Protein is important to your diet, especially if you’re exercising regularly. The body uses it to restore and rebuild bodily tissues, including the muscles, liver and brain. Amino Acids are the smallest components of protein. The body produces some amino acids, critical for bodily functioning, but nine such components, called essential amino acids, must be obtained from food. A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids, which are most commonly found in meat products, including red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy – but cannot be produced naturally in the body. However, by combining certain food combinations, it’s possible to consume complete proteins without eating meat or dairy.
Recent diet trends in the United States show that more and more people are reducing their meat intake. With the influxes in chronic digestive diseases and problems with obesity aided by poor diets, many are modifying their diets to consume more whole foods and fewer processed meat products. Some may worry that eliminating or reducing calories consumed from meat, may lead to protein deficiencies, but there are plenty of meatless, protein-rich dietary options available. The following are five foods you can eat to supplement protein in your diet without eating meat, and one even contains all nine essential amino acids!

Beans – While actually a fruit, beans are a valuable source of protein. According to the USDA, on average beans contain about 20 grams of protein per cup. Although, some beans pack more of a protein punch than others. For instance cooked black beans contain about 42 grams of protein per cup, whereas kidney beans measure 15 grams per cooked cup. Soybeans fall somewhere in the middle with 29 grams per cup. Besides being a healthy source of meatless protein, one cup of beans will fulfill your daily intake requirement of dietary fiber.

Nuts – All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable source of nutrition for a diet plan aimed at reducing meat. To reduce the amount of fats consumed, eat nuts that are raw or dry roasted. Like beans, not all nuts have exact same nutritional impact. For example, peanuts contain 38 grams of protein per cup, but only 5 grams in cashews. Yet almonds and pistachios contain 25 and 20 grams per cup, respectively.

Seeds – Another quick and easy, protein-loaded snack is a handful of seeds. One cup of shelled sunflower seeds can contain up to 29 grams of protein, by far the most protein-laden seed. Pumpkin seeds also contain protein, about 12 grams per cup. Others, like poppy and sesame seeds contain some protein, about 1.6 grams per cup, but are primarily used as a garnish or ingredient with other foods.

Green Peas – Usually not considered a super food, but green peas – in terms of nutrient composition – should be. With very little fat and zero cholesterol, green peas contain 8 protein grams per cup. They also contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients that can protect against some forms of cancer and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.

Quinoa – Most grains contain small amounts of protein, but quinoa is unique in that it contains more than 24 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids. Since it’s also gluten-free, many consider quinoa the perfect source of protein. Quinoa is very versatile and can be added to soup or served with brown sugar and fruit as a hot breakfast cereal like oatmeal. It can also be sprinkled on a salad, adding valuable protein to the other vitamins and minerals.

Too often when people workout, they think they need to eat more meat to make sure they bulk up. Yet you don’t need meat to get the proper protein servings, there are plenty of alternatives. It is true that beef, chicken, pork and fish are excellent sources of protein, but they don’t have to be your only sources of protein.