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Vegetarian Protein Sources

For those of you who have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, or are considering one, you have surely heard the tales of how a vegetarian diet offers too little protein to be healthy. Well, since I have met and know many healthy vegetarians, I can assure you that this is not the case. Vegetarianism offers diets rich in all of the necessary vitamins and minerals, including an ample supply of protein.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

According to the American Food and Drug Administration, our recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. For a 135 pound person, that is approximately 49 grams of protein. This is an easily achievable target by anyone adhering to a healthy vegetarian diet plan.

Protein Sources in Food

So, what are the best sources of protein for a vegetarian? I have listed below some foods that contain all of the essential amino acids, which means they are complete proteins and therefore are every bit as healthy as any meat product you will find.


We have a variety of beans to choose from: Garbanzo beans, Lentils, Kidney beans Lima beans, Split peas, and Navy beans. Beans are great for soups, salads, or by themselves. Just one cup of black beans provides 15 grams of protein making them one of the best protein sources for a veggie diet.


I mention the soybean separate from the other types of beans, because it surpasses all other food plants in the amount of protein that it provides. In fact, its bioavailability is equal or better than many meats. It has become the staple food of many vegetarian diets.


For those who love nuts, there are many different types. Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, chestnuts, macadamia, walnuts, and peanuts (my favorite) are all good choices for protein. With the large variety of nuts and their many uses, you should have no trouble getting adequate protein.


No vegetarian diet would be complete without grains. Types of grains include oatmeal, barley, wild rice, and rye. These grains can be found in a variety of foods. Look for whole grains in pasta and breads. Many people get the majority of their grains for breakfast in their cereals and even their bagels. It is best to look for 100% whole grains when you are making these selections to avoid those that are overly processed.


Great for toppings on your salads or just a snack by themselves, seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower are great sources of protein. One of my favorites is flaxseed, which is great for topping your cereal in the morning and along with protein is a great source for your omega fatty acids.

Natural Protein Supplementation

Although a balanced vegetarian diet offers more than enough protein for anyone’s needs, some may choose to supplement their diets. This is most often done because of food preferences or for athletic endeavors.

Probably the most popular vegetarian protein supplement is TVP, or texturized vegetable protein. TVP has been around for years and is excellent for supplementing your healthy diet plan. It has a “meaty” texture, which some like and can be used in soups, pizzas, casseroles, and many other prepared meals.

Additional supplements include soy protein powders and whey protein powders. Each offers an excellent blend of amino acids and is a readily bioavailable protein, but on the whole, we do not think these are necessary for the average person. They are merely a preference for some.

Vegetarianism is a natural and healthy lifestyle choice that can be every bit as healthy and fortifying as diets with meat and dairy. So, the next time someone perpetuates the myth of inadequate protein in vegetarian diets, make sure to challenge them on the greater array of protein sources your diet has over theirs!

Alden Pennington is co-author of and has been a natural health enthusiast for many years. Alden graduated from the University of Kentucky and is currently a Human Resources Director with a keen focus on the company wide health and wellness program.

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