So what do vegetarians and vegan do for protein? Do they get enough – do they get any? They do very well by concentrating on plant based proteins and other sources such as nuts. Here are some alternative sources.
How to Get Protein Without Meat
Vegans and vegetarians need to rely on plant proteins to fulfill their daily protein requirements, but you don’t have to belong to either group to enjoy the benefits these proteins provide.
Plant based proteins (and non meat proteins) are so nutritious that NASA are evaluating them to feed astronauts in space
Although most plant proteins are (thought) not complete proteins, it’s possible to get all the essential amino acids your body needs by combining two or more plant proteins.
Speak to someone in the sports or fitness industry that is on a plant based diet ask them if they are getting enough of the right kind of protein. Then step back and feel their wrath!
When one provides the amino acids the other lacks, it’s a winning combination.
Have you ever heard the phrase “strong as an ox”? I’m guessing you probably have.
Well, oxen are strong. So are bulls, elephants, and many other animals that eat a plant diet.
The protein in meat from eating the flesh of cows and sheep, etc. could be seen as plant protein that’s being passed on.
Tofu is a popular food choice among vegans and vegetarians, but meat-eaters can take advantage of this high-protein soybean curd as well and one of the best things about tofu is it’s a complete protein.
It may vary a little from brand to brand, but tofu is generally around 8% protein. It’s also rich in manganese and calcium and each 100 g serving provides enough iron to meet 9% of the RDA.
As far as the calories in tofu go, there are only 70 calories per 100 g. That’s not enough to stay up nights worrying about.
As well as being nutritious, tofu is low in calories. There are only 94 calories per half-cup. You may also be surprised to learn tofu is a good source of Omega-3. It’s a plant-based protein that’s comparable to meat or fish.
If the idea of cooking tofu fills you with fear, don’t worry. It’s a very versatile food. The only limits are the ones imposed by your imagination. You’ll be spoiled for choice if you go looking for tofu recipes online.
When you are looking for good high protein foods plucked from the earth, it would be a mistake to overlook green peas. At 5% protein, a (145 g) cup of peas provides 8 g of protein and 118 calories.
Peas are a good source of dietary fiber, carbohydrate, and potassium, and iron. A single cup of green peas also provides 96% of the RDA for Vitamin C and 22% of the RDA for Vitamin A.
Due to the combination of protein and fiber they provide, green peas are a very filling food. Unfortunately, green peas are not a complete protein. They don’t have the amino acid methionine.
However, brown rice, lentils, wheat germ, chickpeas, and oats do provide methionine so if you are a vegetarian you can make your meal “complete” by combing one of them with your green peas.
Peas are a good accompaniment to many types of meal. They go well with most types of meat and fish. They also work well in vegetable soups and broths.
Beans on Toast
It can vary a bit from brand to brand, but baked beans in tomato sauce are generally around 6% protein. So, if you eat a full 130g-tin, you will be getting 18 g of protein. That’s none too shabby.
Unfortunately, haricot beans are not a complete protein. However, when you eat them on toast the bread provides the missing amino acids so, as a meal, beans on toast is a complete protein.
Haricot beans are rich in B vitamins and other beneficial nutrients. They are also an excellent source of fiber. Like protein, fiber increases satiety and helps prevent hunger.
Some people don’t care for the taste of baked beans. That’s no biggie. Add a spoon of curry powder and you’ve got a plate full of curried beans. Add chili powder and they become chili beans. For a richer tomato flavor, all you need to do is add a little tomato puree.
Use white bread for the toast if you must but wholemeal bread is more nutritious and will provide extra dietary fiber.
Lentils are a fantastic source of protein and fiber. There are several varieties available. Some are red, others are green. There are also lentils that are black and brown. Some of them are better for making soups, other work well in casseroles and other types of dish. All of them are good.
Each 100 g serving of cooked lentils provides 9.2 g of protein, 20.13 g of carbohydrate, and just 116 calories.
The overall nutritional value of lentils is also very good. A 100 g serving of cooked lentils provides: Vitamin B6 (127% RDA), manganese (70% RDA), thiamine (58% RDA), folate (45% RDA), iron (36% RDA), phosphorus (28% RDA).
Lentils also provide lesser quantities of many other important nutrients including potassium, zinc, copper, niacin, and selenium.
One of the best things about lentils is the price. They are very inexpensive. If you are looking for cheap high-protein foods, lentils are pretty hard to beat. Cash-strapped students all over the world cannot be wrong.
Quinoa is a flowering, herbaceous plant. The quinoa you buy from supermarkets and health food stores is actually the plant’s seeds.
Like tofu, quinoa is a complete protein that provides all nine essential amino acids. A full cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa provides 8 g of protein and 5 g of dietary fiber. Quinoa is also rich in manganese and magnesium. It provides reasonable amounts of zinc, iron, and copper as well.
Quinoa is always non-GMO and gluten-free. It’s so nutritious the United Nations made 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. That’s a damn strong endorsement and it’s not the only one.
Due to the fact that it’s nutrient-rich and easy to grow, NASA has been evaluating quinoa’s potential value as a food crop in outer space.
Nuts are another good high-protein food. The problem is, nuts are also high in fat so, although they are good for a healthy snack, you need to use discretion. Eating too many will only help you to pile on the pounds.
Nuts are a good source of fiber as well and most of the fats they provide are the (good) monosaturated kind. Nuts also contain Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Some studies suggest people who eat nuts live longer than those who don’t. It’s been speculated this may be because nuts prevent certain chronic diseases. That’s a claim that’s best left in the hands of the scientists, but nuts are certainly a health-boosting food.
Depending on which type of nut you choose, a 28 g serving may provide 2-6 g of protein. Almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts are at the top-end of the scale. All of them provide 6 g (per 28 g serving).
At 5 g, cashews come a close second but, along with Brazil nuts, peanuts only provide 4 g.
The thing to remember is, nuts work best when eaten as a healthy snack. It’s also a good idea to avoid processed nut products, such as peanut butter, barbecue these options often have added sugar and fat.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae. It’s so nutritious it’s sometimes alleged to be the most powerful superfood in the world.
This list of plant-based proteins would not be complete if it did not contain spirulina, pound for pound, it contains more protein than red meat.
Believe it or not, spirulina is 57% protein. A single teaspoon of it provides 7 g of protein. It’s another plant NASA has considered for feeding its astronauts in space.
Spirulina is full of vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids. It provides antioxidants as well and is known to present certain health benefits.
Research shows this blue-green wonder-food reduces blood pressure and prevents plaque from forming in the arteries.
Spirulina gets its color from an antioxidant called phycocyanin. It’s also the main active component. Phycocyanin fights free radicals and inhibits the production of the signaling molecules responsible for inflammation.
A true superfood, spirulina is linked to numerous other health benefits as well and many people take it in supplement form.
How to Get Protein Without Meat – Final Thoughts
Many different foods are capable of getting extra protein into your body. The lists above barely scratch the surface. There is no need to make life boring by sticking to the same high-protein foods week in and week out.
Obviously, if you are vegan or vegetarian, animal and fish proteins won’t be for you. If you eat meat, try to add more plant proteins to your diet. Consider having a Meat-Free Monday or simply decide on random days when you don’t eat meat.
Apart from forcing you to add extra variety to your diet, having occasional days when meat and fish are not on the menu may be beneficial for your health.
Protein is an important nutrient. There’s no denying it. However, whether you are looking for high-protein foods to help you gain muscle or lose weight; it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that protein should never become the be-all and end-all of your diet.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Athletes and bodybuilders may require a higher amount (1.2–1.4 grams per kg). Older adults may need extra protein too (1–1.3 grams per kg), but going overboard on protein is pointless. Your body will just dispose of the extra protein it doesn’t need.
The US Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate initiative suggests a diet that consists of adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. If you are trying to change your diet for the better, that may be a good place to start.
When you are looking for good high-protein foods, the lists on this page should help.