Adults need around 0.75g protein per kg bodyweight daily (so, for someone weighing 60kg, that’s around 45g protein a day).
As a guideline, the daily value of protein you’ll see on nutrition labels is set at 50g. That may sound a lot when meat and fish are taken out of the equation – but there are many foods that pack a meat-free protein punch. Here are some of my favourites…
Chickpeas, beans and lentils
Cheap, filling and crammed with fibre and iron. Buying them tinned is easiest (dried varieties need to be soaked, then boiled), but check there’s no added salt or sugar.
Per ½ large tin (120g), chickpeas contain almost 9g protein, beans 6–10g and green lentils almost 8g.
Pulses make great burgers. Hummus fans, try swapping chickpeas for butter beans, blending them with a little lemon juice, tahini, garlic and oil.
Tofu is a soya bean curd that’s made in a similar way to cheese. It comes in two varieties: silken (soft) and firm. Unlike many other plant foods, it contains all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) for good health. Plus it contributes to our intake of copper, iron and phosphorus.
100g tofu contains 8g protein.
Cauldron Original Tofu (£2/396g, Ocado). 8.4g protein per ¼ pack.
Silken tofu makes great dips and adds creaminess to sauces. It can also be cut into cubes and added to broths or stir-fries. Firm tofu is more useful as a direct meat swap, but it needs flavouring. Marinate in spices, reduced-salt soy and rice wine.
One of the few grains to contain all the essential amino acids, quinoa is a useful source of protein for vegetarians – and it’s gluten free.
100g uncooked quinoa provides 14g of meat-free protein.
Alice & Oscar’s Quinola Mothergrain Black Quinoa (£4.99/400g, Asda). Per 50g (uncooked): 6.9g protein.
Steam or boil and add to soups, salads or burger mixes. It benefits from a few herbs or spices while cooking, and a squeeze of citrus juice will add depth of flavour, too.
Nuts and seeds
A source of protein, fibre and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. They’re high calorie, though, so eat in moderation rather than as the main source of protein in your diet. You’d need to eat a massive 240g almonds to get 50g protein a day, which would also provide almost 1,500kcal!
30g peanuts have around 8g protein; 30g pumpkin seeds have around 7g protein.
Tesco Whole Foods Roasted Monkey Nuts (£1/250g). Per 30g: 8.5g protein
Sprinkle over cereal, blend into a smoothie or make nut loaf
MAKE: Savoury loaf
Cheese is a great source of protein, but it can be high in both fat and salt. Opt for reduced-fat varieties (they contain around 30% less fat than standard versions) and eat in moderation. Check cheese carries the vegetarian symbol, too, as some types (such as parmesan) include animal rennet.
Per 30g, reduced-fat cheddar provides around 8g protein, half-fat mozzarella around 6g, ricotta around 3g and Quark (dairy-free soft cheese) around 4g.
Tesco Half Fat Mozzarella (70p/210g). Per 30g: 6g protein
Half-fat mozzarella makes a tasty addition to salads. Ricotta is perfect for bakes and sandwich fillers (search for the recipe above). Quark makes a great cream alternative for sauces and desserts.
MAKE: Posh cheese and tomato toasties
Made from mycoprotein (an edible protein derived from fungi, which has no discernible flavour). It’s processed and flavoured to replicate meat products, ranging from steaks to burgers, sausages and roasts.
100g Quorn mince contains 14.5g protein.
Quorn Meat-Free Chicken Pieces (£2/300g, widely available). Per ½ pack: 21g protein
Substitute for meat in classics such as lasagne, casseroles, curries and spaghetti bolognese – just add towards the end of the cooking time.
MAKE: Vegetable lasagne
Milk and yogurt
One of the easiest, most filling ways to get a protein fix and keep hunger pangs at bay – just one 200ml glass of milk provides 14% of our daily protein need! Yogurt is a top choice, too – for maximum benefits, opt for low-fat Greek yogurt.
100g low-fat Greek yogurt provides over 10g protein. A 150g pot low-fat fruit yogurt provides 6g protein, while 100ml skimmed, semi-skimmed or 1% fat milk has around 3.5g protein.
Total 2% Greek Yogurt (£2.75/500g, widely available). Per ¼ pot: 12.4g protein.
Start the day with a bowl of fat-free yogurt topped with fruit and oats, or a milkshake made with berries, skimmed milk and a dollop of natural yogurt.
A fermented soya bean cake that’s loaded with vitamins and nutrients including magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper
and manganese. Buy it fresh (it contains live cultures so needs to be eaten within a few days) or frozen (thaw to cook).
100g tempeh provides 18g protein.
Impulse Foods Organic Frozen Plain Tempeh, (£2.48/227g) Per 100g: 10.9g protein
Like tofu, tempeh is bland so benefits from a flavoursome marinade. It can be baked or steamed as well as stir-fried. Try grating it into ‘mince’ – it makes a great bolognese or spicy chilli.
MAKE: Sweet tofu (or tempeh) & wok-fried vegetables
Two medium eggs provide around 14g protein
Golden Irish Omega 3 Free Range Large/Medium Eggs (£2.29/6, Ocado). Per medium egg: 7.5g protein
Simply boil or scramble with a little skimmed milk. Or use to make an omelette or frittata with vegetable odds and ends, flavoured with fresh herbs and a little reduced-fat cheese.
MAKE: Boiled eggs with dukkah soldiers
Certainly not the most glamorous of all the veggie proteins, soya mince has slightly fallen out of favour with British herbivores – particularly since Quorn hit the big time. It may look a little like animal feed, but it’s a cheap and sustainable protein source.
80g cooked mince provides around 12g protein
Neal’s Yard Savoury Soya Protein Mince (£1.99/375g, Holland & Barrett). Per 50g: 25g protein
Treated with a bit of TLC, soya mince makes a rich shepherd’s pie or pasta accompaniment. Or soak, then stir-fry with lemongrass, chilli, tamarind and crunchy stir-fry veg.
MAKE: Ratatouille and Quorn (or soya) pasta
Now, find out how much protein is even more vegetarian and vegan foods with our plant-based protein portion guide.
*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.