In today’s McWorld, we often equate protein with a greasy, drippy burger. Protein is, in fact, a matter of amino acids, and it abounds in the plant kingdom. The trick is in knowing where to find it, knowledge that is especially needed be vegans and vegetarians. RDA recommendations for protein are from 0.36 to 0.45 grams per pound of body weight a day. That’s only 15 to 20% of calories—an amount easily attainable when including these foods for a high protein vegetarian diet.
High Protein Vegetarian Diet – 1. Dairy Products and Eggs
We’ll get the vegan-unfriendly source out of the way first. The average egg contains 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of unsaturated (good) fat and only 1.5 grams of the bad kind. Try to buy organic and local to ensure that your eggs come from healthy, happy chickens. (Unhealthy and unhappy chickens produce eggs with lower nutrient content!)
Greek yogurt is lower in sugar and has more good fats than do most conventional yogurts which are loaded with sugar, additives, and hormones from cows. Look for varieties with live active cultures; they contain good bacteria to regulate your digestion.
Whey—a milk byproduct—is easily absorbed by the body and packs the proverbial punch with up to 25 grams of protein per scoop – making it great to include for a high protein vegetarian diet. Try the unflavored variety to avoid additives and throw in your own organic fruits or cocoa powder.
2. Tempeh and Tofu
There’s been much talk lately of soy mimicking estrogen and leading to higher risk of cancers, but not enough research has been conducted. To play it safe, avoid processed soy and go for fermented types, like tempeh. Tempeh even has more protein than tofu—30 grams versus 22 grams per cup, respectively.
Soy- and tofu-based mock-meats are often filled with starchy, unhealthy, and unnatural additives you’re better off without.
While often mistaken for a grain (it’s actually a seed), quinoa boasts 9 grams of protein per cup. For those of us with gluten concerns, quinoa is low on the glycemic index and is a rich source for both soluble and insoluble fiber. You’ll also get a good dose of vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium, and folate.
4. Vegetables and Legumes
Surprised? Even the humble broccoli (1 cup) has 5 grams of protein, as does 2 cups of kale and 1 cup of cooked sweet potato. A single avocado has 10 grams of protein!
If you’re not too worried about carbohydrates, 1 cup of lentils, refried beans, and garbonzo beans have 18, 15.5, and 14.5 grams of protein respectively.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are great for helping to make up a high protein vegetarian diet. Here’s a quick run-down of the protein content of popular nuts and seeds:
• 1 oz. cashews – 4.4 grams of protein
• 1 oz. sesame seeds – 6.5 grams
• 2 oz. walnuts – 5 grams
• 1 oz. pistachios – 5.8 grams
• 2 tbsp almonds – 4 grams
Remember that nut butters—almond, peanut, cashew—are good sources of protein, too. Just be sure they’re not laden with sugars and additives!