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10 high in protein foods: vegetarian alternatives

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

"Eat more protein" - when it comes to diet it's something we hear pretty often. Whether you're an athlete, or just a casual gym-goer, at some point the thought of upping your protein intake has likely crossed your mind. However, in a world where eating meat is not for everyone (and is arguably less popular than it once was), it's good to know which plant based foods can help. In this article, we offer some handy information about high in protein foods (vegetarian and vegan only). Whether you follow a plant-based diet or you're just hoping to be meat-free a few days a week, we help you understand which vegetarian foods will provide you with the protein you need.



Why should I eat high in protein foods?


Eating more protein sounds like a healthy decision. After all, it's something we hear a lot, especially in the context of sports and training. But when we decide to make a change to our diet, it's a good idea not to be sucked in by trends and to know exactly why we're doing it. Today, we're here to help.


The truth is, eating protein can actually offer several health benefits. Increasing muscle mass and making you feel fuller for longer, upping your protein intake can actually be very beneficial. Unlike fats and carbohydrates, the health effects of protein are generally agreed upon. In fact, while most people consume enough protein to avoid deficiency, some individuals are likely to actually benefit from higher intakes.


Studies have demonstrated that incorporating a high-protein diet into your routine may have significant advantages for weight loss and metabolic health. Plus, research findings support a wide range of additional benefits, from boosting brain function to improving bone health. Whilst we're not telling you to start eating steak for breakfast - in most cases increasing your protein intake is unlikely to be a bad idea.


It's not all about meat


But here's the thing. When we talk about increasing our protein intake, most people equate this to eating more meat - and that absolutely doesn't have to be the case. There are many non-meat sources of protein that can be used to supplement a vegetarian or plant-based diet without compromising muscle-building capabilities.


Cutting out meat? Or perhaps just hoping to eat less of it? The good news is you're not missing out on protein. In fact, a one-cup serving of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, which is comparable to the protein found in a serving of chicken.


It is important to note that while animal-based proteins might be more recognisable, plant-based proteins not only offer plenty of protein, but can also often offer additional health benefits through their fibre and micronutrient content. For example, incorporating more plant-based proteins into one's diet may reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol levels commonly found in meat products, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and other illnesses.


High in protein foods: vegetarian alternatives


No steak? No problem. In this article, we offer a number of high in protein vegetarian foods that will help you to build muscle, lose weight, or simply just act as a big plus to your health.


tempeh high in protein food

Tempeh


We start with a tasty high protein veggie alternative; tempeh. Tempeh is a fermented, cake-like food usually made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans. Having said that, it can also be made from other beans, grains, and even some seeds. Tempeh is a high-protein food popular with vegans and vegetarians as an alternative to meat, which is originally from Indonesia and Malaysia.


And tempeh's fermentation won't hurt either - in fact it's pretty good for you. The fermentation process involved in making tempeh breaks down the phytic acid in the soybeans, making it easier to digest and improving its nutritional value. Throw it in a curry, or grill it, sautée it, and throw it on a salads. You could also put it in soups or even sandwiches.


One cup (166 grams) of cooked tempeh typically contains around 31 grams of protein. It also contains other nutrients such as calcium, iron, and fibre, making it a nutritious addition to a healthy diet.


Lentils


We've probably all eaten lentils before, but just in case, here's a refresher. Lentils are a type of legume. They're small, lens-shaped seeds that grow in pods. Lentils are a nutritious and versatile food that can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, salads, and side dishes. They are available in a variety of colours including green, brown, red, yellow, and black, and they can be bought dried or canned. The best thing about them - we think - is that they're a great source of protein, fibre, iron, and other important nutrients.


One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein. Adding lentils to your diet is a great way to get more plant-based protein and promote overall health and wellness.


Peanuts


Ever thought about exactly what a peanut is? A peanuts is a type of legume that is grown mainly for its edible seeds. The trusty peanut is a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and as we all know, they are commonly used to make peanut butter, oil, and other food products. Satay sauce is another incredible highlight!


In addition to their nutritional value, peanuts have a long history and cultural significance in many parts of the world. For example, they have a long history of cultivation in South America, where they are believed to have originated. Throughout history, peanuts have been enjoyed by Indigenous peoples in South America such as the Incas, who created various dishes using the nut as an ingredient.


One cup (146 grams) of peanuts roasted in oil with salt provides about 38 grams of protein. They offer around half of a person's daily protein needs per 100 grams! However, it is important to note that peanuts are also high in fat and calories, so it is best to eat them in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Please also note that some people are allergic to peanuts and can experience severe allergic reactions if they consume them.


Edamame Beans


Despite having their own names, edamame beans are actually just whole, immature soybeans. They are typically boiled or steamed and served in their pods as a snack or appetiser. Sprinkled with a little salt, they can be eaten in place of crips or other unhealthy nibbles.


The word "edamame" comes from the Japanese language and means "beans on a branch" and they are a popular ingredient in East Asian cuisine. In addition to its high protein content, edamame is a good source of protein, fibre, and other essential nutrients.


One cup (155 grams) of cooked edamame beans contains around 18.5 grams of protein. Edamame beans are considered a high-protein plant-based food and are also a good source of fiber and other essential nutrients.


tofu high in protein for vegetarians

Tofu


Whilst it doesn't have the most exciting reputation, tofu is a great non-meat high protein food. It is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness. Particularly popular in East Asia, it is increasingly popular around the world. Tofu is a versatile food that can be used in a variety of dishes, taking on virtually any flavor profile when marinated right! It can be baked, sautéed, or simmered in a sauce.


And the best thing about tofu? It is highly nutritious. Offering a range of vitamins and minerals, tofu includes iron, calcium, and magnesium. On top of having a high protein and amino acid content, it is known for its low carb properties, making it an excellent meat substitute for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.


A full cup of firm tofu would contain roughly 20-22 grams of protein. However, it is important to note that protein content can vary slightly depending on the type and brand of tofu, as well as the method of preparation.


Almonds


Almonds are the edible seeds of the almond tree. Native to the Middle East, they are now grown in many parts of the world. In addition to tasting great, almonds are rich in healthy fats, fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them a popular and nutritious food - especially for vegans and vegetarians.


Sold in a range of ways, almonds can taste sweet and bitter, and can be eaten raw or roasted and salted. They are also great paired with dark chocolate and are used in a variety of dishes and snacks, including baking and confections. Some people prefer almond butter over peanut butter for its unique flavour and texture.


A cup of almonds (whole and unroasted) contains approximately 30 grams of protein. However, it's important to note that the recommended serving size for almonds is usually much smaller than a full cup due to their high caloric density.


Garden peas


Who would have thought that garden peas were high in protein? Well the great news is that they are and they're also packed with other nutrients. Also known as sweet peas or English peas, garden peas are a type of cool-season crop that is grown for its edible seeds. They're a popular vegetable around the world that can be eaten raw or cooked.


Amongst the many ways to eat garden peas, you can use them in salads or soups and stews. They're also great served plain and simple as a side. Looking for a meat free, high protein burger? You could make yourself a pea burger with the helpful addition of pea protein powder. The possibilities are endless!


A one cup serving of boiled green peas contains approximately 8 grams of protein. They are also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a healthy addition to any diet.


Kidney beans


Beans are a commonly known alternative to meat, thanks to their high protein levels and ability to make you feel full. In particular, the kidney bean is a great high protein meat alternative that can be used in numerous ways.


Named for their shape, which resembles that of a human kidney, kidney beans are native to Central and South America but are now cultivated in many parts of the world. They are a nutritious food that is rich in not only protein but fibre, vitamins, and minerals, making them a popular ingredient in many cuisines. Kidney beans can be eaten cooked or even sprouted. Chuck them into your stews, chillis, salads, burritos and you'll have yourself a healthy vegetarian option any day of the week.


A one cup serving of boiled kidney beans contains approximately 7-9 grams of protein. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to any diet.


chickpeas vegetarian protein

Chickpeas


Whilst we all love some hummus, chickpeas are a useful high protein food that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a type of legume that are particularly popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. You might be interested to know that Australia produces so many chickpeas that the country actually sells them to India.


Chickpeas are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and have actually been grown and eaten for thousands of years. They have a round shape and are usually beige in color, although there are other varieties of chickpeas that come in black, green, or even red! Chickpeas can be used in a wide variety of dishes, including soups, stews, salads, and snacks. Gril them with some salt and oil and they become cripsy snacks. And let's not forget falafels.


A one cup (164-gram) serving of chickpeas contains approximately 14-15 grams of protein, depending on the brand and type. This makes them comparable to other legumes like black beans and lentils in terms of protein content. Chickpeas are also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a highly nutritious addition to any diet.


Wild rice


Despite its name, wild rice is not actually rice at all! A type of aquatic grass seed that is native to North America's Great Lakes region, it's a dark and nutty flavoured whole grain used in a variety of cuisines. Whilst it has been been a staple for hundreds of years, starting with Native Americans, the majority of wild rice today is grown in Minnesota.


With a stronger flavour and a more complex texture compared to rice, it is great for a number of dishes you can make at home. Use wild rice as a base for your salad bowls, eat it with a curry or even add it to a soup - anything goes!


Wild rice contains varying amounts of protein depending on the type. However, on average, a one-cup serving of cooked wild rice contains about 6-7 grams of protein. It is also high in fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants, making it a nutritious addition to any diet.




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