Increasing number of research studies have pointed to the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, but all of these studies also come with the caveat that it is important to choose the right plant-based foods in order to ensure you are receiving all the nutrients that the body needs to remain healthy.

The right plant-based foods can be excellent sources of protein and other nutrients, often with fewer calories than animal products. The emphasis is on the word ‘right’ foods; for example, while some plant products, such as soy beans and quinoa, are complete proteins, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids that the body needs, others miss some of these amino acids, so eating a varied vegetarian diet is crucial.

If you are a vegetarian or you are considering shifting to a plant-based diet for the first-time, you need to be aware that both lacto-ovo vegetarians — those who do not eat meat, but intake dairy and egg products in their diet — and those who completely avoid meat, dairy and eggs in their food (vegans), need to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition with their diet.

Here are a few points to keep in mind if you choose to go along a vegetarian path.

If you are starting out for the first time, it would be a good idea to refer to self-help cooking books to plan menus that are wholesome and healthy, or meet with a nutritionist to help draw up a weekly diet plan that supplies all the nutrients your body needs.

Be aware of how much protein your body gets if your diet is made up of nuts as the only source of protein, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Around 30 grams of nuts provides approximately 180 calories and 5 grams of protein. Since the body needs 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, you would have to eat a huge amount of nuts to get the requisite proteins needed to stay healthy. While nuts are a healthy food, they are also high in fat and calories, so to stay healthy make sure you round out your diet with a variety of vegetarian proteins.

The following healthful, plant-based foods have a high-protein content per serving:

Tofu, tempeh, and edamame: Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are among the richest sources of protein in a vegan diet.These soy products also contain good levels of calcium and iron, which makes them healthful substitutes for dairy products.

The protein content varies with how the soy is prepared: Firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10g of protein per ½ cup; edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5g of protein per ½ cup; tempeh (fermented soybeans) contains about 15g of protein per ½ cup.

Lentils: Red or green lentils contain plenty of protein, fiber, and key nutrients, including iron and potassium. Cooked lentils contain 8.84 g of protein per ½ cup.Lentils are a great source of protein to add to a lunch or dinner routine. They can be added to stews, curries, salads, or rice to give an extra portion of protein.

Chickpeas: Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup. They can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes available online. They can, for example, be added to stews and curries, or spiced with paprika and roasted in the oven. Hummus, which is made from chickpea paste, can form the base to a sandwich for a healthful, protein-rich alternative to butter.

Quinoa: Quinoa is a grain with a high-protein content, and is a complete protein. Cooked quinoa contains 8g of protein per cup. This grain is also rich in other nutrients, including magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese, in addition to being highly versatile. It can replace pasta in soups and stews, or can be sprinkled on a salad or eaten as the main course.

Chia and hemp seeds: Chia and hemp seeds are complete sources of protein that can be used to make smoothies, yogurts, and puddings. Chia seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, and contain 2g of protein per tablespoon. Hemp seeds can be used in a similar way to chia seeds, and offer 5g of protein per tablespoon.

Peanuts: Peanuts are protein-rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5g of protein per ½ cup. Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 3.6g per tablespoon, making peanut butter sandwiches a healthful complete protein snack.

Almonds: Almonds offer 16.5g of protein per ½ cup. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.

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