12 Best Non-Meat Protein Sources

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on August 22, 2014

Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t need to devour a 16-ounce T-Bone steak to fulfill your daily protein quota. In fact, you don’t need any meat at all. Whether you’re a full-blown vegetarian or a longtime carnivore looking to cut back on your meat consumption, these 12 meatless foods are good sources of healthy, high-quality protein. Not to mention, they’re also better for the environment.

Quinoa (8 g per cup):

Although typically confused with a grain, quinoa is technically a seed—which is why it’s naturally gluten-free and high in fiber. What’s more, this all-star superfood is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids the body needs for growth and repair. With a subtle nutty flavor and chewy texture, quinoa makes a great substitution for rice or cous cous. Try these quinoa-stuffed peppers for a delectable veggie-friendly meal:


Chia (4 grams per 2 tablespoons):

Small but mighty, chia seeds are a powerhouse of protein, omega-3s, fiber and minerals. By weight, they are about 14% protein, which is very high by plant food standards. High in water content, chia seeds are also widely touted for suppressing appetite and losing weight. Soak chia seeds in oatmeal overnight for a rich, creamy texture. Try this overnight oatmeal with chia and fruit for a great grab-and-go breakfast option:

Overnight Oatmeal 2

Spinach (5 grams per one cup):

Popeye was on to something. A cup of cooked spinach contains almost 5 grams of muscle-building protein, not to mention loads of vitamin A, calcium and iron. Pretty impressive for a leafy green, huh? For a delicious take on spinach, try this lemony spinach with toasted pistachios:


Seitan (36 grams per half cup):

A meat substitute made from wheat gluten that’s been seasoned with salt and savory flavors, seitan is loaded with protein—almost 36 grams per half cup. Texture-wise, seitan is chewy and dense, similar to a jerky; in terms of taste, it’s incredibly versatile and adopts the flavors of the seasonings that are used. Below is a spicy, hearty seitan dish in Mexican gravy that your whole family will love:


Hummus and Pita (7 grams per 1 whole-wheat pita and 2 tablespoons of hummus):

It might be your go-to appetizer at Middle Eastern restaurants, but pita and hummus make a knockout nutritional duo. When paired together, hummus and whole-wheat pita supply all nine essential amino acids. Take that as an excuse to tuck into a serving of this Middle Eastern staple! Make hummus at home—it’s incredibly delicious and surprisingly maintenance to make. Here’s a delicious Tunisian-spiced hummus with golden raisins:


Nuts (5 to 7 grams per ¼ cup serving):

Peanuts, almonds, cashews and other nuts are all fantastic sources of meat-free protein. Because they’re rich in healthy fats and omega-3s, nuts are great for suppressing hunger.

maple spiced nuts

Tofu (10 grams per ½ cup serving):

Made from curdled soybean milk—which probably isn’t the most appetizing description of all time—tofu is an extremely healthy, versatile protein choice for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. It’s a spongy food that holds up well to stir-fries, sautés and more. Try this hearty tofu ratatouille for dinner tonight:

Delicious tofu ratatouille meal.

Eggs (6 g per egg):

Although they catch a lot of flack for their high cholesterol content, eggs are considered a superfood in many nutritional circles. Loaded with nutrients and containing all nine essential amino acids, eggs consistently outrank beef, whey and soy in terms of the quality of protein they provide. Best of all, eggs are very cost-effective and versatile. If you’re in the market for a fast and easy breakfast, these 2-minute scrambled eggs will be a godsend on busy mornings:

2-minute scrambled eggs

Greek yogurt (15 to 20 g per serving):

By now, you’ve probably noticed the nutritional hype surrounding Greek yogurt. With more than double the protein of regular yogurt strains, Greek yogurt is a tasty way to amp up your protein content. It’s also rich in bone-building calcium. For a nutrition-packed snack, steer clear of sugary Greek yogurt varieties and stir in some fresh berries.



Edamame (17 grams per cup):

If processed soy products weird you out, give edamame a try. A mainstay at sushi restaurants, edamame is a complete protein that’s high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Throw some on a salad, or snack on them out of the shell. Or, create a delicious salad with edamame as the centerpiece, as in this edamame and tomato salad:


Chickpeas (6 grams per half cup serving):

Rich in fiber and protein, chickpeas—also called garbanzo beans—are another fantastic meat-free protein source. They’re great in curries and as salad toppers. Or, simply eat them on their own, as in these cinnamon-honey roasted chickpeas:



Lentils pack a whooping 18 grams of high-quality protein per one-cup serving, along with more than half your dietary fibers needs, folate, vitamin B1 and plenty of minerals. This veggie-packed lentil salad is bursting with flavor and nutrition: