It’s the annoying question that meat eaters are constantly posing to vegetarians and vegans, in an incredulous tone: “But where you do get your protein?” Our culture bombards us with false information about how much protein we need, and what the best sources of it are. Sure, meat is packed with protein – but it’s far from the only source, and it’s certainly not as healthy or environmentally friendly as these 13 additional plant- and dairy-based sources.
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Technically a seed, quinoa is nutty and fluffy, often used like rice, oats or other whole grains in both sweet and savory dishes. Grown almost entirely in Peru, this ancient food has 24 grams of protein per uncooked cup, as well as 12 grams of fiber. Unlike most grains, it’s a complete protein, so you don’t need to add another protein source like beans to get all of the amino acids you need.
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Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas – take your pick. Most beans have about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup, and they’re low in fat and high in fiber. Beans and legumes also pack lots of calcium and iron. Eat them with a whole grain like brown rice, bulgur, quinoa or millet to get the full benefits.
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Tofu might just be the most well-known source of vegetarian protein, and it’s a highly versatile one, since it takes on the flavor of whatever it’s prepared with. Slice up the firm stuff and stir-fry it with veggies, or use soft silken tofu to make protein-packed vegan smoothies. Tofu has about 20 grams of protein per cup.
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Not for the gluten-sensitive, seitan is literally made up entirely of wheat gluten. It’s chewy, and has a texture that’s surprisingly similar to that of meat when cooked. You can use it for all kinds of dishes that call for chicken and other types of meat. It contains about 20 grams of protein per 3-ounce portion, which is about the same as the protein in the same quantity of lean meat.
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Made from the groats of several varieties of wheat, bulgur is a hearty grain with 17 grams of protein per cup, and 26 grams of fiber. This Middle Eastern staple is low-fat and low-calorie, often used to make cereal or grain-based side dishes.
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Packing 31 grams of protein per cup, tempeh – a fermented mash of soybeans in loaf form – is one of the most powerful plant-based proteins around. It’s a complete protein, with every essential amino acid, and lots of manganese, which contributes to healthy bones and supports brain function.
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One large egg contains just 78 calories and six grams of protein, with almost zero carbohydrates. Whether you add a hard-boiled egg to your salad, eat them in an omelette for breakfast, or add them to baked goods, they’re an excellent way to get plenty of protein without meat.
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While high in fat, nuts eaten in small quantities can be a great way to get some extra energy, making them an ideal snack. A half-cup of nuts contains 10 grams of protein.
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Not only does yogurt pack 17 grams of protein in one typical container, it’s full of beneficial cultures that help balance your digestive system. Greek yogurt has gotten a big boost in popularity in recent years thanks to its creamier texture and tangier taste, which comes thanks to extra straining. Greek yogurt contains up to double the protein of regular yogurt, with half the sugar content. Go with plain instead of the flavored varieties and add your own fruit and raw honey, maple syrup or stevia.
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Dairy like milk and cheese is definitely high in calories and fat, so it should make up a relatively modest portion of your daily food intake, but it’s got protein galore. Six slices of whole-milk mozzarella cheese, for example have 38 grams of protein.
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Sprinkle chia seeds, flax, hemp, poppy, pumpkin, sesame or sunflower seeds onto your salad, oatmeal, trail mix, granola and baked goods – or virtually anything else you eat. Pumpkin seeds pack as much protein per weight-based serving as ground beef. Chia seeds contain about 4.7 grams per ounce.
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One cup of sliced avocado contains 2.9 grams of creamy, delicious, satisfying protein. We all know that this fatty fruit tastes great in savory dishes, but have you ever tried putting it in a smoothie or blending it with chocolate for raw vegan pudding? To die for.
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Who knew that peas have even more protein in a cup than an entire egg? They’re not typically celebrated as a high-protein food, but peas deserve a little more recognition – and more space on your plate. They’ve got 8-10 grams of protein and fiber per cup.