26 Best Protein Sources That Aren’t Meat

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October 29, 2018
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Sneak 100 grams of protein into your diet today with these simple, healthy options.

Blueberries and yogurt

You know protein is a crucial element of a healthy diet. Research shows that regular consumption of this macronutrient can help you feel fuller, eat less, boost metabolism, and increase muscle mass and strength.

To reap these benefits, however, you need to consume enough protein. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 36 percent of your body weight in grams each day—that is, your weight in pounds multiplied by 0.36. So if you tip the scale at 165 pounds, that’s 60 grams of protein.

But emerging research suggests that’s not enough. In fact, one review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that people need to consume 25 to 35 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to gain muscle mass and lose fat.

If the thought of scarfing down slabs of steaks and chicken three times a day seems overwhelming (and expensive), don’t fret—you don’t actually need meat to meet your daily quota.

In fact, according to Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet, there are plenty of easy-to-prep, low-cost vegetarian and vegan foods that provide enough protein to help you reach your daily goal.

One of Gans’s favorites? Cottage cheese. “This source of protein is often overlooked, especially because of the current yogurt craze,” she says. “A half cup of cottage cheese provides around 15 grams of protein, and it makes a quick breakfast mixed with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey.”

Gans recommends adding a dollop of cottage cheese to toast instead of cream cheese, or plopping it on top of scrambled eggs along with diced tomato.

Chickpea or whole wheat pasta are two other protein-packed (and tasty) options. “People think that pasta is only carbs, but whole wheat pasta has a surprising 7.5 grams of protein per one-cup serving,” Gans explains. She suggests sautéing spinach, frozen peas, and shrimp with olive oil and garlic, and combining it with whole wheat pasta with a dash of Parmesan on top.

Here, Gans and Lauren Manaker, R.D., founder of Nutrition Now, offer up 26 surprising (and delicious) ways to sneak in more protein, as well as a sample menu to help you reach 100 grams in a single day. It’s time to meet the protein all-stars.

Keep in mind that protein amounts can vary from brand to brand. Check nutrition labels for exact amounts.

Protein Source: Dairy and Eggs

  • Greek yogurt (such as Fage): 17 grams per cup
  • Cottage cheese: 15 grams per ½ cup
  • Parmesan cheese, grated: 10.8 grams per ounce
  • Cheddar cheese: 7 grams per slice
  • Eggs: 7 grams per egg

Protein Source: Carbs

  • Chickpea pasta (such as Banza): 14 grams per 2-ounce serving
  • Whole grain bread: 5 grams per slice
  • Whole wheat pasta (such as Barilla), cooked: 7.5 grams per cup
  • Quinoa, cooked: 8 grams per cup
  • Wild rice, cooked: 6.5 grams per cup
  • Oatmeal, dry: 5 grams per ¼-cup serving

Protein Source: Nuts, Seeds, and Other

  • Vegan or whey protein powder: 20 grams per scoop
  • Peanut butter: 8 grams per 2 tablespoons
  • Tofu: 6.6 grams per serving
  • Almonds: 6.2 grams per ounce
  • Sunflower seeds: 5.8 grams per ¼ cup
  • Cashews: 5.1 grams per ounce
  • Hummus: 4.8 grams per ¼ cup
  • Chia seeds: 4.4 grams per ounce
  • Roasted chickpea snacks (such as Biena): 4 grams per serving
  • Hemp seeds: 2.5 grams per tablespoon

Protein Source: Vegetables

  • Edamame: 14 grams per ¼ cup
  • Lima beans: 6 grams per ½ cup
  • Frozen peas, cooked: 4 grams per ½ cup
  • Spinach, sautéed: 3.8 grams per ½ cup
  • Broccoli: 3 grams per ½ cup

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Sample Menu: What a Perfect Day of Protein Looks Like

Unsure how to bring it all together? Gans offers this sample menu for a daily total of 115 grams of protein.

Breakfast: Protein Smoothie

Start your day with a tasty smoothie made with 1 scoop vegan or whey protein powder (20 grams), 1 ounce chia seeds (4 grams), 1 cup almond milk (1 gram), ½ banana, and ½ cup mixed berries. Protein count: 25 grams.

Lunch: Turkey and Veggie Sandwich

Build a sandwich using 2 slices whole grain bread (10 grams), sliced turkey (10 grams), 2 tablespoons hummus (2 grams), sliced avocado (2 grams), sliced tomato, and lettuce. Protein count: 24 grams.

Snack: Peanut Butter on an Apple

Slice 1 apple, and dip into 2 tablespoons peanut butter (8 grams). Protein count: 8 grams.

Dinner: Quinoa Salad and Salmon

Toss together 1 cup quinoa (8 grams), 1 ounce sliced almonds (6 grams), ½ cup sautéed spinach (4 grams), and 1 ounce crumbled goat cheese (6 grams). Serve with a 3-ounce grilled salmon fillet (17 grams). Protein count: 41 grams.

Dessert: Yogurt and Fruit

Pair plain Greek yogurt (17 grams) with sliced fruit of your choice. Protein count: 17 grams.

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