Types of Vegetarian Protein Sources

Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on June 22, 2021

Non-vegetarians might think the vegetarian diet doesn’t contain enough protein, but that’s not the case. You can gain valuable nutrition from vegetarian protein sources

Meat provides a “complete protein package,” meaning that it contains protein and many other necessary nutrients to live. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get your protein and nutrients through non-meat options, such as:

  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Eggs and dairy products

One of the top vegetarian protein sources is the bean. Beans (considered a legume) come in a wide variety of options, including:

  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Fava beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans

Beans can take the place of almost any meat protein. You can use lentils in curries, salads, soups, tacos, and similar dishes. Legumes make a perfect snack when seasoned and baked.

Soybeans. The most popular and versatile vegetarian legume is the soybean. You can boil them, steam them, or serve them as edamame, a crunchy snack. They can be made into tofu or tempeh, which you can use as a meat substitute. They’re even turned into dairy substitutes like soymilk.

Soybeans contain the nine essential amino acids that we get from food, along with B vitamins, calcium, fiber, iron, and zinc. Soy protein may also lower “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Peas. Peas, another kind of legume, contain protein. You can use them the same way you use beans.

Nuts and seeds are packed with protein. You can eat them as a snack or sprinkle them on your favorite breakfast oats or yogurts. Popular nuts and seeds as sources of protein include:

  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

Nut- and seed-based spreads or liquids also add protein to your diet. Try almond milk, almond butter, or peanut butter with your next meal.

Whole grains contain many nutrients your body needs, including protein. You can get protein from whole grains like:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Teff
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat

Add these to your diet to get a boost of protein and other valuable vitamins and minerals.

Most vegetables provide your diet with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But some also contain protein.

Leafy greens like spinach boast lots of protein. One cup of spinach equals one hard-boiled egg — but with fewer calories. Some other veggies with protein are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Artichokes
  • Mushrooms
  • Corn

The protein present in dairy products is called whey protein. It’s a popular dietary supplement and can serve as a beneficial protein. People following a vegan diet won’t benefit from dairy protein, but vegetarians can fit many dairy products into their food lineup.

Popular dairy products that contain whey protein include milk, cheese, and yogurt. Yogurts and cheeses sometimes contain added sugars and carbohydrates, so consider healthier alternatives like cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt.

Whey protein can:

  • Boost your immune system
  • Work as an antioxidant
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Fight viruses and bacteria

Some people consider eggs vegetarian, while others don’t. Either way, they provide a strong source of protein. A single egg has 6 to 8 grams of protein, double the amount found in a slice of bacon.

One benefit of eggs is that they offer a complete protein package, like meat does for non-vegetarians. They contain the nine essential amino acids you get from food, making them a powerful vegetarian protein source.

Other benefits of eggs include that they help your eyes stay healthy, feature important vitamins and nutrients, and regulate your cholesterol.

A proper vegetarian diet offers numerous health benefits. Diets with animal protein tend to contain higher levels of fat, calories, and sodium. Following a vegetarian diet lowers your risk of health problems such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

But vegetarianism doesn’t mean healthy unless you take the right steps. A diet full of soda and candy is vegetarian but not healthy. A healthy vegetarian diet requires thoughtful planning and a well-rounded intake of nutrients. 

If you’re wondering how to add more protein to your vegetarian diet, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist.

Show Sources


American Heart Association: “Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber.”

Cedars Sinai: “Are Animal Proteins Better for You Than Plant Proteins?”

Cleveland Clinic: “13 of the Best Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Becoming a vegetarian,” “Getting your protein from plants.”


NewYork-Presbyterian: “12 alternative protein sources for vegetarians.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info