Whats a complete protein, and which nonmeat sources are ideal for vegetarians? Find out for Meatless Monday.
When I stopped eating meat, I was often asked the same question by concerned friends and family: “but how do you get enough protein?”
Very easily, it turns out. Meatless eaters of any ilk—vegan, vegetarian, or anything in between—need not worry that they’re missing out on protein. Plant-based foods have got us covered—which is why this Meatless Monday post delves into some of the best vegetarian sources of protein (plus recipes, of course!).
What’s the deal?
First, let’s review what differentiates complete proteins from the other proteins out there. Once in the body, protein is broken down into amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids that make up protein, about half can only be sourced from food—meaning our body can’t produce them on its own. To be called complete, a protein must contain all of these essential amino acids.
Animal products, including dairy and eggs, are naturally complete proteins. But the good news for vegetarians is that we can check all our essential amino acid boxes each day by eating a variety of incomplete proteins. For example, combining legumes and grains (as in our Black Bean and Brown Rice Veggie Bowl) will add up to a complete protein meal.
That being said, the plant world isn’t totally lacking in complete protein foods. Try incorporating these protein prima donnas into your meatless meals.
Quinoa (8 g protein per 1 cup, cooked)
Use it: to add bulk to salads or as a side dish in place of rice
Buckwheat (6 g protein per 1 cup, cooked)
Use it: in salads or soups (in the form of soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat)
Chia seeds (4 g protein per 2 Tbsp)
Use it: as a thickener in smoothies, yogurt, and puddings
Extra-firm, organic tofu (20 g protein per 1/2 cup)
Use it: in place of meat in stir-fries and stews