This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
It’s well documented that vegetarians have less heart disease and colorectal cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes and obesity, but many wonder if a vegetarian diet provides adequate protein. A new study, however, puts this question to rest, finding that vegetarians are typically not lacking in this nutrient. Why? Because, believe it or not, protein sources are more prevalent than you think.
Although most plant foods do not contain all nine essential amino acids — often referred to as “protein building blocks” — in the ratios that satisfy the body’s protein needs, vegetarians can obtain these amino acids by incorporating a broad spectrum of foods into their diets. Looking for some meat-free protein or considering a more “flexitarian” diet?
The following foods are loaded with nutrients and are great sources of protein.
#1: Fresh and Dried Fruit
Fruit is another food category not commonly associated with protein, but it does contain some. Avocados are the highest fruit source of protein and are considered by some to be an extraordinary superfood. And raisins contain almost 5 grams of protein per cup.
Most people do not think of vegetables as good sources of protein, but one cup of spinach has over 5 grams of this nutrient and a 7 oz. baked potato can offer up almost 9 grams of protein. Other vegetables high in protein include Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Artichokes pack almost 6 grams of protein per cup.
#3: Beans and Peas
While all legumes contain protein, some are higher in starch than others. Lentils are an excellent choice, as they contain 18 grams of protein, which is almost equivalent to the amount in 3 ounces of steak. Black beans, peas and chickpeas are also good choices because they are less starchy than kidney, northern, navy and lima beans. Buy the dried beans and cook them yourself to avoid the BPA present in the linings of canned goods. Split peas contain 16 grams of protein per cup.
#4: Whole Grains
Other whole grains include foods such as brown rice, bulgur and millet, along with oats, barley and whole-wheat products such as whole wheat pasta. Quinoa is, in fact, a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. All grains are low in fat, high in fiber and contain key vitamins and minerals. Amaranth is a grain that packs 9 grams of protein per cup and can be used in place of millet or quinoa in any recipe. It’s often ground for use in cereals or flour but when prepared as a main entree it cooks quickly and tastes delicious. The leaves of the Amaranth plant are often available as well for fresh salads.
Although nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts are high in fat, it is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat. A good snack would be one-fourth cup of almonds, which has 8 grams of protein. It is best to eat them raw rather than roasted. Pistachios pack 6 grams of protein per 1/4 cup and have been known to boost levels of lutein, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol.
Eat some sunflower, sesame or pumpkin seeds daily, as they are nutrition-dense powerhouses that contain protein along with other important nutrients. Like nuts, these seeds are best eaten raw. With 9 grams of protein per 1/4 quarter cup, pumpkin seeds are the perfect snack for vegetarians who wish to up their protein intake with a delicious and low-fat food.
#7: Greek Yogurt and Cottage Cheese
Greek yogurt contains much less sugar but up to twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt. Depending on the brand, it contains between 13 to 18 grams of protein. Fat free cottage cheese is one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians as it boasts 31 g of protein per cup, as well as vitamin B12. Since Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient found only in meat and dairy products, it may be a good idea for vegetarians to drink organic milk or eat Greek yogurt to boost their B12 levels.
This formerly maligned food is a great source of protein, along with other key nutrients like carotenoids and choline. Even the American Heart Association now permits one egg per day for healthy adults. However, like dairy foods, it is best to buy the organic variety. And if you’re looking for some vitamin B12 from your eggs, don’t skip the yolk! While egg whites are a valuable source of protein, the yolk contains much-needed micronutrients.