Best Vegetarian Protein Sources & 5 Protein-Packed Veggie Meals

In an age overflowing with the latest diets or nutrition trends, it’s no wonder we can all end up feeling somewhat confused. A wide range of parameters exist as to what constitutes a vegetarian diet, so let’s clarify what we here at 8fit define as vegetarian nutrition.

If you’ve ever used the 8fit Pro app and skimmed through our recipe book, you’ll know that we consider a vegetarian diet to be one made up of the same foods as an omnivorous diet just minus meat ( this includes poultry and fish). More specifically we refer to Lacto-Ovo vegetarians where nutrition is made up of dairy, eggs, grains, legumes, pulses, seeds, nuts, vegetables and fruits. It’s the animal-based products that differentiate a vegetarian diet from a vegan one.

How to get protein as a vegetarian

The great thing about a vegetarian diet, are the many and varied vegetarian protein sources. Dairy and eggs aren’t off limits, which widens the scope significantly. You can pick purely plant-based sources as well as animal products. On top of that, you may be surprised to hear how many veggies and fruits have protein in them. If you’re curious to know which ones to favor, take a peek here. Some vegetarian-friendly foods rule the so-called roost when it comes to protein content. Those include legumes, soy, grains, nuts, and seeds. Let’s take a look at some them in more detail.

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High-protein vegetarian foods

Animal-based foods: Dairy and eggs

Dairy contains two types of high-quality protein: casein (80%) and whey (20%). Both of these are high in essential amino acids, which are enough to supply the body with the protein content it needs. Dairy products that are high in protein include unsweetened Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.  The casein in cottage cheese is slower to digest and keeps you full for longer. While Greek yogurt offers you double the amount of protein than regular yogurts, plus it’s well balanced in both casein and whey proteins.

Eggs are one of the most immediate and convenient vegetarian protein sources. They’re easy to digest, quick to cook and there are countless ways to prepare them. Most of the protein is in the egg white, but don’t dismiss the egg yolk, which is chock-full of other essential nutrients your body needs. Preparing a healthy omelette is perfect as a post-workout recovery snack or lunch.

Plant-based foods: Legumes, pulses, and beans

All types of legumes, pulses, and beans are a tremendous vegetarian protein source. So get experimental and go for kidney beans, black beans, yellow and red lentils, split peas and chickpeas, in all of their varied forms. They’re all protein-rich options that differ slightly in protein content but are still pretty close in percentage. Chickpeas, lentils and white beans are at the top of the list, while split peas, kidney beans, and pinto beans follow close behind. The great thing about legumes is that they’re so versatile when it comes to cooking as well as being affordable — perfect for those shopping on a tight budget.

Soy products and meat substitutes

Tofu tends to be a common go-to vegetarian protein source, probably because soy has a very neutral flavor profile and can absorb the flavors of anything you season, marinate or cook it with. Why not incorporate minimally processed and unsweetened soy products like soy milk, soy yogurt or even soy cheese into your diet, or snack on some edamame (immature soybeans).

Another, less well-known, meat alternative is tempeh. Made from cooked and fermented soybeans this protein-rich food often contains other ingredients like brown rice, quinoa, flax seeds, millet, and sesame seeds.

Finally, seitan has become an increasingly popular meat substitute. Though made from wheat it has very little common with bread. Its texture quite similar to real meat, and it’s pretty high in protein, which makes it a good choice for vegetarians and vegans alike. However steer clear of seitan if you have a gluten intolerance, struggle with Celiac’s disease or are following a strict gluten-free diet.

Whole grains like quinoa and barley

Whole grains are also good sources of protein if you’re a plant-based eater. If you’re looking for the protein powerhouse of whole grains, turn to quinoa. Though technically a seed is commonly referred to as a grain. Quinoa not only contains a considerable amount of protein in it but also a significant amount of fiber too.

Other whole grains that are healthy inclusions to a plant-based diet are brown rice, whole grain bread, and barley. When cooking, whole grains come in handy as they are a staple that you can incorporate into almost any dish. Be it a main, side, salad or mixed into baked goods, you’ll always find ways to sneak whole grains into a meal. Shop in bulk to make shopping for grains more affordable and ensure you’re always stocked up.

Seeds, nuts and nut butters

Packed with protein and healthy fats, it’s about time you made nuts your best friend. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, whichever tickles your fancy, add them to one of your daily meals for an easy protein boost. Just make sure to eat them in moderation as these healthy snacks are also high in calories. In terms of protein content by nut type, the list goes… peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts.

Tasty Tip:
When snacking on dark chocolate or fruit couple them with a handful of nuts to stabilize blood sugar levels. Also, make sure that the nuts you select don’t have any added oil and are unsalted while nut butters shouldn’t contain any added sugar or hydrogenated oils.

The same goes for seeds; they’re good protein add-ons. Nuts and seeds are perfect snacks in between meals, like as an afternoon or post-workout treat. Nut butters are effective vegetarian protein sources, and you can switch between a large variety of yummy types. Starting with the highest in protein, here are some seeds to try out: Hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame, chia.

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Vegetarian protein powder

If you have to follow any dietary exclusions due to an allergy or food intolerance and worry about not meeting your protein needs, then a natural protein powder may be right for you. Just make sure to go for a good quality protein powder that supplements your vegetarian diet. Because you’re not following a strict plant-based diet, you have more options than vegans. Incorporating protein powder into meals can be more creative than just making protein shakes. We’ve compiled a list of a few of our favored protein powders:

  • Whey protein powder (the most common and cheapest variety on the market)
  • Casein protein
  • Pea protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Soy protein
  • Brown rice protein
  • Vegan protein powder blends

High-protein vegetarian recipes from the 8fit app

We searched our recipe database to come up with some delicious recipes that cover each of the vegetarian protein sources we highlighted above. Here are some exclusive recipes coming soon to the 8fit Pro app!

Hippy bowl

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Plunge your spoon into a bowl jam-packed with nutrient-dense foods. Protein-packed eggs, probiotic-laden sauerkraut, heart-healthy avocado, vitamin-rich sesame and antioxidizing radishes. Delivers nourishment with every mouthful.

Dal with rice and yogurt

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It’s difficult to beat this hearty combo of lentils and rice. Every time a legume comes together with a grain, a complete protein is born. This means that they contain all of the nine essential amino acids needed to build and repair protein tissues in the body.

Mexican wrap
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Use tofu as a blank canvas to play around with flavors. Imbue it with potent spices like cumin, paprika, garlic, and chili to give it a smoky edge that is sure to satisfy. Combine it with Greek yogurt for an added protein boost, and broccoli for antioxidant-rich nutrients that protect your cells.

Thai peanut quinoa salad

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Layer protein on protein by sprinkling sesame, peanuts or a dollop of peanut butter to a bowl of quinoa. The salad hits all the classic Thai flavor profiles and also ensures you get your five-a-day veggie quota. Usually, a plate that’s full of bright, natural colors means you’re feeding your body with a good variety of nutrients.

Chocolate, strawberry and peanut butter smoothie

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This smoothie is the perfect post-workout snack that’ll rejuvenate you after an intense HIIT or weight training session. The dairy and peanut butter combined nourishes your body with a kick of protein that’ll help your muscles recover faster.

A protein-rich diet the 8fit way…

If any of these recipes appeal to you and you’d like to explore the other 8fit dishes designed by our expert in-house nutritionists then why not sign up to 8fit today. You tell us what your dietary preferences or exclusions are, then we’ll curate a tasty meal plan to suit your needs and lifestyle demands — if you’re vegetarian, then select that option when entering your preferences. We have hundreds of recipes that will satisfy your taste buds, as well as provide you with the right amount of protein you need to fuel your body and mind.