Best vegetarian protein sources for Indians

Recent surveys in India have revealed that the protein content in Indian diet is inadequate in a sizable population. It is important therefore, for Indians, to find out how to get a high protein diet from usual Indian food stuff. We discuss below the best vegetarian protein sources in Indian diet and their special characteristics

Protein foods can be divided into non milk and milk protein foods, of which non-milk proteins are discussed below. The non-milk protein foods for vegetarians include dal (pulses), dried beans, nuts, and soy products . To know about milk protein sources click here

Best Vegetarian Protein Sources for Indians

Dals and dried beans:

  • Pulses (dals) and dried beans (rajma, lobia etc.) are major sources of proteins in vegetarian Indian diet and even in diets of most Indian non-vegetarians. They are major sources of protein and folate in vegetarian diets, and good sources of vitamins of B complex (except vitamin B12), minerals (especially Iron) and dietary fibers. But they are heavy on carbs (in fact nearly 70% of calories in dals are from carbohydrates), in comparison meat and poultry giving the same amount of calories give no calories from carbohydrates and tofu or soya nuggets gives only 9%

In fact in western diets, dried beans and legumes are looked at as substitute of breads/cereals !

  • ‘Sabut’ dals and dried beans score over ‘dhuli’ dals in their fiber content; they are nearly doubly as rich as dhuli dals in fiber  and some of them ,such as rajmah, lobia and black grams, have higher content of  omega 3 fatty acids

Soy products

  • Soybeans themselves have much higher protein density and good fats as compared to other dried beans and also have higher calories than other dried beans consumed in the same amount
  • Tofu is another very good sources of protein; tofu has nearly double the protein density of dals and is also richer in calcium and iron; 1/2 katori dal gives 25% of total calories from proteins, whereas 1/4th block tofu gives 42% (both give nearly 100 calories)
  • Similarly, one serving (30 gms) of  soya chunks (Nutrela etc.) will give you 60% calories from proteins and 40% from carbs for same amount of calories (nearly 100 calories) as ½ Katori dal
  • Replace dal with soy products (soy beans, chunks, granules or tofu) in some meals, to get much more protein for same amounts of calories and lesser carbohydrates
  • Add soya granules in your dal while cooking
  • Keep some soy chunks or granules ready in the fridge and add them in your soups, salads and noodles etc.
  • Replace half Katori dal with the 1/4th block of tofu in some meals

Nuts:

Nuts are also considered protein foods, and are good sources of potassium, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin E and phytosterols, therefore good for heart health, but they are high very calorie dense, therefore you have to keep the portion sizes appropriate for their calorie intake level, otherwise they can get calorie overload

Make nuts a part of your diet, but be careful to replace empty calories (e.g. unhealthy snacks) with nuts, rather than adding nuts on top, since nuts are calorie dense food

1 oz of nuts is equal to

  • Almonds= 22
  • Walnuts=14 halves
  • Peanut= 50
  • Pistachios=50
  • Cashew= 16-18
  • Eat variety of nuts, because each has unique advantages, especially make sure your mix has almonds and walnuts, which have high quantity of vitamin E and omega 3 fats respectively

To know more about nuts, read also ‘Nuts: do they make you healthy or fat?

Eggs (if you can eat them)

Tip 3: Have whole eggs in moderation, try switching to ‘smart eggs’

  • If you have high blood cholesterol levels, you are better off limiting your egg intake to less than two-four/week or consuming only egg whites; egg whites do not have cholesterol, so eating smart eggs (two/three egg whites + one egg yolk) in breakfast is a good idea!
  • For vegetarians (who eat eggs), one egg can be consumed every day safely, if they use low fat milk (double toned or skimmed)
  • For healthy adults and children eating only egg whites is not a good idea since egg yolk contain most of egg’s calcium, vitamins A, D, E, B1, B3, B12, folate, iron and zinc

To know about how much protein is needed and safe for the body, go to ‘Protein why do we need them and how much is good?

In summary, soya products and nuts are some of the best vegetarian protein sources. Replacing some of your carb foods (rice or white bread) with these will help you make your diet a high protein diet.

Also, grains, other than wheat and rice have higher protein content than these two staples, adding them in your diet and eating less of rice help you get a high protein diet. Check out: Healthy grains for Indians

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet