Declare to someone that you are a vegetarian or vegan, the first question has thrown your way is, “But where do you get your protein from?”.
Doesn’t matter the shape that person is in him/herself.
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Truth be told, for a cereal-loving nation like India, most of the non-vegetarians are vegetarians for the majority of the week!
“A study finds almost 80% of Indian diets to be protein-deficient. Surprisingly, 59% of the respondents were non-vegetarians”
Additional Read: Know how much protein you need.
So the question still arises, how to meet the protein demands? What sort of high protein foods should one consume?
The fact is some amount of protein is present in almost all the foods we consume but the real question is whether it is complete.
What is a complete protein?
We are all protein, right from our hair to the toenail. Broken down, proteins are formed by smaller fractions called amino acids.
A total of 20 amino acids in various permutations and combinations make skin, hair, muscles, hormones, enzymes, basically our very being.
Among these 20 amino acids, 11 can be synthesized by our body. However, 9 of them need to be sourced from the diet and hence termed as essential amino acids.
The Top 10 complete Vegetarian Protein Sources
So here it is, presenting a list of 10 protein-rich vegetarian foods with complete protein that will make every vegetarian over joyous and the meat-eaters to reconsider their decision to turn to meat for proteins or think before firing a random jab at the vegetarians *wink*.
1] Amaranth seeds or Rajgira
Protein: 26 grams in a cup
If you are looking for a gluten-free grain that is also rich in protein, then amaranth seeds are what you need.
Unlike other plant sources of protein, amaranth seeds are rich in lysine, a commonly deficient amino acid.
With 26 grams of protein, amaranth surpasses rice which provides only around 13 grams of protein.
Apart from the seeds, amaranth leaves can also make for a great addition to the diet. Try this Amaranth Greens Buttermilk Stew.
Protein: 8 grams in a cup.
Quinoa is a traditional gluten-free seed which was celebrated as a wonder-grain by old civilizations because of its unique nutritional profile.
Quinoa is one of the high protein food compared to other grains (>14% protein, while rice has ~7%, millet ~10% and wheat ~13%.).
The protein quality is unusually superior, making quinoa a complete protein and its essential amino acid balance is similar to milk.
Some more mind chow: Seeds to consume for weight loss!
3] Buckwheat or kuttu
Protein: 6 grams in a cup
Buckwheat or kuttu is not a relative of wheat by anyway. You see this millet makes an appearance during fasting-special foods.
Apart from being a complete protein, buckwheat is also rich in B-complex vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. Try this tasty vegetarian recipe kuttu ka chilla today.
4] Soy (tempeh and tofu)
Protein: Tofu provides 10 grams per ½ cup; tempeh provides 15 grams per ½ cup; natto provides 15 grams per ½ cup
How can one not mention soy protein in the list of complete protein? Most of the beans are deficient in the amino acid methionine hence not making the cut to complete protein.
However, soy deserves a mention since it is a complete protein! The beans are very versatile and can be incorporated in almost anything.
When it comes to tofu, experts suggest picking up a firm tofu. The firmer the tofu, the more protein it contains.
Recipe suggestion: Tofu chilli soup for the soul
Protein: 5 to 6 grams in 2 tablespoons
Have you gone nuts on them already? Nuts contain both good fats and protein making them a good choice anyway. Since they are a concentrated source of energy, one should consume them sparingly.
Roast them and toss it in a salad or grind them along with other ingredients to form a creamy sauce, they sure are a very versatile source of protein. Talk of a vegetarian source of protein and we have an all veg protein shake recipe for you!
6] Rice and Beans
Protein: 7 grams in a cup
This has to be one of the cheapest and healthiest high protein food that is readily available in every kitchen.
The combination of rice and beans or dals helps fulfil each other’s amino acid deficiency; rice is low in lysine but high in the amino acid methionine whereas dals or beans are low in methionine but high in lysine. This helps to plug in this gap.
Time to hail the good old khichdi! Try this brown rice and moong khichdi recipe; our healthy take on the regular khichdi
7] Hummus with whole wheat pita bread
Protein: 7 grams in 1 slice of whole wheat pita bread and 2 tablespoons of hummus
This is yet another rice and bean combination of sorts since wheat proteins from whole wheat pita bread are pretty similar to rice proteins.
In addition, hummus, made from chickpeas provides ample lysine. Hummus and pita being a complete protein are yet another reason to try this Middle Eastern delicacy.
You can experiment by making hummus out of other beans like green peas. Here is the recipe for this delicacy.
8] Hemp seeds
Protein: 10 grams in 2 Tsp
This relative of the popular drug contains good amounts of all the 9 essential amino acids (although it contains less amount of lysine).
Apart from that, hemp seeds are a good source of minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium among others.
That’s not all, they are also a good source of essential fatty acid omega-3 fatty acids. This seed packs too much punch in the form of protein and minerals.
9] Chia seeds
Protein: 4 grams in 2 Tsp
Just like hemp seeds, chia seeds are almost a good source of complete protein if not for its marginal lysine levels.
That still won’t stop us from including chia seeds on our list as they are one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
They are rich sources of soluble fibre, amply evident by the gel it forms when soaked in milk or water. Apart from that, chia seeds bring minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium to the table.
10] Non-dairy milk
Protein: Soy milk: 4 to 8 grams; Rice, hemp or even almond: 1 gram of protein in a glass.
You needn’t be lactose intolerant to look over the milk substitutes segment. They can be a good addition to the diet as they are almost equivalent to cow milk in their protein content.
Of all the substitutes, soy milk ranks first providing almost 4 to 8 grams of protein; followed by hemp, rice, almond milk which provides 1 gram of protein in a glass. Just be careful to pick up the unflavoured ones to skip excess calories and additives.
With this list, are you still glossing over meat as the ideal protein source?
Additional read: The pros and cons of an all-vegetarian diet.