9 Best Non-Meat Protein Sources
Vegetarian Options to Help You Get Lean & Toned
So while a diet rich in protein is important for everyone, it’s even more important for anyone looking to get leaner and more toned.
It’s recommended that you get .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 140 pounds, you should target about 50 grams of protein per day. But if you’re going to the gym regularly (40 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise about four to five times per week), you need more like .54 grams of protein per pound. So a 140-pound woman who regularly works out would need about 76 grams of protein.
To get all that protein, it’s important to rely on sources other than simply meat. This isn’t just for health reasons—such as reducing your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other heart disease—but also budget reasons, since meat is pricey. So whether you’re a meat lover or vegetarian (in which case, you’re really going to need this advice!), take note of our experts’ nine favorite non-meat protein sources that can help get you lean and toned.
Registered dietitian Michaela Ballmann recommends tempeh as a great source of protein packed with nutritional value.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans (it’s made from the fermented beans). Half a cup of tempeh has 15 grams of protein, whereas half a cup of tofu has about 10 grams—so both soy products are great sources of protein.
But compared to tofu, tempeh is generally less processed and contains more protein and fiber. Tempeh is also firmer, chewier, and has a bit of a sweeter, earthier taste than tofu.
You can use tempeh in dishes as “mock meat” replacement.
“Adding small amounts of protein in the form of nuts and seeds may help increase the staying power of your next meal or snack,” says registered dietitian and raw food instructor Lauri Boone. For nuts, she suggests snacking on walnuts or almonds.
Almonds are high in calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, and have six grams of protein per ounce (about 23 almonds).
High in omega-3 essential fatty acids, along with potassium, magnesium and vitamin A, walnuts are another great source of nutrition. A one-ounce serving of walnuts contains four grams of protein.
Eat nuts by themselves (opt for unsalted ones) or chop them up and add them to salads, casseroles, batter (like for pancakes, breads or desserts), or top your yogurt or cereal with them.
Or, as clinical dietitian Jocelyn Morante likes to do, use nut butter to creatively incorporate protein-rich nuts into your meals. Opt for ones made 100 percent of nuts (without additives). “Experiment with butters other than peanut butter—like almond and cashew butters,” Morante suggests. These nut butters have about seven and six grams of protein per two tablespoon serving, respectively.
Try smearing nut butter on an apple so you’re getting vitamins and fiber in addition to protein, or on whole wheat toast for tasty breakfast or post-workout snack.
For an added nutritious protein punch, Lauri Boone, RD recommends adding hemp, chia or flax seeds to your next meal.
Hemp seeds have the most protein of all. Two tablespoons have about 7 grams of protein. Hemp is also a source of omega-3s and omega-6.
Chia and flax seeds, while they have less protein (five and four grams per two tablespoons, respectively), they are high in fiber, unlike hemp seeds (meaning they’ll help make you feel fuller longer). Chia and flax seeds are also higher in omega-3s than hemp seeds.
Add any of these seeds to baked goods, cereals, smoothies, salads, veggies, casseroles…you get the idea: basically anything. When adding flax seeds to foods (other than smoothies), make sure to first grind them up to make the nutrients easier to digest.
Although it’s technically a seed, quinoa is generally considered to be a grain. And it’s an excellent cooking alternative for other grains, like rice.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains just over eight grams of protein (compare that to 5 grams in a cup of cooked rice).
And this is rare: quinoa is a plant-based source of protein that contains all of the nine essential amino acids humans need. That, combined with the fact that it’s an excellent source of fiber and zinc, are some of the reasons that quinoa is one of the top “superfoods” you should start incorporating into your diet now. Oh, and it’s gluten free.
Naturopathic doctor Erica Zelfand recommends hard-boiled eggs as an easy protein-packed snack you can grab on the run. A medium egg has six grams of protein, and the yolks are a great source of vitamin B12, which is often deficient in vegetarian diets.
Scramble a couple of eggs together with a few of your favorite veggies for a fiber boost. Or, for a lower calorie, lower cholesterol alternative, try using egg whites instead.
Greek yogurt is so versatile you can use it in basically anything—from savory to sweet, meals to snacks.
A regular six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt packs a whopping fifteen to twenty grams of protein—that’s the same amount of protein as in three ounces of lean meat. It has twice the protein of a glass of milk or a serving of even regular yogurt (and half the sugar and carbs of regular yogurt).
In addition to eating it straight up, in casseroles and other savory dishes, etc., check out some of these recipes for Greek yogurt dips and spreads.
Registered dietitian Jacqueline Aizen recommends baking with Greek yogurt. “Replace some of the butter and oil with Greek yogurt and cut calories and fat in half while adding moisture and protein,” she says. We’ve tried this: replace all of the oil in a boxed cake recipe with a serving of nonfat Greek yogurt—it's just as delicious, and way less guilt-inducing.
Lentils + Beans
Beans are a great source of protein. Lentils have the highest protein count, with about 18 grams per cup cooked. Garbanzo bean (aka chickpeas) have 15 grams of protein in a cooked cup. Other types of beans tend to have between 12 to 14 grams of protein in a cooked cup.
You can eat beans alone, use them to top off a sweet potato or salad, or add them to your favorite dip.
Extra tip: If you’re eating canned beans, it’s best to rinse them under running water to remove added sodium from the canning process.
Yep, vegetables have protein. Some pack a much higher punch than others, though. To amp up your meal’s protein count, opt for veggies like spinach (one cup cooked as seven grams of protein), french beans (one cup cooked has 13 grams of protein), and peas (one cup boiled has nine grams of protein).
“My preference is to get your protein requirements through high-protein whole foods…However, there are some types of protein powders that can be smart choices if you wish to supplement such as in your smoothies,” explains holistic health coach Marissa Vicario.
“If you can tolerate dairy, a good choice is whey protein powder,” Vicario advises. “My other favorite kinds of protein powders are vegan: hemp protein powders and pea protein powders.”
No matter which supplement you’re opting for, you need to read the label to make sure you’re not ingesting added sweeteners and chemicals along with your protein.
For a protein powder enriched smoothie, registered dietitian Anita Mirchandani recommends combining a high-quality protein powder with almond milk, a nut butter and fruit. Just mix and match to find recipes you love. (Certified personal trainer Jolene Goring has a favorite protein shake recipe, which she swears tastes just like peanut butter and jelly ice cream--check it out below!).
PB&J “Ice Cream” Smoothie Recipe:
1 cup almond milk
1 scoop vanilla or chocolate protein powder
1 handful of kale or spinach
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/3 cup fresh or frozen berries
A handful of ice
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/health/az1388.pdf
University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine, Dept of Family Medicine: http://www.fammed.wisc.edu/sites/default/files//webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_protein_alternatives.pdf
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