High Protein Foods for a Vegetarian Diet

High Protein Foods for a Vegetarian Diet

High Protein Foods for a Vegetarian Diet

Written By: SportsShoes

Protein makes up the building blocks of the body and is essential for growth, repair and a whole host of other functions essential to a strong, healthy body. Vegetarian diets are also often criticised for falling short of sufficient protein and essential amino acids that are vital for strong health.

However, the truth is that it’s perfectly possible to give up meat without risking a protein deficiency with a varied, nutritionally rich vegetarian diet. It’s all about gaining protein from the right sources.


Proteins are known as building blocks for a reason, as protein is essential for key processes including cell building and renewal, healthy bones, muscles and connective tissues, hormone regulation, enzyme production and even the haemoglobin that carries oxygen around the body. We need around 0.36g of protein for every pound we weigh to maintain these vital functions.


Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash


Proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids, nine of which the body is unable to produce on its own. These are known as “essential amino acids” and must therefore be present in our diets. These are:

  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
  • Histidine (essential for infants)


Meat is known as a “complete protein” because it combines all 9 amino acids. Nuts, lentils, beans and grains on the other hand are known as “incomplete proteins.” The good news for vegetarians is that incomplete proteins can join together - and by properly combining different food types, they can form a complete protein intake in every meal.


So where can vegetarians source their protein from? With a varied diet there are plenty of food sources available.


A single large egg is a complete protein in itself, thanks to its perfect balance of amino acids – containing a great 6g of protein. Cheese also contains similar levels of protein to meat and fish, while a single cup of low fat milk contains up to 8g of protein.


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Plant based sources such as nuts, peas, beans and pulses can also provide a major part of our protein intake, and have the added benefit of avoiding the high levels of saturated fat associated with red meat. Beans, for example contain up to 15g of protein per serving, while a half cup of quinoa contains up to 4g of protein, and finally an ounce of nuts has a protein content of between 4 and 8g.


Everyday plant based foods that are often considered to be sources of carbohydrates can also help to form part of our protein intake. Rice, grains and pasta all contain a significant and highly useful amount of protein. For example, 100g of wholemeal bread contains 9.4g of protein.


So, going back to the essential amino acids, here are some examples of where you can tick off each one, on a vegetarian diet.

Isoleucine: Eggs, cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, spinach

Leucine: Eggs, cottage cheese, kidney beans, tofu, peas

Lysine: Eggs, soy protein, spinach, tofu

Methionine: Eggs, soy protein, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, quinoa, oatmeal

Phenylalanine: Eggs, cheese, kidney beans, spinach, yoghurt, chickpeas

Threonine: Eggs, water cress, sesame seeds, cottage cheese

Tryptophan: Eggs, Mozzarella, Sunflower seeds, asparagus

Valine: Eggs, mushroom, watercress, wholegrains, nuts

Histidine: Eggs, wholegrain rice, mushroom, cauliflower


As a general rule, food groups of a vegetable origin will have an imbalance of proteins, but combining different foods can help correct this to deliver a complete protein intake.

The Vegetarian Society recommends that vegetarians take special note of the amino acids Lysine and Methionine, because plant based foods will generally be particularly low on one or the other. This is particularly important for vegans who aren’t taking on animal based proteins.

For example, cereals including rice and oats are very low in Lysine but high in Methionine, whereas legumes such as peas, beans and lentils are high in Lysine and low in Methionine.

The key is to combine complementary proteins for example beans and rice, or hummus and bread to optimise your protein intake as part of a balanced diet.

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