A lot of vegetarians get asked that big old question: Where do you get your protein? While I’m not a vegetarian, I try to limit my meat consumption while still eating a balanced, high protein diet to keep me feeling satiated and full of energy all day. How is that possible, you ask?  

Nuts, beans, and dairy are just a few non-meat ways to get protein, but did you know that whole grains are also protein-packed? We always talk about whole grains being full of fiber, but this week I was inspired to call attention to the other benefits of eating whole grains, thanks to the Meatless (and Mediterranean) Mondays recipes of our parent Organization, Oldways

While many of us (this self proclaimed Queen of Quinoa, included!) have heard that one of the things that makes quinoa the superfood extraordinaire is that it’s high in protein, it certainly isn’t the only protein-filled grain. Virtually all foods contain a mix of three macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Though we think of grains as carbohydrates in fact they also contain small amounts of healthy fat, along with a dose of protein. Take a look at the grains below, and their protein content per serving. (45 grams of uncooked grain is a standard FDA serving size; although grains vary, that’s the equivalent of a little less than a cup cooked, for most grains.)

Name of Grain (Based on 45g uncooked) Amount of Protein (in grams)
Amaranth 6.10
Barley, hulled 5.62
Brown rice 3.38
Buckwheat 5.96
Kamut® Khorasan Wheat 6.54
Millet 4.96
Oats, rolled 5.92
Quinoa 6.35
Rye 4.65
Sorghum 5.09
Spelt 6.56
Wheat 6.93
Wheat, bulgur 5.53
Wild rice 6.63
Name of Food Amount of Protein (in grams)
Whole wheat pasta, 2oz. dry 8.34
Whole wheat bread, 2 slices 7.97
Whole wheat pita, 6.5” round 6.27

On average, people need about 50 grams of protein a day, so at about 6 grams of protein, most whole grain choices provide about 12% of your daily needs. But what does that mean? Six grams of protein is the same amount found in these protein-full foods: one hard-boiled egg, an ounce of almonds, or two thirds of a cup of lentil soup. Wow! 

One thing to know about the protein in grains: with the exception of quinoa and amaranth, grain proteins are not “complete proteins.” This means they’re missing or low in one or more essential amino acids. But eating a variety of plant-based foods takes care of that; when you enjoy both beans and grains throughout the week, for example, their complementary proteins combine to give you just what your body needs. 

Next time you bake a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, or make Whole Grain Linguine with Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes and Pistachios, or Whole Grain Rotini with Braised Fennel, Carrots and Spring Onions (just to name a few options! For more visit our Recipe Section) think of that extra protein punch you’re getting!  

As we can see, whole grains are a great source of protein whether you’re a vegetarian, looking for a new Meatless Monday dish or are simply looking for a way to incorporate more protein into your existing diet. So yes, you can get your protein and fiber all in one dish! (Mallory)



Hope Damon RD, CDE
Hello. This is a helpful comparison chart and could be a very useful teaching tool (I'm a dietitian) but it would better if the 45g uncooked grain portion was stated as cooked grains amounts in measures. Most people don't know what 45g of quinoa is. I do so appreciate these newsletters and often share them. Thanks! Hope

Good question, Hope. 45 grams of uncooked grain is a standard FDA serving size. Although grains vary, that's the equivalent of a little less than a cup cooked, for most grains. We've added this information to the blog above, to make this clearer.

Thanks for the kind words about our resources, newsletters and blogs. We're so glad you find them useful.

I have a potassium restrictions. May I eat these grains for my protien needs?
We really can't give you medical advice, especially since we don't know how much potassium your doctor has recommended you limit yourself to. You can look up the potassium levels in any grain (or any food, for that matter) in the USDA Nutrient Database, which is open to the public and can be found here: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list . Hope this helps.
Adam Zuber
This is really helpful!
Polly Hearn
Our Doctor recommends we eat more protein rich foods. I do a lot of bread baking so I'm researching recipes with high protein counts.

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