A nutritious and balanced diet consists of the right portions of essential nutrients that the body needs for healthy functioning, development and repair. One must consume foods that deliver on carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fibre and of course, water. Proteins in particular, when consumed in the right amount, are necessary for the proper functioning, repair and development of enzymes, haemoglobin, antibodies, myoglobin and elastin, bones, hormones and keratin, which translates into healthy blood, bones, muscles, skin and overall physiological functioning.
While it is easy to follow a balanced diet for those who consume meat, it is challenging for vegetarians to obtain protein-rich foods. Fret not; here are some foods that deliver high protein content with most of the essential amino acids that your body requires.

1. Greek Yogurt
While dairy products in general are good sources of protein, Greek yogurt goes one step ahead to be a protein powerhouse, containing twice the protein and half the sugar and carbohydrate content of regular yogurt. This thicker, strained variety of yogurt contains the roughly same amount of protein as a three-ounce portion of lean meat. Opt for organic Greek yogurt whenever possible; research shows that organic milk contains omega-3 fatty acids. Plain Greek yogurt is preferable; sweeten it with fruit or a natural sweetener like honey.

2. Lentils
Lentils are an excellent source of folate, a nutrient important for nervous system and heart health. One cup of lentils can provide roughly 18 grams of protein. Moreover, lentils are high in fibre content; thereby aiding in digestion and high in potassium for a healthy heart. Consume lentils with rice or other grains to supplement your daily protein needs.

3. Nuts and Nut Butters
An assortment of nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts provide a quick protein boost. Nut butters are also good sources of monounsaturated fat, which help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. Almonds in particular, work well with salads and other foods and are less allergenic compared to peanuts.

4. Vegetables
There is nothing better than a bowl of healthy greens to give you that nutritious punch! A cup of cooked spinach can provide as much as 7 grams of protein, while a cup of French beans can deliver about 13 grams. A cup of boiled peas can give you about 9 grams of protein, and about two cups of cooked kale give about 5 grams.

5. Quinoa
A superb source of non-animal protein, it works as a complete protein source, meaning that it contains all the 9 essential amino acids that are required for the functioning and health of the human body. Moreover, quinoa is a gluten-free food source, for those with Celiac disease. One cup of cooked quinoa provides around 8 grams of protein – more than an egg! Additionally, quinoa contains high amounts of iron and magnesium. Add to cold salads or as an accompaniment to your grilled foods. Quinoa is also a great substitute for rice.

6. Spirulina
This powerhouse of protein is made up of 65% to 71% complete protein as compared to beef, which is only 22%! Additionally, spirulina is a great source of vital amino acids and minerals that can be assimilated by the body with ease. Consume about two tablespoons of spirulina as a protein substitute for a meal, and you’re good to go!

7. Hemp
Another source of complete protein, hemp is sold as an alternative to dairy, or in the form of seeds. Moreover, the fatty acids in hemp milk and hemp seeds work to boost the immune system, thus keeping diseases at bay.

8. Chia Seeds
An ounce-serving of chia seeds provides around 4 grams of protein. Chia seeds are also an amazing source of dietary fibre, working to keep you feeling full so that you don’t binge-eat! They provide approximately 18% of the daily calcium requirement – that is thrice as much as milk! Add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your food to enjoy the several health benefits they bring to the table.

9. Soy
Soya beans are super-rich sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre. The phytosterols in soya beans function in such a way that they inhibit the absorption of cholesterol by blocking absorption sites, making them perfect foods for those with high-cholesterol and related conditions.
Other protein-rich vegetarian foods include tempeh which is derived from soya-bean, and seitan which is derived from wheat gluten, cottage cheese (paneer), black beans, green peas and wheat-germ. Remember to include ample amounts of carbs, fat and other nutrient-rich foods to complement the protein-rich vegetarian foods, so that you and your family enjoy the health benefits of a well-balanced diet.

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