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Health and Fitness News

Going Meatless, Getting Protein

Ready to skip the meat and still get the protein and nutrients your body needs? Here’s how.

Whether you’re going meat-free for health reasons, preference, or environmental concerns, you want to make sure your body is still getting the protein, iron, and other nutrients you used to get from meat.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are generally healthy, but without careful attention, it’s easy to become deficient in protein, iron, B-complex vitamins, and other nutrients mainly found in animal foods.

As a vital macronutrient, protein is needed for every cell in your body. It’s a nutrient that’s used to build bones, skin, blood, muscles, and cartilage. It’s even required to make body chemicals like hormones and enzymes.

While protein plays such an important role in your overall health, your body doesn’t store protein. Because of this, it must be a regular part of your everyday diet, but you may not need as much protein as you think. The recommended amount depends on your age and activity level, but the average is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, which averages out to approximately 50 grams of protein per day.

So what plant-based foods are good sources of protein?

Beans and Legumes

Rich in protein, B vitamins, and fiber, beans and legumes are a great way to get the protein you need without eating meat. Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, black beans, soy beans, peanuts, and pinto beans are just a few of the many varieties of beans you can enjoy. A cup of soybeans contain 68 grams of protein, pinto beans 41 grams, and chickpeas 39 grams. Add them to your soups, stews, tacos, and salads; eat them whole, fried, or mashed; pair them with rice or eat as a main dish; or make them into a burger patty.

Nuts

Nuts are another fantastic plant-based source of protein. In fact, an ounce of almonds contains nearly as much protein as one ounce of ribeye steak. Like beans, there are a variety of nuts to choose from. Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and hazelnuts are a few of the healthiest. One cup of walnuts contains 12 grams of protein, pecans have 9 grams, and hazelnuts pack in 20 grams. Eat them plain, add them to trail mix, or include them on your salad. Nut-based milks or spreads are another way to get the protein nuts offer. Try almond, hazelnut, or cashew milk and spread nut butter on your sandwich or add it to your smoothie.

Whole Grains

A third way to get protein and B vitamins without eating meat is through whole grains. Wheat and oats may be your go-to grains, but if that’s all you’re eating, then you’re missing out on a number of other great whole grains. A serving of 45 grams of barley will give you 5.62 grams of protein, brown rice brings in 3.38 grams, rolled oats 5.92 grams, quinoa 6.35 grams, and wheat 6.93 grams. Whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas, and rice are great ways to get the protein your body needs for health and wellness.

Soy Products

Soy is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine amino acids. Since it’s so high in protein, foods like tofu, edamame, tempeh, and soy milk are popular choices for vegetarians and vegans. Also high in iron and calcium, half a cup of firm tofu contains 10 grams of protein, half a cup of edamame contains more than 8 grams, and a half cup of tempeh has 15 grams. Want a quick jolt of protein? A single ounce of soy protein powder contains 23 grams of protein. Add some to your shakes and smoothies and your daily protein intake is taken care of!