Right from our school days, we have been taught about the importance of protein rich foods. Proteins are building blocks of our body. To be more precise, proteins perform the following functions in our body –
- Play an active role in tissue wear and tear
- Required for synthesis or production of various enzymes and hormones
- Aid in building up our immunity – our defense mechanism by contributing to the synthesis of antibodies and immunoglobulins
- Carry various nutrients such as fat, vitamins and minerals in the bloodstream
- The structural part of hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen throughout our body
- Aid in synthesizing neurotransmitters; chemicals which pass on the signal from brain to other parts of the body
- Required to maintain acid-base balance in the body
- Maintain fluid electrolyte balance in the body
- Aid in the storage of iron and copper
- Provide energy
Proteins Sources in our Diet
Proteins constitute to around 10 – 15% of the Indian diet. However, Indian diets generally lack sufficient amounts of protein. Western diets are likely to contain much higher amounts of proteins. Certain individuals such as bodybuilders and sportspersons do consume much higher amounts owing to their requirements.
The basic unit of proteins is known as amino acid. In all, there are around 20 amino acids. Different permutation and a combination of these amino acids result in the formation of proteins. Of these 20 amino acids, nine are referred to as essential amino acids. The nine essential amino acids are – lysine, leucine, valine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, histidine and threonine. They are called as essential amino acids because the body can not synthesize or produce them. Therefore, it is essential to obtain them from our diet. If our body lacks in any of these essential amino acids then, we may jeopardize our bodily functions.
The best sources of proteins are animal foods such as dairy foods, egg, chicken, seafood and organ meat. These foods contain high amounts of protein. They also contain all the nine essential amino acids in the amounts required by our body. This means that animal foods contain superior quality and quantity of proteins. For this reason, egg is known as reference protein or ideal protein.
So, what about protein rich food for vegetarians? Yes, plant foods do contain proteins. Among them, pulses, legumes and nuts are good protein foods for vegetarians. Cereals contain a much lesser amount of protein than pulses, legumes and nuts. Unlike animal foods, plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids. For instance, pulses lack methionine while cereals lack lysine. Therefore, it wiser to combine cereals and pulses in the meals to make up for the deficient amino acid.
Are You a Vegan or a Vegetarian?
India is a country where a significant percentage of people are vegetarians i.e. they do not consume any animal foods apart from milk and it’s products. There are also many of them who are vegan i.e. they do not consume any animal food including milk. Even in western countries, the trend of adopting vegetarianism or veganism is on a rise. This could for health or religious reasons.The one big challenge that such people face in their diet is incorporating protein rich foods in their daily diets. Inadequate protein intake may have deleterious effects on the health. Poor protein intake during periods of growth – pregnancy, infancy, childhood and adolescence or illness can result in malnutrition. India, for instance, greatly suffers from high childhood undernutrition. In India, every third child under the age of five suffers from undernutrition. The same problem exists even among adolescent girls. One of the main reasons for undernutrition is lack of adequate protein consumption.
The common notion that people have is that animal foods contain high amounts of protein and not plant foods. However, this is not true. There is extreme lack of awareness about protein rich foods for vegetarians. In the next section of this blog, we present a number of protein rich foods for vegetarians.
Protein Rich Foods for Vegetarians
An exceptionally good source of protein for vegetarians is soya. In fact, the protein quality of soya is equated to that of egg. This means that soya contains all the essential amino acids in required amounts. A cup of soya curry or gravy would approximately provide around 10 g of protein which much more than that present in one egg. Besides soya, all other pulses and legumes such as chickpeas, green gram, red gram, black gram, lentil, kidney beans (rajmah), cowpea, moth beans, horse gram are also known as high protein vegetarian foods. On an average, a healthy adult should consume 2 – 3 servings of pulses and/or legumes everyday.
Among the cereals, pearl millet (bajra), barley, quinoa contain decent amount of protein. Interestingly, amaranth (ramdana or rajgira) seeds contain the highest protein among the cereals. Amaranth seeds have a nutty flavour.They can be ground in to flour to make rotis or flattened bread. One can also mix one part of this flour to the whole wheat flour to prepare rotis. Roasted seeds can be added to several preparations such as soups, salads, curries, dal or lentil gravy.
Nuts are also one of the best vegetarian protein sources. A handful of almonds, cashewnuts and peanuts can be consumed daily. Seeds such as garden cress seeds, gingelly seeds, linseed, niger seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and watermelon seeds. These seeds as whole or in powder form can be added to several preparations such as soups, salads, curries, dal or lentil gravy, pancakes, dosa, idli and breakfast cereals.
A few vegetables contain a considerable amount of proteins such as agathi leaves, drumstick leaves, broad beans, cluster beans, field beans, jackfruit seeds and fresh peas.
Below given is a list of foods rich in protein that are not so commonly used in our regular diets but are actually rich in protein.
List of Protein Rich Foods for Vegetarians
|Name of the Food||Protein (g/100g of the food)|
|Watermelon seed kernel||
|Groundnuts or peanuts||
|Garden cress seeds||
19.0 – 21.6
|Linseed or flaxseed||18.6|
|Amaranth seeds, black, Amaranthus cruentus||14.6|
|Amaranth seeds, pale brown, Amaranthus cruentus||13.3|
|Agathi leaves, Sesbania grandiflora||8.1|
|Drumstick leaves, Moringa oleifera||6.4|
|Jackfruit seeds, Artocarpusheterophyllus||5.8|
In the true sense, vegetarians have many more options of protein rich foods than they actually think of. Also, consuming plant proteins has many advantages such as –
- Unlike animal foods, plant foods are rich in fibre. Fibre is required for a healthy digestive system and to prevent and/or relieve constipation. A high fibre diet is also advised in the management of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle conditions.
- Plant proteins contain PUFA/MUFA and no cholesterol. Animal foods are high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
- Metabolism of plant proteins generate much less ammonia as compared to animal foods. This aids in the treatment of liver and kidney diseases.
Plant foods contain good amounts of protein and have a number of benefits as listed above. Thus, it is wise to broaden the range of foods we consume. Many of the foods discussed here can be easily incorporated to enrich our daily diets with a high protein vegetarian diet.