What are good sources of protein for vegetarians?

Layne Lieberman, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Good sources of protein for vegetarians include tofu, tempeh, seitan, low-fat cheeses and other dairy products, legumes and nuts/seeds. In this video, culinary nutritionist Layne Lieberman, RD, shares her favorite plant-based protein sources. 
Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Meat may be a high-quality protein food, but vegetarians shouldn’t have any trouble eating plenty of high-quality protein from non-meat sources. Some of the best meat-free protein foods include:
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Soy products like tofu and soy milk
Nuts, nut butters and beans (legumes) are also high-protein, and should be included in a vegetarian diet. 

Some people, especially teens, start eating a vegetarian diet without much knowledge about protein or other nutrients, and end up with a very unbalanced diet. For example, vegetarians can run into problems getting enough protein if they avoid or limit dairy and eggs. Avoiding those high quality protein foods can impact protein intake, unless very special attention is paid to eating lots of beans, soy and nuts. 

Variety is key to a healthy and balanced meatless diet. Potato chips, soft drinks, candy, sugary cereals and pastries are all vegetarian, but that doesn’t make them healthy. Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean just swapping soy burgers for beef burgers, while eating highly processed junk food. Vegetarians need to focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains, too.

So if you want to give up meat, make sure your meals and snacks include 1-2 servings of those non-meat protein sources. Here are some ideas for a day of protein: 
  • Breakfast: milk, yogurt or eggs
  • Lunch: cheese, nut butters or yogurt
  • Snacks: bars with nuts, hummus, cheese, yogurt, nuts
  • Dinner: beans, tofu, cheese, eggs
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Some examples of good sources of plant proteins for vegetarians are:
  • beans
  • lentils
  • soy products
  • nuts
  • seeds
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Vegetarian sources of proteins -- that are also carbs -- include beans (soybeans/edamame are a complete protein), quinoa (a grain you can prepare like rice or like oatmeal or make it with some cheese and broccoli heads; note: quinoa pasta will provide a little less protein). Vegetarian sources of protein that are also healthy fats include nuts and seeds. One seed in particular, hempseeds, provide a complete protein. So instead of a banana, add a nut butter (you can even freeze this and make it a great dessert), instead of just ice cream, have a 1/2 scoop less and add berries and hemp seeds.

Continue Learning about Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian Diets

When you look at vegetarian diets, it's hard to do so without understanding that many of the practitioners believe that it is not only healthful, but more to practice vegetarianism. This is true even if the diet may include occasi...

onal meats or fish as in the Macrobiotic diet with it's Zen beliefs, or the Indian Ayurvedic diet, which finds milk and dairy central to good health along with plants. Anyone considering a vegetarian diet should learn about the food values of different vegetables, and consider getting advice on whether or not to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals, particularly if you have special nutritional needs like growing children or pregnant or lactating women.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.