The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosts a national nutrient database that lists, among many other nutrients, the amounts of protein in hundreds of common foods. As most people would expect, meat and fish items have the highest amounts of protein, particularly stewed chicken and baked or smoked fish.
Perhaps more surprisingly, there are plenty of vegetarian foods with high levels of protein. In particular, beans are relatively high in protein. They also have advantages over meats. Beans have no cholesterol, which is only found in animals. Here are the top five high-protein beans, based on the USDA list.
1. Boiled soybeans
Large, green soybeans are boiled and served as edamame in the shell as an appetizer. They are also often served out of the shell in salads. Boiled soybeans are different from soy nuts, which are small, roasted nuts.
They have a high amount of protein. Boiled soybeans contain 28.62 grams of protein per cup. This is roughly comparable to beef round steak, or a cheeseburger. Furthermore, soybeans have complete proteins, meaning it provides all necessary amino acids.
2. White beans
Canned white beans can be cooked in various soups, stews and chilis. Here is a list of 10 vegetarian white bean recipes, ranked by popularity. White beans contain a relatively large amount of protein — 19 grams per cup. Unfortunately, the protein is incomplete and should be consumed with bread, cornbread or rice to ensure a complete protein.
Boiled lentils have a bad reputation among some meat-and-potatoes folks as bland, wimpy vegetarian fare. But the protein levels are not wimpy. At 17.86 grams of protein per cup, the protein compares well with fried shrimp or a salad topped with grilled chicken. Lentils also come in a range of colors and flavors and are a tasty staple of many Mediterranean and Asian diets. Here are 117 diverse vegetarian lentil recipes. Again, lentils are an incomplete protein but an Indian bread with lentil dahl or some barley in a lentil soup will create the right mix of amino acids.
4. Split peas
Split peas look like green lentils and are also used in some Indian cooking. In Western cooking, they are mainly made into soup. That soup is relatively high in protein, with 16.35 grams of protein per cup of split peas. Again, eat your soup with some whole-wheat bread or crackers to ensure a complete protein.
5. Pinto beans
Good news for vegetarian Mexican food fans: You can get a complete protein from the beans and rice typically served with your veggie tacos or cheese enchiladas. Much of the pure protein comes from the pinto beans, which pack 15.41 grams of protein per cup.