Quality protein sources for vegetarians and vegans

One of the most common concerns about vegetarian and vegan diets is how to reliably consume adequate amounts of protein on a daily basis.

Many experts have already debunked various speculations about the sustainability of these diets and agree that with sufficient knowledge of nutrition and good meal planning, it is very easy to take in sufficient nutrients, including protein.

Even for those who normally consume meat, it is a good idea to diversify the diet with plant sources of protein.

However, alternative sources of protein are not equal in terms of their content. A diet rich in protein is essential for muscle growth, which is important not only if you want to gain muscle, but also for those who want to lose weight.

1. Seitan

Seitan is one of the most popular sources of protein among vegans and vegetarians. Its popularity is mainly due to its consistency and texture, which is probably the closest resemblance to meat compared to other meat substitutes.

Seitan has been known since the 6th century AD, originally coming from China, but its name is originally Japanese. It was not introduced to Europe until the 18th century.

It is a gluten, a protein present in wheat, it is also known by names such as wheat meat, wheat gluten, or simply gluten or gluten.

Seitan is actually the glutinous mass that remains after the process of repeatedly rinsing wheat flour. During this process, the starch is washed out of the flour and the gluten remains.

Seitan is one of the richest plant sources of protein, containing 25 grams of protein per 100 grams.

It also contains selenium and small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus.

Most types of seitan are very simple to prepare, and the products are often semi-finished products that only need to be heated. However, it can also be purchased in flour form or made at home from wheat flour.

Due to its gluten content, seitan is unsuitable for people suffering from gluten intolerance.

2. Tofu, tempeh, edamame – soya products

Tofu, tempeh and edamame are all products of soybean origin. Soy is considered a complex source of protein, which means it provides your body with all the essential amino acids it needs.

Edamame is young soybeans. They need to be steamed or boiled before serving, while being careful not to overcook them. You can add them to other dishes such as curries, salads and various vegetable mixes, or just enjoy them as a snack.

Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk, a process reminiscent of cheese making. While tempeh is made from cooked and lightly fermented soybeans, which are then pressed together to form a block.

Tofu itself has almost no flavour, it acquires this by absorbing flavours from the foods it is prepared with. On the other hand, tempeh has a characteristic nutty flavour.

All three soya meat substitutes contain between 12 and 20 grams of protein per 100 grams, iron and calcium. Edamame are rich in vitamin B9, vitamin K and fibre. In addition, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus are found in tempeh.

Photo: Freepik

3. Lentils

100 grams of cooked lentils contain about 9 grams of protein, making it another great source of protein. Plus, it’s rich in fiber, folate (vitamin B9) manganese and iron.

Eating lentils regularly helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers. It also acts as a great antioxidant.

You can add cooked lentils to salads, various wraps, rich soups, or try Indian dhal.

4. Beans

There are many varieties of beans, red, pinto, black, white… and all are rich in protein. Interestingly, beans also include chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans, also high in protein.

The protein content of beans is around 8-9g per 100 grams. They are also a great source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, iron, vitamin B9, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.

Diets rich in legumes show potential in lowering cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and reducing fat in the abdominal area.

Like lentils, you can add beans to salads and wraps, or make a tasty chilli or bean paste. They can even be eaten in sweet form in the form of adzuki, a red bean paste. Or you can try making a snack to watch a movie out of roasted, spiced chickpeas instead of chips.

5. Nutritional (deli) yeast

Delicatessen yeast is a deactivated strain of the yeast Sacharomyces Cerevisiae, commonly sold as a yellow powder or tiny flakes, similar to breadcrumbs.

It has a taste similar to cheese and is a popular ingredient in dishes such as mashed potatoes and tofu stir-fries. It can also be sprinkled on pasta, on salads or in spreads instead of cheese.

Nutritional yeast is a complete source of plant protein containing 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per 16 grams.

In addition, minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper and manganese and a complex of B vitamins including vitamin B12 are found in fortified deli yeast.

6. Spelt and teff

Spelt and teff are commonly referred to as ‘ancient grains’. It is believed that, compared to widely used cereals and grains such as maize, rice and wheat, these grains have not undergone years of selective cross-breeding and are therefore healthier. Other examples of such grains include barley, sorghum and farro.

Spelt is a type of wheat containing gluten. Millet, on the other hand, is a type of annual grass and is therefore gluten-free. Both these grains contain 10-11 grams of protein per 250 g when cooked.

Both millet and spelt are excellent sources of nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, fibre, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.

They also contain B vitamins, zinc and selenium.

They can be used in recipes to replace rice or wheat, in baking or in risotto, for example.

7. Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis Sativa plant and contain only trace, harmless amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a compound that produces psychoactive effects.

There are 9 g of protein in 30 g (3 tablespoons) of hemp seeds. They are also a good source of magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. In addition, they are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in a ratio considered optimal for human health.

Hemp seeds are great in smoothies, porridge or salad dressings.

The mixture of seeds and nuts can be used to make homemade granola, muesli or protein bars.

Photo: Freepik

8. Green and yellow peas

Both green and yellow peas contain 9 grams of protein per 160 g when cooked. Peas are also rich in fibre, thiamine, folate, manganese and vitamins A, C and K.

Both peas are rich sources of phosphorus, zinc, copper and vitamin B. However, yellow peas contain slightly more iron and magnesium than green peas.

Peas have the advantage of being more digestible than soya and other legumes, so they should not bloat as much.

Try, for example, ravioli stuffed with peas and basil, pea soup from Thailand, or add it to risotto or legume salad.

9. Spirulina

This blue-green algae should definitely not be missing from the kitchen of a vegan or vegetarian.

One serving (14 grams) contains 8 grams of complex protein, covering 22% of your daily iron needs and 95% of your copper needs

. Spirulina also contains high amounts of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, calcium and small amounts of essential fatty acids.

Phycocyanin, a natural pigment found in spirulina, has strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. It helps to lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

It is ideal to add spirulina to smoothies with spinach, apples, and bananas with oat milk, or to pesto.

10. Amaranth and quinoa

Although amaranth, otherwise known as lovage, and quinoa are commonly classified as ancient, gluten-free grains, they are actually pseudocereals. They can be processed in much the same way as other cereals, so they’re great as a side dish, or you can grind them into flour, for example.

A cooked 185 grams of amaranth and quinoa provides 8-9 grams of complex proteins, especially lysine, which is usually scarce in conventional cereals.

In addition, they are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, iron, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.

11. Ezekiel bread and other breads made from sprouted grains

Ezekiel bread is made from organic sprouted whole grain cereals and legumes. It is commonly baked with wheat, millet, barley and spelt, but also with soya and lentils.

Two slices of bread contain 8 grams of protein, which is slightly more than conventional breads. Ezekiel bread has the advantage that no sugar is added.

Sprouting changes the nutritional value of cereals and legumes and, above all, improves their digestibility.

The bread is not gluten-free as wheat, barley and spelt contain gluten. However, sprouting washes the gluten out of the grains. It may therefore be suitable for people with mild gluten intolerance.

Germination increases the content of amino acids such as lysine, and also increases soluble fibre, phosphorus, vitamins C and E and beta carotene. The combination of legumes and cereals then provides the body with a comprehensive amino acid profile.

Soy milk
Photo: Freepik

12. Soy milk and other plant milks

Soy milk is made from soybeans and is usually fortified with vitamins and minerals. Soy, oat, almond and other plant milks are great alternatives to animal milk, whether you’re lactose intolerant or just looking for a change.

A cup of soy milk contains 7 grams of protein and is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, which is commonly added to it.

Plant milks can be used just like regular milk. For example, try tapioca pudding or porridge, add it to sauces or baking, such as pancakes.

13. Oats and oatmeal

40 grams of dry oatmeal contains approximately 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fibre. It also provides magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and folate.

Oats are not considered a complex protein, however, they are a better source of protein than white rice or wheat.

Make oatmeal with honey, nuts, fruit and cinnamon, or perhaps veggie burgers. Oatmeal can also be ground into flour and used in baking. Or try a savoury version of porridge with soy sauce, tomatoes, sesame oil and spring onions.

14. Wild rice

Wild or black rice contains about 1.5 times more protein than other long-grain rice varieties, including brown and basmati. Unlike white rice, it is not devoid of bran, which contains a significant proportion of fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Because of the possible arsenic content, great care must be taken when rinsing wild rice.

164 grams of cooked wild rice contains almost 7 grams of protein, and also provides a good amount of fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and vitamin B.

It makes a great side dish, can be mixed with white rice or added to salads and risottos.

Chia seeds
Photo: Freepik

15. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are native to Mexico and Guatemala, here they are harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant. 28 grams of seeds (2 tablespoons) contain 5 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber.

They are also rich in iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They have versatile uses, a mild taste, the ability to absorb large amounts of water and form a gel-like mass.

They can be added to smoothies, overnight oatmeal, baking, or homemade granola. Chia seeds can also be ground into flour and used in baking.

16. Nuts, nut butters and seeds

Nuts, nut butters and seeds are a great source of protein. 28 grams contain between 5 and 7 grams of protein depending on the type.

They are also rich in fiber, healthy fats and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin E and B. They are also great antioxidants. When choosing nuts, it’s best to choose unpeeled and unroasted, as roasting and blanching can damage the nutrients they contain.

If you are a fan of nut butters, then choose 100% products that are free from added oil, sugar and salt.

17. Fruits and vegetables rich in protein

Although all fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of protein, some fruits and vegetables are the champions in terms of protein content.

Broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are among the vegetables richest in protein.

They typically contain 4-5 grams per cooked cup.

Raw fruits are commonly poorer in protein than vegetables. However, for example, jackfruit is very high in protein, guava is also a great source, as are avocados, cherimoya, mulberries, blackberries, apricots, kiwi and bananas. Protein contents range from 2 to 4 grams per cup.

18. Mycoprotein (Quorn)

Mycoprotein is a non-animal protein derived from a species of fungus called Fusarium venenatum. It is used to make meat substitutes including veggie burgers, steaks, fillets and patties.

The nutritional value varies depending on the product. The range is between 15-16 grams of protein per 100 grams and 5-8 grams of fibre.

Some mycoprotein products may contain egg whites, so read labels carefully, especially if you are avoiding eggs for health reasons.

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