The best sources of protein for vegetarians

BBC Good Food examines the best sources of protein for vegetarians and how to keep yourself fuelled up with nutritious protein-packed fruit, veg, eggs and pulses

The best sources of protein for vegetarians

Protein is a key part of a healthy diet. It used to be the obsession of body-builders and gym fanatics alone, but now lots of us are keen to ensure we are eating enough. It can be tricky to get your daily quota as a vegetarian if you're not sure what your best veggie sources of protein-rich foods are. Discover our best protein-rich recipes bursting with fresh veggie flavours that are key to a healthy diet. 

Why do we need protein? 

Forget the protein shakes, powders and supplements, let's get back to basics. Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids and is essential for repairing damaged cells and building new ones. It's essential in the building of tissues, muscles and bones, so it's important to make sure your body has what it needs. 

How much protein do we need a day?

In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh, based on the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI). This will vary over your lifetime and depend on your individual circumstance. For example, a more active person, such as an athlete in training, will require more protein than someone living a sedentary lifestyle. 

On average, guidelines suggest men should aim to eat around 55g of protein a day and women should aim for around 45g of protein daily. Read on to discover how you can meet your daily needs.

The best veggie protein sources

If you're cutting out certain food groups such as meat and fish, you might think your protein options are somewhat limited, but there are lots of options for packing in the nutrients. 

Grains and pulses

Squash and Puy lentil salad
Lentils, pulses and beans are an excellent storecupboard staple source of protein – 100g of boiled lentils contains around 9g of protein and are a hearty way to bulk up soups, stews and casseroles. Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and even baked beans are an easy way to power up your protein intake. 

There are also a range of grains such as oats, barley, rice and quinoa that can add protein to a super-simple recipe. Quinoa in particular is a valuable veggie ingredient as it's one of the few plant sources classed as a complete protein. This means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids. Learn more about the health benefits of quinoa

And it's well worth having that bowl of porridge in the morning – 50g of oats contains around 6g of protein.

Try our warm roasted squash and Puy lentil salad, or our quinoa salad with grilled halloumi

Dairy products

Dairy products are packed full of calcium and protein, which are both essential as part of a healthy diet – 100g of cow's milk contains around 3g of protein, while 100g of cheddar cheese contains around 25g of protein. Choose reduced-fat options if you are concerned about saturated fat and calories. Vegan options include nut milks, such as hazelnut or almond milk, but be aware that shop-bought versions contain very low levels of protein. Soya milk is more comparable with dairy in terms of protein content. Learn how to make your own dairy-free milk in our easy-to-follow guide.  

A spoonful of Greek yogurt is also a great way to add in protein, with around 6g for every 100g of yogurt. Try topping your muesli, smoothie bowls or cereal with a hearty dollop of fresh, natural Greek yogurt. 

Try our milk-based super berry smoothie to kick off your day. 


Feta scramble
Eggs are an easily available, cheap source of nutrients. A single hard-boiled egg contains around 6g of protein and makes a nutritious, filling breakfast or lunchtime meal. They're also easily digestible and low in calories. 

Try our protein-rich scrambled egg and feta hash.
Read up on the benefits of eggs in our ultimate egg guide

Soya and tofu 

Smoky tofu tortillas
Soy protein is a very versatile ingredient and can be turned into many different delicious forms. Tofu, for example, is made from the curds of soy milk and can be great when bulking out veggie stir-fries or salads. It comes in different forms: silken, firm or extra firm and is another low-calorie, high-protein ingredient you can make use of relatively easily – 100g of firm tofu contains around 8g of protein. 

Soya beans themselves can be eaten alone or turned into soy milk, miso or tempeh. Per 100g, soya beans contain around 15g of protein. Although plant and animal proteins are digested in different ways by our bodies, soya is a great veggie substitute for meat and is decidedly adaptable. 

Try our smoky tofu tortillas for an extra hit of protein in your wraps.
Discover more info in our health benefits of tofu guide.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a handy, snackable form of protein and essential fats. There are certain types that are particularly protein rich: almonds, cashews, chia seeds and flaxseeds are all popular protein options. A 30g portion size of almonds contains around 6g of protein and will see you through the afternoon slump. 

Get more information on the health benefits of nuts in our essential guide. 

Want to bulk up the protein on your plate? Check out our high-protein recipe collections for more inspiration:

High-protein snacks
High-protein breakfasts
High-protein lunches
High-protein dinners
More high-protein recipes

This article was last reviewed 23 April 2017 by Kerry Torrens.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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22nd May, 2018
Like many others, militant vegans put me off adopting a more vegetarian lifestyle for a long time. To be honest, saving the animals isn't a motivation for me either, although I'm sure it's very noble. The reason I actually chose to become vegetarian was to help minimise my environmental impact, something I do care very strongly about, and I am very proud of my efforts so far. The added bonuses of much cheaper grocery bills and feeling healthier have also helped me to (mostly) stick to it. BBC has been incredibly helpful in helping me come up with new ways of eating and I feel so much better for this change. So, thanks BBC for all the advice, and to the militant vegans commenting, be aware you turn many people off adapting to your lifestyle with your attitudes.
8th May, 2017
Vegans - Always condemning. People can source their own meat,dairy and eggs humanely, in fact from animals that have fantastic lives. stop always ramming down peoples throats that its all cruel when its not at all.
Gareth Richardson's picture
Gareth Richardson
12th Dec, 2017
Says the meat eater who visited a page intended to help vegans/vegetarians (or omnivores who are looking for healthier ways to live, such as myself) to air his or her negative views... ever thought you might be the one with the problem?
9th May, 2017
Vegans - always trying to save animals. How terrible is that? People could source from other less barbaric sources but, you know what? They don't. They buy cheap from Tesco. They buy MacDonald's. None of these animals had fantastic lives. Please watch Earthlings or Vegucated and then come back and talk to me. It changed my life for the better. If you don't watch the documentaries it will be because you know, deep down, that what I am saying is true.
8th May, 2017
Regarding dairy: Please do not condemn all producers. Many small home-based producers do not follow the industry standards cited in the previous two comments. We have a herd of beloved purebred, registered Nubian dairy goats who live on their own two acres with their own protection dog and our mamas stay with their newborns until the babies are strong enough to go outside. Then the mamas have access to their babies (who are sheltered in a big covered run to avoid hawk and raven depredation) and they enjoy full on 'visits' several time a day. Our babies eat their mama's milk for a minimum of two months (bucklings), and often up to five months (doelings), and we usually wait until our girls are two years old to breed them. Our boys are sold as breeding bucks or pets, or they continue to live with us. In return, our goats produce nearly a gallon of wonderful milk a day. As selective breeders, we are also helping continue both a species and a tradition of good animal husbandry, but this is not a cheap enterprise. We still need to purchase hay and feedstuff. We are not unique, as small producers. If we could legally sell our goats' milk and milk products, then consumers would have a choice to support sustainable, responsible agriculture. We would sure rather folks not simply condemn the whole industry and quit dairy products, when there are, perhaps, more palatable (pun intended) options out there that support local farmers and local animals and help keep some of these amazing goat breeds alive and well for future generations. I am sure my comments also apply to small enterprises who raise dairy cattle and free range egg-laying hens. Don't condemn us all!
9th May, 2017
But you know your situation is not the 'norm'. The majority of people will only look at price and convenience when accessing their food - which means a trip to their supermarket. This is milk from high yielding cows and everything I have said is true - watch Earthlings or Vegucated if you don't believe me. Certainly keep a goat as a pet but why do you have to breed them? Why subject them to constant pregnancy? How exhausting for them. Do you really believe that goat milk commercial farmers treat their goats the same? Of course not. Its all down to money. Thank you.
8th May, 2017
I would also recommend the documentary Vegucated. Dairy is the cruelest as it involves removing a baby from its mother EVERY time she gives birth. The male calves are usually killed at birth and the females are fed a substitute formula until they are old enough to endure the whole process of forced insemination, pregnancy, birth, loss of their baby and excessive over milking. There are so many dairy substitutes out there - almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, soy milk and on and on. Go vegan for yourself, the planet AND the animals.
28th Sep, 2017
I used to eat chicken, beef, lamb and pork. After i saw the documentary "What the Health" - i switched to Vegetarian. I still eat fish and prawns but may let them go at some point.I will watch the documentaries you mentioned.
7th May, 2017
There is more cruelty and suffering in a glass of milk or an egg than in a steak. Watch the documentary Earthlings. Dairy cows and egg laying hens are used up for their "product" and then slaughtered anyway at the end of their shortened life. Inform yourself please. All these suggestions, minus dairy and eggs, are great!
3rd May, 2017
Can you please post the recipe for the noodle dish in the top photo please?
goodfoodteam's picture
5th May, 2017
The top picture is the veg-packed noodle bowl and here's the recipe. Enjoy!
3rd May, 2017
They have, it's here: Dead easy!
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