Protein is an essential nutrient in our diet and most of us get it from animal products. That implies it’s harder for vegetarians to get the complete protein they need. Firstly, what is a “complete” protein? It all comes down to amino acids. Protein is formed by a number of combinations of 20 different amino acids. Nine of the 20 are known as essential amino acids because our body can’t make them – hence the need for vegetarians to ensure they eat complete proteins. A complete protein contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, in roughly equal quantities. Here are some great sources of complete protein:
A single cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8g of protein and is an excellent and versatile ingredient. It also contains iron, manganese, and fiber – a combination that makes it a perfect substitute for rice. Switch to quinoa to make all your fritters, muffins, cookies, and breakfast casseroles in a healthy way.
I’m sure this will come as no surprise to regular readers of AWS. Chia seeds are a veritable powerhouse of nutrition. As well as containing 4g of protein in 2 tablespoons, they also contain zinc, calcium, iron, and a host of antioxidants. Chia seeds also have the honor of being the plant food with the highest source of omega-3 fatty acids and they outstrip the fiber from flax and nuts.
Despite the name, it is not a type of wheat and is closer to rhubarb. A single cup of cooked buckwheat contains about 6g of protein. You can eat it by grinding its seeds into flour or you can consider making the hulled kernels, just like oatmeal. Thanks to the nutrients present in buckwheat, it works amazingly well to lower your blood cholesterol levels – it improves blood circulation and regulates blood glucose levels as well.
You will get 10g of protein in a couple of tablespoons of hempseed. It is super healthy and contains loads of zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron, with all nine essential amino acids. Vegans especially should take note of hempseed because they are one of the few vegan sources of essential fatty acids, like omega-3s.
Soy is another formidable source of vegetarian protein, but its different forms have a varying protein count. For example, ½ cup firm tofu will deliver 10g protein while tempeh or natto will provide 15g per ½ cup. Soy is a better source of vegetarian protein because it contains the amino acid methionine that other beans do not.
Sold under the name of Quorn, mycoprotein is among the best sources of complete protein with a half cup serving loaded with 13 grams of protein. It is prepared by growing a specific type of fungus in vats. You may feel a bit skeptical about it if you're prone to getting an allergic reaction from certain food, but only one in 146,000 reports any adverse reactions of eating mycoprotein.
7. Ezekiel Bread
Like Quorn, this bread is obviously a manufactured source of complete protein, however, it’s all there. The bread is made from wheat, lentils, millet, barley, beans, and spelt, which means all 20 of the amino acids are in there. It is extremely nutritious and there are more benefits because it is generally made with sprouted grains meaning there is more fiber and vitamin content than other breads. Obviously not good for gluten intolerants though.
It is important you understand the definition of complete protein when looking for sources. Items like spirulina and seitan are often described as being complete, but neither actually are, because they don’t contain all 9 of the essential amino acids.
If you’re a vegetarian, how do you ensure you get enough protein?