A vegetarian high protein diet has become increasingly popular as more people seek out ways to gain the benefits of vegetarianism while still getting adequate protein. Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles and tissues as well as supporting a healthy immune system. While some assume it is difficult to get sufficient protein from plant-based foods, a balanced vegetarian diet that includes a variety of protein-rich foods can easily meet one’s needs.
This comprehensive guide will provide an overview of a vegetarian high protein diet, its benefits, optimal protein intake, the best vegetarian protein sources, sample meal plans, and helpful tips for success.
An Introduction to the Vegetarian High Protein Diet
A vegetarian high protein diet eliminates all meat, poultry, and fish while emphasizing foods rich in protein. There are several types of vegetarian diets:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: No meat, fish, or poultry but allows eggs and dairy products
- Lacto vegetarian: No meat, fish, poultry, or eggs but allows dairy products
- Ovo vegetarian: No meat, fish, poultry, or dairy but allows eggs
- Vegan: Excludes all animal products including eggs, dairy, meat, fish, and poultry
Vegans would need to rely solely on plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians have more flexibility to meet protein needs by also including eggs and dairy.
When following a high protein vegetarian diet, the goal is to get adequate amounts of protein each day. The general recommendation is 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or about 10-35% of total daily calories from protein foods.
Benefits of a Vegetarian High Protein Diet
There are many potential benefits associated with following a vegetarian high protein diet, including:
- Increased intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from plant foods.
- Lower saturated fat intake compared to non-vegetarian diets.
- Reduced risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
- Lower BMI and rates of obesity.
- Environmental benefits from reduced meat consumption.
- Avoidance of the ethical concerns over factory farming and animal cruelty.
As long as protein needs are met and the diet is planned appropriately, vegetarian diets are considered healthful and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life. Those with higher protein needs like athletes may especially benefit from bumping up their protein intake on a vegetarian diet.
Recommended Protein Intake
Most healthy adults need 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or about 10-35% of total daily calories from protein foods. Here are general protein recommendations:
- Women: 46 grams/day
- Men: 56 grams/day
- Pregnant women: 71 grams/day
- Lactating women: 71 grams/day
- Athletes: Up to 2.0 g/kg bodyweight
Higher protein intakes above 25-30% of calories have not been shown to offer additional health benefits and may lead to reduced carbohydrate and fiber intake. Unless you are an athlete or bodybuilder, aiming for the standard recommended intake is sufficient.
Spreading protein intake evenly throughout the day helps optimize muscle protein synthesis. Consuming 25-30 grams of high-quality protein per meal is an appropriate target.
Best Vegetarian Protein Sources
There are many plant proteins that can help vegetarians meet their daily protein needs. Here are some of the top vegetarian protein sources and their protein content per serving:
Beans, Lentils, and Legumes
- Soybeans (36 g protein per cup)
- Lentils (18 g per cup)
- Kidney beans (16 g per cup)
- Garbanzo beans (14.5 g per cup)
- Black beans (15 g per cup)
- Peas (16 g per cup)
Beans and lentils can be used to make veggie burgers and added to salads, soups, stews, and curries. They provide extra fiber and key micronutrients like iron, zinc, folate, magnesium, and potassium.
- Tofu (10 g protein per 1⁄2 cup)
- Tempeh (16 g per 1⁄2 cup)
- Edamame (17 g per cup)
- Soy milk (7-12 g per cup)
Soy foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are complete proteins that offer all essential amino acids. Opt for minimally processed forms of soy.
Nuts and Nut Butter
- Almonds (6 g per 1⁄4 cup)
- Pistachios (6 g per 1⁄4 cup)
- Peanut butter (8 g per 2 Tbsp)
- Walnuts (4 g per 1⁄4 cup)
Nuts and nut butter provide healthy unsaturated fats in addition to plant protein. Sprinkle nuts on oatmeal or salads. Spread nut butter on whole grain toast or blend into smoothies.
- Hemp seeds (10 g per 3 Tbsp)
- Chia seeds (5 g per 2 Tbsp)
- Pumpkin seeds (9 g per 1⁄4 cup)
Add these high protein seeds to cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods. Their healthy fats help the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Vegetarian Meat Substitutes
- Tofurkey (21 g protein per 4 oz)
- Beyond Meat (20 g per patty)
- Seitan (21 g per 3 oz)
- Quorn products (13-25 g per serving)
Meat substitutes mimic the taste, texture, and protein content of animal meats. Use them in chili, tacos, stir-fries, kabobs, or burgers.
- Whey protein (20-30 g per scoop)
- Pea protein (15-25 g per scoop)
- Hemp protein (10-15 g per scoop)
Protein powders offer an easy way to boost daily intake. Mix into smoothies, oatmeal, or plant-based milk. Compare labels for protein content.
- Quinoa (8 g per cup)
- Oats (6 g per 1⁄2 cup)
- Buckwheat (6 g per cup)
- Ezekial bread (8 g per slice)
Pick whole grains that offer more than just carbohydrates. Quinoa and oats have bonus protein to help meet needs.
Dairy and Eggs
- Milk (8 g per cup)
- Greek yogurt (15-20 g per cup)
- Cottage cheese (15 g per 1⁄2 cup)
- Eggs (6 g per egg)
Those who include dairy and eggs as vegetarians can get additional high-quality protein from these sources. Eggs in particular are packed with protein.
Sample High Protein Vegetarian Meal Plan
Here is a sample one day meal plan that provides around 100 grams of protein:
Breakfast: Veggie scramble with 1 cup spinach, 1/4 cup mushrooms, 2 eggs, and 1 oz cheddar cheese (20 g protein)
1 cup Greek yogurt topped with 1/4 cup sliced almonds and 1/2 cup berries (20 g protein)
Lunch: A burrito bowl with 1 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup black beans, 1/4 cup sautéed peppers and onions, 1/4 avocado, 2 Tbsp salsa, and hot sauce (14 g protein)
Snacks: 1 ounce of almonds (6 g protein)
1 apple with 2 Tbsp peanut butter (8 g protein)
Dinner: Burger with 2 Beyond Meat patties (40g protein), 2 whole grain buns, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mustard
Side salad with 4 cups mixed greens, 1/4 cup garbanzo beans, 1/4 cup quinoa, 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette (12 g protein)
Dessert: 1/2 cup Greek yogurt mixed with 2 Tbsp chia seeds, cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp honey (12 g protein)
Total: Around 100 g of protein
Focus on including a few protein-rich foods at each meal and snack along with produce, whole grains, and healthy fats.
10 Tips for Success on a Vegetarian High Protein Diet
Follow these top tips to meet your protein needs on a plant-based vegetarian diet:
- Eat protein-rich foods like beans, tofu, edamame, and dairy or eggs if included in your diet.
- Don’t skimp on protein at meals. Aim for around 20-30 grams of protein in each meal.
- Enjoy nuts and seeds daily as snacks, on salads, in oatmeal, etc.
- Include a protein source whenever you eat whole grains like brown rice or quinoa.
- Experiment with meat substitutes like seitan, tofurkey, or veggie burgers.
- Choose higher protein grains like quinoa or oats versus low protein varieties.
- Pair plant proteins to get all essential amino acids (ie rice and beans, hummus with whole wheat pita).
- Use protein powders to add to smoothies, oats, and drinks.
- Read labels and aim for at least 5-10 grams of protein per serving of packaged foods.
- Eat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese for an extra protein punch from dairy.
Read also: The Complete Guide to Vegan Cheese Nutrition
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of a vegetarian high protein diet?
A vegetarian high protein diet provides all the benefits of vegetarianism like reduced saturated fat intake, increased vitamins/minerals, and avoidance of factory farmed meat. It also ensures adequate protein intake for tissue repair, muscle building, and immunity.
How much protein should you get on a vegetarian diet?
Most healthy adults need 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or around 10-35% of total daily calories from protein foods. Athletes require more at 1.2-2.0g/kg.
What foods are good vegetarian protein sources?
Beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, nuts, seeds, nut butter, soy milk, and if including – eggs and dairy products. Also meat substitutes like seitan and protein powders.
Is plant protein incomplete?
Some plant proteins are low in certain amino acids. By eating a variety of plants you can get all essential amino acids. Certain plant proteins like soy are complete proteins. Pairing rice with beans also creates a complete protein.
What meals are high in vegetarian protein?
Breakfast tofu veggie scramble, overnight oats with Greek yogurt and nuts, peanut butter banana smoothie. Lunch bean burrito with roasted veggies, lentil soup, whole grain roll, grilled tempeh sandwich. Dinner lentil shepherd’s pie, tofu stir-fry with quinoa.
Can you get enough protein on a vegan diet?
Yes, it is completely possible to get sufficient daily protein from plant-based vegan foods. Beans, lentils, soy foods, seitan, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and protein powders are all nutritious protein sources.
Are vegetarian diets healthy?
Vegetarian diets are healthy for all stages of life as long as balanced and varied. Well-planned vegetarian diets are associated with lower risks for many chronic diseases and are linked to healthy BMI levels. Ensure adequate intake of iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3s.
How do you optimize muscle growth on a vegetarian diet?
Eat sufficient calories and protein – up to 1.6-2.0 g/kg for athletes, spread protein intake throughout the day, pair plant proteins, utilize protein supplements if needed, strength train regularly, and get ample rest and recovery.
The Vegetarian Protein Diet: A Healthy, Sustainable Approach
A vegetarian high protein diet can provide all the essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need through a variety of wholesome plant foods. With a little planning and proper food combining, vegetarians can easily meet and even exceed daily protein requirements for good health. Pairing this diet with regular exercise and adequate calories supports muscle growth and healthy body composition without the need for meat.