Do you need to eat meat to get protein into your diet? Protein is an essential building block that helps our body grow and function. Most of us already know that eating meat and poultry is an easy way to get more into our diet
Here we will provide you with detailed information on why protein is so important, what other protein sources are available to enhance a healthy and balanced diet, such as dairy products and vegetables. We’ll also give you helpful tips on how to get more protein into your meals and snacks every day.
Also, our guide to the best protein powder can help you if you are looking for a quick and affordable source of extra protein to build muscle and manage your weight.
Because proteins are important in a balanced diet
Protein, often called building blocks of the body, is essential for a healthy and balanced diet. Getting enough protein helps your body to:
- Grow and repair muscles and tissues.
- Provide energy.
- It creates enzymes to aid essential bodily functions, such as digestion and blood clotting.
- It helps fight infections by helping to make antibodies.
The dietary intake recommendation for protein is around 50 g per day (opens in a new tab), based on a daily calorie consumption of 2,000 calories. People who are more active and people who want to build muscle may want to further increase their protein intake.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in a new tab) states that people who perform high-intensity exercise or resistance training should consume up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. This increased protein intake builds and maintains muscles during exercise and also helps the body recover after strenuous activity.
Do you need to eat meat to get protein in your diet?
In short, no, you don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein in your diet. According to the last Dietary guidelines for Americans (opens in a new tab), it is best to vary protein sources where possible. So even if you already eat meat, you should try to get more protein from other sources in a varied and balanced diet.
In addition to meat and poultry, proteins are found in all types of foods, such as:
- Soy-based products, such as tofu and tempeh
- Beans, lentils and peas
- Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Nuts and seeds
- Seafood, such as fish and shellfish
- Whole grains and vegetables
According to US Food & Drug Administration, most Americans get enough protein in their diets to meet their needs. However, often these sources are highly processed and high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat, such as burgers or tacos.
Varying your diet to include more whole protein sources can help meet your needs, as well as increase dietary fiber and lower cholesterol. This will help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and will also support weight loss.
Tips for integrating protein into your meatless diet
Plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular as people switch to a meat-free diet. As the Harvard School of Public Health (opens in a new tab) highlights, evidence points to these protein sources as a much healthier alternative to meat and poultry, which can often be processed or high in saturated fat.
Dairy products are a rich source of protein for people who do not eat meat but who are not vegan. They are also a major source of calcium, which is essential for building healthy and strong bones. A milk or yogurt smoothie can be a great breakfast or post-exercise recovery drink. You can also add a tablespoon of protein powder to further increase your protein intake.
Meat substitutes, or “fake meats,” such as seitan, can also be a popular protein source for vegans and vegetarians. An 85g serving of seitan provides as much as 21 g (opens in a new tab) of protein. You can fry, grill, or sauté seitan, making it a convenient alternative to beef and chicken.
Tofu is a well-known alternative to meat and a source of vegetable protein. It is often used in curries as a substitute for meat, but can also be eaten raw. Marinating the tofu beforehand will help it absorb more flavor if you use it as a main ingredient in a dish. 100 g of tofu contain about 19 g (opens in a new tab) of protein.
Here are some extra tips for getting more protein into your diet without eating meat:
- Make eggs your favorite snack or include them as part of a main meal. A large hard-boiled egg contains over 6g of protein, while a 220g serving of scrambled eggs contains 22g of protein.
- Nuts and seeds make a great post-workout recovery snack or a mid-afternoon snack. Adding a handful of seeds or nuts to the salad bowl at lunchtime is a quick and easy way to increase your protein intake. Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios are all high in protein, which can make you feel fuller for longer. For seeds, choose pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, and flax. You can pack around 8g of protein in a handful, especially if you choose seeds from pumpkins.
- Lentils are rich in protein and can be used in a variety of ways in cooking. Add them to soups, stews, grain or curry dishes to boost fiber and protein, or fry them in lentil patties. One cup of red lentils can contain up to 46g of protein. You can also buy lentil cakes, like rice cakes, but high in protein.
- Swapping your usual butter or margarine spread for peanut butter can give you a protein boost without any effort. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 7g of protein.
- Protein powders can also be a convenient way to increase your protein intake without eating meat. Protein powders can be derived from eggs, milk, plants, or a combination of sources. However, they’re not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, so it’s important to read the label and know what ingredients are included.
According to Harvard Medical School, some protein powders can contain large amounts of sugar or even toxic chemicals. Our guide to the best protein powders can help guide you in choosing the right one for you. If you’d rather be dairy-free, we also have a guide to the best vegan protein powders.