It’s no secret I’m a big fan of vegetables.
One of my resolutions was to make my diet more plant-based; not so much vegan just trying to base every meal around plants (fruit, veg, legumes, grains) and enjoying things like meat and dairy as more of a garnish. There are a multitude of health benefits to a vegetarian diet and in light of the last few years’ health issues I really want to make the effort to nourish my body as well as I can so eating more plants was a bit of a no-brainer.
One of the biggest concerns people have with adopting a plant-based diet is protein - how will they get enough protein without eating meat. Luckily nature has provided us with a plentiful array of vegetarian protein sources so with a little thought and planning there’s no problems with packing in the protein. Here are my top vegetarian protein sources:
When it comes to yoghurt steer clear of the fruit-flavoured sugar bombs and buy plain greek yoghurt. You can flavour it yourself for a fraction of the calories and still enjoy that rich, creamy texture. The live bacterial cultures in yoghurt are also great for gut health!
One cup of greek yoghurt: Depending on the brand about 17g protein.
Try: Adding greek yoghurt to your smoothie for a protein punch or this Lime, Olive Oil and Greek Yoghurt Cake.
Eggs are a wonderful little bundle of protein and heart healthy fats. These days medical science is comfortable that the cholesterol contained within the egg yolk poses no problem to our health, in fact it can be helpful. Like all things too much can lead to problems but nutritionally-speaking eating an egg a day (or the equivalent over the course of the week) is a great way to up the protein in your diet.
One boiled egg: 7g protein.
Try: Scrambled or poached eggs for breakfast or a big hearty frittata filled with seasonal veggies.
Since they’re technically not a nut peanuts have got to be nearly everyone's favourite legume. They’re rich in unsaturated fats (to help lower LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body) and are packed with B-group vitamins that enable us to properly extract the energy from our food. A large Dutch study even found that people who ate 10g of nuts each day had a lower risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. They’ll help keep you full and seriously: who doesn’t love peanut butter?!
A quarter cup serve: over 9g protein
Try: blending crushed peanuts and a little sea salt to make your own natural peanut butter or combining peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic and chili for a simple but flavourful stir-fry sauce.
These little legumes are the rock stars of vegetable-based diets. Their relatively large amounts of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals with virtually no fat mean they fill you up - not out. They are a fantastic source of slow-release energy and 1 cup provides nearly 100% of an adult’s folate requirements (hello women who are pregnant or trying to conceive). Iron-deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, but the heroic lentil provides nearly an entire adult male's and about 1/3 of an adult female’s iron needs in one serve - a pretty neat feat!
Per cooked cup: 18g protein
Try: replacing mince with lentils in your next bolognaise or making a batch of Lentil and Vegetable Fritters.
Edamame beans are fresh soy beans, so they are like the early stages of tofu – which means that just like tofu they are naturally high in protein. Whilst some people love tofu and others gag at the sight, edamame beans are crunchy, fresh little nuggets of plant protein and a fantastic kid-friendly way to include more protein into a vegetarian meal.
Per cup: 17g protein
Try: Including them in your next stir-fry, or whipping up this Miso Pumpkin and Edamame Salad (plus or minus the salmon).
These little powerhouses are all the rage at the moment, but pretentious foodie fads aside they are a nutritional bomb. They’re full of protein, fat and fibre, and a little goes a long way. They’ve been used in Central and South American recipes for centuries and the rest of the world is just catching on about what a great inclusion they are in our everyday diets. Plus they’re a complete protein – meaning they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly!
2 tbsp chia seeds: nearly 5g protein
Try: mixing chia seeds with water to use as an egg replacement or getting ahead on breakfast with these Creamy Overnight Chia Oats.
I love cheese, this is not news to anyone. Even better that I can eat cheese and know it’s providing my body with a big boost of protein. In fact cottage cheese is one of the best sources of dairy protein because while it’s high in protein and calcium it’s relatively low in fat. Some people are put off by the lumpy texture of cottage cheese – if this is the case try blending it until smooth.
A half cup serve: 13g protein
Try: mixing with fresh herbs and spreading on toast or stirred through scrambled eggs for a big protein hit.
I often use pumpkin seeds in my cooking – not only do they look pretty and add some crunch, but – like most seeds – they’re packed with protein. Also known as pepitas, they’re full of nutrition: rich in zinc, magnesium and tryptophan. You can purchase bags at the supermarket or even save the seeds from a whole pumpkin, then wash and roast them. Yum!
Two tablespoons: 8g protein
Try: Sprinkling on them your cereal, or these No-Bake Quinoa Muesli Bars.
There are plenty of nutritious, tasty protein sources that don't include meat.
If you're looking for more healthy, protein-rich recipes check out my breakfast ebook, Healthy Morning Meals. It's got 24 recipes that are perfect for breakfast, brunch or brinner (breakfast for dinner) - all free from refined white sugar and flour.
What are some of your other favourite vegetarian protein sources??
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