Diet trends emphasize the importance of protein consumption. Fad diets such as the caveman diet, the carnivore diet and the paleo diet prioritize protein intake — specifically meat consumption.

Protein is essential to health, but research shows a focus on plant protein is associated with longevity and a decreased risk of chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension.

“Those who consumed greater amounts of animal protein tended to have more chronic disease and didn’t manage to obtain the improved physical function that we normally associate with eating protein,” Andres Ardisson Korat, a scientist at the Jean Meyer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and lead author of the study, told Medical News Today.

Protein is used throughout the body to build muscle, bone, skin, hair and other body tissue, per Harvard Health. Healthy protein consumption is all about the “package,” or, consuming protein from a variety of sources.

Here is a look at sources of plant-based protein.

Plant-based protein sources

Protein is essential to a healthy, balanced diet. It is also available through several sources — not just meat. Legumes, nuts, seeds and some vegetables are excellent sources of plant-based protein.

“When it comes to your body’s daily function, it doesn’t matter where you get your protein from,” says UCLA Health senior dietitian Dana Hunnes. “But data show that eating fewer animal products and more plant-based proteins is associated with increased longevity and decreased morbidity.”

“Just like anything in nutrition, you should vary your diet and the sources of your plant protein,” Hunnes added, per UCLA Health. “That way, you’ll learn what you like and get a whole host of other nutrients that your body needs.”

Here are several rich sources of plant-based protein. Data is provided by the Department of Agriculture.

  • Kidney beans: 43 grams of protein (1 cup).
  • Pinto beans: 41 grams (1 cup).
  • Chickpeas: 39 grams (1 cup).
  • Peanuts: 38 grams(1 cup).
  • Tempeh: 31 grams (1 cup).
  • Soybeans: 29 grams (1 cup cooked).
  • Oats: 26 grams (1 cup cooked).
  • Pistachios 25 grams (1 cup).
  • Tofu: 20 grams (1 cup).
  • Almonds: 20 grams (1 cup).
  • Lentils: 18 grams (1 cup).
  • Edamame: 17 grams (1 cup).
  • Black beans: 16 grams (1 cup).
  • Lima beans: 15 grams (1 cup).
  • Black-eyed peas: 13 grams (1 cup).
  • Pumpkin seeds: 12 grams (1 cup).
  • Walnuts: 12 grams (1 cup).
  • Hemp seeds: 9 grams (3 tbsp).
  • Pecans: 9 grams (1 cup).
  • Seaweed: 9 grams (1 cup, dried).
  • Green peas: 8 grams (1 cup).
  • Peanut butter: 8 grams (2 tbsp).
  • Soy milk: 8 grams (1 cup).
  • Quinoa: 8 grams (1 cup cooked).
  • Spinach: 5 grams (1 cup cooked).
  • Corn: 5 grams (1 cup).
  • Brussels sprouts: 4 grams (1 cup).
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Non-meat sources of protein

Protein is also found in several animal-based sources, such as eggs and dairy products.

Here are sources of non-meat protein. Data is provided by the USDA.

  • Cottage cheese: 25 grams (1 cup).
  • Greek yogurt: 17 grams (1 cup).
  • Eggs: 12 grams (2 large eggs)
  • Traditional yogurt: 11 grams (1 cup).
  • Dairy milk: 8 grams (1 cup).

How much protein should you eat per day?

Sufficient daily protein intake is dependent on factors such as age, gender, weight, muscle mass and overall health.

“Anywhere from 10% to 35% of your calories should come from protein. So if your needs are 2,000 calories, that’s 200–700 calories from protein, or 50–175 grams,” reports the Mayo Clinic.

You can also determine healthy protein intake based on weight. You should consume about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams per kilogram, recommends the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To calculate healthy protein intake for your body, multiply your weight in pound by 0.36 or use this protein calculator from the USDA.

Despite the protein hype, there is no benefit to exceeding daily protein recommendations.

“The body can’t store protein, so once needs are met, any extra is used for energy or stored as fat. Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body,” per the Mayo Clinic.

Research shows high-protein diets like the caveman, paleo or ketogenic diets are associated with some adverse health effects, per Harvard Health. Don’t mistake protein intake with meat intake; consuming a variety of protein and limiting red and processed meat can combat potential negatives associated with high protein intake.

“I think the data are pretty strong against significantly increasing red meat, and certainly processed meat, to get protein,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, per Harvard Health.

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