Worried that you—or someone you love—won’t get enough protein without meat? Relax! According to a 2009 research review by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), vegans and vegetarians typically meet and even exceed their protein requirements: the average adult woman needs just 46 grams of protein a day; the average adult man needs 56 grams. By eating a variety of healthful veg foods, you can easily cover your protein bases.
Not sure where to start? We asked nutritionist Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian, to help us choose a few of the most convenient and affordable protein-packed staples.
Consider this soybean block a blank canvas: it’ll soak up the flavors of whatever you add to it. Use silken varieties for blending into smoothies and puddings; save firmer tofu for baking or stir-frying into chewy pieces and tossing into salads, sandwiches, veggie bowls, and noodle dishes. In addition to protein, tofu delivers a dose of bone-building calcium if it’s made with calcium sulfate, notes Warren. Check for it in the ingredients list on the label.
Tip: Short on time? Grab pre-seasoned baked tofu by brands such as Wildwood or Nasoya.
Protein: 10 grams per 4-oz. serving firm tofu
A helping of beans makes any dish more filling, thanks to an abundance
of protein and fiber. “Being rich in both types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—beans also
help lower cholesterol and promote healthy digestion, ” says Warren, who suggests eating
a variety, such as chickpeas, black beans, and heirloom beans, for the widest range of
nutrients. Cook a big batch of dried beans for use throughout the week, or stock up on
cans with BPA-free linings and no added salt.
Tip: Add a strip of kombu seaweed to beans as they cook to make them more easily digestible.
Protein: 7 grams per 1/2-cup serving cooked black beans
3. Greek Yogurt
Swap out regular yogurt for this thicker, strained variety, which has up to twice as much protein. Warren forgoes non-fat yogurt in favor of 2% or even whole, which will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied. Go organic, when possible: recent research shows that organic milk contains more heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids than its conventional cousin. Look for plain Greek yogurt, and sweeten it yourself using fruit or a natural sweetener such as agave or honey.
Tip: Prefer savory to sweet? Add a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt to blended soups and sautéed greens.
Protein: 17 grams per 6-oz. serving 2% Greek yogurt
Starting your day with an egg can help curb cravings later in the day—just don’t skip the yolk. “It’s a great source of the nutrient choline, which is vital for cells to function properly, ” says Warren. Egg yolks are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that help maintain eye health. Note: the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends
consuming less than 300 milligrams cholesterol per day.
One large egg clocks in at 186 milligrams.
Tip: Check the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard to see how different egg companies stack up.
Protein: 6 grams per large egg
These little legumes are packed with the about the same amount of hunger-quelling fiber as beans, but they require no soaking and cook up in just 20 to 30 minutes. What’s more, “they’re an excellent source of folate—even more so than beans—which is important for your nervous system and heart health, ” says Warren. She suggests pairing iron-rich lentils with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes and oranges, which help your body absorb the iron.
Tip: Not a fan of mushy lentils? Choose French or Puy lentils, which hold their shape when cooked.