Everyday Health, Nutrition

Vegetarian Diet – Sources of Protein

Vegetarian Sources of ProteinIt is highly unlikely that anyone with a varied diet in the Western world, vegetarian or not will have an actual dietary deficiency of protein1, the average UK diet contains approximately 14-15% protein2. Most people, especially those who are meat eaters, are likely to be eating proteins that are also contributing high levels of saturated fats into their diet. Protein repairs body cells, builds and repairs muscles and bones, and provides energy and eating protein in our foods gives us a feeling of satiation that can help when we are ‘weight watching’. It is for these reasons that exploring alternative, vegetarian sources of protein can help you to make positive steps towards a healthier diet.

So here are some great options of high protein vegetarian foods:


Tofu is essentially processed soybean curd and it is a staple in Asian cooking. People are often put off by tofu and don’t know what to do with it. Tofu comes in several different forms:

  • Firm tofu – which can be marinated or seasoned and then grilled, fried, BBQd or roasted just like a piece of meat. It soaks up flavours beautifully and can be made extra crispy when fried by coating it in cornflour. Add chunks of tofu to casseroles and soups. Mash it up and put it as a base for mince dishes, fajita seasoned tortilla fillings or burgers.
  • Silken tofu behaves a bit like cream cheese, it is lower fat than firm tofu and is a great way of adding protein to blended soups, homemade dips (replace the cream or mayonnaise). These are also really handy ways to get older people to eat enough protein if they are struggling with chewing.
  • Soft tofu is a bit like silken tofu and it great used in blended dishes.

Tofu is a really healthy food, rich in hormone like substances that have proven health benefits called soy isoflavones check out our article on food for menopause. It is also a great source of B vitamins, Calcium, Iron and it is low in sodium and so therefore heart healthy, low in saturated fat and a great source of protein3. So go for it –try it.

Beans and Pulses.

Beans are already widely eaten as baked beans in delicious sugary and salty tomato sauce by many British consumers. For most, their love of beans stops there! If you take the time to browse the other beans that are canned next to the baked beans you may be pleasantly surprised. Beans can change a salad from something that will not last you the rest of the day before supper – into a substantial meal. Equally a shop bought fresh soup without bread can be changed into a hearty feast with a small can of butter beans thrown in! Of course, beans are also a great substitute for meat options of chilli, casseroles, curries, burgers, sandwich fillers, used as a base for dips…the list is endless!

Look out for butter beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, mixed bean salads….the list is endless. And for some great recipes try out:
That should keep you going for a while!

Lentils are a staple for all sorts of soups, curries and salads. Unlike beans they do not need to be soaked and so easily stored dried and ready to go after a maximum of half an hour cooking. They are so handy! If you are using them in a salad they are delicious boiled in a stock and added to raw vegetables or leaves. Of course lentils are the basis of dhal an excellent, cheap crowd pleaser! Delia does a good one: http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/asian/indian/dhal-curry.html .

Chickpeas are another brilliant protein rich option, these are of course the base of houmous – have ago at making your own and then experiment with different flavours and toppers. Chickpeas are also great stirfried, mixed straight into salads and added for any soups or casseroles. Tinned or dried – buy as you wish but tinned are great as they are ‘good to go’.


These include wheat, barley, rice, oats etc. They are essentially seeds for new plants and so if they are not processed or changed to ‘white’ bread, pasta, rice etc they are packed with loads of nutrients and also fibre plus protein. So……make sure that you are getting a good variety of these in your meals but please please please buy the brown, wholegrain versions! Refined grain products are nutritionally depleted and devoid of the goodness that they contain in a natural state.

Nuts and Seeds

Keep pots and pots of them, add these to everything. But hang on…..not the roasted salted versions! Not only are nuts and seeds – when fresh and not processed- filled with protein but they also contain a fantastic supply of health promoting fats. Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, linseeds are readily for sale in mixes and individually. They add goodness, protein and texture to salads, soups, yoghurt, cereals, they are a great snack with fresh or dried fruit. Eat these protein packed gems EVERYDAY instead of crisps, biscuits, cakes and sweets!

Dairy products

Low fat dairy products are a vital source of protein and essential minerals including potassium and calcium. They make up a staple in our western diets and we can have an over reliance on them as protein sources- especially for some vegetarians. Low fat natural live yoghurt is such a valuable standby – use as the basis of a salad dressing, a dip, curry accompaniment, with cereal, as a snack with seeds and honey….it is so delicious and when ‘live’full of health promoting bacteria essential for good gut health What are probiotics? Dairy products can contain higher levels of saturated fats and some people find that they struggle to tolerate them Food Intolerances. Low fat cream cheese and cottage cheese are excellent choices.


Eggs are a great, protein packed fast food. Look out for Omega 3 rich eggs and buy organic or free range whenever possible. A boiled egg in your bag provides an excellent on the go snack that should stave off any cravings for a chocolate bar. Eggs are also an excellent breakfast option – aim to sit down and eat an egg at least a couple of times a week for breakfast – this will decrease the chances that you will reach for a biscuit or cake at 11am!

The RDA for protein is 55.5g for men aged 19-50 and 53.3g for men aged over 50. For women the RDA is 45g for those aged 19-50 and 46.5g for over-50s.
Source: http://www.bupa.co.uk/members/mb-healthy-living/mb-nutrition/n-did-you-know.

As a guide, the table* below shows how much food contains approximately 20g of protein:

A small chicken breast 6oz (approx) peas
Small can of tuna 1 small packet tofu
A small piece of cod or salmon 1 cup quinoa
2 medium eggs 2/3 cup chickpeas
1 cup (approx 120g) sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds Small cup of lentils or bean with brown rice (dry weight)

*This guide is based on the information given in McCance & Widdowson’s Composition of Food but as all brands of food can alter please refer to the pack purchased.

If you are struggling for recipes and good ideas for some of the foods described above, it is really worth investing in a couple of the excellent vegetarian recipe books out there.

Alternatively check out:


2.    Webb G, 2002, Nutrition. A Health Promotion Approach. 2nd Edition. Arnold, London
3.    Gregory, J, Foster, K, Tyler, H, Wiseman M, 1990, The Dietary and Nutritional Survey of British Adults, London, HMSO cited by Webb G, 2002, Nutrition. A Health Promotion Approach. 2nd Edition. Arnold, London
4.    Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 200 4. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp, and from product analysis


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  1. sharon murphy says:

    Hi, im looking to follow a long term high protein vegetarian diet but i dont like the texture of tofu and dont like the taste of meat so quorn is also out… i really have no idea what to make to eat especially how to vary my meals…are there any books out there that can help

  2. SevenSeasLife says:

    Healthy eating is essential to help provide us with the important vitamins and minerals which you may be missing by mainly eating from one food group, so its important to consider choosing from as wide a variety of foods as possible.

    There are good sources of receipes available online using the following links, which you may find helpful:


    Additionally there is a UK author called Rose Elliott who has written some 55+ vegetarian cookbooks and is an extremely well known vegetarian cookery writer. Rose is a patron of the Vegetarian Society and you may find her cookbooks of help to you. Amazon is a good place for you to look through some of the publications she has written.

  3. minecraft skins says:

    I agree with your Sources of high protein vegetarian foods – Seven Seas Life, good post.

  4. proteinfoods says:

    Protein foods are essential for the growing children from the age of 1 to 18 years of age, being the growth of the human being will takes place at this time only. The pregnant women requires more protein, the athletes for the more stamina and body builder for their developing the muscles in the body.


  5. Cornette. BUCKNOR says:

    I am a vegetarian I eat seafood and veg only can you send some more source of protein food for me please.

  6. SevenSeasLife says:

    Hi Cornette – The RDA for protein is 55.5g for men aged 19-50 and 53.3g for men aged over 50. For women the RDA is 45g for those aged 19-50 and 46.5g for over-50s.
    Source: http://www.bupa.co.uk/members/mb-healthy-living/mb-nutrition/n-did-you-know.

    Here is a list of foods that contain 20g of protein:
    2 cups of peas
    Small can of tuna
    1 small packet tofu
    A very small piece of cod or salmon
    2 medium eggs
    2/3 cup chickpeas
    1 cup sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
    Small cup of lentils or bean with brown rice

    We hope this helps.
    SevenSeasLife Team

  7. Jenna says:

    That 20g of protein chart could not be more incorrect. Most of those items, in fact I got bored of fact checking after the first 5 I checked had much less than 20g of protein, perhaps all are wrong.

    (Not to mention that many are vague immeasurable amounts..’packet’?? ‘small cup’?? ‘very small piece’???)

  8. SevenSeasLife says:

    Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately we are not sure which reference source you are using to calculate the amount of protein per food highlighted in the chart. We can confirm that we are using the standard reference manual, which is McCance & Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods (ISBN-10-85404-428-0) reference book is the standard reference manual used widely by Registered Nutritionists and recommended by the UK Department Health as the main source of reference for the levels of protein, fats, carbohydrates, energy values and other nutrients a food product contains. We can confirm that we have re-checked these figures against our source which advises that the recommended foods provide at least 20g of protein per 100g.

    However, whilst the table is to be used a a guide only, we can appreciate your comments regarding the measuring amounts referred to within it and do understand that certain different brands of food can contain different levels of nutrients – which is why we adhere to the McCance and Widdowson’s reference book which review a large number of different brands for each food and makes their nutritional recommendation. We will however re-look at the article and look to make any suitable amendments to the wording so that we can make the guide clearer.

    Kind Regards,
    Seven Seas Life Team.

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