10 best sources of protein that don’t contain meat or dairy

Protein is a vital nutrient for a host of reasons. And there are plenty of excellent plant-based sources, which is great news for vegans and vegetarians.

Protein is powerful. As well as providing energy, your body uses it to build and repair muscles and bones and to make hormones. It even plays a role in successful weight loss.

It means you need to eat a certain amount of protein every day (more on that, below!).

But while some foods, like meat and dairy, deliver a big protein bang-for-buck ratio, research shows that getting your protein solely from animal sources actually accelerates muscle loss.

Plus, if you’re vegan or even vegetarian, animal-based protein sources are off the menu.

“Eating a variety of protein-rich foods is the key to a healthy, balanced diet,” says dietitian Milly Smith.

“That means including nuts, seeds, legumes and soy products, as well as protein-rich vegetables like spinach and asparagus.”

How much protein do you need each day?

Official guidelines say that, per day:

  • Women need 0.75g per kilogram of bodyweight, increasing to 0.94g after the age of 70.
  • Men aged need 0.84g per kilogram of bodyweight, increasing to 1.07g after the age of 70.

So, a 65kg women needs 48g of protein a day, increasing to 61g past the age of 70.

But more recently, experts have questioned whether that’s enough if you’re trying to lose weight.

The takeaway? To help with weight loss, the CSIRO suggests eating at least 1.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, every day, making sure each main meal contains 25g of it.

The best plant-based proteins

Chia seeds

Available in either black or white, these provide a decent hit of dietary fibre, calcium, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as protein – there’s around 6g in every 30g serve.

Eat them raw sprinkled on to yoghurt and porridge or blended into a smoothie, but by soaking 1 tbs of seeds in 3 tbs of water, you can also use them as an egg substitute in baking.



One cup of chickpeas provides 12g of protein as well as a third of daily fibre requirements. Chickpeas are also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, especially folate, magnesium and potassium.

Plus, they contain resistant starch, a fibre-like substance that’s important for bowel health.


As well as being a rich source of vitamin E and heart-healthy fats, 30g of almonds contains 6g of protein.

Research has linked eating them daily to improved weight and blood sugar management, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.


A 120g serve of boiled young green soybeans (pods removed) contains 12g of protein.

Edamame is also a good source of folate, iron, fibre and plant compounds called isoflavones, which have been linked to a reduction in menopausal hot flushes and heart-disease risk.



Available in different consistencies, firm tofu tends to contain slightly more protein than soft, or silken tofu – 12g versus 8g per 100g serve.

Tofu, which is made from soybean curds, is also a good source of calcium, iron and those isoflavones.


One cup of cooked whole buckwheat kernels provides 6g of protein, as well as antioxidants, zinc, iron and some B vitamins.

Naturally gluten free, you can use cooked buckwheat as a substitute for cooked barley or rice.


A good source of vitamins A, C, K and B vitamins, there are 14g of protein in a cup of cooked lentils.

They also contain a substantial amount of a specific type of dietary fibre that acts as a prebiotic, helping to stimulate the growth and activity of “good” bacteria in the gut.



Like lentils, asparagus is also rich in vitamins A, C and K. It contains folate and that all-important prebiotic dietary fibre, too.

Plus, you’ll get 5g of protein by eating eight or nine spears of cooked asparagus.

Kidney beans

A valuable source of a number of different vitamins and minerals, a cup of tinned kidney beans delivers 13g of protein.

They’re also great for your gut health, containing both prebiotic fibre and resistant starch.


This is a fibre-rich source of protein made from a fungus, that’s used to produce a range of meat-free substitute products.

Some “fake” mince, burger and sausage roll products contain as much as 16g of protein per 100g.

If you are vegan, just be sure to check the ingredients list, as some mycoprotein products contain milk and egg.

Written by Karen Fittall.