9 Super-Healthy, Vegetarian Protein Sources

PHOTO: A variety of beans including lentils and peas are vegetarian protein sources.
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According to the United Nations, the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than the world's plane, train, and automobile fleets combined. So if you're looking for a way to please The Lorax and stay well fed, start getting more of your protein from plants and reduce the amount of meat in your diet, especially the factory-farmed meat that's widely available in supermarkets.

It's not just good for the planet, it's healthier for you, too. Harvard scientists recently completed a study finding that eating a single serving of red meat each day increases your risk of early death, and factory-farmed chicken, often touted as a healthier alternative to beef, can be contaminated with e. coli bacteria that can give you urinary tract infections.

The idea that protein only comes from meat is a myth. Nearly all foods contain small amounts of protein, and it's very easy to get your daily protein requirements from beans, grains, nuts, and certain green vegetables, which have less cholesterol and fat than meat and are usually cheaper, to boot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women get 46 grams (g) of protein each day and that men get 56 g.

Beans and Lentils

Protein Content: beans, 12 to 14 g per cup cooked; lentils, 18 g per cup cooked

Beans and lentils are the cheapest source of protein out there. So whether you prefer kidney, garbanzo, white, black, or pinto beans, "Buy lots of cans of beans, rinse and drain them to remove 40 percent of the sodium, and use them in everything," suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. "White beans taste delicious in pasta: garbanzo or edamame in stir-fries; black beans and pinto in burritos, tacos, and quesadillas; and lentils or kidney are great in salads and whole grain pita lunches."

To avoid bisphenol A, or BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical, found in metal canned foods, buy Eden Organics brand (the company uses cans without BPA in their liners), look for frozen beans, or buy dried ones and cook them accordingly.

Throw a Party to Inspire Healthy Eating

Nuts and Seeds

Protein Content: Nuts, 3 to 7 g per 1/3-cup serving, depending on the type (peanuts and pine nuts have the most); Seeds, 2 to 5 g per 1/3-cup serving, depending on type

Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, and pine nuts are all good vegetarian protein sources. "Try a sprinkle of chopped nuts on everything from oatmeal to yogurt to salad, and nut-based dressings are healthy and delicious," says Blatner. On the seed side, Blatner recommends pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower. "I particularly like seed butter, such as sunflower seed butter, on toast with an apple for breakfast," she says.

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