Nutrition Articles

How to Meet Your Protein Needs without Meat

A Guide to Vegetarian Protein Sources

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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. 

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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • HENRY123G4
    This was very interesting and useful. I was shocked to see that almonds contain more fat than Cashews. I was always told to stay clear of Cashews. I'm not a fan of giving meat up completely, I love a grilled steak every Sunday evening, but I do want to give it up for the rest of the week. Thanks ! - 1/17/2015 10:08:39 AM
  • I know it's generally eaten as if it were a grain, but quinoa is technically a seed. - 1/10/2015 10:23:16 PM
  • AMYBELANGE
    Really good information. I am going to have to work on this a bit, but may have to stick with keeping a small amount of meat in my diet. My challenge is that I try to limit grains insomuch as possible, and I avoid cheese, milk, etc. (I do like Greek yogurt!)

    I do like egg whites, and this tends to be my "go to" aside from periodic salmon and "Ostrim" sticks that I keep in my car for quick protein snacks after workouts.

    I have some work to do here...

    Thanks for sharing. - 12/29/2014 8:57:53 PM
  • ABXCHANGE
    Peanuts should be listed under legumes. They are not a true nut. - 11/24/2014 2:43:27 PM
  • Great article except for the soy - soy is really bad for people with thyroid issues as well as Cancer patients . And the Veggies consumed need to be GMO free ! - 9/15/2014 2:10:00 PM
  • ETHELMERZ
    Every vegetarian I know, (over 20 people) eat one hamburger every week, and they feel a lot better by doing that.............
    ....... - 8/28/2014 1:36:01 PM
  • GEANA53
    Wow, interesting comments. Good article. - 11/4/2013 7:45:46 AM
  • I love frozen yogurt. - 9/21/2013 7:38:24 AM
  • i eat alot of dannon greek yogurt. it has 15 grams of protein per container.
    during the height of my weight loss program, i was eating two containers per day, along with a pure protein, whey, protein shake at least once per day, cottage cheese and alot of whole grains and beans.
    i lost 71 lbs doing this over the course of 6 months. - 9/16/2013 10:22:39 AM
  • MAGIGIRL
    Going vegetarian only works IF you have the correct body chemistry for it. I can eat properly mixed vegetable proteins but I would but would be on deaths door with in a week or 2 if I don't eat some meat nearly everyday. I like beans and other veggies and
    eat them daily. I don't eat eggs unless mixed into something. Dairy is best avoided but I do like cheese. I am well aware of how to mix food to make complete protiens.

    Contrary to popular opinion amongst vegetarian and vegans,who think we don't need meat because our stomachs are not as acid as carnivores who swallow food with out really chewing. In humans, digestion starts with chewing and mixing in your saliva which contain enzymes to begin breaking down your food. You finish digesting in the stomach with some acid and other enzymes. Most people can digest meat with some acid and enzymes present in your body.

    A great food plan for on person can be poison for another. - 9/15/2013 1:08:01 AM
  • First of Fat-Fighter8 lists eight essential amino acids. The usual culprits list nine (http://www.nlm.n
    ih.gov/medlin
    eplus/ency/ar
    ticle/002222.htm). Missing from Fat-Fighter8's list is histidine. I've seen at least one claim that there are eight essential amino acids, but that source (I no longer remember where I saw it) explicitly stated that methionine is not as critical as commonly thought rather than blithely listing eight and apparently not noticing that one was missing. I also have to love this opening sentence on the page FF8 linked to: "Protein is a chain of different amino acids." No, protein is a generic term for certain structural components of a living organism. A singular protein, please note the article "a," is a chain of assorted amino acids, but there's lots of different proteins, each serving a different function.

    It should be noted that since proteins are necessary structural components of organisms, in addition to various other functions, all whole foods contain some protein. It's just that some foods have higher concentrations than others. Flowering plants tend to put the highest protein concentrations in their seeds (nuts, legumes, and grains are all seeds) to provide structural components necessary to the development of the next generation. The protein in eggs serves the same function for oviparous animals. - 9/14/2013 7:10:05 PM
  • Soy should be avoided for anyone with a thyroid issue! It really messes it up. Also, soy milk for infants can have bad long term side effects.

    Jane on Guam - 9/14/2013 6:29:20 AM
  • BARBIAN7
    Soy is not healthy. Fermented forms like miso and tempeh are okay on occasion, but soy should be avoided otherwise (tofu, edamame, those fake meat concoctions, soy milk, soybean oil, etc). There are multiple reasons, from the phytoestrogens to the fact that almost all soy is genetically modified. http://www.thehea
    lthyhomeecono
    mist.com/170-
    scientific-re
    asons-to-lose
    -the-soy-in-your-diet/
    Also, dairy is more nutrient dense when it is full fat, and preferably raw. Consuming low fat dairy is not doing your body good http://kellytheki
    tchenkop.com/
    2008/02/healt
    hy-milk.html - 9/14/2013 4:42:41 AM
  • this is great to know I don't have to have meat to get enough or all the protein I need. I always thought I need at least chicken. But I really want to have at least some fish. I have to get back to this article and read some more. what other grains I would like to know .
    My husband likes very much that we can eat only vegies and get complete nutrition.
    I am really surprised I can nourish my body without meats and live a very healthy life. - 9/8/2013 12:53:08 AM
  • A very helpful article! - 9/7/2013 10:28:38 AM
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