When you hear the word protein, you likely think of a chicken breast or a piece of steak. That makes sense – but meat is not the only source of protein.

Indeed, it’s entirely possible to get the protein you need each day without eating poultry, beef, or pork. “When done thoughtfully, individuals can meet their protein needs exclusively from plant-based sources,” says Nathalie Sessions, RD, the founder of Nutrition Sessions in Pearland, Texas.


One perk of animal protein is that it’s a complete source, meaning it provides the nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t make, according to Cedars-Sinai. But several plant sources also meet this criterion. Here are some of the benefits to reducing your meat consumption and filling up on plant proteins.

Lose Weight

Plant-based diets, such as a low-fat vegan diet, or even a less-strict omnivore diet led to weight loss among study participants who were overweight or had type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, according to a review of 19 randomised controlled trials published September 30, 2020, in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.

Protect the Environment

A 2019 report in The Lancet notes that following plant-based diets such as vegan and vegetarian diets – which source protein from plants, not meat – are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Boost Your Heart Health

When it comes to red meat, the benefits of plant alternatives arguably get even more impressive. “Some studies have linked red meat with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, partly due to the saturated fat content,” Sessions says.

Indeed, a randomised controlled trial published in July 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that among diets with red meat, diets with white meat, and diets with plants, the plant-based diets had the most positive effects on LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Per the American Heart Association, replacing saturated fat with healthier fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, can benefit cholesterol levels.

Meanwhile, a review of 15 randomised controlled trials with 856 total participants published May 29, 2020, in Nutrients found that omnivorous dieters – people who eat both plant and animal proteins – had higher diastolic and systolic blood pressure numbers than vegetarians. Lower blood pressure can make for a healthier ticker and a lower risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lengthen Your Life

A cohort study published February 3, 2020, in JAMA Internal Medicine of nearly 30,000 adults in the United States found that processed and unprocessed red meat and poultry, but not fish, were associated with a greater incidence of heart disease. The researchers also reported that consumption of red meat of any kind was linked with death from any cause, though poultry and fish were not.

The National Institutes of Health also reports that red meat consumption may shorten your life. The group recommends swapping it out of your diet in favour of healthier protein sources, which may include fish and poultry without skin, but also plants. A study published February 8, 2022, in PLOS Medicine found that individuals who tended to eat more plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, and nuts, while cutting back on refined grains, red and processed meats, and sugary drinks could extend their life span by several years.

For example, such changes at age 60 could result in a life lengthened by 8 years for women and nearly 9 years for men, researchers estimated.

That said, researchers noted they lacked data on the effects of white meat, eggs, and oils, and other lifestyle changes that could affect longevity.

You may be wary of scaling back on animal proteins for fear of nutrient deficiencies. But if you follow a diet with a variety of foods, it’s possible to get your fix of all the amino acids your body needs to perform at its best, notes Cedars-Sinai.

“No one needs to eat red meat to be healthy,” Sessions says.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram of body weight.

Multiply your weight in pounds (lb) by 0.36 – that’s how many grams of protein to aim for each day at a minimum.

So, if you weigh 150 lb, you’d strive for 54 g of protein daily.

To think of it another way, protein should make up between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calorie intake, says Shira Sussi, RDN, the founder of Shira Sussi Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York.

That’s not a difficult ask. “We are not terribly worried about getting enough protein. In many cases I’ve seen, my clients are overdoing protein intake while also underdoing the recommended intakes of the nutrient-rich vegetables, fruit, and whole grains,” Sessions says.

Sussi suspects it’s because “people are raised with the idea that protein — specifically animal protein — needs to be at the centre of the meal, and that a meal without protein is not satisfying or fulfilling.”

She challenges this thinking, saying it doesn’t need to be all about a large piece of meat at dinner. You can meet your need for this macronutrient by incorporating high-quality plant protein in meals and snacks throughout the day, such as by adding a serving of beans to a salad or stacking grilled tofu between slices of bread for lunch, Sussi says.


Below are 10 of the best foods to add to your diet, whether you’re looking to ditch animal products completely or simply diversify your protein options.

1. Lentils (Up to 9 g of Protein per ½ Cup)

Sessions says lentils and other legumes (such as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds) offer a full protein package. “They’re rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and [can] provide 9 g of protein per serving,” which is ½ cup cooked legumes, she says. They also contain antioxidant-rich polyphenols, which a study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences says have anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetes properties.

How To Enjoy Them

Incorporate lentils as the protein in a veggie-packed soup or as the star of your next veggie burger!

2. Chickpeas (7.5 g of Protein per ½ Cup)

Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are legumes that are rich in protein, folate, fibre, iron, phosphorus, and healthy fatty acids, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A ½ cup serving of chickpeas has about 7.5 g of protein, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

How To Enjoy Them

Sussi suggests roasting chickpeas for a crispy snack, or try eating hummus.

3. Hemp Seeds (10 g of Protein per 3 Tbsp)

“These little seeds contain all nine essential amino acids, and 3 tablespoons (tbsp) provide about 10 g of protein,” Sussi says. You can also find them sometimes at the supermarket as hemp hearts, which are shelled hemp seeds.

How To Enjoy Them

Sussi suggests sprinkling hemp hearts or seeds on salads, soups, yogurt, or on top of nut-buttered toast. “They have a subtle nutty flavour profile and nice crunch – I call them ‘nutrition sprinkles,’” she says.

4. Tofu (9 g of Protein per 3 Oz)

Like hemp seeds, soy contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, Sussi says. Soy is the basis of several types of foods, including soy milk, edamame, miso, tempeh, and soy nuts, giving you plenty of ways to incorporate soy products into your diet. It’s the main ingredient in tofu too, which should be high on your list of meat substitutes. A 3-ounce (oz) serving offers 9 g of protein, according to the USDA.

It also contains potassium and iron, Sussi says. Soy products don’t have the best reputation – you may have heard that soy can lead to breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, that link was found in animals and doesn’t appear to be an issue for humans, which is why their experts say it’s safe and advisable to eat soy products.

How To Enjoy Them

Add this versatile soy protein to your next stir-fry or roast it on a sheet pan with a plethora of colourful veggies.

5. Nuts (5 to 6 g of Protein per ¼ Cup)</

Whichever nut is your favourite, it’s likely a good source of protein, clocking in at about 5 to 6 g per small handful (less than ¼ cup), Sussi says. Almonds offer the most protein per serving, and pistachios are close behind. In addition to protein, nuts are good sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, which can lower cholesterol levels, per the Mayo Clinic.

How To Enjoy Them

Thanks to the many options, including almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts, it’s easy to add a variety to your diet. Sprinkle them on salads, in smoothies, or on top of veggies, Sussi suggests.

6. Quinoa (8 g Protein per Cup)

Though it’s technically a seed, quinoa is commonly referred to as a whole grain and can be used in place of other grains like rice and pasta. One cup of cooked quinoa offers 8 g of protein and 5 g of satiating fibre, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Not to mention that quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.

How To Enjoy It

Quinoa is a match for any meal – have it in the morning in milk as you would a breakfast cereal, for lunch as the protein in your salad, or at dinner in place of pasta.

7. Nutritional Yeast (8 g of Protein per ¼ Cup)

Many vegans go nuts over nutritional yeast’s cheese-like umami flavour, but there are several reasons non-vegans should give it a try. “It’s packed with B vitamins, the antioxidant glutathione, and protein,” Sussi says. “A quarter cup has 8 g of protein.” Plus, it’s free of gluten, sugar, dairy, and artificial flavours or ingredients.

How To Enjoy It

“Add it to soups and sauces, sprinkle it on popcorn or avocado toast, or blend with soaked cashews to make a great homemade vegan cheese on pasta or veggies,” Sussi suggests.

8. Tempeh (14 g Protein per 3 Oz)

Though not as popular as tofu, tempeh is another high-protein soy product that makes a great meat substitute. It’s a dense, cake-like helping of fermented soybeans, sometimes with spices and grains such as rice added. A 3 oz serving of organic tempeh contains 14 g of protein, per the USDA. You’ll find it in the fridge at supermarkets.

How To Enjoy It

As with tofu, try mixing tempeh into a stir-fry or swap your beef patty for one with tempeh between two slices of bread.

9. Black Beans (7.5 g Protein per ½ Cup)

Take your pick for your bean of choice – black beans, navy beans, kidney beans are just some examples. Sussi says there are more than 20 varieties, and they all offer essential nutrients. “They’re nutritional powerhouses,” says Sussi, rich in protein, fibre, folate, magnesium, and iron. A ½ cup of black beans contains about 7.5 g of protein, per the USDA.

How To Enjoy Them

Sussi suggests adding beans to salads, stir-fries, soups, and stews. Opt for low-sodium or no-sodium-added varieties when shopping she says.

10. Peanut Butter (7 g Protein per 2 Tbsp)

Yes, this pantry staple is delicious and a good source of high-quality, plant-based protein. Two tbsp has 7 g of protein, per the USDA. Just be sure to buy healthy varieties and keep your portion size in check – the aforementioned portion has a whopping 180 calories, so it can quickly move from a healthy protein source to an indulgent treat that may contribute to weight gain if you overdo it.

How To Enjoy It

Chances are, you’re familiar with how to eat PB. This delicious spread is the perfect afternoon snack when spread on apple slices. Or indulge in a childhood favourite and put it on whole-wheat bread with low-sugar jelly for a classic PB&J.