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High Protein Vegetarian Diet – Eat These 5 Foods

Lisa Garber
June 25th, 2012
Updated 11/18/2012 at 2:29 am
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bagsofnuts 235x147 High Protein Vegetarian Diet Eat These 5 Foods

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.

3. Quinoa

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!

Additional Sources:



Mark’s Daily Apple

From around the web:

  • Cr

    Watch earthling documentary

  • Ho Wah

    I am always looking for new veggie dishes that could pass as a main course (as a vegetarian) This looks delicious and filling! Can't wait to try!

  • Trevor

    Why in the world would anyone ever be vegetarian? Fat and cholesterol are the healthiest foods in the world

    The Myth of Vegetarianism.

    • Anonymous

      You can get fat and cholesterol from vegetarian sources. Avocado is a perfect example.

  • GreenEggsAndHam

    I am unaware of the connection between the glycemic impact of quinoa and its gluten content. Is that some kind of sloppy mistake, or is it a revelation I need to be aware of?

  • Mule

    You forgot buckwheat (similar to quinoa)

  • Anon4fun

    Merely stating the quantity of protein in a given food is dangerously simplistic and misleading without also stating the body's (highly variable) ability to actually ABSORB protein in that specific form in the context of a specific overall dietary plan, not to mention interactions with other parts of the diet.

  • Eliot W. Collins

    Documented protein deficiencies (for those not otherwise suffering from malnutrition) are quite rare, even among strict vegans. Excess protein consumption in affluent societies is far more of a problem.

  • ThomasT
    • paulinsoleyman

      @Thomas Eggs are not as unhealthy as you think. Besides being a great vegetarian source of protein, eggs are also a great dietary source of all essential amino acids, folic acid, retinol, vitamin B12, Iron, calcium, and potassium. In fact, eggs are such a complete food that mostof us can incorporate them into our low cholesterol diets, in place of meat, in order to maintain, and in some cases, improve our cardiovascular health.

  • james

    what about hemp seeds? miss a big one eh? hemp always gets left out.

  • John Freemantle

    >>1 oz. cashews – 4.4 grams

    Please use either Imperial/US measurements or else metric. Don't mix them together in the same statement!

    • What

      Please blow me.

  • Ray Cushing

    Hemp seed is nature's richest source of plant protein, in addition to being the most balanced source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Strange that it was left off this list, just as it is ALWAYS left off of such lists in the mainstream media.

    • Lionel standish

      Yep. Ain't that a coicidence!**S**

  • Ed Smith

    What? No mention of hempseed?

    I assume it was an oversight and not intentional.

    Hulled hempseed is 33% protein.

    Ratios of omega-3, omega-6, and GLAs are ideal for humans.

    The benefits of this plant are innumerous.

  • JC

    There is one caveat to vegetarian instead of vegan food. Evidence suggests that casein, a cow milk protein, when ingested with plant foods, binds with all the healing antioxidants and renders them USELESS to our body! It's so easy and healthier to be vegan and you can get plenty of protein!

    Why would someone choose to be vegan? To help end world hunger for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and

  • keldoone

    Prior to GMO's and the over use of pesticides, chemical fertilizer and just plain junk food… the biggest health concern in foods in America was too much protein… as compared to the rarely too little.

    Lets take a look at the most important protein requiring time of a human being… infancy. Human breast milk is the perfect amount of protein for an infant. At about 1.02 mg percent protein it is the same amount of protein as watermelon…(granted as a diruretic we don't want to feed our infants watermelon just for its protein).

    Cows milk on the otherhand is about 3.75 mg percent protein, nearly four times the amount of protein. Explain to me why we believe we need more protein? Isn't a bit obvious that we are driven by lobbyist? Bacon became a breakfast food only after massive amounts of money were spent to get the public to beleive that. We in America are possibly the most uninformed population when it comes to food and nutrition in general. Most MD's have virtually no schooling in nutrition and that goes for most nutrtionists also.

    So, we have all these people wanting to eat better, going vegan and beleiving that they must have more protein… and then they consume soy products to maintain high proteins and wonder why they are sick?? We need people to start doing their own research, what is alkaline vs. acid foods?… not depend on the food industry to tell them what to eat… and not depend on MD's who don't know much except where their money comes from… ie. lobbyists. Are we addicted to proteins and the subtle protein rush??? ( do think corporate lobbyist such as ADM, Calgro, Monsanto and others have no control over the AMA?) Do your own research…learn what is good for you and what is not… become self empowered.

    • vishal

      Super thought

    • Anonymous