Meat and fish aren’t the only sources of protein. Veggies, legumes, and other vegetarian foods can also load you up with this power nutrient.
BRIAN YARVIN/GETTY IMAGES
There lots of good reasons to go vegetarian. For one, there are major health benefits: People who eat more plant-based protein tend to weigh less and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes than people who eat a lot of meat, and some research shows a meatless diet reduces your risk of death from any cause. Even if you’re not interested in going fully meatless, simply cutting back on animal protein could have a positive impact on your health.
But if you go vegetarian, how are you going to get enough? Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, keeping you full between meals, and ensuring every cell in your body is operating properly.
Don’t sweat it—we figured it out for you. There are plenty of other sources of protein besides meat, and they’re incredibly good for your body. Here, we’ve ranked 20 high-protein vegetables, legumes, and minimally processed meat alternatives.
Protein: 18 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
Talk about healthiest appetizer ever—just a cup’s worth of edamame (or cooked soybeans) packs a huge protein punch. Be sure to pick an organic variety, though, as most soybeans in the US are genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
Protein: 16 g per 3 oz serving
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans and shaping it into a dense cake that can be sliced and pan-fried like tofu. It’s nutty, chewy, and packs significantly more protein and fiber than tofu—and because it’s fermented, it’s easier to digest for some.
Try this recipe: Tempeh Meatballs
Protein: 8 to 15 g per 3 oz serving
Ah, tofu, the classic vegetarian blank slate made from curdled soymilk that’s wonderful pan-fried, sautéed in a stir-fry, and even scrambled. Though it’s not quite as protein-packed as tempeh, its taste may be more tolerable. Opt for organic varieties to avoid genetically modified soy and funky pesticides. Then try the versatile protein in one of these 7 delicious recipes guaranteed to make you like tofu.
Protein: 9 g per ½-cup serving
Low-cal, high-fiber, and high-protein lentils can be morphed into a nutrient-dense side dish, veggie burger, or even whipped into a hummus-like dip. Bonus: They’ve been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
Protein: 7.6 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Black beans are also packed with heart-healthy fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and a range of phytonutrients.
Protein: 7.3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
What, you haven’t had these since you were 10? Well, good news: In addition to filling protein, lima beans contain the amino acid leucine, which may play a big role in healthy muscle synthesis among older adults.
Peanuts or Peanut Butter
Protein: 7 g per ¼-cup serving (or 2 Tbsp peanut butter)
Not only are peanuts and peanut butter great for munching and whipping up classic childhood comfort food, they’re also super versatile—really, you can even use them in a pizza. They’ve also been shown to help you eat less at lunch if you consume them at breakfast—aka the second-meal effect. PB and banana, anyone? Just make sure to use a peanut butter that’s 100% nuts and doesn’t contain added sugars, like Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter.
Protein: 6.5 g per 1-cup serving (cooked)
Move over, quinoa. Wild rice is the protein-rich grain you should be gravitating toward. With a nutty taste and slightly chewy texture, it’s way more satisfying, too. Use this ultimate guide to cooking whole grains.
Protein: 6 g per ½-cup serving
Permission to eat all the hummus—well, maybe not all of it, but chickpeas’ combo of protein and fiber make for one healthy dip. Try it slathered on sandwich bread in place of mayo, or serve up one of these four ridiculously tasty hummus recipes with veggie slices. You can even use chickpeas to make these super-easy Flourless Banana Blender Muffins when you’re hankering for something sweet.
Protein: 6 g per ¼-cup serving
Along with protein, almonds deliver some serious vitamin E, which is great for the health of your skin and hair. (These are the 25 best foods for your skin.) They also provide 61% of your daily recommended intake of magnesium, which can help curb sugar cravings, soothe PMS-related cramps, boost bone health, and ease muscle soreness and spasms.
Protein: 6 g per 2 Tbsp
Chia seeds pack a ton of protein in those pint-sized orbs, which are also a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Bonus: Omega-3s help stimulate the satiety hormone leptin, which signals your body to burn these fats instead of storing them.
Protein: 5 g in ¼-cup serving (dry)
Steel-cut oats aren’t just a solid source of protein; they also have a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. This means they don’t spike blood sugar as much, so you’re likely to be more satisfied and experience fewer cravings after eating them.
Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
In addition to a decent protein punch, cashews contain 20% of the recommended intake of magnesium, along with 12% of the recommended intake of vitamin K—two essential bone-building nutrients. (Here are 4 things that can happen if you don’t get enough magnesium.)
Protein: 5 g per ¼-cup serving
Pumpkin seeds aren’t just a super convenient way to get a dose of satiating protein, they’re total nutrient powerhouses, packing about half the recommended daily intake of magnesium, along with immune-boosting zinc, plant-based omega-3s, and tryptophan—which can help ease you into a restful slumber.
Protein: 4 g in 1 medium white potato
Another stealth source of protein! Despite having a reputation for being pretty much devoid of all nutrition, a medium-sized spud actually contains 4 g of protein, along with about 20% of the recommended daily intake of heart-healthy potassium.
Protein: 3 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Sure, 3 g may not sound like a lot, but for a green veggie, it is. Still, don’t just make a salad and call it a day. Cooking this green is the secret to upping its protein content.
Protein: 2.5 g per ½-cup serving
Like potatoes, corn often gets put into the “plants with no redeeming qualities” category, but paired with protein-rich veggies and legumes, it can nicely round out a protein-packed plant-based dish. Pick organic or non-GMO fresh or frozen varieties, though, as most conventional corn has been genetically modified.
Protein: 2 g per ½ avocado
This fruit is creamy, dreamy, and super filling, thanks to its bend of monounsaturated fatty acids and a bit of protein.
Protein: 2 g per ½-cup serving (cooked)
Broccoli’s not only an awesome source of fiber, its protein content is surprising, too (for a veggie anyway). And you can’t go wrong with a vegetable that’s been proven to deliver cancer-preventing properties.
Protein: 2 g per ½-cup serving
These little green guys get a bad rap in the taste department—especially the frozen variety—but they’re actually nutritional superstars. In addition to protein, Brussels sprouts pack hefty doses of potassium and vitamin K.