How To Meet Your Protein Needs Without Meat

Eating a vegetarian diet can be very healthful and rewarding. However, most vegetarians—including soon-to-be vegetarians and their meat-eating loved ones—are concerned about getting adequate protein. Most people are accustomed to getting protein from meat, but what else contains protein? Aren’t plant-based proteins “incomplete” or lower quality?

Fortunately, with a bit of extra attention, you won’t have any trouble meeting your protein needs just because you give up meat. There are so many protein-packed vegetarian options! Did you know that most foods, including vegetables, have some of the essential muscle-building nutrient? Without looking closely, it is easy to miss some great sources. (Who knew a cup of broccoli had 3 grams!)

Nuts, seeds, soy products, cereal, eggs, and dairy are all good meatless protein choices. These groups of food each contain different amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and different levels of protein quality. There is no need to consume certain foods in special combinations as nutritionists once thought! When your diet includes a variety of each of these types of foods, you can rest assured that you’re consuming all the amino acids you need for muscle growth and cell repair.


Nuts provide a good dose of protein along with some heart-healthy fatty acids and antioxidants (vitamins A and E). They are also packed full of fiber. Take your pick! Many nuts have a significant source of protein ready to work for your body. Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and pine nuts are among the highest in protein, while chestnuts and hazelnuts, although they do still have some protein, are the lowest. Think out of the box when you’re adding nuts to your diet.

They can be grated, toasted, ground or eaten raw and are great when combined with salads, wraps, soups and stews and baked goods. But pay special attention to portion size! Nuts are a great source of many nutrients but do come with a hefty dose of calories, thanks to the healthy fats they contain. A single serving is just 1 oz! Many nuts are best when stored in a refrigerator, which helps keep their fats from going rancid (for up to 6 months).

Nuts, 1/4 cupProteinCaloriesFat
Peanuts, raw9 g20718 g
Almonds, dry roasted8 g20618 g
Pistachios6 g17114 g
Hazelnuts5 g21221 g
Pine nuts5 g22923 g
Cashews, raw5 g19716 g
Walnuts4 g16416 g


Seeds are another great way to grab a few grams of protein and many other nutrients. Healthful unsaturated fats, as well as phytochemicals, make seeds a powerhouse for heart disease and cancer prevention. Just a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) has 8.5 grams of protein. Add this amount to a salad or eat them plain for a quick snack. Sunflower seeds are easy to add to pasta or salads, or sandwich wraps, while sesame seeds are easily ground and sprinkled onto steamed veggies for a protein dusting.

Seeds (1/4 cup)ProteinCaloriesFat
Hemp seeds15 g23218 g
Pumpkin seeds, roasted9 g18716 g
Flaxseed8 g19113 g
Sunflower seeds, roasted8 g20518 g
Sesame seeds, roasted6 g20618 g


Dried peas, beans and lentils belong to a group of food known as “pulses” or “legumes.” Aside from soybeans, these plants have very similar nutrient content, which includes a good dose of protein. On average, they have about 15 grams of protein per cup, and tagging along with the essentials protein are fiber and iron. Adding beans, lentils and dried peas to your meals is a great way to replace meat (a beef burrito can easily become a black bean burrito, for example) while still getting your much-needed protein. Add pulses to soups, salads, omelets, burritos, casseroles, pasta dishes, and more! Make bean dips (such as hummus, which is made from garbanzo beans, or black bean dip) to spread on sandwiches and use as protein-packed dips for veggies or snack foods.

Legumes, 1 cup cookedProteinCaloriesFiber
Soybeans29 g29810 g
Lentils18 g23016 g
Split peas16 g23116 g
Navy beans16 g25812 g
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)15 g26912 g
Black beans15 g22715 g
Kidney beans15 g22511 g
Lima beans15 g21613 g
Pinto beans14 g23415 g


Soybeans are a complete protein that is comparable in quality with animal proteins. Eating soybeans (and foods made from soybeans) has been a growing trend in America for only five decades, but this protein-rich bean has been a staple in Asia for nearly 4,000 years! This plant powerhouse is used to create a variety of soy-based foods that are rich in protein: tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (TVP, a convincing replacement for ground meat in recipes), soymilk and “meat analogs,” such as vegetarian “chicken” or faux “ribs” are all becoming more popular as more Americans practice vegetarianism.

Soy FoodsProteinCaloriesFat
Soybeans, 1 cup cooked29 g29810 g
Tempeh, 4 oz cooked21 g22313 g
Edamame, 1 cup shelled20 g24010 g
TVP, 1/4 cup dry12 g800 g
Soy nuts, 1/4 cup roasted11 g2001 g
Tofu, 4 oz raw9 g865 g
Soy nut butter, 2 tablespoons7 g17011 g
Soymilk, 1 cup sweetened7 g1000.5 g
Soymilk, 1 cup unsweetened7 g800.5 g


In a culture that focuses largely on wheat, it’s easy to overlook the many types of other grains available to us. Some of these grains are very high in protein and can be included in your diet for both whole-grain carbohydrates and muscle-building protein. Quinoa is unusually close to animal products in protein quality, making it an excellent grain to replace white rice or couscous. It can also be cooked and mixed with honey, berries, and almonds in the morning for a protein-packed breakfast. Other grains high in protein include spelled amaranth, oats, and buckwheat. Choose whole-grain varieties of cereals, pasta, bread and rice for a more nutritious meal.

Amaranth, 1 cup cooked9 g2389 g
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked9 g2544 g
Whole wheat pasta, 1 cup cooked8 g1746 g
Barley, 1 cup cooked7 g27014 g
Spelt, 4 oz cooked6 g1444 g
Oats, 1 cup cooked6 g1474 g
Bulgur, 1 cup cooked6 g1518 g
Buckwheat, 1 cup cooked6 g1555 g
Brown rice, 1 cup cooked5 g2164 g
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice4 g1283 g
Sprouted grain bread, 1 slice4 g803 g


If you consume milk products, dairy is a great way to add some extra grams of protein to your day. Low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt are easily accessible, quick to pack and fun to incorporate into many meals and snacks. Whether you’re drinking a cup of skim milk with your dinner or grabbing some string cheese before you run errands, you can pack about 8 grams of protein into most servings of dairy. You’re also getting some bone-building calcium while you’re at it! Keep in mind that low-fat varieties of milk products are lower in calories and fat, but equal in calcium to the full-fat versions; low-fat varieties may also be higher in protein.

Read more: Foods To Increase Iron Levels In Your Blood

Fat-free cottage cheese, 1 cup31 g1601 g
2% cottage cheese, 1 cup30 g2034 g
1% cottage cheese, 1 cup28 g1632 g
Fat-free plain yogurt, 1 cup14 g1370 g
Low-fat plain yogurt, 1 cup13 g1554 g
Parmesan cheese, 1 oz grated12 g1299 g
Whole milk yogurt, 1 cup9 g1508 g
Goat’s milk, 1 cup9 g16810 g
1% milk, 1 cup8 g1022 g
Swiss cheese, 1 oz8 g1068 g
2% milk, 1 cup8 g1217 g
3.25% (whole) milk, 1 cup8 g1468 g
Low-fat cheddar/Colby cheese, 1 oz7 g492 g
Part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1 oz7 g725 g
Provolone cheese, 1 oz7 g1008 g
Cheddar cheese, 1 oz7 g1149 g
Blue cheese, 1 oz6 g1008 g
American cheese, 1 oz6 g1069 g
Goat cheese, 1 oz5 g766 g
Feta cheese, 1 oz4 g756 g
Part-skim ricotta cheese, 1 oz3 g392 g


Eggs contain the highest biologic value protein available. What this means is that an egg has a near perfect combination of amino acids within its shell; when assessing protein quality of all other foods (including meat), nutrition experts compare them to the egg. This doesn’t mean that all other sources of protein are less healthful or less important but does mean that an egg is an awesome way to get a few grams of protein. At 6 grams for one large egg, there are endless ways to add it to your diet. Salads, sandwiches, breakfasts or snack—an egg can fit in anytime!

Egg, 1 boiled6 g685 g
Egg white, 1 cooked5 g170 g
Liquid egg substitute, 1.5 fl oz5 g230 g

As you can see, protein is EVERYWHERE in our diet, and even without meat you can get enough every day; you just have to look in the right places!

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Source photos: Pixabay / Pexel


How To Meet Your Protein Needs Without Meat