It’s well documented that vegetarians have less heart disease and colorectal cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes and obesity, but many wonder if a vegetarian diet provides adequate A new study, however, puts this question to rest, finding that vegetarians are typically not lacking in this nutrient. Why? Because, believe it or not, protein sources are more prevent than you think.

Although most plant foods do not contain all nine essential amino acids—often referred to as ‘protein building blocks’— in the ratios that satisfy the body’s protein needs, vegetarians can obtain these amino acids by incorporating a broad spectrum of foods into their diets. Looking for some meat-free protein or considering a more ‘flexitarian’ diet? The following unprocessed foods are loaded with nutrients and great sources of protein.

1. Fruit and dried fruit

Fruit is another food category not commonly associated with protein, but it does contain some. Avocados are the highest fruit source of protein and are considered by some to be an extraordinary superfood.

Protein sources for vegetariansFeatured above: Surprise surprise! Raisins contain almost 5 grams of protein per cup!

2. Vegetables

Most people do not think of vegetables as good sources of protein, but one cup of spinach has over 5 grams of this nutrient and a 7 oz. baked potato can offer up almost 9 grams of protein! Other vegetables high in protein include Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Vegetables are also incredibly beneficial in other ways, being high in vitamins and minerals.

Featured above: Don’t be intimidated by the artichoke as it packs almost 6 grams of protein per cup! Artichokes are delicious vegetables that can be prepared in so many different ways and actually fill you up for hours. Need help cooking an artichoke? Check Pinterest for recipe and preparation ideas!

3. Beans and Peas

While all legumes contain protein, some are higher in starch than others. Lentils are an excellent choice, as they contain 18 grams of protein, which is almost equivalent to the amount in 3 ounces of steak. Black beans, peas and chickpeas are also good choices because they are less starchy than kidney, northern, navy and lima beans. Buy the dried beans and cook them yourself to avoid the BPA present in the linings of canned goods.

Featured above: Split peas contain 16 grams of protein per cup and it’s not had to meet your protein needs when making a fresh, homemade split pea soup!

4. Whole Grains

Other whole grains include foods such as brown rice, bulgur, and millet, along with oats, barley and whole-wheat products such as whole wheat pasta. Quinoa is, in fact, a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. All grains are low in fat, high in fiber and contain key vitamins and minerals.

Featured above: Amaranth is a grain that packs 9 grams of protein per cup and can be used in place of millet or quinoa in any recipe. It’s often ground for use in cereals or flour but when prepared as a main entree it cooks quickly and tastes delicious. The leaves of the Amaranth plant are often available as well for fresh salads!

5. Nuts

Although nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts are high in fat, it is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat. A good snack would be one-fourth cup of almonds, which has 8 grams of protein. It is best to eat them raw rather than roasted.

Featured above: One of the more fun and flavorful nuts, pistachios pack 6 grams of protein per 1/4 cup! They are excellent additions to salads and have been know to boost levels of lutein, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol.

6. Seeds

Eat some sunflower, sesame or pumpkin seeds daily, as they are nutrition-dense powerhouses that contain protein along with other important nutrients. These are best eaten raw as well.

Featured above: With 9 grams of protein per 1/4 quarter cup, Pumpkin Seeds are the perfect snack for vegetarians who wish to up their protein intake with a delicious and low-fat food.

7. Greek Yogurt and Cottage Cheese

Greek yogurt contains much less sugar but up to twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt. Depending on the brand, it contains between 13 to 18 grams of protein. Fat free cottage cheese is one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians as it boosts 31 g of protein per cup as well as vitamin B12.

Since Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient found only in meat and dairy products, it may be a good idea for vegetarians to drink organic milk or eat Greek yogurt to boost their B12 levels.

8. The Incredible Egg

This formerly maligned food is a great source of protein, along with other key nutrients like carotenoids and choline. Even the American Heart Association now permits one egg per day for healthy adults. However, like dairy foods, it is best to buy the organic variety.

Looking for some vitamin B12 from your eggs? Don’t skip the yolk!! While egg whites are a valuable source of protein for vegetarians, the yolk contains much-needed micronutrients.

Millions of people around the world are enjoying the health benefits of the vegetarian diet. The critical point to reiterate for those on this diet is to eat a variety of foods to ensure the body takes in all the essential amino acids.

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