Eating a vegetarian diet—or even just a few meatless meals per week—can have a potentially huge impact on your health and the world around you. But if you’re new to vegetarianism, or want to try it out, you may be asking a common question: Where will I get my protein?
If you’re on a weight loss program, it’s an important question. Protein doesn’t just build muscle—it makes you leaner, too. It takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, helping you feel full for longer. So what’s the answer to your plant-based protein question?
Here’s 10 sources of meatless protein that each include a Nutrisystem-approved way to enjoy these belly-filling, muscle-building foods:
1. Black Beans
Protein Power: According to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are 8 grams of protein in a 1/2 cup. That’s more than you’d get from a large hard-boiled egg, which clocks in at a little more than 6 grams of protein.
Extra Boost: What the beans have that the egg doesn’t: Fiber. That half-cup serving delivers 6 grams of slow-digesting fiber, which can make your meal more filling while helping to lower cholesterol and manage blood sugar.
How to eat ‘em: Not just in savory ways! This Black Bean Brownie Dip > uses canned black beans as a base with sweeter ingredients to create a chocolate-y dip that’s perfect for dipping strawberries or graham crackers.
Protein Power: No wonder Popeye could pack so much strength into that slim frame: One cup of cooked spinach delivers 5.3 grams of protein and just 41 tiny calories.
Extra Boost: More potassium per gram that you’d get from a banana. That cup of cooked spinach comes with 838 mg of potassium, a key nutrient for a healthy heart.
How to eat it: Simply sauteed, spinach is a perfect side dish for any of your Nutrisystem foods. The veggie is also an unlimited food, meaning you can pile it as high as you like on your way to four daily servings of non-starchy vegetables. Watch this video > for a simple strategy to perfectly saute spinach to get your fill of meatless protein.
Protein Power: Kale does a body good—according to the USDA, the leafy veggie has more protein, gram-for-gram, than two percent milk. For every 15 calories of kale you eat, you’ll get a little more than a gram of protein.
Extra Boost: The comparisons to milk don’t stop at muscle-building—it can strengthen your bones, too. Kale has more calcium per ounce than milk!
How to eat it: How about some chips? If you’ve got 20 minutes, some nonstick spray and salt, you can have crunchy, satisfying kale chips > that are a guilt-free snack you’ll love to munch on while you binge-watch your favorite new series.
4. Greek Yogurt
Protein Power: Greek yogurt has more than triple the protein of its non-Greek counterparts: Nonfat, non-Greek yogurt is 53 calories per 100 grams, with almost 3 grams of protein. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt has 54 calories for the same amount—but almost 10 grams of protein.
Extra Boost: Calcium, of course! The 112 mg you’ll get from your Greek yogurt doesn’t just build healthy bones and teeth, though—it can actually help you lose more body fat as you lose weight, according to the British Journal of Nutrition.
How to eat it: It’s great in tacos and taco salads as a replacement for sour cream, in smoothies for protein and thickness, and frozen. But our favorite Greek yogurt recipe is this Chunky Monkey Yogurt Parfait > —with peanuts, chocolate chips and banana slices, it’s got the flavors of your favorite ice cream, but with none of the guilt!
Protein Power: No wonder broccoli is a fan-favorite. Broccoli has more protein than kale…which has more protein than two percent milk. One cup of chopped florets has just under 3 grams of protein and just 31 measly calories, according to the USDA.
Extra Boost: Belly-filling, hunger-busting fiber: 4.7 grams in a two-cup serving. And that fiber doesn’t just fill your belly, but can reduce its size. According to Science Daily, for every 10 grams of fiber you eat, you can have as much as four percent less fat around your waist.
How to eat it: With cheddar … for breakfast! This Breakfast Quesadilla with Broccoli and Cheddar > takes the ultimate tasty dinner side and reimagines it for your morning meal. With all that cheesy goodness, it’ll a great start to getting your full day of non-starchy vegetables stay full and on-plan.
Protein Power: Cauliflower’s not about to let broccoli hog the spotlight for cruciferous veggies—the white cousin has almost as much protein as those green trees. One cup of boiled cauliflower is just 27 calories but has 2.3 grams of protein. When swapped in for some potatoes in your mash or for your side of rice, it’s a powerful punch of protein where your plate would have been filled with high-calorie carbs.
Extra Boost: According to the National Institutes of Health, most Americans don’t get enough choline, a nutrient that helps with liver function, prevents muscle loss, and is necessary for the mind to create memories. So remember this: Two cups of cauliflower rice or mash has 110 mg of choline.
How to eat it: Mash it! Cauliflower makes a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes. Use this simple recipe> to whip up a pot of this low-calorie, meatless protein side dish that’s perfect with hearty Nutrisystem dinners like Barbecued Chicken and Baked Beans >
Protein Power: Quinoa has earned fame as the grain with the highest protein…and it’s true! A half-cup serving has more than 4 grams of protein and includes all the essential amino acids in just 111 calories.
Extra Boost: These little seeds don’t stop at meatless protein, though. A half-cup serving has more than 2 grams of fiber, as well as iron, potassium, and phosphorus, a nutrient that plays key roles in heart function, kidney function and muscle contractions, according to Medline.
How to eat it: Replace the lower-protein grains in your normal snacks for the meatless protein punch of the big Q with these Sweet & Salty Quinoa Granola Bars > —made with just five simple ingredients.
Protein Power: One cup of prepared edamame has 18.4 grams of protein—which, according to the USDA, is almost half the daily intake recommended for most adult women and almost as much as in 100 grams of chicken breast.
Extra Boost: Like spinach, edamame is loaded with potassium—one cup provides 970 mg of the heart-healthy nutrient, which is more than you’d get from two bananas.
How to eat ‘em: Paired with quinoa, the highest-protein grain, to create an ultra-high meatless protein burger. These Healthy Edamame Quinoa Burgers > are, as the title says, healthy, but they’re also delicious—with flavor from spices like garlic powder, cumin and a big squirt of sriracha hot sauce.
Protein Power: There’s a reason they turn these little green guys into protein powder: For every 15 calories of peas that you eat, you’ll grab a gram of protein. One cup has about 3 grams of protein—not enough to turn you into Schwarzenegger, but a filling boost from this sweet veggie side.
Extra Boost: That cup of peas has 30 percent of your day’s fiber intake, meaning it’s a side that can help keep you full. And it’s also loaded with vitamins: 22 percent of your daily Vitamin A and almost 100 percent of your daily C.
How to eat ‘em: Add some sweetness to salads or sandwiches: Pop raw, shelled peas into your salads for little bursts of sweet freshness, or put cooked peas through a food processor—with a little salt and pepper, they can become a sweet, surprising spread that’s perfect on a turkey sandwich.
Protein Power: One cup of chickpeas has 6 grams of protein—the same amount you’d get from a hard-boiled egg.
Extra Boost: These beans can help you kick your junk food habit. According to the journal Appetite, when Australian researchers gave dieters a daily dose of chickpeas for 12 weeks, the study participants improved their gut health, lost weight, and ate less junk food after three months than those who didn’t eat the chickpeas ).
How to eat ‘em: One way to help them replace junk food is to make these little beans snackable, and that’s just what this Nacho-Style Roasted Chickpeas > recipe does. By baking the beans in spices for 45 minutes, you’ll create a crunchy, poppable snack that’s salty, spicy and perfect for streaming a movie or watching the big game. One half-cup of these crispy chickpeas counts as 1 SmartCarb on the Nutrisystem program.