Buckwheat crêpes.
Buckwheat crêpes.

Protein Plus

Turning vegetarian need not lead to protein deficiency. A look at how you can stay away from meat and still get all the protein your body needs

A study published in The JAMA Network Journals last year says that eating a vegetarian diet can help lower blood pressure. A year earlier, a report in the same journal had said vegetarian diets help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus and ischaemic heart disease. A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that wholesome vegetarian diets offer distinct advantages.

So if one of your resolutions for this year is to give up meat and turn vegetarian (even partly), the good news is that your health will gain from this decision. And if you are worried about your body not getting adequate protein on a meatless diet, fret not. “On an average, women need about 45g and men about 65g of protein daily. The trick is to zero in on good vegetarian protein sources and incorporate them on a daily basis. Ensure that the quality of protein you take is good and try to get it from a variety of plant sources," says Loveneet Batra, clinical nutritionist, Fortis La Femme, New Delhi.

Consumption of plant rather than animal proteins can, in fact, contribute to reduced risk of obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. “In comparison to protein foods of animal origin, most plant-protein sources are lower in saturated fat, free of cholesterol, higher in fibre, and a good source of antioxidants and phytochemicals. All this helps contribute to better health and reduced disease risk," says Niti Desai, consultant nutritionist, Cumbala Hills Hospital and Heart Institute, Mumbai.

Protein is essential for almost every bodily function. Its deficiency can lead to loss of muscle mass. The immune system too can take a hit, leading to increased susceptibility to infections.

We have shortlisted some sources of plant proteins and tell you how to include them in your daily menu.

LENTILS: Extremely versatile, lentils are easy to cook, can be had as curry, or added to soups, salads, even as garnish in any dish.

“Lentils are a good source of cholesterol-lowering fibre, multiple minerals and B vitamins, as well as heart-friendly folate and magnesium and protein—all this with virtually no fat. Pairing it with a cereal (rice, roti) helps make the protein quality better," says Batra.

Protein meter: 30g (uncooked) gives 7g protein

Sprouted Lentil and Cumin Raita


1 cup mixed lentil sprouts

1 cup plain yogurt

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 green chillies (chopped)

Quarter cup mint leaves (chopped)

1 tsp cumin seeds, slightly roasted


Mix all the ingredients together. Serve chilled.

—Hymns From The Soil: A Vegetarian Saga by chef Vikas Khanna


This is probably the most underrated high-protein vegetarian food. Soy nuggets or granules are tasty, blend in easily with most ingredients (pairing well with potatoes) and add both health and crunch to the diet.

The protein quality of a food is determined by the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score, which evaluates protein quality based on both the amino acid requirements of humans and their ability to digest the food. “Soy protein is highly rated on the index and is comparable to most animal proteins (including meat, eggs and milk)," says Batra.

Protein meter: 100g provides 45g protein

Soybean Kebab


100g soy granules

50g potato (boiled and grated)

50g rawa (semolina)

20g green peas

20g carrot, chopped

20g beans, chopped

5g ginger, chopped

5g green chillies, chopped

10g fresh coriander, chopped

3g cumin seeds

5g curry powder

15 ml oil


Soak soy granules in lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Drain, squeeze as much water as possible and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds, chopped vegetables, green peas and curry powder. Sauté till dry. Keep aside and let cool. In a bowl mix together the soy granules, grated boiled potato, sautéed vegetables, rawa, chillies and coriander. Mix together and divide into five equal parts. Shape into patties and shallow-fry till crisp on the outside. Serve hot.

—Sandeep Panwar, executive chef, The Metropolitan Hotel and Spa, New Delhi


Buckwheat is a seed, not a grain. The Japanese have turned it into a kind of noodles (called soba) but in India we use it mostly as flour (kuttu ka atta).

“It is a good staple to eat, as it has higher protein content than most of our staples—wheat, rice, jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) or ragi (finger millet)," says Desai. It also helps improve circulation, lower blood cholesterol and control blood glucose levels.

Protein meter: 100g gives 13g protein

Buckwheat Shallot Crêpes


Half cup whole milk

1 tbsp clarified butter

Half cup buckwheat flour (50g)

Salt, to taste

Quarter tsp turmeric

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 shallots (thinly sliced)

Half tsp cumin seeds


Combine milk, clarified butter, salt, turmeric and buckwheat flour in a blender to form a smooth batter. Put it in a bowl, cover and leave at room temperature for at least an hour. Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a pan, swirl to coat evenly. Scoop half the batter, pour in the pan and swirl it around to get a smooth, thin spread. Sprinkle half the shallots and a pinch of the cumin seeds. Cook for about a minute and then flip to the other side. Cook for another minute. Repeat to make one more crêpe the same way.

—Hymns From The Soil: A Vegetarian Saga by chef Vikas Khanna

High Protein vegetarian snacks:

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10 ways to increase intake:

u Include one protein-rich food item in each meal

u For every meal, make sure that one-fourth of your plate covers protein such as low-fat dairy (cottage cheese or yogurt), tofu, pulses and soy nuggets

u Use high-protein foods like alfalfa seeds, kidney beans, pumpkin/sunflower/sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, walnuts , spirulina (one tablespoon provides 4g protein), dried apricots in daily menu planning

u Ricotta and feta cheese have a higher protein content than mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar

u Vegetables like peas, beans and spinach are good sources of protein

u Mix soy, ‘moong dal’ (mung bean) or buckwheat flour with wheat flour

u Club your protein with low-glycaemic index carbohydrates such as wholegrains—carbohydrates help improve the quality of the protein by providing the missing amino acids (in the legumes)

u Combine smartly. For example, cereals, especially wheat, are limited in their lysine (amino acid) content, and legumes and beans are low in methionine. So eating them together improves the quality of protein. However, these foods do not need to be combined at the same meal or even on the same day. Your body stores pools of amino acids to use when needed

u Wholegrains such as brown rice, buckwheat, polenta, quinoa and amaranth are good sources of protein

u Munch on roasted ‘chana’ (gram) as a snack instead of biscuits.

—Niti Desai, consultant nutritionist, Cumbala Hills Hospital and Heart Institute, Mumbai; and Loveneet Batra, clinical nutritionist, Fortis La Femme, New Delhi

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