Vegetarian & Vegan Diet

This information is for educational purposes only, please review with a medical professional prior to embarking on any new dietary lifestyle change.


Information provided by Alina Petre MS RD(NL) For Healthline Aug 2016

What is a vegetarian diet?            

According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish, or by-products of animal slaughter.   

Vegetarian diets contain various levels of fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. The inclusion of dairy and eggs depends on the type of diet you follow.

The most common types of vegetarians include:                                         

Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid all animal flesh but do consume dairy and egg products.                                                                                         

Lacto vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid animal flesh and eggs but do consume dairy products.                                                                                                                         

Ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid all animal products except eggs.

Vegans: Vegetarians who avoid all animal and animal-derived products. Those who do not eat meat or poultry but do consume fish are considered pescatarians, whereas part-time vegetarians are often referred to as flexitarians. Although sometimes considered vegetarians, pescatarians and flexitarians do eat animal flesh. Therefore, they do not technically fall under the definition of vegetarianism.


What Is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet can be viewed as the strictest form of vegetarianism.     

Veganism is currently defined by the Vegan Society as a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty as much as possible. This includes exploitation for food and any other purpose.

Therefore, a vegan diet not only excludes animal flesh, but also dairy, eggs and animal-derived ingredients. These include gelatin, honey, carmine, pepsin, shellac, albumin, whey, casein, and some forms of vitamin D3.

Vegetarians and vegans often avoid eating animal products for similar reasons. The largest difference is the degree to which they consider animal products acceptable.  For instance, both vegans and vegetarians may exclude meat from their diets for health or environmental reasons.

However, vegans also choose to avoid all animal by-products because they believe this has the largest impact on their health and the environment.

In terms of ethics, vegetarians are opposed to killing animals for food, but consider it acceptable to consume animal by-products such as milk and eggs, if the animals are kept in adequate conditions.

On the other hand, vegans believe that animals have a right to be free from human use, be it for food, clothing, science, or entertainment. Thus, they seek to exclude all animal by-products, regardless of the conditions in which animals are bred or housed. The desire to avoid all forms of animal exploitation is why vegans choose to forgo dairy and eggs — products that many vegetarians have no problem consuming.


Vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, game, fish, and shellfish. Certain types of vegetarians also exclude eggs, dairy, and another animal by-product.


Vegetarians and vegans differ in their beliefs regarding the use of animals by humans. Therefore, some vegetarians may consume animal-derived products, whereas vegans do not.

Nutrition Considerations for Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Research shows vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They also tend to contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy plant compounds. What is more, both diets contain a high amount of nutrient-dense foods. These may include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy products. On the other hand, poorly planned vegetarian and vegan diets could result in low intakes of some nutrients, particularly iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin D.

Both diets also tend to contain limited amounts of vitamin B12 and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, although levels of these nutrients are generally lower in vegans than vegetarians.

Mistakes to Avoid on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet (Plant based diet)

A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide many health benefits. These diets have been associated with weight loss, better blood sugar control, a decreased risk of heart disease and a lower risk of certain types of cancer. However, it can be challenging to maintain a well-rounded vegetarian diet that provides all the nutrients you need. This information uncovers some of the most common mistakes people make on a vegan or vegetarian diet, and how to avoid them.

  1. Assuming That Vegan or Vegetarian Products Are Automatically Healthier

Unfortunately, just because a food product is labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan” does not necessarily mean it’s healthier than the regular alternative. For example, almond milk is a popular, plant-based milk that is often a staple in vegan diets. However, while almond milk is low in calories and enriched with several important vitamins and minerals, it is not necessarily healthier than cow’s milk. For example, 1 cup (240 ml) of low-fat cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, while the same amount of unsweetened almond milk contains only 1 gram. Sweetened almond milk can also be high in added sugar, with 16 grams of sugar in just 1 cup.

Other vegetarian products, such as soy-based veggie burgers, nuggets, and meat alternatives, are often highly processed, with a long list of artificial ingredients. So, they’re often not necessarily healthier than other non-vegetarian processed foods.  Despite being vegetarian, these products are also often high in calories, yet lacking the protein, fiber, and nutrients necessary for a balanced meal. While these products may ease your transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is best to consume them in moderation with a diet rich in nutritious, whole foods.

SUMMARY: Many foods marketed as vegetarian or vegan are often highly processed, high in added sugar or lacking in nutrients. If you include these products in your diet, eat them only in moderation.

  1. Replacing Meat with Cheese

One of the easiest ways to make nearly any dish vegetarian is to take out the meat and replace it with cheese. When it comes to flavor, the swap works well for sandwiches, salads, pasta, and many other dishes. However, while cheese does contain a good amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals, it does not replace the wide assortment of nutrients found in meat. One ounce (28 grams) of beef, for example, contains four times the amount of iron and double the zinc found in one ounce of cheddar cheese. Cheese also contains less protein and more calories than meat.

In fact, ounce-for-ounce, cheese contains only about 80% of the protein found in chicken, but nearly 2.5 times the calories.                                                                                Instead of simply replacing meat with cheese, you should include a variety of plant foods in your diet to meet your nutrient needs.                                                                     Chickpeas, quinoa, tempeh, lentils, beans, and nuts are all excellent options to help round out a vegetarian diet.

SUMMARY: Instead of just replacing meat with cheese, make sure to also include a diverse range of plant foods in your diet to provide important nutrients.

  1. Not Drinking Enough Water

Drinking enough water is important for everyone but may be especially important for those who eat a lot of fiber, including vegetarians and vegans.

Vegetarians tend to have a higher fiber intake, since fiber-rich legumes, vegetables and whole grains are staples in a healthy vegetarian diet. One study found that people who eat both meat and plants eat about 27 grams of fiber per day, while vegans and vegetarians eat about 41 grams and 34 grams, respectively. Drinking water with fiber is important because it can help fiber move through the digestive tract and prevent issues like gas, bloating and constipation. Fiber consumption is incredibly important for health and has been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

Current guidelines recommend women consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and men consume at least 38 grams. To make sure you are drinking enough water, drink when you feel thirsty, and spread your water intake throughout the day to stay hydrated.

SUMMARY: Vegans and vegetarians usually eat a lot of fiber. Drinking enough water can help prevent digestive problems associated with increased fiber intake, such as gas, bloating and constipation.

  1. Not Eating Enough Whole Foods

Just because a food product is vegetarian, or vegan does not mean it’s good for you. There are plenty of processed foods available at the grocery store that are free of meat or animal products. However, they often contribute little to your diet. Instead of eating these, use your vegetarian diet as an opportunity to reduce your consumption of processed foods and increase your intake of nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Increasing your intake of these foods will help you get the valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need to help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Eating whole foods rather than processed foods may give you other benefits too, such as an increased metabolism. One study measured the metabolism of 17 participants after they ate a meal made with either processed foods or whole foods.

Both groups felt equally full after the meal, but the group that ate the whole foods burned nearly double the calories after their meal than the group that ate the processed foods. To start including more whole foods in your diet, swap out refined grains for whole grains, and limit the amount of processed and convenience foods you eat.

Additionally, try adding more vegetables and fruits to your meals and snacks throughout the day.

SUMMARY: Vegetarian diets should be rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They will help you maximize nutrient intake and promote a balanced diet.

  1. Not Eating Enough Protein-Rich Foods

Protein is an essential part of the diet. Your body uses it to help build tissue, create enzymes, and produce hormones. Studies show that eating protein can also promote feelings of fullness, increase muscle mass, and reduce cravings. Current recommendations suggest adults should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per day for every 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of body weight.

For example, an individual who is 154 lbs. (70 kg) would need approximately 56 grams of protein per day. If you are eating animal-based foods, you will probably find it easy to fulfill this requirement. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of salmon contains 19 grams of protein, while the same amount of roasted chicken provides 27 grams. On the other hand, if you’re following a vegetarian diet, you may need to make a more conscious effort to eat high-protein foods that will help you meet your protein requirements. There are plenty of plant foods that contain an amount of protein comparable to the amount you would find in meat. For example, 1 cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. Beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, tofu and tempeh can all up your daily protein intake. Try to incorporate at least one or two of these foods into each meal to make sure you’re getting enough protein.

SUMMARY: Vegetarians should be mindful of protein intake and include one or two servings of high-protein plant foods with each meal.

  1. Eating Too Many Refined Carbs

Many vegetarians fall into the trap of replacing meat with refined carbs. Unfortunately, pasta, bread, bagels, cakes, and crackers often end up as main ingredients in a poorly planned vegetarian diet. During processing, refined grains are stripped of the beneficial fiber that is found in whole grains. Fiber helps ward off chronic disease, keeps you feeling full and slows the absorption of sugar to maintain steady blood sugar levels.

A high intake of refined carbs has been linked to a greater risk of diabetes, as well as an increase in belly fat. To maximize the nutrients in your diet, switch out refined grains like white bread, pasta and white rice for whole grains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice and buckwheat. Additionally, make sure you are pairing those whole grains with plenty of whole fruits, vegetables and legumes to keep your diet balanced and nutritious.

SUMMARY: Instead of replacing meat with a lot of refined carbs, vegetarians should consume whole grains as part of a healthy diet.

  1. Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays several important roles in the body. It is important in the creation of red blood cells and DNA, among other processes. Unfortunately, the main sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs and milk products. For this reason, vegetarians have an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, memory problems and numbness. It can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition caused by having a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells. Unfortunately, a high intake of folate can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, hiding symptoms until the damage becomes irreversible. However, there are foods and supplements available that can help vegetarians meet their vitamin B12 needs. Besides animal products, fortified foods and certain types of edible algae also contain vitamin B12.  Vegetarians should monitor their vitamin B12 intake carefully and consider taking supplements if their needs are not met through diet alone.

SUMMARY: Vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, so make sure you consume fortified foods or B12 supplements.

  1. Eating Too Few Calories

Many foods and food groups are off-limits for vegans and vegetarians, which can make it challenging for them to meet their calorie needs. In fact, vegans and vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories than people who eat both meat and plants. One study compared the nutritional quality of 1,475 people’s diets, including vegans, vegetarians, vegetarians who ate fish, people who ate both meat and plants and people who ate meat only once a week. Vegans had the lowest calorie intake across all the groups, consuming 600 fewer calories than people who ate both meat and plants. Vegetarians had a slightly higher calorie intake than vegans, but still consumed 263 fewer calories than people who ate both meat and plants.

Calories are the main source of energy for the body, and your body needs a certain amount to function. Restricting calories too much can lead to several negative side effects, such as nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and a slower metabolism.

SUMMARY: Vegans and vegetarians tend to have a lower calorie intake than people who eat meat and plants. If you are following either of these di   ets, make sure you’re meeting your calorie needs.

  1. Forgetting About Iron

Meat is a good source of many important vitamins and minerals, including iron. For example, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of ground beef supplies 14% of the iron you need for the entire day. Also, meat contains heme iron, a type of iron your body can absorb easily. Plant sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which your body cannot absorb as easily. Non-heme iron is present in many types of fruits, vegetables, cereals, and beans.

Because of this, vegetarians have a greater risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. However, a well-planned vegetarian diet filled with iron-rich plant foods can meet your daily needs. 

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, make sure to consume plenty of good sources of iron, including lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats, and leafy greens. Additionally, pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, so including a vegetable side dish, salad, or piece of fruit with your meals can help increase iron absorption.

SUMMARY: Plant foods contain non-heme iron, which the body can’t absorb as well as the heme iron found in meat. Vegetarians should include iron-rich foods in the diet and pair them with vitamin C to increase absorption.

  1. Consuming a Diet Low in Calcium

Calcium is an important mineral your body needs to keep your bones and teeth strong, help your muscles work efficiently and support the function of your nervous system. A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones and increases the risk of bone fractures. Though calcium is found in a variety of foods, the most well-known source of calcium is dairy products.

Those who do not consume dairy should monitor their calcium intake and include other high-calcium foods in their diet. Calcium-rich plant foods include kale, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, figs and oranges. Fortified foods can also be a good source of calcium.  You can get all the calcium you need by incorporating a few servings of these foods into your meals and snacks throughout the day.

SUMMARY: Those who do not consume milk or dairy products should consume other calcium-rich foods to meet their calcium needs.

  1. Underestimating the Importance of Meal Planning

Whether you are cooking at home or dining out, eating vegetarian or vegan requires some extra planning. Meal plans are especially useful if you are currently changing your diet to be vegetarian or vegan. They can help ease your transition and make it easier to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.

When you are eating out or traveling, advanced meal planning becomes especially important. Some restaurants offer limited choices for vegetarians, so looking at the menu in advance can help you make informed decisions and select the most nutritious choices available. Additionally, make it a habit to find a few vegetarian recipes each week and cook them on your own.

SUMMARY: Planning meals ahead of time and knowing what your options are when dining out can ensure you maintain a diverse and balanced diet.

  1. Not Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of the diet. They have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, alleviate inflammation and protect against dementia. Fatty fish and fish oil are the most common sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA), the two forms of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to be the most beneficial. On the other hand, plant foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body must convert to DHA and EPA to use. Unfortunately, your body is only able to convert about 5% of ALA to EPA and less than 0.5% to DHA.

To meet your omega-3 needs while following a vegetarian diet, eat a good amount of ALA-rich foods or consider taking a plant-based omega-3 supplement like algal oil. Foods’s highest in ALA omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seed, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts and perilla oil. Including a few servings of these foods in your diet each day can easily help you meet your omega-3 fatty acid needs.

SUMMARY: Plant foods contain ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body can only use in small amounts. Vegetarians should consume a good amount of ALA-rich foods or use a plant-based supplement.

The Bottom-Line                                                                                                                     

A balanced vegan or vegetarian diet can be very healthy and nutritious. However, these diets can also lead to nutrient deficiencies and potential health problems if they are not well-planned. If you are just getting started eating this way, check out this article.

To achieve a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet, simply eat plenty of whole foods and make sure you are regularly consuming a few key nutrients.

Resources we recommend: Healthline is a trusted source in health and nutrition and a source of health information for this website. We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, Healthline and their affiliates will earn a small commission.

The 17 Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

A common concern about vegetarian and vegan diets is that they might lack sufficient protein.

However, many experts agree that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can provide you with all the nutrients you need. That said, certain plant foods contain significantly more protein than others. And higher-protein diets can promote muscle strength, satiety, and weight loss.

  1. Seitan

Seitan is a popular protein source for many vegetarians and vegans. It is made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. Unlike many soy-based mock meats, it resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked. Also known as wheat meat or wheat gluten, it contains about 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This makes it the richest plant protein source on this list.  Seitan is also a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus. You can find this meat alternative in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, or make your own version with vital wheat gluten using this recipe.

Seitan can be pan-fried, sautéed, and even grilled. Therefore, it can be easily incorporated in a variety of recipes. However, seitan should be avoided by people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

BOTTOM LINE: Seitan is a mock meat made from wheat gluten. Its high protein content, meat-like texture and versatility make it a popular plant-based protein choice among many vegetarians and vegans.

  1. Lentils

At 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), lentils are a great source of protein. They can be used in a variety of dishes, ranging from fresh salads to hearty soups and spice-infused dahls. Lentils also contain good amounts of slowly digested carbs, and a single cup (240 ml) provides approximately 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake. Furthermore, the type of fiber found in lentils has been shown to feed the good bacteria in your colon, promoting a healthy gut. Lentils may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, excess body weight and some types of cancer. In addition, lentils are rich in folate, manganese, and iron. They also contain a good amount of antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds.

BOTTOM LINE: Lentils are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in protein and contain good amounts of other nutrients. They may also help reduce the risk of various diseases.

  1. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, sold commercially as a yellow powder or flakes. It has a cheesy flavor, which makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu. Nutritional yeast can also be sprinkled on top of pasta dishes or even enjoyed as a savory topping on popcorn. This complete source of plant protein provides the body with 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce (28 grams). Fortified nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and all the B vitamins, including B12.

However, fortification is not universal and unfortified nutritional yeast should not be relied on as a source of vitamin B12.

BOTTOM LINE: Nutritional yeast is a popular plant-based ingredient often used to give dishes a dairy-free cheese flavor. It is high in protein, fiber and is often fortified with various nutrients, including vitamin B12.

  1. Hempseed

Hempseed comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, which is notorious for belonging to the same family as the marijuana plant. But hempseed contains only trace amounts of THC, the compound that produces the marijuana-like drug effects. Although not as well-known as other seeds, hempseed contains 10 grams of complete, easily digestible protein per ounce (28 grams). That’s 50% more than chia seeds and flaxseeds.  Hempseed also contains a good amount of magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc and selenium. What’s more, it’s a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the ratio considered optimal for human health.

Interestingly, some studies indicate that the type of fats found in hempseed may help reduce inflammation, as well as diminish symptoms of PMS, menopause and certain skin diseases. You can add hempseed to your diet by sprinkling some in your smoothie or morning muesli. It can also be used in homemade salad dressings or protein bars.

BOTTOM LINE: Hempseed contains a good amount of complete, highly digestible protein, as well as health-promoting essential fatty acids in a ratio optimal for human health.

  1. Spirulina

This blue-green algae is a nutritional powerhouse. Two tablespoons (30 ml) provide you with 8 grams of complete protein, in addition to covering 22% of your daily requirements of iron and thiamin and 42% of your daily copper needs. Spirulina also contains decent amounts of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, and small amounts of most of the other nutrients your body needs, including essential fatty acids.

Phycocyanin, a natural pigment found in spirulina, appears to have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Furthermore, studies link consuming spirulina to health benefits ranging from a stronger immune system and reduced blood pressure to improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

BOTTOM LINE: Spirulina is a nutritious high-protein food with many beneficial health-enhancing properties.

  1. Ezekiel Bread and Other Breads Made from Sprouted Grains

Ezekiel bread is made from organic, sprouted whole grains and legumes. These include wheat, millet, barley and spelt, as well as soybeans and lentils. Two slices of Ezekiel bread contain approximately 8 grams of protein, which is slightly more than the average bread. Sprouting grains and legumes increases the amount of healthy nutrients they contain and reduces the amount of anti-nutrients in them

In addition, studies show that sprouting increases their amino acid content. Lysine is the limiting amino acid in many plants and sprouting increases the lysine content. This helps boost the overall protein quality. Similarly, combining grains with legumes could further improve the bread’s amino acid profile. Sprouting also seems to increase the bread’s soluble fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene content. It may also slightly reduce the gluten content, which can enhance digestion in those sensitive to gluten.

BOTTOM LINE: Ezekiel and other breads made from sprouted grains have an enhanced protein and nutrient profile, compared to more traditional breads.

  1. Oats and Oatmeal

Oats are an easy and delicious way to add protein to any diet. Half a cup (120 ml) of dry oats provides you with approximately 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. This portion also contains good amounts of magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and folate. Although oats are not considered a complete protein, they do contain higher-quality protein than other commonly consumed grains like rice and wheat.

You can use oats in a variety of recipes ranging from oatmeal to veggie burgers. They can also be ground into flour and used for baking.

BOTTOM LINE: Oats are not only nutritious but also an easy and delicious way to incorporate plant protein into a vegan or vegetarian diet.

  1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are derived from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. At 6 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per 1.25 ounces (35 grams), chia seeds deserve their spot on this list. What’s more, these little seeds contain a good amount of iron, calcium, selenium and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and various other beneficial plant compounds.

They’re also incredibly versatile. Chia seeds have a bland taste and are able to absorb water, turning into a gel-like substance. This makes them an easy addition to a variety of recipes, ranging from smoothies to baked goods and chia puddings.

BOTTOM LINE: Chia seeds are a versatile source of plant protein. They also contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other health-promoting compounds.

  1. Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

All fruits and vegetables contain protein, but the amounts are small. However, some contain more than others. Vegetables with the most protein include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. They contain about 4–5 grams of protein per cooked cup.

Although technically a grain, sweet corn is a common food that contains about as much protein as these high-protein vegetables.

Fresh fruits generally have a lower protein content than vegetables. Those containing the most include guava, cherimoyas, mulberries, blackberries, nectarines and bananas, which have about 2–4 grams of protein per cup.

BOTTOM LINE: Certain fruits and vegetables contain more protein than others. Include them in your meals to increase your daily protein intake.

        2. Tofu, Tempeh and Edamame

Tofu, tempeh and edamame all originate from soybeans. Soybeans are considered a whole source of protein. This means that they provide the body with all the essential amino acids it needs. Edamame are immature soybeans with a sweet and slightly grassy taste. They need to be steamed or boiled prior to consumption and can be eaten on their own or added to soups and salads.

Tofu is made from bean curds pressed together in a process similar to cheesemaking. Tempeh is made by cooking and slightly fermenting mature soybeans prior to pressing them into a patty. Tofu doesn’t have much taste, but easily absorbs the flavor of the ingredients it’s prepared with. Comparatively, tempeh has a characteristic nutty flavor.

Both tofu and tempeh can be used in a variety of recipes, ranging from burgers to soups and chilis.

All three contain iron, calcium and 10-19 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). Edamame is also rich in folate, vitamin K and fiber. Tempeh contains a good amount of probiotics, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus.

BOTTOM LINE: Tofu, tempeh and edamame all originate from soybeans, a complete source of protein. They also contain good amounts of several other nutrients and can be used in a variety of recipes.

  1. Chickpeas and Most Varieties of Beans

Kidney, black, pinto and most other varieties of beans contain high amounts of protein per serving.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are another legume with a high protein content. Both beans and chickpeas contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml). They are also excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and several beneficial plant compounds. Moreover, several studies show that a diet rich in beans and other legumes can decrease cholesterol, help control blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure and even.

Add beans to your diet by making a tasty bowl of homemade chili, or enjoy extra health benefits by sprinkling a dash of turmeric on roasted chickpeas.

BOTTOM LINE: Beans are health-promoting, protein-packed legumes that contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds.

  1. Spelt and Teff

Spelt and teff belong to a category known as ancient grains. Other ancient grains include einkorn, barley, sorghum and farro. Spelt is a type of wheat and contains gluten, whereas teff originates from an annual grass, which means it’s gluten-free.

Spelt and teff provide 10–11 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), making them higher in protein than other ancient grains. Both are excellent sources of various nutrients, including complex carbs, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. They also contain good amounts of B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. Spelt and teff are versatile alternatives to common grains, such as wheat and rice, and can be used in many recipes ranging from baked goods to polenta and risotto.

BOTTOM LINE: Spelt and teff are high-protein ancient grains. They are a great source of various vitamins and minerals and an interesting alternative to more common grains.

  1. Green Peas

The little green peas often served as a side dish contain 9 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml), which is slightly more than a cup of milk. What’s more, a serving of green peas covers more than 25% of your daily fiber, vitamin A, C, K, thiamine, folate and manganese requirements. Green peas are also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and several other B vitamins.                                                                                                                    

BOTTOM LINE:                                                                                                                            Green peas are high in protein, vitamins and minerals and can be used as more than just a side dish.

  1. Amaranth and Quinoa

Although often referred to as ancient or gluten-free grains, amaranth and quinoadon’t grow from grasses like other cereal grains do. For this reason, they are technically considered “pseudo cereals.” 

Nevertheless, they can be prepared or ground into flours like more commonly known grains.

Amaranth and quinoa provide 8–9 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml) and are complete sources of protein, which is rare among grains and pseudo cereals.   Also, amaranth and quinoa are good sources of complex carbs, fiber, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.

BOTTOM LINE: Amaranth and quinoa are pseudo cereals that provide you with a complete source of protein. They can be prepared and eaten similar to traditional grains such as wheat and rice.

  1. Soymilk

Milk that’s made from soybeans and fortified with vitamins and minerals is a great alternative to cow’s milk. Not only does it contain 7 grams of protein per cup (240 ml), but it’s also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.  However, keep in mind that soy milk and soybeans do not naturally contain vitamin B12, so picking a fortified variety is recommended. Soy milk is found in most supermarkets. It is an incredibly versatile product that can be consumed on its own or in a variety of cooking and baking recipes.

It is a good idea to opt for unsweetened varieties to keep the amount of added sugars to a minimum.

BOTTOM LINE: Soy milk is a high-protein plant alternative to cow’s milk. It’s a versatile product that can be used in a variety of ways.

  1. Wild Rice

Wild rice contains approximately 1.5 times as much protein as other long-grain rice varieties, including brown rice and basmati. One cooked cup (240 ml) provides 7 grams of protein, in addition to a good amount of fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and B vitamins. Unlike white rice, wild rice is not stripped of its bran. This is great from a nutritional perspective, as bran contains fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals. However, this causes concerns about arsenic, which can accumulate in the bran of rice crops grown in polluted areas.

Arsenic is a toxic trace element that may give rise to various health problems, especially when ingested regularly for long periods of time. Washing wild rice before cooking and using plenty of water to boil it may reduce the arsenic content by up to 57%.

BOTTOM LINE: Wild rice is a tasty, nutrient-rich plant source of protein. Those relying on wild rice as a food staple should take precautions to reduce its arsenic content.

  1. Nuts, Nut Butters and Other Seeds

Nuts, seeds and their derived products are great sources of protein. One ounce (28 grams) contains between 5–7 grams of protein, depending on the nut and seed variety. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of fiber and healthy fats, in addition to iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin E and certain B vitamins. They also contain antioxidants, among other beneficial plant compounds.

When choosing which nuts and seeds to buy, keep in mind that blanching and roasting may damage the nutrients in nuts. So, reach for raw, unblanched versions whenever possible. Also, try opting for natural nut butters to avoid the oil, sugar and excess salt often added to many household brand varieties.

BOTTOM LINE: Nuts, seeds and their butters are an easy way to add plant protein, vitamins, and minerals to your diet. Opt to consume them raw, unblanched and with no other additives to maximize their nutrient content.

Take Home Message

Protein deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans are far from being the norm. Nonetheless, some people may be interested in increasing their plant protein intake for a variety of reasons.

This list can be used as a guide for anyone interested in incorporating more plant-based proteins into their diet.