Nutrition Articles

How to Meet Your Protein Needs without Meat

A Guide to Vegetarian Protein Sources

Soybeans are a complete protein that is comparable in quality with animal proteins. Eating soybeans (and foods made from soybeans) has been 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. To learn more about using tofu, read Tofu 101. To learn how soy may impact your health, click here.

Soy Foods Protein Calories Fat
Soybeans, 1 cup cooked 29 g 298 10 g
Tempeh, 4 oz cooked 21 g 223 13 g
Edamame, 1 cup shelled 20 g 240 10 g
TVP, 1/4 cup dry 12 g 80 0 g
Soy nuts, 1/4 cup roasted 11 g 200 1 g
Tofu, 4 oz raw 9 g 86 5 g
Soy nut butter, 2 tablespoons 7 g 170 11 g
Soymilk, 1 cup sweetened 7 g 100 0.5 g
Soymilk, 1 cup unsweetened 7 g 80 0.5 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 spelt, amaranth, oats and buckwheat. Choose whole-grain varieties of cereals, pastas, breads and rice for a more nutritious meal.

Grains Protein Calories Fiber
Amaranth, 1 cup cooked 9 g 238 9 g
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked 9 g 254 4 g
Whole wheat pasta, 1 cup cooked 8 g 174 6 g
Barley, 1 cup cooked 7 g 270 14 g
Spelt, 4 oz cooked 6 g 144 4 g
Oats, 1 cup cooked 6 g 147 4 g
Bulgur, 1 cup cooked 6 g 151 8 g
Buckwheat, 1 cup cooked 6 g 155 5 g
Brown rice, 1 cup cooked 5 g 216 4 g
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 4 g 128 3 g
Sprouted grain bread, 1 slice 4 g 80 3 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.

Dairy Protein Calories Fat
Fat-free cottage cheese, 1 cup 31 g 160 1 g
2% cottage cheese, 1 cup 30 g 203 4 g
1% cottage cheese, 1 cup 28 g 163 2 g
Fat-free plain yogurt, 1 cup 14 g 137 0 g
Low-fat plain yogurt, 1 cup 13 g 155 4 g
Parmesan cheese, 1 oz grated 12 g 129 9 g
Whole milk yogurt, 1 cup 9 g 150 8 g
Goat's milk, 1 cup 9 g 168 10 g
1% milk, 1 cup 8 g 102 2 g
Swiss cheese, 1 oz 8 g 106 8 g
2% milk, 1 cup 8 g 121 7 g
3.25% (whole) milk, 1 cup 8 g 146 8 g
Low-fat cheddar/Colby cheese, 1 oz 7 g 49 2 g
Part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1 oz 7 g 72 5 g
Provolone cheese, 1 oz 7 g 100 8 g
Cheddar cheese, 1 oz 7 g 114 9 g
Blue cheese, 1 oz 6 g 100 8 g
American cheese, 1 oz 6 g 106 9 g
Goat cheese, 1 oz 5 g 76 6 g
Feta cheese, 1 oz 4 g 75 6 g
Part-skim ricotta cheese, 1 oz 3 g 39 2 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!

Eggs Protein Calories Fat
Egg, 1 boiled 6 g 68 5 g
Egg white, 1 cooked 5 g 17 0 g
Liquid egg substitute, 1.5 fl oz 5 g 23 0 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! For more ideas for using these various plant-based proteins, check out our dailySpark series, Meat-Free Fridays for recipe and cooking ideas!

Selected Sources
Information Sheet: Protein from The Vegetarian Society (

Various nutrient profiles from The World's Healthiest Foods (

Want to learn more about going meatless? Check out SparkPeople's first e-book! It's packed with over 120 delicious meat-free recipes, plus tips and tricks for going meatless. Get it on Amazon for $2.99 and start cooking easy, wholesome veg-centric meals the whole family will love!
Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
‹ Previous Page   Page 3 of 3  

Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

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

    LITTLEWIND53 -- In answer to your question (and it may have already been answered -- I didn't read all 119 comments), you can print articles using the blue MORE button. It has a print function. - 9/18/2015 7:37:09 PM
  • I used to be able to print articles I thought would be beneficial to my meal plan. This is such an article, But I CAN'T FIND A PRINT ICON

    I do have vision problems and may just be missing it. Could anyone help me please???? - 9/7/2015 5:34:06 PM
    I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't care for red meat, great article , I will use this info - 9/6/2015 6:01:41 AM
  • TREWESTERRE - I am a breast cancer survivor. My cancer was estrogen receptor positive, and my oncologist told me to avoid ALL soy foods, because the phytoestrogens in soy can feed that type of cancer. I'll listen to my doctor who is also a breast cancer researcher. - 9/5/2015 4:06:29 PM
  • Contrary to popular opinion, no, soy is not bad for cancer patients or people with thyroid conditions (the latter are generally advised to wait four hours after taking their medication before eating soy) and GMO foods have not been shown to be dangerous to anyone's health.

    You probably shouldn't overdo soy, but you shouldn't overdo anything you eat anyway. Eat a varied diet and don't worry about it so much.

    Also, for quick preparation low-sodium legumes, get some red lentils. They cook as quick as rice does. Actually, any dried legumes can be hydrated in a rice cooker. It's super convenient, though it can take some time depending on the legume you're preparing (e.g. chickpeas will take a few hours, but it's faster than soaking or boiling them on a stove). - 9/5/2015 4:26:44 AM
  • Since I've become vegan I am always looking for new sources of protein. I never realized buckwheat had so much protein. Thanks for a great article. - 8/26/2015 11:00:57 AM
  • Yes, I can definitely include these protein in my diet, and skip meat, chicken or fish on that meal. Thanks for the information. Will post this on my pinterest for reference. - 8/18/2015 4:25:17 AM
    It's a change of pace to eat these foods, but that's all, not any better or quicker for weight loss if you don't watch the portion size, as far as weight loss, don't be fooled. You will still lose weight, and GMO free or not, makes no difference in weight loss, either. - 7/18/2015 6:19:57 AM
  • Plant based protein in my opinion is the best source of protein! You'll be amazed how better you will feel and how fast your weight comes off! You feel leaner, have more energy and overall you feel so much better and you can eat a lot more too! :) - 6/24/2015 4:09:15 PM
  • Absolutely fantastic article - clear, informative, so thorough. Thank you for posting this. I will bookmark it so I can continue to refer to it. - 6/24/2015 11:34:12 AM
  • I love meatless meals, great proteins...but; for someone that is watching their fat grams (15 grams per day) and sodium ( no more than 1500 mg per day) nuts are so high in fat and even rinsing beans I know the sodium is higher than I need. I've made beans from dry lots but you have to use that " P" word ( plan) , can elude me at times. I eat a ton of egg whites and fish and chicken. I add rinsed black bean and chickpeas to venison/turkey meatloaf. I'd love some recipes with low...LOW fat and sodium...PLEASE! - 6/21/2015 9:39:28 PM
  • 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
    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
    Peanuts should be listed under legumes. They are not a true nut. - 11/24/2014 2:43:27 PM

x Lose 10 Pounds by November 20! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.