How to get protein without the meat

Eating protein doesn't have to mean eating meat, and there's growing evidence that replacing animal proteins with more plant-based proteins can benefit your health. These (mostly) vegetarian foods are high in protein and heart-healthy too.

1. Pulses

Tuscan bean and vegetable stew with mashed potato 

Pulses are an inexpensive protein choice, are high in fibre and a source of iron. They are part of the legume family and include all beans, peas and lentils. A daily serving helps to lower your cholesterol level and counts toward your 5-a-day. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and choose ones that have no added salt or sugar. They are easy add-ins to sauces, soups and stews, even if they’re not used in the original recipe.

   Portion Protein (g)
Baked beans  3 tbsp (120g) 6
Chickpeas  3 tbsp (105g) 
Lentils  3 tbsp (120g) 

2. Soya beans

A stirfry with tofu

Unlike other pulses, soya beans are a complete protein, comparable in quality with animal protein, but are low in fat and contain fibre and iron. Eating 25g of soya protein a day, instead of meat, can help lower cholesterol levels. This is equivalent to a glass of soya milk, a pot of soya yoghurt or an 80g serving of tofu.

  Portion  Protein (g)
Tofu  100g  8
Soya milk  200ml 6

3. Quinoa

Quinoa, chicken and courgette salad 

Quinoa is cooked and eaten like a grain, but is actually a seed of a green vegetable related to chard and spinach. It is a good protein food, but it’s not the amount that is impressive, it’s the type. Unlike cereals, quinoa has all of the essential amino acids you find in animal protein. It is an easy substitute for rice and pasta. 

  Portion   Protein (g)
Quinoa   185g (five tablespoons when cooked)  8

4. Nuts

Selection of nuts 

Nuts provide a good dose of protein in a handful and are packed with fibre. Although they are high in fat, and hence calories, most of this fat is heart-healthy unsaturated fats. But stick to a handful per day (30g). 

Portion  Protein (g)
Peanuts  30g 
Walnuts  30g 4
Hazelnuts  30g 4

5. Seeds

A bowlful of snacking seeds

Like nuts, seeds contain healthy unsaturated fats and protein. They can be easily added to salads and pasta or you can eat them plain as a simple snack.

  Portion  Protein (g)
Sunflower  30g 6
Pumpkin  30g 7

6. Cereals and grains

Slices of wholegrain bread 

Wholegrain breads, rice and pasta have more protein, fibre and iron than white versions. Brown rice with beans, or bread with hummus or nut butter, can give you as much protein as a piece of meat.

  Portion Protein (g)
Wholegrain rice  185g cooked (75g uncooked) 7
Wholegrain bread  Medium slice 3
Oats (uncooked)  40g 4
Wholemeal pitta 58g 5

7. Quorn™

Beef and bean burritos

Like soya, Quorn is a complete protein. It is made from an edible fungus and has a meat-like texture. It is naturally low in saturated fat. It contains more fibre than an equivalent portion of baked beans, wholemeal bread or brown rice. It is sold in a range of forms from mince to fillets, so can easily be swapped with meat, but take care to read labels as the salt content can vary.

  Portion  Protein (g)
QuornTM   100g  11
  • Why not use Quorn instead of beef in our burritos (pictured above)?

8. Dairy

Milk and a selection of cheeses 

Milk, yoghurt and cheese are great sources of protein and also contain calcium to keep our bones healthy. Choosing lower-fat dairy options will help reduce your saturated fat intake without compromising on protein or calcium.

  Portion Protein (g)
Milk  200ml 7
Cheddar cheese  30g 8
Yoghurt (plain)  150ml  7

9. Eggs

Boiled eggs

It’s a myth that eggs are bad for your heart. Eggs do contain cholesterol, but it’s saturated fat that you need to worry about in terms of blood cholesterol levels. Eggs are low in saturated fat and good sources of B12 and vitamin D. There is no limit to how many eggs you can eat, but if you have familial hypercholesterolemia then talk to your doctor or dietitian for advice about your intake.

Portion Protein (g)
Eggs 120g (two medium eggs) 14g

10. Fish

Cooked fillet of salmon 

White fish is a low-fat protein source. Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel or salmon, are a little higher in fat but contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart healthy. Oily fish are also good sources of vitamins A and D. Aim to have two portions of fish a week, of which one should be oily.

Portion Protein (g)
Baked fish 140g 25

What your daily protein intake might look like

Breakfast Egg on toast  9g
Lunch  Salmon sandwich 27g
Dinner  Veg and lentil chilli with brown rice 16g
 Total 52g
 Recommended 45-55g

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