How to Get Enough Protein on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Hands of woman holding a plate of rice

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If you're worried about getting enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may be in for a surprise. The truth is, most Americans get too much protein in their diet, and vegetarians and even vegans can easily eat more than enough protein. Many people still believe that protein is only available from meat and animal sources, but unless you're pregnant or an Olympic bodybuilder, you will likely get more than enough protein without even trying. Here are the best protein sources for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone else.

  • 01 of 08

    Beans, Lentils, and Legumes

    green lentils carrots celery salad
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    All beans, lentils, and legumes are an excellent vegetarian and vegan source of protein, so eat what you prefer. Black beans, kidney beans, Indian dhal, vegetarian chili, split pea soup, and chickpea hummus are all great options. The protein content varies slightly by variety. For example, one cup of canned kidney beans contains about 13.4 grams of protein. Beans are one of the most common protein-rich foods for vegetarians and are a bargain if you're on a budget. You can find beans in the grocery store or on the menu just about anywhere.

  • 02 of 08

    Tofu and Other Soy Products

    Fried Tofu
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    Soy is such a flavor chameleon that you'll never get bored with it. Tofu and soy milk are quite common, but soy products include edamame, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy nuts, or soy cheese. Additionally, TVP and tempeh are popular protein-rich soy foods. As an added bonus, many brands of tofu and soy milk are fortified with other nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need, such as calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. 
    A half-cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein and soy milk contains 7 grams of protein per cup. If you're looking for ideas, add a bit of tofu to just about anything you cook, including tofu stir-fries, pasta sauces, soups, and salads.

  • 03 of 08

    Quinoa and Other Whole Grains

    Healthy Organic Quinoa Tabouli Salad
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    Whole grains are a great source of protein. Quinoa, or if you can find it, kaniwa, is the protein powerhouse of whole grains. Just one cup of cooked quinoa contains 18 grams of protein, as well as nine grams of fiber. Other whole grains, including whole grain bread, brown rice, barley are all healthy protein-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans as well. As an added bonus, whole grains are a bargain. Shop in bulk and you can stock up on whole grains for about $1.50 a pound.

  • 04 of 08

    Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters

    Mixed nuts
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    Nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds, and walnuts all contain protein, as do seeds such as sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Because most nuts and seeds are high in fat, you don't want to make them your primary source of protein. They're great as a post-workout or occasional snack. Try soy nut butter or cashew nut butter for a little variety if you're bored of peanut butter. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 8 grams of protein.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Seitan, Veggie Burgers, and Meat Substitutes

    Cafe Flora, Seattle
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    Read the label of your store-bought meat substitute products and veggie burgers and you'll find they are quite high in protein. Most commercial meat substitutes are made from either soy protein, wheat protein (wheat gluten), or a combination of the two. Seitan is quite high in protein as well. As a reference, one veggie patty contains about 10 grams of protein, and 100 grams of seitan provides 21 grams of protein. These products are great for barbeques or anytime you want something hearty and filling. 

  • 06 of 08

    Tempeh

    Barbecue baked tempeh recipe
    Baked tempeh photo by Lauren Krohn

    Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans that are formed into patties. Like tofu and seitan, it's quite high in protein and can be prepared in a myriad of ways, making it perfect for vegetarians, vegans, or just folks wishing to reduce meat consumption while exploring alternative protein sources. The protein content varies by brand, but as a guideline, one serving of tempeh (100 grams) provides about 18 grams of protein.

  • 07 of 08

    Protein Powder Supplements

    Strawberry protein shake
    Strawberry protein shake photo by Ian Batchelor/Getty Images

    Protein powder supplements are a good option for people looking to bulk up or require a high-protein diet. The powders easy to include in shakes. If you are buying protein powders, read labels and watch out for cheap fillers in whey and soy protein powders. It's better to invest in high-quality vegan protein powders.

  • 08 of 08

    High Protein Recipe Ideas

    tempeh breakfast hash
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    So, now you know what to eat to make sure you get plenty of protein. There are tons of recipe ideas using high-protein vegetarian foods or feel free to swap the meat for a protein substitute in your favorite recipe.