Ask Alina: What Are The Best Sources of Protein for Vegetarians?

Q: I’m a lacto vegetarian, so I don’t consume meat, fish or eggs. What are the best ways for me to get enough protein in my diet? And how much should I be eating in a day? – Ratika 

A: First of all, rest assured that there are plenty of plant-based, vegetarian or vegan ways to get enough protein in a day. However, if you are not currently cooking at home and relying on takeout, this becomes much harder. I honestly think it is so much more important for vegetarians and vegans to learn how to cook if they want to have a healthy diet. That’s because most restaurants, food courts etc. cater to meat eaters. They don’t understand vegetarian or vegan cuisine as much, so they end up filling the plate with a lot of pasta, bread and vegetables. Nearly all the vegan or vegetarian clients I’ve had struggle with the issue of overeating carbs and grains, and all of them didn’t spend much time in the kitchen themselves.

So, I guess my first point is: you need to learn how to cook if you want to get enough protein (and not spend a fortune on healthier vegetarian takeout).

Now when it comes to protein sources, your best bets are lentils and beans. There are tons of varities for each e.g. red lentils, black lentils, mung beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, black eyed peas, fava beans etc. Another great option is tempeh – it’s made from fermented soybeans (I know, sounds gross), but it’s delicious,  nutrient dense and has a nutty flavour. It’s basically a healthier, more flavourful and filling version of tofu. I recommend stocking up on tempeh packets and keeping them in the freezer.

The next best options are whole grains (like quinoa and rolled oats), and nuts and seeds. But, keep in mind that they have less protein per serving, so they’re more of a side dish as opposed to the main event. Lastly, vegetables like broccoli, spinach and artichokes have a higher protein content, but again won’t offer enough to be the main protein source in a meal. A final option is to include vegan protein powder in your diet through a meal replacement smoothie, or as a snack. I opt for protein powders that are fermented or harmonized, as these are easier to digest.

As for your question relating to protein content, this varies from person to person based on their needs. BUT, a good rule of thumb is 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight (for the average, sedentary person at a desk job), or 1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of weight (if you’re very active). For example, if you are 60 kilograms and mostly sedentary, you will need 48 grams of protein in a day.

You can get that through 1 scoop of protein in a breakfast smoothie (15 grams),  1 /2 cup of chickpeas at lunch (7.5 grams), 3/4 cup of tempeh at dinner (22.5 grams) and some vegetables throughout the day. As long as you’re including an identifiable, main source of protein at each meal, you should be good to go!

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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