Best meat free protein sources

Switching to a vegetarian diet isn't easy and you might find yourself needing to do a lot of research into new foods you never considered before. One of the first things to think about is definitely protein. Because you're stopping consumption of products high in protein such as meats and fish, your body will need them from other sources, especially if you exercise a lot.

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  • Greek yoghurt


A common source of protein and a pretty great breakfast food - it can be mixed with a range of berries, muesli and nuts. Warning: if you are not accustomed to how Greek yoghurt tastes then try a little bit on its own before – you’ll see why we recommend adding a little extra to it. Although it’s low in tryptophan, it covers most of the bases in terms of amino acids and is also thicker than most yoghurts. It’s this increased viscosity that makes yoghurt more filling and good way to start the day with a protein kick.  


  •  Low fat cottage cheese


This is a favourite among all health conscious people, athletes and pregnant women as it contains a variety of macro and micronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamin D. It is also a source of most B-vitamins, which are important for the metabolic activities within our bodies. If that wasn’t enough, it contains calcium and is heart-friendly. It can be eaten on its own, as a spread or mixed with fruit and cinnamon for extra flavour, quelling all of those sour memories.


  • Quinoa


Marketed as a ‘superfood’ and ‘supergrain’, quinoa can be used as a replacement for sides such as rice and chips to go along with a meal. It may not be ‘super’, we at DNAFit don’t really like that term, but it is low in cholesterol and high in iron and fiber, thus aiding digestion. Perfect for vegetarians because it contains all essential amino acids, operating with a high dosage of protein, and is versatile. Put it in your salad, mix it in with your chili or come up with an inventive way to get the most out of it. Be sure to learn how to pronounce it beforehand, or suffer the sarcastic glances of a nu-farmer with a stupid haircut and no calluses on their hands.  


  • Tempeh and Natto


I wouldn’t say that these are the tastiest alternatives to protein, although some people may disagree, as they are variations of soy products and similar to that non-food people call tofu. Soy and soybeans have long since been identified as ideal for vegetarians who need protein-rich food sources and these are no different as they are highly nutritious and can directly replace the meat or chicken you’re leaving out to give your meals that extra bit of density. 


  • Eggs


There are a lot of misconceptions about eggs due to their humble beginnings. Firstly, they are not a dairy product and are perfectly fine to be consumed by lactose intolerant people. Also, although eggs contain cholesterol this does not mean that they are bad for your heart as consuming cholesterol-rich foods aren’t a direct correlation to you having high cholesterol. Eggs contain HDL cholesterol, the good kind, and not LDL, which has been associated with heart disease. Now that that’s sorted – eggs contain all required amino acids and, as we all know, are probably one of the most usable foods out there. Whether you want them fried, boiled, scrambled, poached or stuffed with nutritious foods as an omelette, eggs can seriously do it all while satiating your body’s need for protein and other important vitamins and minerals.


  • Soba noodles


Soba noodles are a bit of a craze but for a good reason. They’re a simple, new take on buckwheat, of which you can eat the seeds as well, and they contain all amino acids. Eating noodles opens up a world of possibilities as to what you can add to them – steamed vegetables, quinoa, sugar-free peanut butter – and make for a quick snack or hearty meal. Not only this, but they are also associated with improved circulation, lower pressure and controlling blood glucose levels.


  •  Peanut butter


Peanut butter may be low in lysine but it’s very high in energy and a quick sandwich can get you on your way in no time at all. Try to aim for peanut butter without too many preservatives and if you can’t handle bread just use a spoon – you know what I’m saying.


  • Lentils and Beans


Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart…the song goes on but what it fails to mention is what a great source of protein beans and lentils are. They’re a bit low in methionine but can easily be added to a variety of dishes and are found in tasty food creations like burritos (black beans) and pasta (white beans). They’re also really cheap so if you’re looking for an affordable source of protein that isn’t hyped as the latest trend by health magazines with other more dubious, ulterior motives connected to hipster fresh food markets then go for the humble bean. They want to be devoured and loved as much as any other food.


  • Pumpkin Seeds and Pistachio Nuts


They’re high in all amino acids and healthy fats and are not only confined to pumpkin seeds and pistachios. Sunflower seeds, or highly addictive garinim, are also healthy as are almonds and cashews. You can either eat them in handfuls as a snack or incorporate the butter made from these in your food.


  • Goji berries


Also known as the wolfberry, these berries are dried and used for their novelty and nutritional value. They’re very high in protein, containing all amino acids and even contain melatonin, which promotes healthy weight gain. Add them to soups and reap the rewards of the high beta carotene or eat them covered in dark chocolate or with muesli.


  • Spinach


It’s one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, so Popeye didn’t lie. It may be a bit lower in methionine but makes up for it with the prevalence of antioxidants, beta carotene, vitamin K, dietary fiber, iron and a myriad of other nutrients that promote health. It’s truly a power vegetable that should always be included in salads and your morning omelette.


  • Avocados


Avocados contain more protein than any other vegetable. They also have  the good sort of fats, saturated straight from the top shelf, and is high in that crucial substance making moves around the nutrition world – omega-3. Avos can be spread, added to sushi, eaten whole – just about any way you want it.  


  • Seitan


If you’re gluten sensitive or suffer from coeliac then seitan, or wheat gluten, might not be for you. If you aren’t however, you’ll be happy to know that many vegetarians swear by it. It’s often used as a replacement for poultry, with a high protein content, and also looks a bit like a hot bun. It can be included in a variety of meals, as it is a genuine meat replacement.


Now that we’ve gone through a whole lot of foods you can eat to get your daily protein fix we’ve also got a few guidelines for you so that you can mix and match your amino acids to get the best out of your meals:


If what you are consuming is low in lysine – foods such as nuts and nut butter, by simply combining it with ricotta, a variety of cheeses and soy will sort you out.

Lacking in that crucial amount of tryptophan? Combine your Greek yoghurt with pumpkin seeds, berries or a variety of tasty nuts like cashews, pistachios and almonds.

Finally, the last amino acid that appears to be missing from vegetarian protein sources such as spinach, lentils and beans is methionine. Combining these foods with sesame seeds, eggs or chestnuts should help. The same goes for cysteine, phenylalanine and tyrosine.

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