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13 Surprising Vegetarian Sources of Protein

by
author image Katherine Brooking
Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in nutrition education. She co-founded Smart Cookie Productions, Inc., which publishes AppforHealth.com and produces a weekly nutrition series, Appetite for Health. She a frequent nutrition contributor to the TODAY show, The Early Show on CBS and Good Morning America Health. She is the co-author of "The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health's 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions."

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13 Surprising Vegetarian Sources of Protein
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Whether you're a vegetarian, a vegan or just simply trying to cut down on your animal-based protein consumption, trying to figure out plant-based protein alternatives can be daunting. Luckily for you, we've done all the legwork for you: Read on to see 13 plant-based foods with significant amounts of protein – including guava, asparagus, wakame, potatoes and even pasta!

1. Guava (1 Cup): About 4.21g of Protein
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1 GUAVA (1 CUP): ABOUT 4.21G OF PROTEIN

Guavas are one of the healthiest foods that you’re probably not eating. In just one cup, you get 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber, and more than 3 times the vitamin C of a large orange. This tropical fruit is also rich in lycopene, an important phytonutrient that’s linked to a decreased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even hypertension. To pick the perfect guava, first test for ripeness. If your fingernail can easily slide through the skin, you’re good to go. To eat, just wash off and devour, skin and all (even the seeds are edible)! Guavas are also an excellent addition to fruit salads or paired with ice cream. And if you love a sweet and salty combo, try sprinkling guava with salt and pepper or dipping it into soy sauce.

Related: Track Your Daily Protein and Calorie Intake for FREE With MyPlate

2. Asparagus (1 Cup Raw): About 2.95g of Protein
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2 ASPARAGUS (1 CUP RAW): ABOUT 2.95G OF PROTEIN

Believe it or not, asparagus has nearly 3 grams of protein per cup (raw). This tasty veggie also provides folic acid, an important B vitamin, as well as vitamin C, iron, and more than 2 grams of fiber per cup. For a protein-packed asparagus sidedish, try this great Ginger Glazed Asparagus and Toasted Quinoa. It’s made with fresh pomegranate arils -- another surprising source of protein -- that are in season from October to January. Pomegranate arils have 2 grams protein per 4 oz serving. Add all that up and you have a surprising amount of plant protein!

Related: Ginger Glazed Asparagus And Toasted Quinoa Recipe

3. Cooked Quinoa (½ Cup): About 4g of Protein
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3 COOKED QUINOA (½ CUP): ABOUT 4G OF PROTEIN

A “pseudocereal,” quinoa is actually not a grain at all (it belongs to the same family as leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard), but it looks like one and has similar uses. Quinoa provides fiber, vitamins, minerals, and you guessed it, protein. With about 4 grams of protein per half-cup, cooked quinoa is one of the most protein-rich whole carbs you can eat. What’s more, quinoa is considered a complete protein—meaning it provides all essential amino acids. Using a 1:2 ratio of dry quinoa to water or broth, you can easily whip up some quinoa and store it in the fridge to use all week long. It works great as a rice or pasta substitute, in place of your morning oatmeal, or as a delicious side dish mixed with vegetables, nuts, cheese, or fruit.

Related: Quinoa: How to Pronounce It, and Why You Should Eat It

4. Dried Chia Seeds (2 tbsp): About 3g of Protein
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4 DRIED CHIA SEEDS (2 TBSP): ABOUT 3G OF PROTEIN

Chia seeds are gaining a lot of attention lately, becoming a superfood among the health conscious. Most of the focus has been on chia seeds’ fatty acids — namely omega-3, and omega-6—essential fatty acids (meaning they must come from the foods we eat) and their potential many health benefits. However, chia seeds are also a great source of protein. With 2 tablespoons you can add up to about 3 grams of protein to any meal. Their mild, nutty flavor makes them a perfect addition to many dishes (including oatmeal and muffins) and even beverages such as smoothies. Toss chia seeds into smoothies, over salads, cereal and yogurt, or even use them as an all-natural gelling agent to help make puddings and jams.

Related: Secrets of Chia Seeds and 15 Other Strange and Popular Superfoods

5. Wakame Seaweed (1 Cup Raw): About 2.42g of Protein
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5 WAKAME SEAWEED (1 CUP RAW): ABOUT 2.42G OF PROTEIN

Seaweed is quite tasty, and it’s a staple of Japanese cuisine. Seaweed offers many key nutrients including folate, magnesium, and manganese. It’s also a source of protein, boasting more than 2 grams in just one cup (of the raw wakame variety). In the U.S., you’ll see wakame seaweed in Japanese restaurants as part of seaweed salads and miso soup. You can also purchase it dried, in which case you’ll need to rehydrate it first for about 15-20 minutes before making your own salad. Or you can just sprinkle some dried wakame flakes into your soup and give it a few minutes to expand. One caveat is that wakame is high in sodium, so you may need to limit your portions.

Related: Track Your Daily Protein and Calorie Intake for FREE With MyPlate

6. Pasta (1 Cup Cooked): About 10g of Protein
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6 PASTA (1 CUP COOKED): ABOUT 10G OF PROTEIN

While pasta is known for being rich in complex carbohydrates that are great for providing muscles the energy they need, most people forget that pasta is also a good source of protein—packing in more protein per serving than most grains. A standard serving of cooked pasta has about 5-7 grams per cup, but new specialty blends pack in even more. For instance, one cup of cooked Barilla Plus has a whopping 10 grams of protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and 4 grams of fiber. Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Grain Penne has about 9 grams of protein per 1 cup cooked. That’s more protein than a cup of milk.

Related: Pasta and 15 Other Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs

7. Kale (1 cup Raw): About 2.87g of Protein
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7 KALE (1 CUP RAW): ABOUT 2.87G OF PROTEIN

Kale is the so-called “queen of greens,” and for good reason. This member of the cabbage family is packed with nutrients while being low in calories. One cup of cooked kale contains just 33 calories! Kale provides fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and antioxidants, such as lutein, that can help keep your eyes healthy. But most people don’t realize that kale is also a source of protein. In fact, just one cup of this leafy green provides nearly 3 grams of protein. Try adding it to soups, baking kale chips, or even enjoying it raw in salads (massage it first to make it a bit more tender) and smoothies.

8. Regular Quick Oats (½ c Dry or 1 Cup Cooked): About 5.33g of Protein
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8 REGULAR QUICK OATS (½ C DRY OR 1 CUP COOKED): ABOUT 5.33G OF PROTEIN

Oats pack a big nutritional punch. As a whole grain, they’re an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, making them a perfect “energy” food. But they also contain a surprising amount of protein. In fact, a cup of cooked oatmeal has more than 5 grams of protein. And if you’re looking for dairy alternatives, try oat-based options as they contain more protein than many grain-based non-dairy beverages. For example, Pacific Organic Oat non-dairy beverage is rich and creamy and packs in 4g of protein per cup. You can also use oats to make muffins, cookies, and even “protein pancakes.” (See recipe link below).

Related: Recipe for Protein Pancakes

9. Baked Potato (1 large): About 6.28g of Protein
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9 BAKED POTATO (1 LARGE): ABOUT 6.28G OF PROTEIN

Potatoes have more to offer than most people expect. They are not just carbs – a large potato has about 6 grams of protein. One medium potato contains more vitamin C than a tomato and more potassium than a large banana! Be sure to eat the skins for extra fiber and B vitamins. Potatoes are perfect as a side or main dish. Try a low-calorie, vinegar-based potato salad, bake your own fries or make mashed potatoes with low-sodium chicken broth. If you’re having a baked potato as a main dish, keep calories under control by loading up with healthy veggies like broccoli or chard.

Related: Potatoes and 17 More Foods with a “Bad” Rap That Are Actually Good for You

10. Cooked Buckwheat (1 Cup Groats): About 5.68g of Protein
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10 COOKED BUCKWHEAT (1 CUP GROATS): ABOUT 5.68G OF PROTEIN

Not familiar with buckwheat? You should be! Often used as flour for pancakes or crepes, buckwheat also comes in kernel form and is actually not a wheat at all. It isn’t even a true grain – it is the fruit of a leafy plant that belongs to the rhubarb family. From a nutrition standpoint, buckwheat is a standout. One cup of cooked buckwheat “groats” (the raw kernels) contains almost 6 grams of protein, 4.5 grams fiber, and other important nutrients like iron, magnesium and potassium. There are many ways to incorporate buckwheat into your diet. Try adding buckwheat flour to soups as a thickener or serve buckwheat groats in place of rice. Feeling adventurous? Try a tasty veggie burger with a buckwheat base (see recipe link below).

Related: Recipe for Buckwheat Veggie Burger

11. Wheat Germ (2 Tbsp): About 3.33g of Protein
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11 WHEAT GERM (2 TBSP): ABOUT 3.33G OF PROTEIN

If you’re looking for an easy way to boost protein in your diet, look no further than wheat germ. The “germ” of the wheat kernel is the most nutrient-dense part of the wheat plant, and contains more than 3 grams of protein in just two tablespoons. In addition to being a sound source of protein, wheat germ is rich in fiber, potassium, minerals, and important B vitamins like folate, thiamin and vitamin B6. It also provides vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Try adding wheat germ to your baked goods or mix them into breadcrumbs. Your taste buds won’t notice but your body will thank you for the extra protein. For some extra texture, sprinkle some on Greek yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal.

Related: Track Your Daily Protein and Calorie Intake for FREE With MyPlate

12. Cooked Chickpeas (½ Cup): About 5.90g of Protein
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12 COOKED CHICKPEAS (½ CUP): ABOUT 5.90G OF PROTEIN

The chickpea, or garbanzo bean, is a Middle Eastern legume that provides 6 grams of protein in every half cup. Chickpeas are an affordable protein source for anyone looking to avoid eating meat. They’re loaded with fiber, and adding them to your diet can help lower cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of coronary heart disease. Toss whole chickpeas in salads, soups, or curries, roast them for a crunchy snack, smash and bake them to make a healthy falafel, or even puree them to make your own hummus.

Related: Track Your Daily Protein and Calorie Intake for FREE With MyPlate

13. Pistachios (1 Ounce): About 6g of Protein
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13 PISTACHIOS (1 OUNCE): ABOUT 6G OF PROTEIN

You might think that all nuts contain protein in roughly equal amounts, however not all nuts are the same. Pistachios have 6 grams of protein per serving, more than most other tree nuts..They’re also a good source of fiber. Some dieters believe they should avoid eating nuts because of the high fat and calorie counts, however, frequent nut‐eaters have been found to be thinner and have less abdominal fat compared to those who don’t regularly eat nuts. In addition, snacking on a handful of nuts is one of the best ways to satisfy a craving for something savory and crunchy. When eating in-shell pistachios people tend to consume less, because the de-shelling process slows them down. Another great treat is to make a plate of fresh and dried fruit with goat cheese and then roll the goat cheese in chopped pistachios.

Related: Pistachios and 18 Other Fast, Healthy Convenience Store Snacks

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Are you vegetarian or vegan or just someone who is trying to eat less meat and fish? Did you know that all of these foods were good sources of protein? Will you be adding any them into your diet? How much protein do you aim to consume each day? How do you track your daily consumption? What are some of your go-to sources of protein? Did we miss your favorite one? Do you want to see more vegetarian and vegan recipes? We want to hear from you, leave us a comment below.

Related: Track Your Daily Protein and Calorie Intake for FREE With MyPlate

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