Choosing a vegetarian diet may help reduce your body mass index, according to a review published in a 2010 edition of “Nutrition in Clinical Practice.” But just because you’re a vegetarian doesn’t mean you lack high-protein options. Even if you follow a vegan diet and avoid all animal-based foods, you can still meet your daily protein needs.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein is 46 grams for women, 56 grams for men and 71 grams of protein per day for pregnant and nursing women. However, if you get less than 45 percent of your protein from animal-based foods, you may require slightly more protein than the current RDA suggests, according to a study published in a 2011 edition of the journal “Nutrition.” Physically active adults need additional protein--up to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, according to a 2007 edition of the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition."
If you’re a vegetarian who likes the texture of red meat, seitan is a good high-protein option for you. Seitan is a plant-based protein made from wheat gluten, and when seasoned properly can mimic the taste of flavored beef. Replace steak with seitan in a vegetarian stir-fry, for example. One-third cup of seitan strips provides you with about 21 grams of protein.
If you love the taste of chicken, seasoned tofu is a high-protein vegetarian alternative you may enjoy. As with seitan, tofu also makes an excellent addition to stir-fry, but also tastes great marinated and sauteed with a small amount of olive oil. According to a 2009 review published in “American Family Physician,” three 84-gram slices of firm tofu provide you with 18 grams of protein.
Legumes are not only loaded with protein, but they’re also rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Examples include lentils and pinto, black, navy, garbanzo and kidney beans. Incorporate legumes into a cold, three-bean salad, add legumes to a meatless chili or eat them in a vegetarian bean burrito. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of cooked pinto beans contains 15 to 16 grams of protein.
Nuts and Seeds
If you’re trying to increase protein, fiber and healthy fats in your diet, nuts and seeds are an excellent choice for you. Examples include almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and cashews. One ounce of peanuts provides you with about 7 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein.
Non-Meat Animal Protein
Unless you follow a vegan diet, you likely consume at least some animal-based proteins. Eggs and dairy products are packed with high-quality, complete protein. To reap the benefits of protein and other nutrients in eggs and dairy foods without the cholesterol and saturated fat, choose egg whites instead of whole eggs, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1 cup of low-fat milk provides 8 grams of protein, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt contains about 13 grams and 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese provides you with 28 grams of protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that four large egg whites contain about 14 grams of protein.
- Nutrition in Clinical Practice: Nutrition Concerns and Health Effects of Vegetarian Diets
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Nutrition: Protein dietary reference intakes may be inadequate for vegetarians if low amounts of animal protein are consumed
- American Family Physician: Soy: A Complete Source of Protein
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nutrient Data for 16043, Beans, Pinto, Mature Seeds, Cooked, Boiled, without Salt
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nutrient Data for 16087, Peanuts, All Types, Raw
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Strength Building and Muscle Mass
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nutrient Data for 01124, Egg, White, Raw, Fresh
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.