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egg on toast with avocado

9 great sources of protein for vegetarians

14 Aug 2023 • 6 min read

We need to eat protein to stay healthy, fit and energised – it’s an essential macronutrient.

However, if you decide to transition to a vegetarian diet, it can take a little more planning to get enough high protein foods; it might seem easier to throw a steak on the frying pan or build a salad around a mackerel fillet than to learn how to make a delicious tofu curry.

But it can be done! Here you’ll be able to learn: Why do we need protein? | How much protein do we need? | How do vegetarians get protein? | 9 best vegetarian, high protein foods

Why do we need protein?

Protein is an incredibly important part of our diet and nutrition, often referred to as the building blocks of our bodies. It helps to grow, repair and maintain different muscles, organs, skin, hair and nails, all of which rely on proteins to stay strong and healthy.

When we eat protein-rich foods, our body breaks them down into smaller units called amino acids, which are then used to build and fix the different tissues in our body.

Proteins are also responsible for enzymes and hormones, helping to speed up chemical reactions and regulate various functions. They support a healthy immune system by producing antibodies that fight harmful bacteria, viruses and toxins, to protect us from getting sick.

This is why it’s important to get enough protein rich foods in our diets, particularly if you’re exercising or working out regularly, as your body will be undergoing a near constant state of growth and repair.

How much protein do we need?

The amount of protein we each need can vary based on age, sex, weight, physical activity and overall health. For example, a 25-year-old bodybuilder will need a very different amount of protein compared to an inactive retiree in their 70s.

In the UK, the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults aged 18 to 50. While this doesn’t take into account physical activity levels or illness, it can serve as a helpful guide for the average person . From midlife onwards, it’s recommended that healthy individuals increase their protein intake to closer to 1g to 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight. This can then help limit and treat age-related declines in muscle mass, strength, and functional abilities2.

Head over to our How Much Protein Do You Really Need guide for more details on the right amount of protein for you, as well as what happens if you don’t get enough (or even if you get too much!).

However, to give a rough idea of the amount of protein the average, healthy adult requires each day, you can see our table below – although bear in mind that these numbers could increase if you’re active and trying to lose weight or gain muscle:

Body Weight (kg) Protein Needed (g)
50 37.5
60 45
70 52.5
80 60
90 67.5
100 75
110 82.5
120 90
130 97.5
140 105

How do vegetarians get protein?

Some of the most renowned, high protein foods are meat, fish and seafood, but that doesn’t mean vegetarians need to miss out on hitting their daily protein requirements.

While vegetarian and vegan protein powders offer a quick and efficient way to pack in the protein, there are a wealth of vegetarian foods that contain protein and are probably already making up a large part of your diet. In fact, if you’re focused on eating healthy, whole foods, it’s likely you’re already including plenty of protein in your diet already.

9 best vegetarian, high protein foods

We have a thorough guide to the vegetables and grains containing the most protein here, showcasing veggie and vegan favourites like lentils, chickpeas, edamame beans and quinoa.

We also cover high protein snacks in this guide, or you can discover some high protein breakfast ideas here.

However, if you’re worried you’re not hitting your protein RNI and are looking for some alternative products, we’ve included some ideas for vegetarian protein sources that you can include in your meal plan here.

Food Protein (grams) per 100g
Eggs 13
Tofu 8
Greek Yogurt 10
Tempeh 19
Cottage Cheese 11
Spirulina 60
Nutrional Yeast 45
Almonds 21
Seitan 25

1. Eggs

Packed with antioxidants, healthy fats and protein, eggs might be the perfect ‘fast-food’ source of protein for vegetarians. Make sure you don’t skip the yolk, where around half the protein is contained (one large whole egg contains around 6g protein – split evenly between the yolk and the white – about 12% of your average daily protein needs and it has a balanced amino acid profile). An egg or two for breakfast makes a great healthy choice of easily digested protein that will help keep you full till lunch.

Handpicked content: We list three great ways to live without meat.

2. Tofu

As a complete protein, tofu contains all the essential amino acids our body needs – a vegetarian (and even meat-eater’s) dream. This is a versatile food product made from soy milk (in a similar process to cheese making).

It’s a protein-rich blank canvas that absorbs flavour like a pro, making it perfect for marinating, stir-frying, grilling, scrambling and more. With around 8g of protein per 100g, tofu is also low in saturated fat and is cholesterol-free, as well as being a fantastic source of minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium. This means along with helping you reach your daily protein goals, it’s also a heart and bone-healthy protein option that makes for a perfect plant-based meal ingredient.

Discover more fascinating facts about this delicious food stuff, as well as some simple recipe ideas over on our full guide to tofu.

3. Greek Yogurt

Made by straining regular yogurt to remove the whey, Greek yogurt has a thicker, creamier texture that makes it a favourite in recipes and on its own. Most importantly, the straining process concentrates the protein content, meaning you can find around 10g of protein per 100g of Greek yogurt. But the benefits don’t stop there – it’s also rich in calcium so helps keep your teeth and bones strong, and contains beneficial probiotics to help support digestion and gut health.

Click here to learn more about the health benefits of Greek yogurt, or pick up some of our delicious Greek yogurt products and snacks here.

4. Tempeh

Like tofu’s protein-packed bigger sibling, tempeh is made by fermenting whole soybeans in a tempeh culture which helps to break them down into a firm, compact cake. It’s this process that not only gives this ingredient its unique flavour, but also enhances the protein content, giving tempeh an impressive 19g of protein per 100g. Another incredibly versatile food ingredient, tempeh is a probiotic hero that’s also fibre rich and contains a range of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and potassium.

For more on this fantastic food stuff, check out our guide to the health benefits of eating tempeh, or learn about the differences between tofu and tempeh here.

5. Cottage cheese

Made from milk curds, cottage cheese packs a protein punch with approximately 11g to 12g of protein per 100g. Perfect for dolloping on a jacket potato, stirring through scrambled eggs or pasta (for additional creaminess) or just enjoying scooped up on a carrot stick, cottage cheese is low fat, low carb and a good source of calcium and B vitamins.

Handpicked content: 9 of the best vegan cheese alternatives

6. Spirulina

6. Spirulina

Known as the ‘ultimate ocean protein’, this green algae packs a whopping 65 to 71% complete protein! A single tablespoon typically contains around 10g of protein, depending on the brand. It’s also loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including B-vitamins, iron, magnesium and calcium. Just add spirulina powder to smoothies, juices and other recipes for a convenient protein boost. If you’re not a fan of the taste, you can also take spirulina supplements in tablet or capsule form.

7. Nutritional yeast

While it may sound like something from a sci-fi movie, is actually a cheesy-nutty flavour,ed vegan and gluten-free ingredient, usually in powder or flake form, that can be sprinkled on soups, salads, pasta dishes, stews, popcorn and more. It contains up to 7g of protein per tablespoon, so sprinkling a few spoonfuls on your food throughout the week is a great way to boost your intake. Low in fat and calories, nutritional yeast is also packed with B vitamins, so is a fantastic addition to any vegetarian, vegan, or meat-eating diet.

8. Almonds

Perfect for snacking, adding to salads, blending into smoothies or even whipping into a butter to slather on your morning toast, almond nuts pack around 21g of protein per 100g, or roughly 2g per handful of 10. They’re also a fantastic source of healthy fats, which are great for your heart, and vitamin E oxidants and fibre, all of which will contribute to your overall health and wellbeing.

From almond butter to almond oil, you can check out our wide range of almond products here.

9. Seitan

Also known as wheat gluten, seitan is made from wheat flour and water through a process of washing and kneading, which removes the starch and bran, leaving behind the gluten protein. This means 100g of seitan contains around 25g of protein. Its versatility makes it perfect for marinating, grilling, sauteing or baking and its meat-like texture means this plant-based protein hero is perfect for adding to stir-fries, burgers or stews.

Handpicked content: Your ultimate guide to plant-based protein

The final say...

So, which is your favourite source of protein for vegetarians? As you can see, there’s no need for to worry about hitting your protein targets for the day – there’s a wide range of meat-free ingredients and foods that you can add to your meals and snacks throughout the day to stay happy and healthy.

Shop our full food and drink range here for more ingredients and treats with a wellbeing focus.

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