There are many ways to get more protein into your vegetarian diet — it just takes a little planning.

Protein provides energy and helps your body function properly. It’s one of three macronutrients that the human body requires. The other two macronutrients are fats and carbohydrates.

You can get protein either through meat or plants, but studies show that eating protein from plants is often healthier. A 2016 Harvard University study of more than 131,000 people showed that those who got their protein from plants had a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes. This was especially true among people who had at least one unhealthy lifestyle factor, such as smoking, heavy drinking, being overweight or obese, or lack of exercise.

How Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?

Vegetarians may be at risk of having a protein deficiency, so it’s important to incorporate more plant-based protein into your diet.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most adult women should eat about 5 ounces of protein a day, while most adult men should eat between 5.5 and 6 ounces. One egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, or half an ounce of nuts or seeds is equal to one ounce of protein. Meeting these goals can be done easily by adding plant-based proteins to every meal.

The USDA recommends building your meals around proteins such as beans, lentils, and rice. Think about which of these foods you like and how you can incorporate them throughout your day. Here are some examples of plant-based protein sources for you to try:

  • Eggs. Eat your eggs however you like them prepared.
  • Nut butter. Consider eating toast with almond butter, which is packed with protein and heart-healthy fats.
  • Steel-cut oatmeal. Try making these no-bake protein bars.
  • Green vegetables. These include spinach, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and green peas. (Peas are technically legumes, but most us think of them as vegetables.)
  • Nuts and seeds. For healthy snacks, reach for unsalted nuts like almonds or cashews, and try adding chia seeds to granola or oatmeal.
  • Beans. There are so many varieties of beans—black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, chickpeas (hummus, anyone?), and more—that can be added to soups or chili, served as a healthy side dish, or eaten as a traditional combo with rice.
  • Soy products. Soybeans and tofu are good examples.
  • Lentils. Lentils are a great main dish, or you can use them to make a veggie burger.
  • Fish. If you’re a pescatarian — a vegetarian who still eats fish and shellfish— try adding salmon, tuna, cod, or trout to your menu a couple of times a week.

After choosing your favorite protein sources from the list above, start looking for recipes to try for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be adventurous and add new items to your grocery list. It’s a lot of fun to research recipes before heading to the supermarket.

For more information on maintaining a healthy diet, consult a registered dietitian at UPMC.

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