By Ian Lee
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to think about incorporating more non-meat options into your diet. Even for those who don’t plan to switch to full-time vegetarian eating, the Meatless Mondays trend means more and more people are looking for healthy vegetarian options for family meals at least once a week.
Protein is not unique to meat products, but those eliminating or reducing meat intake need to be careful to replace this easy and familiar source of protein, according to dietitian Gloria Tsang, founder of nutrition network HealthCastle.com and author of Go UnDiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss.
“Protein builds and maintains muscles, organs, skin and blood, assists in energy metabolism and cell processes, and helps maintain immune function,” Tsang said. “It’s also the element of any meal that makes you feel most full.”
Here are HealthCastle.com's top picks for vegetarian sources of protein:
As a basis for comparison, half a chicken breast has 27 g of protein and a 3-oz serving of beef tenderloin has 23 g.
Dairy products: Try yogurt or cottage cheese for breakfast or lunch and add a cheese plate or dairy-based soup (made with milk, not cream) to dinner.
- Protein counts: 6 oz yogurt = 6-10 g; ½ C cottage cheese = 14 g; 1 oz cheese = 6-10 g; 1 C milk in soup = 8 g.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds make a simple snack, or an excellent topping for lunch or dinnertime salads.
Protein counts: 1 oz nuts = 3-6 g; 1 oz seeds = approx. 6 g.
Soy, soy milk, and tofu: Munch on edamame as a snack or appetizer and stir-fry tofu or marinate tofu "steaks" and sear them on the grill.
- Protein counts: ½ C soybeans = 8.5 g; 1 C soy milk = 8-10 g; ½ C tofu = 8-10 g.
Beans and lentils: Lentils and beans make hearty soups or vegetarian chili. Hummus makes an all-purpose appetizer or sandwich spread.
- Protein counts: ½ C lentils = 9 g; ½ C beans = 7-10 g.
Whole grains, especially quinoa: Many whole grains can be cooked and used in place of pasta or white rice to make a protein-rich base for any meal.
- Protein counts: 1 C brown rice = 4.5 g; 1 C millet = 6 g; 1 cup quinoa = 8 g.
Some vegetables, like asparagus, broccoli, kale and other dark-green leafy vegetables, also have small amounts of protein. By mixing and matching vegetarian protein sources from this list, it’s easy to skip meat from time to time—or cut it out altogether—and still meet your body’s protein needs. More simple, small achievable actions to reclaim health are available on HealthCastle.com.