Top Non-Meat Protein Sources

Updated on December 6, 2017
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Caitlyn has a passion for food and fitness, two things that can compliment each other - or not!

Most people know that eating protein, whether they are trying to build muscle, lose weight, or just lead a healthy lifestyle, is extremely important. What a lot of people don't know is that eating meat isn't the only way to consume protein each day.

While meat is the best source of protein, and human bodies do need animal fat/protein to function, there are other high source protein options out there that aren't chicken, beef, or pork.

Whether you want to try a vegetarian diet, or just want a way to vary up your meals, here are a few great protein options, coupled with other benefits these foods offer. But don't forget - meat and eggs are still some of the best easy sources around!

What is Protein and How Much is Needed?

Protein is defined as: a nutrient found in food (usually meats) that is made up of amino acids joined together and is essential for normal cell structure and function

Amino Acids are organic compounds that make up proteins.


How much protein is needed for a healthy body varies from person-to-person based on activity level, weight, height, and gender, but generally women need about 46 grams a day and men need around 56 grams.

Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the biggest names in the food world that exists today. Thought of as one of the most healthy, gluten free, protein packed grains, Quinoa (KEEN-Wah), is easy to make and fun to throw into recipes.

Quinoa is high in protein, fiber, iron, and is the perfect replacement for grains in your diet as it is gluten free! Often used as a replacement for rice (they are prepared the same way), it can also be added to salads, oatmeal, and even yogurt!

It usually tastes kind of bland (again, much like rice), so you can try preparing it with broth instead of water to give it a nice flavor.

Beans & Legumes

Beans are some of the most commonly acknowledged protein sources in health circles. There are dozens of types of beans to try and mix into any recipes, so the combinations are endless.

Types of Beans:

  • Garbanzo/Chickpeas: Often used in making hummus, these legumes are a great source of protein, iron, carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, and potassium
  • Kidney: High in fiber, protein, and the trace mineral molybdenum
  • Red: High in carbohydrates, fiber, proteins, iron, and potassium
  • White: High in carbohydrates, fiber, protein, minerals, Vitamin B, and Folate
  • Lima: High in fiber, protein, the trace mineral molybdenum, and iron
  • Black: High in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins/minerals
  • Adzuki: These beans are most common in Asian cultures and are high in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and are great for your heart health
  • Pinto: High in fiber, protein, carbohydrates, iron, may slow tumor growth

While beans can be either dried or canned, dried beans are healthier as they have less sodium and other additives that canned beans often have.

Nuts and Nut Butters

Nuts and the nut butters are not only high in protein, they offer healthy fats and carbohydrates to help keep you full when snacking. They are the perfect finger food.

Nut butters (peanut, hazelnut, almond, etc) offer the same nutrients as their nut counterparts, but in an easy to eat and manipulate form.

Some of the healthiest nuts include almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, and pecans.

Lentils

As pictured above, lentils can come in a variety of colors and consistencies. While usually used in soups, different lentils can be used for sauces and chilies.


Greens: Peas, Spinach, Broccoli...

Everyone knows green vegetables are some of the best foods for you, but not many know that they are packed with protein! Here are a few super veggies to add to your next meal:

  • Peas: These little green balls are surprisingly packed with protein, and they are fun to eat! (Kids usually love to smash them down)
  • Spinach: Salads are salads until they have spinach! While they can be a little bitter, these leafy greens are filled with amazing health benefits! Vitamin C, iron, protein, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, and many more vitamins and minerals. No wonder Popeye ate them by the can full!
  • Kale: The more bitter sibling to spinach, this super food is just as healthy as it's more popular sister. Kale is a great source of Fiber, protein, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, and Manganese. Try this bad boy in salads or in a green smoothie!
  • Broccoli: Broccoli is a great source of fiber, vitamins, and protein. Also, they beat beans in terms of body gas factor.
  • Asparagus: High in protein, fiber, Vitamin E, and is great for detoxification. Asparagus is also great for bloating.

Seeds: Pumpkin and Hemp

Pumpkin seeds are fun to bake after the pumpkins have been emptied and carved, but they can be enjoyed all year long! Lightly salted, these seeds are a great source magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and protein.


Hemp seeds (yes, these are the non-intoxicating seeds of the marijuana plant) are climbing the ranks of health experts everywhere. These little seeds can fight heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, thanks to being rich in fiber and omega-3s. And of course, they are a source of protein!

If you're unsure how to consume these, they can be added to salads, or put into a shake in it's powder form.

Final Thoughts

Eating meat is an important part of any diet, but there are a variety of options in the case of changing up the diet or conflict of morals. Many people worry about protein and fats when excluding meat from their diet, so knowing of options to replace them with is important in order to keep healthy and happy.

If you have any other power protein foods, comment them below, as well as any vegetarian dishes you've tried with these additions!

© 2017 Caitlyn Booth

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