Make beans the centerpiece of a meal for a protein alternative.

Pump Up Your Daily Protein Intake – Without Meat

There’s no question that lean meat is a great source of protein, but many people are surprised to learn that you can get all the protein your body needs without it. Here’s a primer on some of the top vegetarian sources of protein. 

Legumes. Beans and their relatives are loaded with protein – 12 to 14 grams per cup, as a matter of fact. Not only that, but legumes are by far the most cost-effective way to pack plenty of protein into your diet. Think beyond pinto and black beans; one cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein, and garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas, contain a walloping 39 grams of protein per cup. Legumes are also cholesterol-free, low-fat, and high fiber.

When paired with whole grains, beans become a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids in one serving. Try winning combinations like black beans with corn tortillas, lentils and rice, or garbanzo beans with whole-wheat couscous.

Soy. Tofu, soy milk, and tempeh — all made from soybeans — are excellent meat replacements. Soy is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all the amino acids humans need to eat. Edamame, or fresh soybeans picked while green, are an easy and fun way to eat soy as a snack (22 grams of protein per cup).

Nuts. Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and other nuts are high in protein and are also some of the best sources of essential fatty acids. While nuts are high in fat, the type of fat they contain, called unsaturated, is actually good for you. Still, it’s important to keep portions in check to avoid consuming too many calories. Aim for just a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter a day.

Seeds. Also high in essential fatty acids, seeds are excellent protein sources. Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds are rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

Consider replacing meat with other protein sources at least a couple of days a week to fuel your body in the healthiest possible way.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.