Chris enjoys writing about a variety of topics, including science, health, and fitness.
20 Vegetarian Proteins to Help You Eat Healthier
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is necessary for the human body to remain healthy, strong, and resilient. This is especially true for athletes such as sports players, fitness fanatics, and bodybuilders. For many people, protein is often most easily obtained from a diet that includes meat, eggs, and dairy products. However, there has been a long-growing movement among consumers and fitness junkies to aim for healthier lifestyles and to limit (or eliminate) these traditional protein sources in favor of plant-based options.
The good news is that there is a wide variety of plant and plant-based products that contain ample amounts of healthy protein and that are both accessible and affordable. If you are struggling to find wholesome, plant-based foods to supplement your body’s increased need for protein when working out, then I hope that this article will help you out.
At the end of the article, I have added a table listing the top 20 vegetarian sources of protein. The list is sorted to show the most protein-dense foods at the top. For consistency, all nutrition facts were taken from the same source which is noted in the references section of this article.
For die-hard vegetations, Spirulina is sure to be a part of their diet. Spirulina is made of pure green or blue algae and is usually sold as a powder. This makes it very versatile as it can easily be added to recipes and smoothies. Due to its high protein density, spirulina is often sold as a supplement to be enjoyed straight from the bottle (Villines, 2021).
2. Nutritional Yeast
Considered vegetarian-friendly, nutritional yeast is densely packed with minerals, vitamins, and protein. This food additive has a cheesy, nutty flavor that can be added to many recipes, salads, or smoothies (WebMD, 2020). Most people like to add nutritional yeast to soups or sauces.
3. Hemp seeds
Hemp seeds may be difficult to find, however, they are very high in protein. As with other seeds on this list, they can be added to smoothies or used as a salad topper.
No plant-based protein list would be complete without the inclusion of the amazing peanut. Peanuts are common, cheap, easy to grow, and very high in protein. Although also high in fat, peanut-based products are often the go-to choice for fitness enthusiasts when they need a fast snack loaded with protein.
Cooked lentils are a great source of protein. You can easily add them to just about any meal, though they are most commonly added to soups or stews. Lentils can also be used as a salad topper or even mixed with rice for a new flavor combination.
6. Black Beans
Black beans are fiber and protein-rich foods that are available at just about every grocery store. They are also very inexpensive and taste good as well. Beans are often used in soups and stews but are also great as a side dish or even a main course.
7. Lima Beans
Much like black beans, lima beans are rich in high-quality protein and fiber. These beans also make great additions to salads, soups, and stews.
Chickpeas are a very versatile legume. They can be eaten as part of a salad, soup, or stew. However, one of the most popular ways to enjoy chickpeas is in the form of hummus. This healthy chickpea paste can be spread on bread to help make a delicious sandwich or used as a dip for crackers and vegetables.
Almonds are a great option to explore if you have a peanut allergy. Almonds are considered tree nuts (like walnuts) and not a legume (like a peanut). Sliced or slivered almonds make great additions to salads and other dishes. Roasted almonds make a perfect snack. And let’s not forget about almond butter either; this delicious paste can be spread on a variety of other foods or can be used simply as a dip for fruits and veggies.
Oats and oatmeal are a common breakfast food in America for good reason. While lacking some macro-nutrient qualities to be considered a complete protein, you shouldn’t pass up this food as a quick way to boost your protein intake. In addition to oatmeal, oats are great in many recipes due to their ability to be ground into a fine flour.
11. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are considered a complete protein that are most often used to boost the protein and fiber content of a smoothie. These delicious seeds have an unusual property that allows them to swell in size when allowed to soak in water.
Mycoprotein is a protein that comes from a fungal source. Sometimes called by its scientific name, Fusarium Venenatum, mycoprotein is most popularly used as a meat substitute.
13. Wild Rice
Wild rice is another great source of protein. Rice-based dishes are common across the world; however, wild rice is known to have 150% more protein in it than most other rice varieties (Chin, 2021). Fortunately, wild rice is becoming more common which means it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to trade in your boring white rice for the wild kind.
Quinoa is a grain that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. There are many reasons for this. Quinoa can be used as a substitute for pasta in many dishes, used as a topping, or even eaten as an entree. The amazing grain is also relatively inexpensive and available in most grocery stores.
15. Soy (Tofu, Edamame)
Soy-based products are very high in protein and are often used to create meat substitutes. Edamame is essentially a young soybean that makes a great snack or addition to a stir-fry. Tofu is rubbery, dense food made from soybean curds (Becker, 2021). Although it lacks much flavor on its own, tofu can easily take on other flavors when cooked together with other foods.
16. Seitan (Wheat Gluten)
Seitan is another plant-derived source of high-quality protein. Basically, seitan is made from gluten which is primarily sourced from wheat. When cooked, it has a similar texture and appearance to meat (Chin, 2021). One reason that seitan is popular is that, much like tofu, it can be enjoyed in so many ways. You can even grill seitan!
17. Ezekiel Bread
Ezekiel bread is an amazing product that is not typically found at your local bakery. However, most grocery stores sell it in the frozen food section. Ezekiel bread is great because it is a very healthy, nutrient-dense alternative to “normal” bread. This bread is made from a mixture of sprouted grains including spelt, lentils, barley, and wheat. If you love sandwiches, toast, or just like a slice of bread with a meal, then Ezekiel bread is likely the healthiest alternative available to you (Villines, 2021).
18. Green Peas
Do you remember your mother telling you to eat your peas when you were a child? That’s because your mother knew that peas were healthy. Peas have a lot of fiber and protein in them and can be added to a variety of meals as either a side or as an accompaniment. Dried peas also make a great healthy snack.
19. Broccoli Raab
Broccoli is one food that is good for so many things. In addition to having plenty of vital minerals and nutrients, broccoli actually contains a lot of protein.
20. Brussels Sprouts
A brussels sprout is a member of the cabbage family that surprisingly contains a high amount of protein when compared to other vegetables. In addition, this food is nutrient-dense and considered one of the richest foods for vegans. However, brussels sprouts are not considered a complete protein so you will need to eat other foods to provide for your daily protein needs (Cervoni, 2021).
Table of Top Vegetarian Protein Sources
|Protein Source||Protein Density (gram/oz)|
Nutritional Yeast (Flakes)
Mycoprotein (Fusarium Venenatum)
Soy (Tofu, Edamame)
Seitan (Wheat Gluten)
References and Additional Resources
Becker, Emily. “The 16 Best Plant-Based Foods with Tons of Protein, According to RDs.” Women’s Health Magazine. November 11th, 2021. <https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/g38113821/best-plant-based-protein-sources/>
Cervoni, Barbie. “Brussels Sprouts Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits.” Very Well Fit. August 11th, 2021. <https://www.verywellfit.com/brussels-sprouts-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4118297>
Chin RD, Kim. “The 18 Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians.” Healthline. November 1st, 2021. <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-for-vegans-vegetarians>
USDA. “FoodData Central.” US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2022. <https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/>
Villines, Zawn. “Top 15 Sources of Plant-Based Protein.” Medical News Today. November 9th, 2021. <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321474>
WebMD. “Nutritional Yeast: Is It Good for You?” WebMD, LLC. September 25th, 2020. <https://www.webmd.com/diet/nutritional-yeast-good-for-you>
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2022 Christopher Wanamaker