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Registered Associate Nutritionist

Registered Associate Nutritionist

Protein Beyond Meat: Benefits to Non-Meat Protein Sources

Tell a meat-eater that you’re not one and bet good money that they’ll exclaim that they can’t understand why, where you get your essential nutrients like protein, iron, and even B12. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s an exclamation you’ve probably heard a hundred times. Yet what meat-eaters fail to grasp, is that just like many other nutrients in our diets, we also get them from other sources as well as meats and fish. While getting enough B12 for vegans can sometimes mean taking a supplement, protein, zinc, and iron are found in many other foods, and, providing that we eat enough of them, we can adequately meet our daily quota for all the macro and micronutrients that the human body needs. Below are some of the foods that are best for helping us get enough of those nutrients that others obtain through eating meat, fish, and dairy, as well as making sure that we more easily reach our daily vitamin and mineral quota:

 Spinach - While spinach is often thought of as being just another leafy green with iron and vitamins in it, there is more to it than meets the eye. Spinach is a great source of iron, and vitamins (it is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as harder to find vitamins such as B6, B9, and E), but it also provides fibre and calcium. Calcium in particular is especially important for vegans, who do not eat dairy products or eggs, where calcium is found in higher quantities, and which is necessary to maintain good bone health and nervous system signalling throughout the body. Additionally, spinach is full of antioxidants, which help to stop oxidative cell damage and protects from chronic conditions like heart disease.

Broccoli - Often considered the superfood to rule all superfoods, broccoli is known for its high iron and fibre content. Technically, it also has a decent amount of protein in it, but as broccoli is 90% water, the water content overrides the protein content, meaning that for every 91g of broccoli, you get only 2.5 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of fibre. However, broccoli also contains plenty of B vitamins that vegans and vegetarians can sometimes lack, as well as vitamins C and K, making it highly beneficial in providing a variety of macro and micronutrients. Vitamin C is necessary for tissue repair, immunity, and collagen production, while vitamin K is crucial for blood clotting and wound healing. 

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Legumes - when faced with the question by carnivores about ‘what do you eat instead?’ legumes are often the easiest and most satisfying answer. Not only are legumes (a food group that encompasses all beans and peas) a fantastic, rich source of plant-based protein, but cooked beans (particularly red kidney beans, lima beans, and chickpeas) are also high in iron. In addition to legumes being great for protein and iron, most also contain a high number of B vitamins, such as B2 and B9 that are found in legumes such as lentils and peas. Though we often discuss peas as if they are a vegetable, they are part of the legume family and contain a large amount of protein. Peas are tiny powerhouses of nutrients - boasting a large amount of protein, iron, fibre, manganese, carbohydrates, and vitamins A, C, and K, as well as those ever-needed B vitamins. 

Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

Tofu - Of course, a list of non-meat protein sources wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of tofu. With 17g of protein per 100g of tofu and all the amino acids that your body needs, it’s the most nutrient-dense food on this list. It will boost any plant-lover’s protein intake, but also 15% of their daily recommended iron, and 14% of their daily recommended zinc intake, which is often found to be low in those who don't eat animal-based products. While humans don’t need much zinc to function well, it is a key component in building DNA, healthy tissue, and a strong immune system. Tofu is a good source of other necessary nutrients that are often found in very small quantities in other foods but which we still need a small amount of to function well. These include copper, manganese, phosphorous, and magnesium. In fact,100g of tofu has a massive 51% of the recommended manganese intake, and 42% of the daily recommended copper intake. Talk about a superfood.

Fortified Cereals - Fortified cereals are those with added vitamins and minerals, designed to help us all get closer to achieving the right daily intake of all our necessary nutrients. Breakfast cereals are often fortified, especially as they are typically eaten by both adults and children. Although other fortified foods such as milk and juices are also useful for upping your intake, fortified cereals are typically the most popular. Many kinds of fortified cereal have the following vitamins and minerals added to them: Vitamin A, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12 (which is essential for vegans, who can’t get B12 from animal food products), vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. Some fortified cereals can provide your entire daily allowance of some minerals, depending on the type of cereal and the recommended daily intake of particular minerals. 


Ultimately, there are many more options to help vegans and vegetarians get their recommended daily allowance of protein, iron, and other nutrients that meat-eaters gain from animals than we have listed here, but these are some of the key foods that can help you get started in making sure that a dietary change does not mean a nutrient deficiency. Everyone, regardless of diet, needs the same amount of the same nutrients in their bodies for the body to perform at its best, and protein, as well as many key micronutrients, can often get overlooked or under-consumed by newer vegans and vegetarians, while meat-eaters can sometimes be blinded into thinking that protein and iron starts and ends with meat consumption. 



  1. Love this! My go to to make sure I’m full is chickpeas because they are super filling even in smaller amounts.


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