build and repair the body’s cells, which help to build muscles, as well as bones and other tissues.
They are integral to various body functions, and they make up hormones, enzymes and haemoglobin. Which is why they are viewed as the “building blocks of the body”.
Our bodies can make many of the amino acids we need from those we already have in our cells, but there are a few that need to come from food sources. Protein must therefore be present in our diets.
As a vegetarian, you need not be concerned that vegetarian protein cannot meet your needs.
Actually, vegetarian and vegan protein foods can be excellent choices, since they contain reduced amounts of the saturated fats which are associated with meat protein.
But you do need to eat a range of different protein sources to get the right mix of amino acids for all those different protein functions that your body needs.2
How much protein do I need?
Of course, with all nutrients, the amount of protein you need will vary, depending on your lifestyle, body size and other factors.
But as a guide, women need 45g per day, and men 55g per day.3
6 of the best vegetarian and vegan high protein foods
1. Dairy products
Dairy foods are good sources of protein, and can contain other great nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.
The precise amount of protein in each dairy product varies from 7g in hard cheese, per serving, to around 20g in a serving of Greek yoghurt.4
2. Soya (including tofu and tempeh)
All soya products are naturally high in protein.
The soya bean (and also edamame beans, which are immature soya beans) can provide around 18.5g per serving.5
Products from soya, such as tofu and tempeh, provide between 8g and 19g of protein per serving.6
They are also great sources of other nutrients and can work well with many other foods.
This is especially true for tofu since it has a neutral taste, it can even be added to smoothies for added protein.
3. Pulses and grains
100g of cooked lentils can provide around 9g of protein, and chickpeas slightly less at 7g of protein.7
Do not underestimate how much protein can be found in your grains too – even whole wheat, barley, cous cous, rice and oats can add much needed protein to your meal.
Eggs are a very affordable source of nutrients for vegetarians. That combined with their versatility means they are a staple in many veggie diets.
This protein rich food contains around 7g of protein per egg (of course this varies depending on the egg’s size).
While black-eyed beans and kidney beans may come up with a higher protein content (around 7-10g per 100g of beans), baked beans are one of those rare pre-prepared foods that can quickly be eaten for an easy protein fix with 5g per 100g (just keep an eye on the salt content).8
6. Nuts and seeds (including nut butters)
Adding a handful of seeds or nuts is a quick way to add protein to most meals.
Some of the best proteins in this group are hemp seeds (5g per tablespoon), pumpkin seeds (4g per tablespoon) and Brazil nuts (4g per six nuts).
Check out the protein content in nut butters (also make sure to keep the added salt and sugar down), and you will see that a scoop of peanut butter can provide around 3g of protein.9
Vegetarian and vegan protein powders and supplements
If you are not able to get sufficient protein through your diet alone, or you simply wish to supplement your protein intake, at Holland & Barrett, we have a wide range of vegan protein powders.
These can be particularly popular with people looking to build up muscle as well as those wanting to shed the extra pounds.
Last updated: 2 February 2021
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile