Getting Enough Protein on Meatless Monday

by Khushboo on October 8, 2012

What better day to put up this post than on “Meatless Monday”.  From my various posts, it’s more than clear that I’m not a vegetarian.  I love eating eggs, chicken is part of my regular diet, and I crave salmon and venison more often than not.  That being said, I tend to eat plenty of vegetarian meals out of default.  Most of the times it’s because my taste buds gravitate towards veggie options.  The other times are due to religious reasons, which call for a vegetarian diet on specific days…Mondays is one of those days.

There seems to be a common misconception that vegetarians don’t eat enough protein.  I won’t lie, it is slightly more challenging to meet my protein requirements on vegetarian days.  However it is absolutely possible, and here are some of my preferred ways:

  • Dairy: I am grateful (to say the least) that my body can tolerate high amounts of dairy. Yogurt (both plain & Greek), cheese, cottage cheese, and milk are staple components of my diet, and can provide anywhere between 8-15g protein per serving.  With the exception of cheese, I usually opt for low-fat varieties which fortunately contain the same amount of both protein & calcium as the regular varieties.
  • Soy beans: These are the only vegetable which are a complete protein, and hence contain all 9 essential amino acids i.e. the amino acids which are crucial to health but our body cannot synthesize.   There’s a bit of a controversy surrounding soy products but I personally don’t mind eating it in moderation.  My favorites include tofu, soy milk, textured vegetable protein, and vegetarian/vegan sausages, all which bring a fair amount of protein to the table.
  • Beans & legumes: Although they are relatively starchy compared to their meat counterparts, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and peas can range from 14-19g protein per cup.  However like most plant-based sources of protein, they don’t contain all the essential amino acids which brings me to my next point:
  • Food combining: Although it’s not entirely necessary, combining certain foods can help boost a meal’s overall protein. The variety of amino acids in the different plant-based foods can complement one another and create complete protein.  Complementary proteins include grains & legumes or nuts & seeds plus legumes.  Example combinations include hummus (chickpeas & tahini), beans & rice, peanut butter & wholewheat toast or lentils & quinoa.
  • Keen-wah: Although it can be eaten as an alternative to grains like rice, bulgur, or cous cous, quinoa’s protein content is more superior.  It is actually a seed which contains all 9 of the essential aminos.  Despite it being a high-quality source of protein, quinoa also has a fantastic nutty taste.

  • Foods which surprisingly have protein: I bet you wouldn’t think that the veggies on your plate contribute to your protein intake…or the carbs.  Granted the protein content of these is relatively low but they still add somewhat to our overall intake.  Examples include:
                     1 cup Spinach: 5g
                     1 Avocado: 4g
                    1/3 cup Oats: 5g
                    1 oz (28g) Almonds: 6 g
                    2 slices Whole-wheat toast: 7 g

As for how many grams you should be eating daily, that depends on your individual requirements & lifestyle.  However dietary guidelines suggest 0.8 – 2.2 g per kilogram of body weight.
What are some of your favorite vegetarian sources of protein?

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis @ Hummusapien October 8, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Love this post! Pretty much every day is meatless for me, but my favorite way to get protein is probably through beans and legumes because they’re so versatile. From hummus to lentil soup to sauteed tempeh to chili, there are so many possibilities! I also looooove broiling tofu to get that nice crispy texture.

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Ohh baked, crispy tofu is the best- best way to convert non-tofu lovers!

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Amanda @ .running with spoons. October 8, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Great info in this post, Khushboo! I definitely think that it’s possible t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet, and it gives you an opportunity to be a lot more creative with your meals :) I was never really into cooking growing up, but I was a lot more inspired to spend more time in the kitchen coming up with colorful and exciting meals when I was eating a vegetarian diet. That being said, my favorite vegetarian source of protein is plain old dairy… I just can’t seem to get enough Greek yogurt in my life.

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm

You and me both! I look most forward to my breakfast & bedtime snack….and surprise surprise, both contain yogurt!

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Alex @ therunwithin October 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm

i seriously love how creative you are, it makes any kind of diet approach seem so much more reasonable

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Absolutely- you gotta find ways to make a diet work for u!

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Parita October 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Thanks for this post, K! I think about protein and how to incorporate more (and better quality) all the time. I usually depend on beans, nut butters, eggs, greek yogurt, quinoa, tofu, and Sunwarrior protein powder. It’s not easy but it’s totally doable with some work!

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Love that you mentioned quality…there’s so many “veggie” meats filled with such crap that it kinda defeats the health aspect of eating vegetarian!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table October 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

You know I love this – protein is so important for athletes! My favorite non-meat sources include cottage cheese, tempeh, and quinoa. I also am surprised by how much protein veggies can contain. In addition to what you listed, asparagus and is good source.

I did a post on vegan protein sources a while ago. Here’s the link with a printable guide if you’re interested: http://www.sprint2thetable.com/2012/07/vegan-protein-sources-recipes/

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for sharing Laura- lots of quality information :)

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Allie October 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Darn right you can get more than enough protein as a vegetarian! Thanks for posting this–it’s such an annoying misconception that vegetarian meals have no protein (plus there are some great ideas in here ;D ). I love quinoa and eggs right now–and it just so happens that they go quite well together, too!

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Quiona topped with a runny egg…that’s all I’m sayin’ ;) !

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Brittany October 8, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Whoop whoop! As you may know, I am a vegan..so I alwaayysss get the “protein” question!! I eat a shat ton of grains..rice, quinoa, lentils..I eat a lot of beans, I eat A LOT of veggies, I seriously get protein just about anywhere.

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I give you credit for not punching every person who asks how you get your protein as a vegan..I’m not sure I’d be able to refrain!

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Alexandra October 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

WOW!! I never realized all the options for protein that vegetarians and vegans have! This was so informative!! :D
By the way, I’m jealous of your meal creativity– everything is so colorful and pretty!

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Haha Thanks Alexandra….let’s just say, it’s a good thing I can choose which meals to “showcase”!

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Min October 9, 2012 at 6:33 am

Being Korean, I grew up eating all kinds of soy products, so naturally they are my favorite non-meat source of protein! I can eat tofu everyday! I do eat quinoa everyday also! Even though I try to stay away from protein powders, I must say I do consume a fair share of them…it’s just so much easier to carry around since I’m away from home most of the time.

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Exactly! I try to limit myself to one scoop max daily, which seems to be more than enough for me!

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Tessa @ Amazing Asset October 9, 2012 at 6:33 am

Such fantastic information here! As much as I know about vegetarian and veganism, I learned so much new stuff here! There really are a whole bunch of options and plenty of room in there to be quite creative. On that note, your meals always look fab, so colorful and just plain ole delicious :D

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Tess, there really is so much room to be creative with veganism/vegetarianism! It’s not just about living off bread, pasta, and veggies :)

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Corrie Anne October 9, 2012 at 10:36 am

I didn’t know that about food combining!! I love it when I find out foods like spinach have protein. And I eat eggs. DAILY!

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Haha glad I’m not the only protein nerd around ;) ! It gives me a kick when I see that unexpected foods have some protein!

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AD October 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Food all looks delicious, apart from being such an informative article.

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Khushboo October 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Thanks, AD! Always nice to see you comment on my blog :) !

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Jess October 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Love this! Such a helpful post! I find it so amazing that certain combinations of foods contain all the necessary amino acids AND they also happen to be really tasty together. It is definitely nice to go meatless at least on a part time basis.

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Exactly! Most of the time, the combinations required are what we commonly eat anything *ahem peanut butter toast* ;) !

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karina October 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm

This most was just what I needed to read. With all the veg days recently I found myself either skipping meals or eating pb and toast (delicious but not really enough nutrients for a meal). Going to definitely make not3 of all your great options for the next veg day.

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hahah don’t want to burst your bubble but apparently navratri starts next on Sunday…doubt I am going to keep!

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig October 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

There is a UK bodybuilder Jodie Marsh (don’t know if you’ve heard of her?) who is vegetarian. To prepare for a show, she has 7-8 protein shakes A DAY. That is insane. I think she needs to read your post to get some extra ideas, haha.

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Yikes 7-8 shakes A DAY!!! My stomach hurts just reading it…and my taste buds cry ;) !

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Dixya @ Food, Pleasure and Health October 10, 2012 at 2:14 am

what an informational post.. I practice meatless Mondays and sometimes its a struggle to come up with vegetarian ideas but at the same time gives me opportunities to use more veggies and other sources of protein. Lot of times people are worried about lack of protein, but if they plan ahead I think protein should not be a problem :)

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I agree, and after a while it becomes second nature! It’s just about exploring your options and seeing how easy it is to incorporate protein into your meals, vegetarian or not!

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Honey What's Cooking October 10, 2012 at 9:52 am

Good article K. Let’s see… my favorite veggie proteins are black beans, chickpeas, tofu, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter. I love salmon too, but lately I’ve been avoiding chicken – not sure how clean it is.

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I go through phases with chicken…right now I’m leaning more towards the “love” part of the equation ;) !

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Sara @ Nourish and Flourish October 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

Love this post! Especially because I’m trying to find creative ways to meet my protein needs an a semi-vegan diet this month. I am definitely an omnivore at heart though, and I eat it ALL. Bring on the fish, eggs, chicken, beef, lamb…and bacon! ;) I believe that our bodies are designed to consume meat, so I have no problem including it in my diet. However I’m really careful about where it comes from; I try to buy as local and organic as possible, however the downside of doing that is that it doubles the total cost of my grocery bill! Oy.

I have to admit though, replacing meat with vegetarian/vegan foods this month has actually improved my digestion significantly. I’m beginning to think that my diet was a bit too animal protein-based, so come November, I think I’ll try to maintain what I’m doing now. I will never give up my dairy though! It’s by far my favorite source of vegetarian protein, too! Ice cream, cheese, yogurt…ahh I love it. I also could never go without my beloved eggs. They’re so versatile and cheap!

Hope you’re having a wonderful week, Khushboo! xoxo <3

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

That’s really interesting about the difference in your digestion when you eat a more plant-based diet!, Sara I guess that’s the great thing about various diets- over the years, trying different foods/eating styles are the only way we can find the “perfect” style of eating which best suits our individual bodies! And I’m glad you included ice cream as a protein source…true story ;) !

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Sabrina @ Living, Learning, Eating October 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Yes, yes, yes, YUMMY! And I love protein bars and nut butter :)

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Khushboo October 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Protein bars are a good one too…I always carry one in my handbag just in case!

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Kat October 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm

This is a great topic, one some people just really cant grasp it seems. Protein isnt just from animals anymore!! I love quinoa, and I love me a good pair of black bean tacos. :)

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Khushboo October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Ohh black bean tacos does sound good! I love all things Mexican…except cilantro :) !

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Asmita October 12, 2012 at 3:08 am

I have to admit I am big on Non vegetarian food. I really enjoy chicken, shrimp, fish. Name it and I will eat it.
But I also enjoy legumes, lentils, paneer, chickpeas and these days I am big on quinoa.
I am planning to replace rice for quinoa. I love it so much. Very interesting post, Khushboo.

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Khushboo October 12, 2012 at 11:39 am

Thanks Asmita! As much as I enjoy brown rice, I rarely eat it because I prefer quinoa!

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