Nutrition / Food

11 of the Best Non-Meat Proteins You Can Eat

Fill your plate with these meat alternatives.

Protein is an essential nutrient for the body, and one that plays many critical roles, from cell regeneration and building muscle tissue to providing fuel for your workouts. When many people think of protein, they think of meat—and it’s true that meat is a great source of protein with high bioavailability. But, there’s more than one way to get your protein.

Plants, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other non-meat sources can provide all the protein your diet needs. These foods can be especially useful if you’re vegetarian or vegan, but they’re also here to satiate anyone who wants to cut down on their meat intake.

Several of these options—including eggs, yogurt, and soybeans—are complete proteins, which means that they contain the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet. Others, while not complete proteins, still provide essential nutrients and can be combined with other sources to meet your body’s needs.

For more, we turned to the experts: Jennifer Rodriguez, vegan registered dietitian at Food is Vida, and Leslie Bonci, RDN and owner of Active Eating Advice. Below, they share some of their favorite non-meat proteins that you can consider adding into your own diet.

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Hemp Hearts

1 tablespoon = 10 grams of protein

Hemp hearts, also known as hemp seeds, have a mild, nutty flavor and are packed with protein and healthy fats. Rodriguez says that they’re great additions to many meals, including breakfast favorites like smoothies, cereal, and oatmeal.

Chickpeas

1 cup = 15 grams of protein

This versatile legume is probably best known for its use in hummus, which makes a great snack when paired with vegetables or pita. You can also add chickpeas to soups and salads for an extra dose of protein.

Edamame

1 cup = 18 grams of protein

Both Bonci and Rodriguez recommend edamame. This complete protein is filling, loaded with fiber, and makes a great snack. Or, add some shelled edamame to your next stir-fry or salad.

Extra Firm Tofu

1/2 cup = 10 grams of protein

“Tofu is an excellent source of calcium and iron,” says Bonci. “Soy is a complete protein, it’s easy to use, and it takes on the flavor of anything you mix it with.” Try adding tofu to soups and stir-fry recipes, or make it the star of your plate, and pan-sear it with your favorite spices.

Tempeh

1 cup = 33 grams of protein

If you’re looking for another soy-based meat alternative, try tempeh. Made from soybeans, cooked, and formed into patties or blocks, it’s savory, nutty, and earthy—it’s also filling. Rodriguez suggests using tempeh as a meat replacement when making tacos.

Beans

1 cup cooked = 12-16 grams of protein

If you’re in the market for protein and fiber, beans are a versatile go-to. Pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans are a few easy-to-find options that can be incorporated into a variety of cuisines and dishes, including soups, stews, salads, dips, and sides.

Lentils

1 cup cooked = about 24 grams of protein

Lentils are an “underused, easy-to-cook plant protein,” says Rodriguez. She also says that they’re kid-friendly and a great option for boosting the protein content of salads, soups, and curries.

Plain Greek Yogurt

1 8-ounce container = 20 grams of protein

“Greek yogurt is a great source of calcium and potassium, great for a dip, as the base for a yogurt parfait, smoothie, overnight oatmeal, or sour cream replacement,” says Bonci. Or, just pop open the container, grab a spoon, and dig in.

Beyond Meat Crumbles

1/2 cup = 13 grams of protein

You might be familiar with the plant-based Beyond Burger, which is available in supermarkets and restaurant chains. The company behind the burger, Beyond Meat, also makes Beef Crumbles, which aren’t really beef at all. Instead, they’re loaded with pea protein and work well in a variety of dishes that traditionally call for meat, including meatballs, tacos, and spaghetti sauce.

Cottage Cheese

1/2 cup = 14 grams of protein

Bonci likes cottage cheese for its protein content, and also because it can be doctored for sweet and savory applications. Try topping cottage cheese with fruit or avocado, and you’ve got a great snack that will fill you up without weighing you down.

Eggs

2 eggs = 14 grams of protein

Whole eggs have a biological value of 93.7, which is a measure of how efficiently your body uses the protein. These complete proteins are also loaded with vitamin A and lutein, and can be used in a variety of ways. Breakfast favorites like omelets, frittatas, and tacos all call for eggs. Avocado toast and rice bowls can benefit from a fried egg topper, and hard- or soft-boiled eggs also make a hearty addition to salads.

 

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