If you’ve ever talked to someone about dropping meat from your diet and switching to a plant-based one, the common refrain is that you won’t be able to get enough protein. These individuals more than likely have your best interests at heart, especially when they’re friends or family members – they usually approve of your dedication to eating healthier, but don’t want to see your nutrition suffering as a result. However, just because you’re not eating meat anymore doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with a protein deficiency.
The truth is that there are plenty of protein sources out there that are plant-based. It goes deeper than just replacing meat with tofu – there are all sorts of vegetables, beans, seeds, and legumes out there that are fantastic ways to provide much-needed protein for your body. It will take some serious dedication to keeping your diet balanced properly when you’re substituting in non-meat sources of protein, but it’s absolutely possible; don’t let anyone tell you different. Here are some of the best ways to get your protein without having to rely on eating meat.
The Exhaustive List
There’s no dearth of foods out there that you can rely on for protein replacement. While one or two of them together might not be able to add up enough to provide you the kind of nutrition you would get from lean meat protein, incorporating several of them into your diet in moderate amounts can ensure that your body gets the complete protein it needs. The types of foods you should be considering include:
- Soy-based foods – Most of the meat-replacement soy products like imitation hamburger patties, hot dogs, and bacon are excellent sources of protein, but since they tend to be highly processed it’s better to stick with less doctored foods like tofu.
- Dark green leafy vegetables – A good rule of thumb is the darker green the vegetable, the better a source of protein. One of the best choices would be spinach and broccoli, as 1 cup of each grants you 13 grams and 6.8 grams of protein respectively.
- Nuts and seeds – Nuts and nut butters, seeds, and legumes are all excellent sources of protein. In addition, many of these will also offer the kinds of supplemental nutrition that help even more like Omega-3 fatty acids, usually only found in seafood.
- Dairy and egg sources – Unless you’re a pure vegan, the occasional egg in the morning is a powerhouse of beneficial protein. Dairy products like milk and cheese are also high in protein as well; meanwhile, many protein powders and shakes use whey protein as a main ingredient.
Don’t Front-Load Your Protein Intake
Speaking of good sources of protein, many people will look at all of those protein shakes or bars as an excellent alternative to eating meat. While these products do often have large quantities of protein within them, there’s something you should know about them: just because they’re incredibly rich protein sources doesn’t mean that you’re going to benefit from them completely. The problem is that there can actually be too much protein in these products, or at least too much for your body to absorb all at once. A super-charged shake with 50 grams of protein in it might sound like a great way to get everything you need for your day, but there’s only so much protein your body can absorb at once; the rest is simply flushed from your body as waste.
A better strategy is to space out your protein intake over the course of your day. Make sure there’s at least one whole-food source of protein in the majority of your meals and your body will be able to absorb it all without any of it going to waste, and with so many different sources of non-meat protein out there it guarantees you’ll be enjoying your meals much more than you would if your breakfast consists of a giant, chalky-tasting shake or a pair of dense, unpleasantly chewy bars that feel like you’re eating cardboard.
When You Eat Versus What You Eat
Even if you’re sticking to a plant-based protein routine and you’re eating all the best non-meat sources of protein regularly, you still might not be getting the most out of these foods. It’s not because of what you’re eating in this situation but when you’re eating it: The problem might be that you’re eating all that great protein at times of the day when your body doesn’t need them the most. While your body will always need protein, there are only around two to three times in any given day that you’re going to get the most benefit out of them. The first would be shortly after you wake up in the morning. Since you’ve been sleeping for several hours, your body will be in need of some fuel to kick-start your morning – and a good source of protein first thing is going to stoke that metabolic furnace and get you ready to face your day. Conversely, another good time to make sure there’s some protein in your system is around a half hour or so before settling down for bed; as protein rebuilds damaged muscle, providing your body with the building blocks to put yourself back together again overnight is crucial.
Finally, the third best time during the day to get some protein in you is anywhere up to a half hour or an hour after any exercise you might have done that day. In the wake of a good workout, your body is ready to absorb nutrients in order to help recover from the exertion, and providing a good source of protein will help you bounce back after that session on the treadmill or that bout of resistance training you just finished off at the gym. Meanwhile, if you’re not getting at least a little exercise in every day or so, what are you waiting for?
Good for Everything
You don’t even have to be a vegetarian to get the benefits of non-meat sources of protein. With the USDA suggesting that men get at least 56 grams of protein on a daily basis (and women get a minimum of 46 grams a day as well) there’s room in everyone’s diet for more protein. It’s not always feasible to eat meat with every meal – and if you’re the one doing the grocery shopping for your family, not always cost-effective – but adding a nice helping of inexpensive but tasty beans to your meals as a side dish in lieu of meat will help you meet those daily protein goals.
Sometimes you don’t even need to have non-meat protein sources as a main component of your meal, either. Foods like hemp seeds or chia seeds can be ground up to a powder and sprinkled on meals much in the way you would add any other seasoning like salt or pepper, as these seeds can enhance the flavor of almost any meal while also increasing its protein content. Substituting quinoa, a complete protein, in pasta or rice dishes also means that you’re increasing your protein intake without altering your recipes too much. Finally, swapping out that dairy milk for soy milk is a great way to get the same amount of protein you would from cow’s milk without any of the saturated fat or stomach upset from lactose intolerance.
In fact, switching to plant-based diets are overall lower in fat and higher in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which are just as important as keeping adequate levels of protein intake. When you combine these fruits and vegetables with those that can provide you the protein you need, you can reap the rewards of cutting out meat from your diet quite easily.
Looking to enhance your knowledge of nutrition? Join our top-rated professional diploma in nutrition today!