This is my article on 3 great vegetarian foods high in protein. Before we take a look at these nutritious foods, it is important to understand what protein is and why is it so important.
Protein is the building block of life. The body needs protein to repair and maintain itself. Protein is important as you are constantly breaking down tissue when exercising, and protein is required to repair the damage. Every cell inside our body contains protein.
Out of all the protein stored in the body, around half is stored in skeletal muscle, and up to 15% is used for structural tissue such as skin and bone. Protein is the chief component of skin, muscle, organs, glands and is found in all body fluids, except bile and urine. This macro nutrient needs to be obtained from a good diet in order to help the body repair and make new cells.
Protein belongs to a family of organic compounds that serve many functions. This essential macro nutrient is made up of building blocks called amino acids, and there are 20 of these in total. When we digest protein, they are broken down into amino acids. Your body needs a number of amino acids to break down food. For optimal growth and repair, these amino acids need to be eaten in large enough quantities.
Amino acids are found in animal sources (e,g. Meat, eggs and fish), and also in plant sources which is looked into below.
Do not think we need to get protein from only animal sources! This is simply not true.
Key points on protein:
- Important for growth and development
- Helps the body repair cells and make new ones.
The 3 Different Types of Amino Acids:
- Essential- 9 out of the 20 amino acids are considered essential as they need to be added to your diet and cannot be produced by the body. It is only when we get the essential amino acids that we are able to synthesis the remaining 11 non-essential amino acids.
- Non-essential- These are 11 amino acids that are produced by the body – they are not required from food consumption. If you get 9 essential amino acids from food, the 11 non-essential amino acids will be made by the body.
- Conditionally essential- These are amino acids that are present in many foods but are not always required. They are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. They are in many foods but not required as part of your diet, as long as sufficient amounts of the 9 essential amino acids are absorbed.
Why do people think quality protein is only in animal products?
Animal products usually contain all 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts, which is necessary for the liver to synthesize the remaining non-essential amino acids. It is believed that the density of essential amino acids is greater in animal products then plant based proteins. Plant based proteins are thought of as an incomplete protein, meaning these proteins are considered to have a lower biological value. This is because they are usually lacking one or more of the essential amino acids.
How can we get complete protein from a vegetarian diet, as they are considered incomplete protein sources?
The answer to this is to use complementary proteins, meaning you simply have to combine plant based sources to boost amino acid intake. This will provide us with a full spectrum of essential amino acids. Some examples that I use in my diet include:
- Rice and pulses
- Vegetables and seeds
- Nuts and vegetables
- Grains and pulses.
I am a vegetarian, and not a vegan, so I get complete sources of amino acids from dairy products. You may be vegan and think that you cannot get the same results as those who are on an animal based diet. However, this is completely false! Vegans may need to do a little more work, in terms of mixing and combining foods, in order to get all the essential amino acids, but the health benefits, not only for your muscles but overall health, are worth it.
Eating a lot of meat, especially processed and red meat, has been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
We briefly looked at protein and now let’s move on to my recommended 3 amazing, vegetarian foods high in protein!
Quinoa “A delicious complete protein”
A cup of cooked quinoa (185g) provides 8.14 grams of protein. It has a wide range of amino acids and is an excellent source of Lysine. Lysine is essential for protein synthesis.
Quinoa also has a high fiber content providing 5.18 grams of fiber per 185g. This is roughly 15.42% of your recommended daily intake.
Quinoa tastes a little like rice, and it is very versatile, meaning that I can add other foods to it so that it tastes better. Quinoa tastes a little bland on its own so I recommend adding other food to it. Food that taste great with quinoa included different types of curry, lentils, salads, baked beans, whole meal bread, and even oat meal. There are 100s of options online!
The main reason why I chose this protein is because it contains all the 9 essential amino acids in the correct quantity, making it a perfect source of complete protein.
Beans “So many varieties!”
There are lots of different varieties of beans to choose from (black beans, red beans, mung beans and kidney beans to name a few) each providing sufficient protein and many other important nutrients in varying quantities. I tend to eat mung beans and kidney beans a lot as my wife prepares these in delicious curries.
Nutrition profile per 100 grams of boiled kidney beans
Fat: 0.5 grams
Protein: 8.7 grams
Carbs: 22.8 grams
Fiber: 6.4 grams
Beans are not complete protein sources, so would be great to add a complementary source such as white or brown rice. My wife prepares brown rice with Kidney beans curry. I am not much of a cook but if you would like to know about the recipe you can send me inquiries in the comments below, and I will be sure to give you the recipe.
Peanut butter on whole wheat bread “This is my favorite!”
This is my favorite so I thought, “Why not add it!” As you can see in the picture above, it is a complimentary protein – combining both peanut butter and whole wheat bread makes this an excellent complete protein source. The great thing about this is it is very simple and easy to prepare and is a great meal on the go. When I am out and about either working or on my long walks I prepare a few peanut butter sandwiches. They are filling and very nutritious, however, be careful to look at the ingredients label to make sure there are no artificial flavors and excess sugar content. Depending on the brand of peanut butter you chose the nutritional content will vary.
Manilife Peanut Butter “Delicious”.
The one I use is called Manilife Peanut butter. It tastes great and has natural ingredients, no added sugar or palm oil. Click on the link below to find out more about the product and perhaps order if you are a peanut butter lover, like me!
Click on the image below to order
I hope you enjoyed my brief look into 3 great vegetarian foods high in protein. This has hopefully shown you that you do not need to get all your protein solely from animal foods, you can get similar, or even better, benefits from a vegetarian or vegan diet. I have only shown you three recommendations but there are many more vegan and vegetarian protein sources.
Please do leave your comments below and give me some of your ideas of vegetarian and vegan proteins.