Proteins are an important part of our daily diet. They provide our muscles, cells and other vital tissues with the growth factors that are required to keep them healthy and functioning normally.
In India, a large proportion of individuals prefer to follow a vegetarian diet. While this is a highly nutritious diet, it can sometimes be low in certain elements such as vitamin B12 and proteins. It is quite common in clinical practice to see vegetarians suffering from low vitamin B12 levels, though clinical evidence suggests that people who follow vegetarian diets have a lower incidence of developing heart disease and related complications.
The Need For Protein
Proteins are basically made of building blocks called amino acids. Amino acids are essential for cell growth and development throughout our lifetime. Proteins form the basic structure of not just our vital organs, but also our skin, hair and numerous other important parts of our body. If we consume lesser quantities of protein, we could lose muscle strength and muscle mass and become weaker. For individuals who are recovering from a medical illness, a high protein intake often helps in faster recovery.
Note that protein requirements will vary on the basis of sex, age, level of physical activity and other factors like whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Let’s take a look at some of the protein-rich foods that are available in the vegetarian group.
Protein Rich Food For Vegetarians:
Lentils, also called daal, is a popular addition to an everyday meal in India. Each cup of lentils contains about 18 g of protein making it an excellent source of vegetarian protein. Lentils can be had in the form of soups or can be eaten with rotis or even rice.
In addition to protein, lentils also contain a good quantity of fibre which can help maintain healthy bacteria within the gut. There is some understanding that regular consumption of lentils may also reduce the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. However, a small number of individuals who consume lentils on a regular basis may notice excessive flatulence. This is not unique to lentils but is generally seen with a high protein diet.
Lentils also contain quality antioxidants and numerous minerals which can help protect the cells. Make sure you have a cup full of lentils every day to get your dose of protein.
Legumes include varieties of beans such as kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and similar ones that are widely considered to be a powerhouse of proteins. Chickpeas contain about 15 g of protein per serving and also contains numerous other elements and minerals that can keep you healthy, strong and fit. Clinical studies also found that regular consumption of legumes can help keep cholesterol levels low.
Chickpeas and other legumes are great in salads or in the form of low-fat, low salt curries.
Nuts are basically superfoods. If you wish to follow a good veg protein diet, you should strongly consider adding nuts to the cavalry. Nuts such as almonds and cashew nuts are an excellent source of protein and are always included in the protein foods veg list.
On average, eating about 20 to 25 whole almonds every day can give you about 6 g of protein. However, this can be quite a lot to eat in one go and just having a handful of mixed nuts every day can give you the protein boost your body requires. Not just that, nuts also contain a good quantity of dietary fibre and vitamin E.
If you are looking for a heart-healthy snack and protein-rich food for vegetarians, make sure you include nuts as a part of your daily diet. However, make sure you keep the salt intake low and avoid eating salted nuts.
4. Green Peas
You wouldn’t think to look at it, but green peas are an excellent source of protein. A cup full of these green beauties gives you nearly 9 g of protein. In addition to this, they are rich in vitamins A, K and C and also contain numerous minerals and a high quantity of fibre. Simply including green peas in your daily vegetarian diet can help give you the additional protein your body requires.
Quinoa is gradually catching on in India as a food that is healthy, low in fat and high in protein. Each cup of quinoa can provide around 9 grams of protein and is excellent for those who suffer from diabetes. They are rich in dietary fibre, which can help in keeping the blood sugar levels under control. Their glycemic index (GI) is 53. Keeping in mind that GI of 55 or below is considered low, quinoa is an ideal food that can be included in a diabetic diet plan. You may refer to the Glycemic Index Food Chart to find out the GI of other foods. Besides these, quinoa also contains a high quantity of complex carbohydrates and numerous minerals. Quinoa is definitely one for the protein foods veg list.
6. Soy Milk
Of late, there is been a fair amount of advertising regarding soy milk as a good source of protein and this is entirely true. There are many individuals who are intolerant to lactose who require an alternative source of protein, and soy milk is a great one, containing nearly 7 g of protein per cup. But it is not just the protein that makes soy milk an excellent food; it is also a good source of calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. However, the latter vitamins are usually present in soy milk that has been fortified.
You could add soy milk to your tea or coffee or you could just drink it directly. Avoid the sweetened variety as this can add to your body weight and would nullify the healthy effects of consuming this protein-rich food regularly.
Additionally, there are several products made from soy other than milk which is also protein-rich. These include tofu (made from the curd of soy milk), edamame (a preparation made from immature soybeans, boiled or steamed) and tempeh (a fermented preparation native to Java, it is made in a cake form). These products all come with similar health benefits to soy milk since they maintain their high protein content but they also have added benefits like other nutrients. They can also ease hunger pangs since they are solid foods unlike soy milk, this, in turn, helps to reduce your food consumption. These products can thus not only help to provide your daily requirement of protein but also aid you when you try to lose weight.
There is no doubt that oats are superfoods. Not only are they high in protein but they are a powerhouse of soluble fibre and clinically proven to help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and to lower cholesterol. A small cup of oats can provide you with nearly 6 g of protein and quarter your daily requirement of fibre. They also help regulate blood sugar levels, owing to their high fibre content and low glycemic index. You can take a look at the Diabetes Food Chart to find other foods that can help control diabetes better.
Try and avoid the masala oats or ready meals as these contain higher quantities of salt and may not be the healthy start to the day that you hope you would get from them. Instead, buy regular oats and consume them with milk and a spoonful of honey sprinkled with almonds. You could even chop some fruit up into them, or add a fistful of berries. A cup full of oats in the morning is a great way to start your day.
8. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have recently caught on in India and are being used more and more in our country as a superfood. A 35 g serving of Chia seeds contains 6 g of protein and a whopping 13 g of fibre! In addition to this, they are also high in nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and iron and also contain omega-3 fatty acids and numerous antioxidants that can keep you fighting fit.
Chia seeds are easy to use, and make sure that you consume the organic variety. Also, make sure that what you are consuming are not basil seeds as they look quite similar to Chia seeds. Simply soaking Chia seeds in water for a short time and then having them with your favourite beverage can give you the nutritional boost your body deserves. Chia seeds are a great protein for vegans.
9. High Protein Vegetables
Vegetables are widely considered to just contain vitamins and minerals with a small number of carbohydrates and proteins. However, there are some vegetables that have a greater quantity of protein such as spinach, potatoes, broccoli, asparagus and even sweet potatoes. Though the quantity of protein each of these is not comparable to non-vegetarian sources, it still is quite a decent value at around 5 g per cup full of veggie cooked.
Fruits are generally poorer sources of protein. That being said, fruits such as bananas, guava and certain berries have a decent quantity of protein in them. However, don’t rely on fruits as your source of protein instead, choose from one of the options listed earlier in this article.
Edamame is soybeans that have not been fully matured, typically eaten as a side dish in the eastern countries of Asia. Edamame may be found in popular dishes like sushi or can be consumed as a standalone snack/meal. This form of soybean may be cooked and eaten either in the pods or as beans. Due to its simplistic preparation, edamame is a protein-rich vegetarian food that can be easily added to any diet. Edamame has about 12g of protein per 100g of beans.
12. Wild Rice
Although not really a species of rice, wild rice is a grain found and grown by the native peoples of North America and in certain parts of China. This grain is slightly chewy with an almost vegetable-like taste and provides a lot of nutrition including 15%-20% of your daily required zinc and manganese. Wild rice has a protein content of about 4g per serving of 100g, keep in mind that you may eat more than just 100g of wild rice in each meal. Wild rice may be a great staple protein-rich vegetarian food to add to your diet since it can be consumed regularly (even multiple times a day). Of course, we recommend having this food along with other dishes, you might end up getting bored of plain cooked wild rice.
13. Brussels Sprouts
Apart from being high in fibre and overall great for health as a green vegetable, Brussels sprouts are also surprisingly a good source of protein. While its protein content of 3-4g per 100g does not make it a competitor to meats and eggs, it is still a high protein-rich vegetarian food that you should add to your diet. Add protein to your salads with this veggie, or simply steam or roast Brussels sprouts as a midday meal.
14. Sweet Corn
Corn is one of the most cultivated crops in existence today, it is used for the production of corn syrup, and cornflour and used as a food source by itself. Sweet corn is a yummy snack to try, whether boiled, steamed or roasted with a delicious slathering of butter on top. Sweet Corn has a 3.3g protein content in every 100g serving, along with an almost non-existent fat and no cholesterol.
Avocado is a fruit native to North America that has gained popularity as a superfood due to its highly nutritious nature, both in macronutrients and the vitamins and minerals it contains. Although it was initially popularised in Mexican cuisine, avocado is fast becoming a protein-rich vegetarian food for bodybuilding and fitness routines. Avocados can be eaten as is, just sliced up or added to salads and other preparations like guacamole.