Most people consume protein by eating animals, such as meat or fish. However, about 5% of people in the U.S. are vegetarians, according to a Gallup Poll, meaning they forgo meat. For the roughly 2% of vegans who skip eggs, milk, and cheese, in addition to meat, reaching the recommended daily allowance of protein can require thoughtful meal planning.

Protein is critical for optimal health. Proteins are the building blocks of human cells and people who don’t eat enough may experience muscle weakness and fatigue, and are more susceptible to injury. Fortunately, there are plenty of protein-packed foods to choose from that don’t come from animals. Eat a variety of these foods, and you’ll be sure to consume enough protein and amino acids for a healthy body.

1. Soy

Soy can be found in products ranging from tofu to soymilk to soy-based fake cheese, however each type of soy contains a varying amount of protein. Foods with the highest levels include soy protein isolate, found in many fake meat patties or sausage links; soybeans, from which all soy products are derived; and tofu, also commonly used as a substitute for meat.

2. Beans

Beans come in many different types, and are easily mixed into recipes for an added protein kick. Substitute black beans for beef in a Mexican-inspired dish, toss garbanzo beans into a fresh salad, or include white beans in an Italian soup. The healthy food comes packed with protein—one-half cup provides the same amount of protein as one ounce of broiled steak. Combine beans with rice and it creates a complete protein in the body.

3. Oatmeal

A warm cup of oatmeal, perhaps with some nuts or fresh fruit tossed in, makes for a satisfying and healthy breakfast. With six grams of protein per cup, oatmeal also helps vegetarians and vegans stay on track with dietary requirements.

4. Nuts

Nuts make a wonderful snack or tasty addition to salad, oatmeal, or trail mix. Each type of nut contains a different amount of protein, but you’re bound to get a boost no matter which one you call a favorite. One ounce of almonds—about 23 kernels—contains six grams of protein, while one ounce of walnuts—about 14 halves—provides 4.3 grams.

5. Brown rice

Rice is an easy, but nutritious add-on to a vegetarian meal. Besides offering heart-healthy whole grains, it also packs five grams of protein into every cooked cup.

What vegetarian foods do you eat to consume enough protein? 

Image by Adam Wyles via Flickr

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