Nutrition Articles

How to Meet Your Protein Needs without Meat

A Guide to Vegetarian Protein Sources

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Soy
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


Grains
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


Dairy
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
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 (VegSoc.org)

Various nutrient profiles from The World's Healthiest Foods (WHFoods.com)



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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

  • 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
  • good info. Thanks - 8/28/2013 6:58:52 AM
  • http://www.vegpar
    adise.com/pro
    tein.html.
    This is a very informative site. give guides forhow much protein you need in a day, also if you are an athelet,unwell(co
    ld etc), pregnant and /or breast feeding, how to calculate for your weight.. It also give a list of vegetarian/vegan protein sources andhow many grams they contain per serving. - 8/24/2013 12:58:50 PM
  • Sarah, I love the graphic showing the item and each amount! I'm glad you included hemp seeds. Chia seeds and ground flax seeds are also great. And, dark, leafy vegetables and many other vegetable and fruits have protein too! The meat and dairy industry doesn't want you to think that though. - 8/24/2013 12:33:06 PM
  • Peanuts are a legume. - 8/24/2013 12:09:09 PM

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