As an ‘almost’ vegetarian myself, I often get asked how I can consume enough protein just eating plants in order to be healthy. I love to cook my own healthful meals where I use ingredients that I either grew myself or can be 100% sure are organic and non-GMO. But for vegans and vegetarians there are other health risks that get overlooked – such as signs of protein deficiency, which can cause serious health issues. Below you will find 55+ protein sources for vegetarians.

Getting my essential amino acids (you need 20 of them) is key to eschewing beef, chicken, pork, and other meats in favor of vegetables. Even if you aren’t a complete vegetarian or vegan, and you choose to minimize meat consumption (which Harvard says is good for you) you have to be sure you are getting your amino acids (protein) in another bio-available form.

Of the many signs of protein deficiency is low energy, so if you eat your greens but still feel sluggish, you might want to check your protein intake. So – for those looking to move in a vegetarian direction, or for those who are already eating a plant based diet, here are 3 vegetarian protein tips (and a whole bunch of food suggestions) to make sure you don’t become protein deficient.

Vegetarian Protein

  • 1. Eat a variety of whole foods, and you will likely get all the protein you need. Notice I didn’t say processed foods, or foods prepared with all sorts of additives to make them edible.
  • 2. Protein powders are good for protein, but make sure that you are consuming non-soy based powders since these are almost 100% genetically modified while full of pesticide and herbicide residues. Do add healthy hemp, brown rice, chia, or pea protein to shakes, smoothies, or even pancakes to make sure you are getting an extra dose of slow-burn protein.
  • 3. Your body makes some of the proteins that aren’t available in foods, so just concentrate on the ones your body doesn’t make. Our bodies (except with certain illnesses or genetic abnormalities) make 11 of the 20 amino acids we need from chemicals already present. The other 9 amino’s we need to get from food are called ‘essential amino acids.’ The branched-chain amino acids are isoleucine, leucine, and valine – these are the amino acids responsible for making muscles. Tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan are necessary for the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is actually an important antioxidant that protects our DNA. Lysine plays an important part in absorbing and conserving calcium and in the formation of collagen. Without it you can develop kidney stones, anemia, and reproductive disorders, among other health issues.

Related: One Solid Way to Boost Protein Intake as a Vegetarian

Important: The following charts (courtesy of NoMeatAthlete) list the vegetable/nut/legume sources with the highest amounts of the amino acids per a 200 calorie serving. This does not mean eating a whole bunch of one food will qualify for enough protein – you’d have to eat a whole lot of watercress, even though it is full of all the essential amino acids, to get enough calories to burn on a daily basis.

Conversely, if you ate a bunch of egg whites, you’d get a lot of amino’s, but you’d also be getting a whole lot of calories. These charts are meant to be used intelligently to remind you to add sources of protein that you may have overlooked. If the charts are overwhelming, check out one of NaturalSociety’s earlier posts outlining a high protein vegetarian diet.

Amino Acid Sources



Some sources claim histidine to also be an essential amino acid as it is additionally required by infants and growing children. Also, cysteine can usually be synthesized by the human body under normal physiological conditions if a sufficient quantity of methionine is available.

(“AA” refers to amino acids.)

Food                                           Amount          Calories    Protein      Notes

Nuts and Seeds

Pumpkin/squash seeds       1 oz, 85 seeds    126 cal        5 gm             all aa in proper ratio

Black walnuts                           1 oz                  173 cal        7 gm            low in lysine

Pine nuts                     1 oz, 167 kernels         190 cal      4 gm         low in lysine

Roasted almonds         1 oz, 22 count             171 cal       6gm         low in lysine and methionine

Pistachios                     1 oz 49 count              161 cal        6gm          all aa in proper ratio

Sunflower seeds                     1 oz                  166 cal         5 gm         low in lysine

Peanuts without shells           1 oz                   160 cal         7 gm         low in lysine

Cashews                         1 oz 18 kernels         164 cal          4 gm        all aa in proper ratio

Hemp seeds                            2 T                   160 cal         11gm         all aa in proper ratio

Flax seeds                               1 T                    100 cal         4 gm

Dairy Products

Ricotta cheese lowfat                ½ c          171 cal              14 gm        all aa  high in lysine

Romano cheese                       1 oz           108 cal               9 gm         all aa in proper ratio

Cheddar cheese                       1 oz           113 cal               7 gm         all aa in proper ratio

Provolone cheese                    1 oz             98 cal                7 gm        all aa  high in lysine

Mozzarella                              1 oz              71 cal               7 gm        all aa high in lysine

Parmesan                                 1 oz            116 cal                7 gm       all aa high in lysine

Gouda cheese                           1 oz           100 cal                 8 gm       all aa high in lysine

Swiss cheese                            1 oz            100 cal                8gm        all aa high in lysine

Feta cheese                      ½ c crumbled      200 cal              21 gm       all aa

Cottage cheese 2% low fat      1 cup          163 cal               28 gm       all aa

Egg                                       1 whole           77 cal               6 gm         all aa

Egg whites                           1 whole           16 cal                4 gm         all aa

Milk                                      1 cup              137 cal             10 gm        all aa

Yogurt low fat                      1 cup               137 cal            14 gm        low in tryptophan



Corn yellow canned             2/3 cup               80 cal              3 gm        high in lysine

Sun-dried tomatoes          ½ cup (1 oz)           72 cal             4 gm         lacks 5 aa

Soy beans                             1 oz                      35 cal            4 gm        all aa, but a little low in methionine+cystine, phenylalanine+tyrosine

Cowpeas (blackeyes)          2 oz                       74 cal               4 gm         all aa

Navy beans                        4 oz                         88 cal              8 gm         all aa, low in methionine + cystine

Peas                                    4 oz                      108 cal               8 gm      all aa except no trypotophan

Lima beans                         4 oz  cal                88 cal                5 gm       all aa, low in methionine + cystine

Brussel sprouts                    1 cup                    65 cal               6 gm.    low in leucine, lysine, methionine + cystine, phenylalanine + tyrosine

Spinach                            1 cup chopped        65 cal                6 gm      low in methionine + cystine

Broccoli                            1 cup spears           52 cal               6 gm      low in methionine + cystine

Potato                               1 med with skin     161 cal              4 gm     all aa in proper ratio

Asparagus                         ½ cup                     20 cal                2 gm    all aa in proper ratio



Apricots dried                    ½ cup                   190 cal              3 gm       low in methionine + cystine

Peaches dried                     ½ cup                   185 cal             3 gm       low in trptophan and lysine


Cereal, bread, grains and pasta

Oat bran                              1 oz                     59 cal               5 gm       low in lysine

Oats                                     1 oz                   109 cal              5 gm        low in lysine

Wheat flour                          1 oz                    95 cal             4 gm         low in lysine

Spaghetti, whole wheat     dry 2 oz              198 cal              8 gm         low in lysine

Egg noodles                      dry 2 oz               219 cal              8 gm          low in lysine

Buckwheat                           1 oz                    96 cal              4 gm        all aa in proper ratio

Couscous dry                       1 oz                  105 cal               4 gm          low in lysine

Bulgur                             dry 1 oz                  96 cal               3 gm          low in lysine

Millet raw                             1 oz                 106 cal               3 gm         low in lysine

Bread, pumpernickel           1 slice                 65 cal               2 gm          low in lysine

Bread, reduced cal white      1 slice               48 cal               2 gm         low in lysine

Rice, brown long grain cooked  1 cup         216 cal               5 gm         low in lysine

White rice, cooked               1 cup                194 cal              4 gm         low in lysine

Whole wheat bread              1 slice                 69 cal              4 gm         low in all aa except tryptophan

White bread                         1 slice                 67 cal             2 gm         low in lysine

Oatmeal bread                     1 slice                 73 cal             2 gm         low in lysine

Rye bread                            1 slice                 83 cal             2 gm         low in lysine

Whole wheat pita bread    4” diameter           74 cal             3 gm         low in lysine

Pita white enriched            4” diameter          77 cal              3 gm        low in lysine

Storable Food

About Christina Sarich:
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Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.