10 Protein-rich foods for vegetarians

Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Are you concerned about protein deficiency? Vegetarian and vegan foods can also be a good source of protein. Take your pick from the best protein sources in vegetarian foods.

A vegetarian diet is believed to be deficient in protein. That is not my view; I have seen it mentioned in articles. I also have friends whose families practice vegetarianism because of religious beliefs, but who have taken to eating eggs and meat, to meet their protein requirement.

Protein is a macronutrient, one that is essential for the body. It is present in abundance in non-vegetarian foods. Fat and carbohydrates are the other two macronutrients that the body needs. Unlike minerals and vitamins, macronutrients need to be consumed in relatively large amounts.

Protein is the body's building block, used to build muscles, hormones, enzymes, among other things, and must be an essential part of the diet. Fitness experts endorse it, bodybuilders swear by it and weight-loss plans recommend it.

Vegetarian fitness gym fanatics and fitness enthusiasts can find it challenging to meet the daily requirement for protein, as its need increases during intense physical fitness programmes. Protein is required to get those sculpted six-pack abs. One can rely on commercially available protein powders and other supplements, but there is nothing to beat natural sources. In this article, I discuss vegetarian protein sources for those who do not eat eggs and meat.

Milk is high in proteins

Milk and other dairy products are part of the Indian diet. Most of us know that milk is healthy, and there is truth in that. Milk, be it skimmed milk or full cream milk or the low-fat variant are all rich sources of calcium, as well as protein. A cup of milk supplies the body a good amount of protein.

Protein rich milk

Those wanting to lose weight or build muscle can choose low-fat or skimmed milk. Alternatively, fat collected on the top can be removed to reduce the fat content in the milk.

Milk must be part of your diet if you are into fitness regimes. The casein (a type of protein) present in milk, as well as the amino acids, will help with strength training and muscle building. There is approximately 8 grams of protein in a cup of milk. Choose milk in tetra packs as it doesn't spoil quickly , and has a long shelf life.

Soy is the best vegetarian source of protein

Soy or soya as we know it is one of the best sources of vegetarian protein. Soy is easily available, in different forms – soya nuggets, soya granules, soya milk, soya flour, soya milk supplement, tofu (soy paneer), roasted soybeans (snack) and dry soya beans. There is also soy bread, and soy also added to healthy snacks. And then there is edamame (tender soybeans used in Asian cuisine), which of now has an 'exotic' status in India.

With so many options, soy can be included daily in an Indian diet. Add the flour to regular whole wheat flour, turn soya granules into stuffing for paratha, drink up some creamy soy milk, try a palak soy combination instead of paneer and snack on roasted soybeans. The options are aplenty. Include soy in your diet to improve your protein intake. It tastes good and has tons of fibre, so it's also good for the gut and your cardiovascular health. It helps keep cholesterol levels in check and your arteries clean. It has among the highest protein content in vegetarian foods – a whopping 36 grams per 100 grams.

Guava the unlikely contender

Who would think that protein is available in fruits and that too in guavas? Fitness experts recommend gym-goers to snack on this healthy fruit. Guavas are rich in vitamin C, protein and fibre, and they are also an excellent food for diabetic patients.

Guava can be juiced up and savoured as a drink or added to a fruit chaat or eaten as it is. Choose the slightly raw, tough to bite into ones or the yellow ripened ones. A medium-sized fruit contains 2.6 grams of protein.

Yummy peanut butter is a protein food

Peanut butter, sweetened, with added salt, creamy or crunchy with tiny bits of peanuts, is a delight, any which way you have it. My personal preference is the crunchy variety, with no added flavours. It is delicious as a post-workout snack, whether you add it to a smoothie or spread it over a cracker or lick it off the spoon, the way I do.

Peanut butter is rich in protein

A hundred grams serving of peanut butter gives you 25 grams of protein. That is a lot of protein, giving peanut butter a superfood status for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Have at least 1 tbsp., of peanut butter every day. Spread it on multi-grain bread, top it with fresh vegetables and sprouts, add flavours and you have a healthy sandwich. Peanut butter is high in calories, so be sure to use exercise, if you don't want it to show up around the belly.

Pulses and lentils for a protein punch

Dals and channa are packed with protein. Chickpeas aka Kabuli channa or Kala channa and gram flour aka besan are loaded with healthy nutrients, including protein. The best way to have chickpeas is soaked overnight and lightly steamed. Sprout them for added benefits or enjoy them cooked with spices.

Sattu is made from chickpeas, it is different from besan, as roasted chickpeas are used in its making. Eating sattu paratha or pooris is one way of adding it to your diet. Besan in kadhi, chilla or pakoda, are some of the fantastic choices available to you. Chilla is a regular item on my breakfast menu. I use soaked and ground moong dal, and use mashed paneer, seasoned with spices and dry herbs, as a filling. With 24 grams of protein per 100 grams, moong is a good source of protein. Add sprouts to your meals and enjoy the nutritional benefits of pulses.

Are green peas rich in protein?

Peas have a healthy amount of protein

Peas are available all year round. Fresh from the pod, frozen and even dehydrated. They are also an excellent choice to boost your protein intake. Peas are rich in many nutrients, including amino acids, minerals and vitamins and are easily digestible and tasty. A hundred grams of peas provide a little over 8 grams of protein.

Mattar paneer or aloo, gajar and matar or matar ki kachori and even matar pulao - you can have panner every day. Find exciting ways to add green peas to your diet, and improve your protein intake.

Oats healthy all the way

Mention oats and you know we are talking about one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Apart from the high-fibre, which makes them good for the heart and for lowering cholesterol levels, oats are also a source of protein. A bowl of this wonderful grain gives you 16 grams of vegetable protein.

Oats are nutritiously rich

People look at oats as a breakfast item, to be had as porridge or added to a smoothie. I grind store-bought oats, in the mixer, and add it to whole wheat flour for rotis, dosa/idli/uttapam batter, as well as in upma.

Yoghurt or curd are perfect foods

Most foods we eat provide us with some benefits or medicinal value. Curd is loaded with health benefits. The live bacteria in yoghurt keeps the digestive system healthy. And 100 grams of this dairy product is packed with 10 grams of protein.

Have it plain, or make raita or lassi or a healthy smoothie. You can use it for cooking too. Add it to your everyday meals, and benefit from it. You'll also benefit from its probiotics and calcium content.

Brown rice a source of protein

Brown rice is generally seen as a healthier alternative to white rice and is said to be nutritionally rich, containing healthy amounts of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Would you believe that it is also a rich source of protein? That surprisingly is true.

Brown rice rich in protein

You can improve its protein quotient by combining it with vegetables, for that extra punch. Vegetables that complement brown rice include spinach, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. Add beans and nuts, to make the protein metre shoot up.

Brown rice can be had for lunch twice or three times a week. It regulates blood sugar levels and boosts the amino acid levels in the body, and is hence a healthy choice.

Kidney Beans are high in protein

Kidney beans or rajma is a favourite food of many. Rajma chawal is a combination to die for; some food lovers would have you believe. There is no denying that rajma tastes delicious, cooked in a mix of spices and tomato gravy or boiled and flattened into kebabs or in a salad. There is 24 grams of protein in 100 grams of rajma, which is a good number.


Healthy human intake of protein must be in proportion to one's body weight. According to the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), your protein consumption must be 0.8 grams protein/kilogram body weight. Hence, an individual weighing 50 kgs, will need approximately 40 grams of protein every day.

The protein requirement also depends on the lifestyle of individuals. Athletes require more protein as compared to those leading sedentary lifestyles. The exact intake depends on a lot many factors, such as age, physical health, muscle mass and fitness goals – someone trying to build muscle mass would need to increase their protein intake.

Do you know of any other vegetable sources for good quality protein? Please add to the list in the comment section.


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