"How can you be a vegetarian if you can't eat tofu?!" That's a common question for vegetarians with soy allergies. Soy is the main ingredient not only of tofu but also of tempeh, most textured vegetable protein meat substitutes, and a variety of vegetarian convenience foods. However, a variety of foods are safe for soy allergies and appropriate on vegetarian and vegan diets that can get you the protein you need. Read on for eight high-protein foods you can incorporate into your vegetarian diet.
Milk and Eggs
These aren't for vegans, of course, and they're common allergens in and of themselves, but for lacto-ovo-vegetarians, milk and eggs can be a rich source of protein and of vitamin B-12, a vital nutrient which isn't found in plant protein sources. One cup of whole milk contains about eight grams of protein -- more than 15% of the daily protein needs of an average, non-athletic adult -- while one large egg contains nearly seven grams.
They're cheap, they're easy to cook (though they take a while), and they're valuable sources of micronutrients like iron, folate, and magnesium, just to name a few. Beans have so many virtues in a vegetarian diet that it's hard to list them all. And they're delicious and filling to boot. One cup of cooked black beans provides 15 grams of protein. Others -- pinto, cranberry, garbanzo, and navy, to name a few -- have similar nutritional benefits.
Nuts are common allergens. So as with milk and eggs, they won't be useful for everyone. But like beans, nuts are rich vegan protein foods with other important nutrients, like vitamin E and phosphorus. One cup of pecans or macadamia nuts packs about 10 grams of protein, while a cup of whole dry-roasted almonds will net you a whopping 30. Don't overlook nut butter, nut milks, and nut flours as easy ways to add nuts to your diet.
Made from the protein-rich gluten of wheat flour, seitan (or "wheat meat") is a commonly used vegetarian meat substitute that's safe for soy allergies in its unadulterated form (although you'll need to be careful if you're buying commercial seitan from a supermarket or health food store, as some varieties do include soy). You can make your own seitan from vital wheat gluten at home (just leave out the soy sauce). One serving of White Wave seitan will provide 18 grams of protein.
Whole wheat is an efficient way to get protein and one that's especially useful because it comes in so many different forms. Whether in the form of pasta, bread, or wheat berries (whole wheat kernels that are eaten like couscous or in cold salads), whole wheat is a great source of fiber and minerals like selenium and manganese. Be sure to buy whole grain -- not refined -- products for maximum protein. One cup of whole wheat spaghetti has 7.5 grams of protein, while one ounce of whole wheat bread with wheat berries will give you about three.
Touted as a "supergrain" for its nutritional completeness, the staple food of the Inca people is experiencing a bit of a commercial renaissance in North America. You'll find it sold not only as a whole grain but also blended with corn in pasta. One cup of quinoa includes 23 grams of protein (about half of an average woman's daily protein needs), and it's high in fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus to boot.
Whole flaxseed is a lovely addition to muffins, where the chewy, crunchy texture works well. A few tablespoons of ground flaxseed can be added to any smoothie recipe for a slight nutty flavor and a nutrition boost. In one cup of flaxseed, you'll find nearly 31 grams of protein.
Another so-called "superfood" (a group of foods such blueberries, salmon, and raw honey said to pack great nutritional punch), oat bran is the part of the whole-grain oat removed during the processing of instant and rolled oats. Like flaxseed, oat bran is an easy addition to baked goods. You can also add it to oatmeal or other hot cereals; a few tablespoons of oat bran added to instant or rolled oats won't affect cooking time but will provide a fiber and nutrient boost. You can also follow package directions to cook it by itself. One cup of cooked oat bran boasts seven grams of protein.