12 alternative protein sources for vegetarians

couple cooking vegetables

There’s another kind of “go green” movement taking place in the United States. In the traditional sense, it involves reducing our collective carbon footprint on Mother Earth. But now, it also involves reducing the health risks associated with too much meat consumption. Many have elected to change the way they eat by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet.

According to a study by the Vegetarian Times, 7.3 million adults in the United States follow a vegetarian-based diet. Of those, 1 million are vegans, who consume no animal products at all.

Why the shift? According to Katie Campbell, RD, CDN, CDE and Outpatient Dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, “Diets high in animal products, such as butter, full fat dairy and red meat, are high in saturated fat, which is linked to a host of health complications, including obesity, elevated LDL cholesterol levels, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. However, diets rich in plant sources, including generous amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsalted nuts and seeds, and olive oil can actually help reduce the risk of acquiring these preventable, chronic conditions.

Plant-based diets are naturally lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and provide a good amount of dietary fiber as well as a multitude of vitamins and minerals.”

While a vegetarian or vegan diet offers solid health benefits, protein, which is most commonly found in animal products within the traditional American diet, can be more difficult to come by if meals are not appropriately planned. Says Ms. Campbell, “Proteins are the building blocks of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. We need protein in our diets to help with cell repair, as well as make hormones and other body chemicals.”

Protein: essential for a healthy diet

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements.

To determine your RDA for protein, you can divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and multiple by 0.8. For example, a 140-pound woman would require approximately 51 grams of protein per day. (140lbs/2.2 = 64kgs x 0.8 = 51 grams.)

Alternate sources of protein

Says Ms. Campbell, “There are many high-protein vegetarian and vegan foods on the market. The RDA for protein can easily be fulfilled if a person is smart about his or her choices, by ensuring that some protein is a part of every meal or snack.”

  1. Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes are a rich source of fiber and B vitamins. They are also a great replacement for meat as a source of vegetarian protein.
  2. Soy: One cup of boiled soybeans (172 g) contains around 29 grams of protein.
  3. Nuts and nut butters: One tablespoon of almond, peanut or cashew butter provides 3 to 4 grams of protein and 8 to 9 grams of total fat.
  4. Tofu: High in protein and containing all the essential amino acids the body needs. It also contains fats, carbs, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
  5. Quinoa: Gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids.
  6. Grains: Grains high in protein include cornmeal, kamut (wheat berries), teff, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, wild rice, millet, couscous, oatmeal, and buckwheat.
  7. Non-dairy milk: Just one cup of soy milk can pack about 7-9 grams of protein.
  8. Sprouted-grain bread: A healthy, high-protein alternative to white flour or whole grain flour bread
  9. Spinach: One cup of spinach has almost as much protein as a hard-boiled egg—for half the calories. Maximize its nutrition by steaming spinach instead of eating it raw.
  10. Sun-dried tomatoes: In addition to protein, tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that studies show can decrease risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, in addition to reducing the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
  11. Artichokes: One of the highest protein counts among vegetables.
  12. Mushrooms: Mushrooms contain 0.8g of protein per cup. This is more than the amount of protein that’s found within most vegetables.

To learn more about diet and nutrition or to find a nutrition specialist, please visit nyp.org/nutrition.