Bowl of chickpeas, quinoa, vegetables: some of plant-based protein sources
Plant-based protein consumption is becoming more popular

Vegetarian Diet: 5 Plant-Based Protein Sources

8 minutes

With its key role in building muscle and bones, everyone needs protein in their diet. You can get it from meat, but that’s not your only option: plant-based protein is also part of a balanced diet, and a major alternative for vegetarians and vegans. Plant-based diets by definition need plenty of vegetarian protein sources. It’s easier, and certainly tastier, than you might think to incorporate plant-based protein into your lifestyle.

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Why Are Vegetarian Protein Sources Important? 

Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. Why? Because protein is made of amino acids, which our bodies use to repair bones and muscles. Protein is also a source of energy. 

  • Animal protein is described as a complete source because it includes the nine amino acids that our body needs but can’t produce itself. 
  • Vegetarian protein sources include spinach, broccoli, avocado, and mushrooms, but these are incomplete sources of protein, meaning they don’t have those nutrients in high enough levels to be used. 
  • However, there are also complete plant-based proteins containing all the essential amino acids the body needs but can’t make for itself, and they are also high in fibre.

Let’s find out more about plant-based proteins and how they can be a tasty way to get the nutrients your body needs while reducing your meat intake, especially if you’re following a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet, or just want to reduce your animal intake in a flexitarian way.

What Are the Best Vegetarian Protein Sources?

There are lots of plant-based proteins that you can use in a myriad of ways to create delicious, healthy food and discover new cuisines that feature these brilliant foods. It’s a win-win situation!

Plant-Based Protein Source #1: Lentils

Lentils are a great source of fibre and potassium. They are also a relevant vegan protein source with 25.4 g of protein per 100 g. You can use lentils as a replacement for meat in many dishes and as filling too. 

Need inspiration? 

  • For cold winter nights, there’s nothing like a hearty lentil soup
  • For a more exotic dish, a coconut lentil curry is always a great bet.
  • You can also use lentils in tacos or with nachos, or to add more texture and fibre to pies and stews
  • Lentils are a great flavour match to butternut squash and sweet potato.

Many Indian dishes use lentils as a base,
so Indian restaurants are good options for enjoying lentil-based dishes. 

Lentil burger with lettuce, tomato, and dressing: example of plant-based protein source
Lentils can be a great vegetarian protein source for meat-free burger lovers.

Plant-Based Protein Source #2: Chickpeas

With 20.5 g of protein per 100 g serving, chickpeas are another great vegetarian or vegan protein source. As well as their high protein content, chickpeas are high in fibre and healthy fats. They also have a low glycaemic index and are naturally gluten-free

This plant-based protein is hugely versatile: chickpeas can be used in soups and stews, salads, sandwiches and wraps, and in cuisines from across the world: from hearty Spanish dishes like spinach with chickpeas to Middle Eastern starters like hummus; there are so many ways to enjoy them. 

Need inspiration? 

  • Try roasting chickpeas and sprinkling them over a salad: they’ll add a salty, crunchy twist and an extra shot of protein. 
  • Chickpeas can also be added to a Caesar salad for extra crunch. 
  • You can shape cooked chickpeas into burger patties or make your own falafel, a Middle Eastern staple. 

If you’re a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine,
Lebanese restaurants are a good call for chickpea dishes like falafel and hummus. 

Serving of hummus with oil and chickpea garnish, example of easy plant-based protein source
Use chickpeas to make hummus, a delicious and excellent plant-based protein source.

Plant-Based Protein Source #3: Tofu

The thing that a lot of people don’t like about tofu is actually its secret weapon. Far from being bland, tofu is a blank canvas, absorbing and deepening the flavours of what it’s cooked with. It’s also hugely versatile in terms of texture too: creamy, crunchy, tender, crumbly are all within tofu’s bag of tricks.

As a vegan or vegetarian protein source, it’s up there too with the best of them. At 13..4 g of protein per 100 g, it’s a tasty way of getting the nutrients you need without resorting to meat or fish. 

Need inspiration? 

  • Tofu is the plant-based protein of choice for many vegans and vegetarians because it can be used in so many ways. 
  • It can be fried, barbecued, stir fried and made into soups, stews, and hot pots. 
  • You can scramble it as an alternative to eggs in the morning, coat it in bread crumbs, or fill tacos with it. The possibilities are almost endless. 

The next time you’re planning an evening out,
why not opt for Pad Thai with some delicious fried tofu?

White bowl of fried tofu and chopped vegetables: example of plant-based protein
Tofu is a top plant-based protein because of its versatility.

Plant-Based Protein Source #4: Quinoa

Not all plant-based proteins are equal. Quinoa is often described as a superfood, and with good reason. It’s a complete protein, with all the essential amino acids our bodies need and in the right quantities. It is also naturally gluten free, making it suitable for celiacs too. When it comes to protein, quinoa packs a punch, with 13.2 g per 100 g serving

Quinoa is a hugely versatile way to increase vegetarian sources of protein in your diet. There’s so much you can do with it; you’ll be spoilt for choice from hearty breakfast options to salads and pancakes. 

Need inspiration? 

  • Use it as a salad base to add bulk and a delicious nutty taste to all sorts of cold appetizers, like tabbouleh. 
  • Mix quinoa with blueberries or stewed apples for a supercharged breakfast granola alternative. 
  • Swap in different fruits to make a different breakfast bowl for each day of the week.
  • Add quinoa to soups to make them a meal all on their own, full of texture and protein.
  • The same goes for stews; quinoa adds protein and flavour. 

Quinoa is widely used as a plant-based protein in Latin America,
especially in Andean countries, so why not try some Peruvian cuisine?

Quinoa, a plant-based protein, with tomato and cucumber in a bowl of tabbouleh
Quinoa is a plant-based protein used in delicious salads like tabbouleh.

Plant-Based Protein Source #5: Tempeh

Although it might seem similar to tofu at first glance, tempeh has
a firmer, meatier texture and a deliciously nutty taste. 

Like tofu, it’s super versatile. You can treat it like meat and sear it like steak, use it in stir fries or sandwiches, stews, salads, and soups. 

Tempeh is a plant-based protein made from soybeans that have been fermented and then cooked. The beans are then shaped into a patty that you can chop, slice, or crumble. The fermentation is what gives tempeh its distinct flavour. It’s a great vegetarian protein source, with 16.1 g of protein per 100 g

Need inspiration? 

  • Try marinating tempeh in soy sauce, maple syrup, and vinegar and then baking it to create a caramelized, nutty taste with a sweet and sour twist. 
  • Add crumbled tempeh to salads for extra protein. 
  • You can fry and season the tempeh first for extra flavour. 
  • Tempeh also works great with beans as a burger mix or seared like steak. 

Peanut, another plant-based protein source, works really well with the nutty taste of tempeh, as do sweet and sour flavours like teriyaki. Put tempeh on the menu the next time you eat out!

Wooden skewers of cooked tempeh, an example of a vegetarian protein source, with a bowl of orange dip
Tempeh is a versatile vegetarian protein source that you can use to make delicious dishes.

Plant-Based Protein Source Bonus: Peanut Butter!

Not all plant-based protein options have names you’ve never heard of. There are vegetarian protein sources closer to home than you might think. The classic shop cupboard staple of peanut butter is meat free and has a surprising 22.2 g of protein per 100 g

Stay vigilant: Commercially produced peanut butter can be high in fat and sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation. 

But, it’s readily available and easy to use. If you use it sparingly in an otherwise healthy diet it can add flavour and nutrients. You can even make your own peanut butter using just peanuts, salt, and peanut oil. That way you can control the sugar levels.

Whether smooth or crunchy, peanut butter has
a huge range of uses, from sweet to savoury.

Need inspiration? 

  • It is simply delicious spread on wholemeal toast, at breakfast or as a snack. Instead of toast, how about on pancakes? It goes great with bananas too. 
  • Got a sweet tooth? Use peanut butter in sponge cakes and cheesecakes, or cookies and brownies for a sweet yet nutty treat. 
  • Peanut butter is great in many Asian-style salads and stir fries, if savoury is more your bag. 
  • Recipes like peanut butter chicken are easy to make if you’re not ditching meat altogether.
Homemade peanut butter: plant-based protein source for a snack
Peanut butter is an easy way to add plant-based protein to breakfasts and snacks.

If you just want to enjoy it as a vegetarian protein source, discover how this versatile ingredient features in restaurant menus. 

There are more and more restaurants offering vegetarian or vegan options on their menus:
Why not go vegetarian for your next meal out?

Best vegetarian restaurants IN LONDON

Best vegan restaurants

Plant-based protein in 3 questions (and answers!)

Some of the best plant-based protein sources that are often mentioned include tofu, tempeh, lentil, chickpeas, and quinoa. Nuts, like peanuts and almonds, also contain protein. 


Lentils have high levels of protein and are a versatile way to include more plant-based protein in your diet. They’re delicious too!


Reputed good sources of plant-based protein are quinoa, chickpeas, spirulina, tofu, edamame, and black beans. Seeds such as hemp seeds are other protein sources vegetarians can also try.


Plant-based proteins can be found in plants like vegetables, legumes, and seeds and nuts. Some are complete proteins, meaning they offer all nine essential amino acids that the body needs but can’t produce.

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