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.
- 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.
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
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
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.