Getting Sufficient Protein Without Meat

Getting Sufficient Protein Without Meat

As we become more aware of the environmental impact of meat production (i.e. deforestation, ground water contamination, water waste, excess production of greenhouse gasses), more people may want to adopt a plant-based diet.

Meat as a staple for a healthy diet

Many still believe that meat should be the focus of a healthy diet to meet one’s protein needs. Indeed, a 6 oz. (170 grams) piece of broiled beef top sirloin steak provides about 46 grams of protein, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for women over the age of 19.


However it also “provides” 10 grams of saturated fats, which is 48% (!) of your entire daily allowance for saturated fats if you are consuming 2,000 calories/day.

Over consumption?

Scientific studies have suggested that over consumption of saturated fats and red meat is linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases.

Protein is essential to your diet: it is one of the six essential nutrients.

The other five are carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water), and a crucial component of your muscles, skin, immune system (antibodies), digestive system (enzymes), reproductive system (hormones) and much more.

Whatever your reasons for choosing to shift towards a plant-based diet, you are probably also wondering; “Am I getting enough protein?”

A. How much protein do you actually need?

RDA for protein for most healthy adults over the age of 19 is 46 and 56 grams per day for women and men respectively.

A more individualized recommendation is to have 0.8 grams of protein per day per kg of healthy body weight.

If you are significantly overweight, your protein recommendations should be adjusted. Your personalized protein needs may further vary depending on your health status and level of physical activity and will be higher if you are fighting an infection, recovering from injury, or are under excessive physical stress.

Getting Sufficient Protein Without MeatB. Non-Meat Protein Sources

One way to reduce meat consumption and still meet your protein needs is by replacing meat with healthier animal food options such as the following:

Table 1: Healthier protein foods for Lacto-Ovo vegetarians or Pescatarians

(USDA National Nutrient Database):

Food Amount Grams protein (average)
Plain yoghurt 1 cup (8 oz./237 ml) 12
Egg 1 8
Fish/Chicken 3 oz. (85 gram) 21
Cottage cheese ¼ cup 7

AA’s and EAA’s

However, choosing to completely avoid all animal foods does not necessarily mean getting insufficient protein: almost all foods have the six essential nutrients and there is protein in almost every type of food.

The trick is to understand your food choices and plan accordingly.

Protein is made up of building blocks known as Amino Acids (AA), different types of which are “chained” together in various sequences.

Essential EAAs

Of the twenty known AAs, nine are essential (EAA), meaning that we must obtain them from food. The other eleven can be manufactured in the body mostly by using the EAAs.

All animal foods and a few plant foods (i.e. soy, quinoa) provide all EAAs, making them complete proteins. However, most plant foods lack one or more EAAs, making them incomplete proteins.

For example, grains lack two EAAs that are found in legumes, and include two other EAAs that legumes lack, making grains and legumes complementary proteins. (i.e. rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, pasta and beans).

Isn’t it interesting that many cultures found ways to obtain all EAAs using plant-based diets?

Please note: It is not necessary to combine complementary protein foods in one meal. Eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient amounts daily will ensure consumption of all EAAs.

Table 2: Average Protein Content of Some Vegan Foods

(USDA National Nutrient Database)

Food Amount Grams protein (average)
Whole grain bread 1 slice/1 oz. (28g) 3
Cooked brown rice/bulgur 1 cup 5 – 6
Cooked oats 1 cup 6
Cooked wild rice 1 cup 8
Legumes & Starchy Vegetables:
Cooked beans (any type) 1 cup 16
Cooked lentils 1 cup 18
Peanut butter 1 Tbsp. 7
Firm tofu 1/2 cup 10
Soy milk/yoghurt 1 cup 7
Cooked sweet/White potato with skin 1 medium 5
Cooked corn 1 cup 3
Nuts & Seeds:
Mixed nuts 1 oz. 6 – 7
Sunflower seed kernels 1/4 cup 6
Tahini (sesame seed paste) 1 Tbsp. 3
Non-starchy vegetables (i.e., leafy greens, broccoli, carrots):
Raw veggies 1 cup 2
Cooked veggies 1/2 cup 2

Note: oils and fruits are insignificant sources of protein

Getting Sufficient Protein Without MeatFrom the following you can see that it is very easy to meet your protein needs on a vegan diet:

Table 3: Sample vegan daily protein food plan for a 68 kg vegan athlete

(1.4 g x 68 kg = 95 g). Not considering other possible nutritional needs.

Food Amount Grams protein (average)
Cooked oats 1 cup 6
Soy milk 1/2 cup 3
Lunch (salad bowl with dressing of choice and bread):
Non-starchy raw veggies 2 cup 4
Cooked bulgur 1/2 cup 3
Cooked beans 1/2 cup 8
Mixed nuts 1 oz. 7
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 3
Plain soy yoghurt 1 cup 7
Mixed nuts 1 oz. 7
Non-starchy raw veg. salad 1 cup 2
Tahini dressing made from 1 Tbsp. tahini 3
Lentil soup 1 cup (1/2 cup lentils) 9
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 3
Cooked non-starchy veggies 1 cup 4
Cooked wild rice 1/2 cup 6
Firm tofu 1/2 cup 10
Whole rye bread 1 slice 3
Peanut butter 1 Tbsp 7
Total protein 95g

C. Final message

Before choosing your diet plan, be sure to first check with your doctor and your dietitian. They can advise you of your specific nutritional needs based on your individual parameters and health status.

Consider that the best sources for your nutrients are minimally processed foods that limit your exposure to unnecessary chemicals, added sugars, excess sodium and calories.

Please note that vegan diets that are not carefully planned may be low in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. 

Connect with Expert Leah Haritan