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High Protein for Vegetarians

by Molly McAdams

About Molly McAdams

Molly McAdams is a writer who lives in New York City. She has covered health and lifestyle for various print and online publishers since 1989. She holds a Master of Science degree in nutrition.


If you are a vegetarian, it is easy enough to find good sources of protein, especially if you include eggs or dairy products in your diet. Even if you eat no animal products at all, a high-protein diet is possible as all plant foods contain some form of protein. The best way to make sure you are getting enough quality protein is to eat a wide variety of plant foods every day.

Protein Requirements

For adults ages 19 and older, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends 15 percent of total calories come from protein to meet your body's basic needs. That translates to approximately 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams of protein for men each day. As a vegetarian, you can meet and exceed these recommendations by consuming a well-planned diet that contains enough calories and a wide variety of whole grain foods and vegetables, including dried beans and soy products every day.

Vegetarian Protein Sources

Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk and edamame are particularly good sources of high-quality vegetable protein. Other plant foods that are high in protein include dried beans, seeds and nuts. Grain products and vegetables also contribute varying amounts of protein. Choose high-protein varieties of durum wheat and semolina pasta that provides 7 to 10 grams of protein per 2-ounce serving. Wheat gluten is also a high-protein, grain-based food that is often used as a meat substitute. High-protein, gluten-free grains include quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff and wild rice.

Complete Proteins

With the exception of soybeans and some soy products, most foods used as meat substitutes or protein sources in a vegetarian diet are considered "incomplete" proteins. This is because individual plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids required by the body to make a complete, high-quality protein. As long as you eat a variety of foods throughout the day, however, the amino acids from one food will join together with amino acids from other foods to form complete proteins. For example, legumes such as black beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans contain the amino acid missing from most grains, but if you eat beans and grains at the same meal, or even in the same day, the amino acids in both foods will find each other and hook up to form complete proteins.

Health Benefits

In a study of more than 80,000 women published in 2006 in the "New England Journal of Medicine," Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that a low-carbohydrate diet that is higher in protein and fat does not increase the risk of heart disease. When protein and fat in the diet come from vegetable sources, the researchers maintain that the risk of developing heart disease may even be reduced. In a similar study published in 2008 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," the same researchers concluded that high-protein diets do not increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and if vegetable fats and proteins are chosen, the risk may also be reduced.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.