The Best Protein Sources for Vegetarians

Most foods contain at least some protein. Good protein sources for vegetarians include pulses, nuts, seeds, dairy products, eggs, soya products (tofu, soya milk, soya yoghurt and soya mince), cereals and quorn.

Single plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids you need in the right proportions, but when you mix plant foods together, any deficiency in one is cancelled out by any excess in the other. This is known as protein complementing. Many plant proteins are low in one of the essential amino acids (called the ‘limiting amino acid’). For example, grains are short of lysine while pulses are short of methionine. Combining grains and pulses leads to a high quality protein which is just as good, if not better, than protein from animal sources. A few examples are beans on toast, muesli, or rice and lentils. Adding dairy products or eggs also adds the missing amino acids, e.g. macaroni cheese, quiche, porridge with milk.

Other examples of protein combinations include tortilla or wrap filled with re-fried beans, bean and vegetable hot pot with rice or pasta, quorn chilli with rice, peanut butter sandwich, lentil soup with a roll, quorn korma with naan bread, stir-fried tofu and vegetables with rice or tofu burger in a roll. In essence, you can achieve protein complementation by combining plant foods from two or more of the following categories:

  • pulses: beans, lentils, peas
  • grains: bread, pasta, rice, oats, breakfast cereals, corn, rye
  • nuts and seeds: peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • quorn and soya products: soya milk, tofu, tempeh, soya mince, soya burgers, quorn mince, quorn fillets, quorn sausages

It is now know that the body has a pool of amino acids so that if one meal is deficient, it can be made up from the body’s own stores. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about complementing amino acids all the time, as long as your diet is generally varied and well balanced. Even those foods not considered high in protein are adding some amino acids to this pool.

Source: “Which foods are the best protein sources for vegetarians?,” from The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition, by Anita Bean

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