Everybody needs protein, but not everyone enjoys eating meat. Meat, including the usual suspects like beef, chicken, and fish, is among the best sources of protein available.
Just check out the amount of protein in a single serving of the following cooked meats:
All that protein is made up of varying combinations of molecules called amino acids, dubbed the "building blocks of life." Your body really can't function without them and relies on amino acids for everything from repairing tissue to digesting food.
So, does this mean you have to be a meat-eater if you want your body to get all the nutrients it needs to thrive? The answer is ‘No!’ In fact, whatever your reason for exploring non-meat protein substitutes, you'll be pleased to know you have plenty of alternative options. Here are a few simple ones you can start with:
Like chicken, beef, and fish, eggs are considered a complete protein source. Crack just one open and you'll find six grams of protein inside. If you skip the yolk, you'll still get about 4 grams of protein from just the egg whites.
Eggs may be a good choice for people who follow a vegetarian lifestyle or simply want to cut back on their meat consumption. Not so good of an option for people with egg allergy, however. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 2 percent of kids are allergic to eggs, although most (70 percent) will outgrow the allergy by age 16. There are vegan and plant-based egg alternatives that have similar amounts of protein as well.
Plant-based diets are an integral part of human history, but for several reasons (e.g., ethical, environmental, taste, health) they've become even more popular lately. A 2018 study found that 14 percent of Americans regularly consume plant protein sources, even though the majority of them (86 percent) do NOT consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.
Replacing some of your calories from meat protein with plant protein can even lower your risk of heart disease and early death, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. In other words, the animal vs. plant debate isn't necessarily an all-or-none choice, and you don't have to swear off meat completely in order to enjoy the health benefits of plant protein.
One of the most delicious ways to get your plant protein is in a convenient powder that you can mix into water, smoothies, pancakes, baked goods, oatmeal and more. Our delicious plant protein mixes have 13-14 grams of protein and 100-120 calories in every serving — that’s more protein and less calories than half of a chicken breast!
Other top plant protein options include pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, hemp, spirulina, and quinoa. Like meat, these plants are considered complete protein sources. Additional options include rice, legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts, and beans), and other nuts and seeds including almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
Dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and milk also earn a spot on the "complete protein" list. A 16 oz glass of skim milk has a little over 16 grams of protein, while 8 oz of cottage cheese has a whopping 25 grams.
About 65 percent of people are unable to properly digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy. This explains why so many of us experience uncomfortable symptoms (like diarrhea, gas, and bloating) when we eat dairy products. If dairy intolerance symptoms sound familiar to you, you may consider avoiding this protein substitute.
Soy and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh are also good sources of plant-based protein. We're mentioning them separately from other non-meat protein substitutes because many people avoid soy due to allergies or other health reasons. (Keep in mind a lot of plant-based protein supplements are made with soy, so if you're trying to avoid this ingredient be sure to look at the label carefully.)
For reference, just one ounce of dried soybeans contains 12 grams of protein. One cup of tempeh (fermented soybeans) contains over 30 grams, and one cup of tofu (soybean curd) has about 20 grams.
When meat's not on the menu, you'll need to be sure you fill your plate (or shaker bottle) with other good protein sources. Why? Because protein is made up of amino acids, which our bodies must get in order to grow, repair, and stay healthy.
Remember, even if you do eat meat and other animal products, consuming plant-based protein offers additional health benefits and may even reduce your risk of certain diseases. So, in addition to non-meat protein substitutes like dairy and eggs, be sure to get more plant protein in your life.