How To Get Enough Protein On A Low Meat Diet

I eat meat, but I also eat a good number of meals with no meat.

That's a good thing. In fact, most meat eaters should consider eating more high-quality, non-starchy vegetable based no-meat meals. It's a good way to improve the results of your bloodwork, drop some extra body fat, increase your energy, and, you know, not eat animals all the time.

The biggest problem here, especially if your meat intake is super low (vegetarian and vegan), is that it can be a huge pain in the ass to get the protein you need to function optimally. Especially because most of those top-5-vegetarian-sources-of-protein lists are riddled with bullshit. Seriously, who the fuck are these idiots?

Here are my four points on how to get enough protein on a low-meat diet.

1. You need more protein than some sites say. 
There are a number of types of protein deficiency. In short, to prevent protein deficiency diseases, you need to consume AT MINIMUM 0.40 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

120 lbs = 49 grams
150 lbs = 60 grams
200 lbs = 80 grams

Here's a quote from an idiot with a PhD in an article on this vegan site:
There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet.
His definition of a high-protein diet? More than 0.41 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

Actual scientific research shows that 25-30 grams of protein PER MEAL consistently create the metabolic condition protein synthesis, in which the body repairs and builds new muscle tissue. So, to achieve functional strength and grow healthy muscle tissue, you don't want to aim for the minimum required to avoid disease.

Takeaway: While 0.41 gram of protein per pound of body weight might be the exact amount you need to avoid disease, only a jackass would aim for a buffer zone of 0.01 gram.

Strength comes from muscle. To possess the strength needed to pick up a child or help an injured adult, you should plan to ingest 25-30 grams of protein per meal.

2. Just because it contains protein doesn't mean that it's a "good source" of protein.
Open this chart of protein sources in a new window and look it over.

Most types of meat have 20some grams of protein per serving. That would be considered a good source of protein. First surprise? Hot dogs are not a good source of protein.

Now scroll down to the veggies. Second surprise? No vegetable breaks 10 grams (shout out to lentils at 9%!).

I am in no way dissing vegetables! We should eat more non-starchy vegetables by volume than any other food! But, by this measure, there are zero vegetables that are a good source of protein, so we need a new measure.

Foods that are high in protein for a vegetable contain, let's say, more than 5 grams of protein. They are:

  • Beans 
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

That's it.

Takeaway: Vegetables are super awesome. Eat lots of them all the time. Only beans, nuts, and seeds are a good source of protein, and many of them are not.

3. Just because it's a good source of protein doesn't mean it's good for you.
Just because a food is a good source of protein and you want to eat protein does not mean that you should eat that food. Remember, you are a unique snowflake.

Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, with some brands getting into 20some grams per serving. Should you eat it? Sure, if you don't have a problem with dairy. Also, look for the sugar percentage to be in the single digits. High protein + high sugar = bad choice.

Soy may also be an issue. Almost all soy in the United States has been genetically modified. The soy used in Asian countries has, mostly, not been genetically modified. The U.S.A. genetically modified soy does not have the history of research behind it that non-Frankenstein soy does.

We do not currently know definitively whether soy causes cancer. There have been a number of studies that show evidence for and against a connection with cancer. Perhaps we don't know because some studies are flawed, or perhaps because we are seeing an increase in genetically modified soy consumption. We don't know.

To be safe, it is advisable to eat a low-soy diet. Maybe that means zero soy or maybe that means between one and three servings a week. We don't know.

Takeaway: Low-sugar Greek yogurt is great, if you are friends with dairy. Soy may or may not give you cancer. We don't know.

4. Statistically relevant sources of protein in non-meat foods.

Some is good for most people:
  • Greek yogurt with low sugar
  • Eggs 
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
Some is bad for most people:
  • Greek yogurt with high sugar
  • Soy (edamame, tofu, etc.)
  • Peanuts
  • Gluten/grains
The Final Takeaway: Let's review what we've discussed.
  • You don't want the minimal amount of protein per day to avoid disease, you want the optimal amount to be a functional human.
  • The optimal amount of protein per day is 25-30 grams, three times per day.
  • Some foods described as "good sources of protein" may either be unhealthy or not actually be "high in protein."
  • To eat a low-meat diet and also consume the optimal amount of protein is really damn hard.
Here's how you do it: take supplements. It's as simple as that. 

There are a ton of protein powders on the market today. Vegan, lactose-free, crazy flavors, whatever. Drink a bunch of that stuff or take some Branch Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) capsules, and you can eat a super low-meat diet without risk of protein deficiency diseases.  

If you want that low-meat diet without supplements, dude, it will be really freaking hard. You will have to micromanage every gram of food all the time. No variation in food allowed. No surprises allowed. You may need charts and notebooks to do this correctly, and you still might make mistakes that impact your health. You can do it, but it would be much easier to take a supplement.