4 Ways to Pump Up Your Protein With These Vegetarian Options

Move over, meat! Dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health, shows us how to give our meals a meat-free protein boost.

You don’t need to follow a Paleo diet rich in red meat, eggs, and poultry to get enough protein to build muscle and tamp down hunger. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources, like soy, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and even some veggies, that not only provide protein but also contain nutrients that may help fend off chronic conditions. And since these proteins are lower on the food chain, they’re a more planet-friendly way to eat. Here are four plant-based proteins to add to your shopping cart. All have proven health benefits plus at least as much protein as an egg!


Pea protein is popping in ingredient lists, from breads and snack foods to breakfast cereals and protein powders. A cup of cooked split peas packs in about 16 grams of protein compared to six grams in regular green peas. If you’re looking to build muscle, pea protein has been shown to provide the essential amino acids to help build and repair muscle tissue, similar to whey protein. What’s more, they’re also diet friendly: a meta-analysis study published in the journal Obesity reported that eating about one cup of beans, peas, lentils, or chickpeas resulted in subjects feeling 31 percent fuller.

How to Get More: Split peas are great when made into a hummus-like dip or veggie burgers. You can also use a pea-protein-based protein powder for recovery smoothies. Frozen green peas are an easy side dish; perk them up with lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs.


Whole-grain oats pack a serious protein punch, with about five to six grams per cup of cooked oats. They also provide beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to curb cravings and can keep you satisfied for hours. And you can’t forget that decades’ worth of research consistently show that oats can help lower risk for heart disease.

How to Get More: Look for brands of oats with no or little added sugar and high protein counts. I buy Modern Oats Nuts & Seeds because it has even more protein than traditional oatmeal due to the eight different nuts and seeds. One (2.3 oz.) serving is loaded with eight grams of protein and six grams of fiber, making this a filling breakfast.


You might think that all nuts are the same when it comes to protein, but they’re not. Pistachios have six grams of protein per serving, more than most other tree nuts. In addition to protein, pistachios have plenty of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Plus, they won’t wreck your diet. Research conducted at Eastern Illinois University and published in the journal Appetite found that people who snacked on in-shell pistachios consumed 41 percent fewer calories compared to those who ate shelled pistachios. The researchers suggest that the empty shells may be a helpful visual cue to help you snack more mindfully.

How to Get More: My go-to craving crusher is Wonderful Pistachios’ sweet chili flavor, as the flavor satisfies my appetite for tortilla chips. I also use chopped pistachios when cooking to make a “crust” for salmon or chicken or as a crunchy salad topper.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are surprisingly high in protein. Some of the grains with the most protein include kamut, spelt, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, and barley. In addition to packing in seven to 10 grams of protein per cup of cooked grain, they provide a healthy dose of fiber and an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Studies show that adding whole grains to your diet can help you maintain a healthy waistline and reduce risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

How to Get More: Swap out white bread for 100 percent whole wheat, and you’ll get nearly eight grams of protein. Add brown rice or quinoa to salads to keep you fuller longer. For breakfast, look for whole-grain cereals that have at least six grams of protein per serving. One of my favorites is Post Great Grains Protein Blend ¡ª Honey, Oats & Seeds. A cup has eight grams of protein and six grams of filling fiber.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Jae Payne