How Do You Get Protein?

Often, the first question people ask when they learn I do not eat meat is, “How do you get your protein?”

Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition. I have them almost every day. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin, and vitamin K but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate, and iron. The article here will tell you how to cook them. They do not need to be soaked like dried beans, and they cook much faster. I always use them in my morning power porridge.

All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet. But because they are high in calories—almonds, cashews, and pistachios, for example, all contain 160 calories and 5 or 6 grams of protein per ounce—choose varieties that are raw or dry roasted. Nut butter should always be natural, not the type that has other ingredients and preservatives added.

Green peas and other organic fruits and vegetables are always in my freezer. I buy only organic and read the label to make sure nothing is added. In the winter months, fresh organic produce in my area is tasteless because it has traveled for many miles and was harvested too early. The frozen organic produce was picked at its peak and frozen right away, so it has better taste and more nutrients. Foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein, and peas are no exception: One cup contains 7.9 grams—about the same as a cup of milk. I still try to buy leafy organic greens even in the winter months. Two cups of raw spinach, for example, contain 2.1 grams of protein, and one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams.

I eat all varieties of dried beans; black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc. One thing all beans have in common is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams (almost the same as a Big Mac, which has 25 grams!).

White beans and farro grain are soaking in water above. Later today, I will drain them, add fresh water, and slowly simmer them on the stovetop for about two hours. I will add spices, dried onion, and blackstrap molasses in the last few minutes of cooking. Do not add salt to the water until the end. Salt makes the beans tough. I will eat them with other vegetables or soups or make them into hummus over the next few days. You can also use canned beans, but be sure to rinse them thoroughly and use fresh water to warm them on the stovetop. They usually have lots of salt added to them when they are canned.

Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are good tossed into salads, fried and salted as a crispy snack, or pureed into a hummus. They contain 7.3 grams of protein in just half a cup and are also high in fiber and low in calories. I use the dried ones, as shown above. You can use canned ones but wash and drain them well before using them.

Chia seeds are an easy way to add protein (4.7 grams per ounce, about two tablespoons) and fiber to almost any recipe. They can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, blended into smoothies. They plump up and take on a gelatinous texture when soaked in water or almond milk to form a rich and creamy pudding-like treat.

Regarding chia seeds in the diets of older women: A reader shared this warning with me. “My sister, who is the caregiver for my mother, who is 85, was making her smoothies with chia seeds and other nuts and fruits. She became severely constipated and had to go to the hospital. Granted, she did not get enough exercise at the time, which would have helped. Please ask your subscribers to be sure to soak the chia seeds before using them. The episode with my mother was traumatic.”

Hemp can be found in some cereals and trail mixes, or you can buy hemp seeds (10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons) and add them to smoothies, pestos, or baked goods. Hemp milk can also be a dairy-free way to add protein to your diet, and it’s even lower in calories than skim milk.

Sesame, sunflower, and poppy seeds are also high in protein and healthy fats. Sunflower seed kernels contain the most protein—7.3 grams per quarter cup—followed by sesame seeds and poppy seeds at 5.4 grams each. Add them to salads, breakfast porridge, or soups.

Nutritional Yeast is an excellent source of protein and many essential amino acids that complement proteins available from other sources. RED STAR Nutritional Yeast contains an average of 50% protein by weight. I sprinkle it into my breakfast porridge, in soups, and into beans in the final cooking stage. It is also a rich source of B-complex vitamins that are important for normal and healthy body functions.

My results are back from my doctor’s visit earlier this week. Bone density, good. My blood test results were all normal. Weight has stayed about the same for the past five years (first time in my adult life!). Blood Pressure 118 / 70. I still do not take any medications, supplements, or vitamins. I get everything I need to maintain my good health from the food I eat. I hope my example and explanations help you improve your food choices to enjoy your best health ever.

  1. I admire you and those who do not eat meat. Unfortunately, a diet like this would never work for me. I like my steak and other meat. I do eat lots of chicken and have a steak at least a week. I do try to limit my meat intake by having salads, but giving it up like you do is something that I just cant do. Your diet obviously works for you as you look terrific. Happy New Year

  2. The changes that you made have really changed the way you look, as well as with your health. Were the changes hard to make? I enjoy your blog you are an inspiration!

    1. It takes about three weeks to change a habit and break addictions to things like sugar, salt, and fat. After getting over my cravings for those very negative things which are added to almost every processed food we buy, I was all right. Feeling great is the best reason to continue eating this way. I used to be sick very often and suffered from frequent migraines, digestive issues, and arthritis. All that went away when I stopped eating meat and processed foods.

  3. Susan… Do you eat twice a day or three times a day? Do you have snacks? I am adopting this way of eating myself and feel so much better!! Thanks, Liz

    1. I usually have no more than two meals each day. If I feel hungry, I will eat a piece of fruit such as an orange in the evening. When I eat nutrient dense foods instead of processed foods, I feel satisfied for many hours longer.

  4. You are so inspiring! I’m a little more than halfway through Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, MD per your recommendation. I’m recommending it and your blog to all my friends. Thank you for sharing these great food tips!

  5. I don’t mean to be personal or indelicate but how do you combat the gassy feelings that often develop from eating a lot of beans? I don’t care for so many beans but I love almost all kinds of nuts and seeds. I’m trying to make them my go-to snack but turning my back on chocolate is proving to be difficult.

    1. Your digestive system will adjust. Add beans in small quantities until you become accustomed to eating them. I still have a small piece of high quality dark chocolate daily.

  6. I read Dr. Furhman’s book and have been eating plant based for three months! It is wonderful and thanks for sharing!


  7. This is a fabulous post! From your previous writings, I was familiar with how you eat and why. This is a little more concise and I may have to print it out (or take copious notes) for reference. At almost 70, I am battling with keeping my sugar levels down. The two meals a day regime that you follow would probably not work for me. Your system could probably be adapted to a smaller, more frequent meal program.

  8. Ok, so there is one comment about the gas problem. I have added beans (and more fiber) to my diet for some time now and still have the annoying gas problem. I decided to add a probiotic supplement thinking that may help…not so far. I do hope it gets better and so does my husband and my little dog! LOL
    Too much information maybe but I would think there are more people out there with this problem.

  9. I also gave up beef and pork a year ago and do not miss them. I have lost 30 pounds and exercise regularly. Nothing strenuous , just squats, arm exercises and walking. I eat salads and veggies and my breakfast is a bowl of fresh fruit, handmade organic granola that is full of nuts and seeds . I have not given up seafood because I feel I need the Omega 3, protein, and amino acids it provides. My main issue is I don’t like to cook! I cooked all my life and I am tired of cooking. The beans I eat are usually frozen black eyed peas and green peas. I eat canned black beans and fresh green beans. My favorite salad is kale salad with cranberries and walnuts. I do add basalmic vinegar dressing. I occasionally cook turkey chili or white bean chili and once every couple of weeks chicken tortilla soup. I ,too, eat dark chocolate daily. It is my treat that I eat with my decaf coffee at night. Oh yes, I have a glass of wine occasionally . I definitely avoid processed food. The only sweetener I use is stevia. I wholeheartedly agree that the food I eat has improved my health.

  10. I am happy for you that this way of eating is so perfect for you and that you are healthy and happy as a result. On the other hand, I believe in moderation in my diet and eat a wide variety of food including meat, chicken, fish, cheese, eggs. Always have either a cocktail or wine with dinner. This week I celebrated my 72 birthday (gasp!!) I am 5’7″, 142 lbs. and in good health(I hope!!) I live in NYC, enjoy cooking and going out to eat with friends, so I need a food plan that is flexible. I do avoid processed and fast foods and always have.

    Each of us really needs to find a food plan that we can live with and that will bring us pleasure and good health!

  11. Your way of life, I rather call it that than the word diet, is how I live too, I was fed up with my weight and decided to eat exactly what you are eating,you are so right it does work , I lost 21 lbs and have not put it back on. I am 65 this year and like you fit and healthy,

    This is a way of life and I will stick to it .

    Regards Diane

  12. You & I share the same diet which I find delicious. I have just come back from holiday where I couldn’t eat how I do at home due to less choices and gosh I feel the difference in my stomach when I settle for food I wouldn’t normally eat. Back home now and enjoying healthy tasty food.

  13. Dr. Furhman states in his book, “Super Immunity”, that green veggies are almost 50% protein! We have been duped into believing we need mega doses of protein and that we can only get it from meat, fish, and dairy sources. Such lies!

  14. Susan, this article is phenomenal ! thank you for sharing. I was familiar with your power porridge and basically how you ate but I still had so many questions. One of them like so many others was ‘how do you get protein’. I was a bit fearful to take meat out of my diet but now that you’ve explained it I understand better and it really doesnt seem to difficult. Im going to get the book you suggested this weekend so I’ll have a full understanding of this lifestyle change.
    Thanks again for all of this helpful information. I look forward to your blog every day, you always include such wonderful information !

  15. Congratulations Susan on you good bill of health. It’s amazing how many people think that meat is the best protein. My doctor (she’s also a nutritionist) told me there is more protein in broccoli, spinach, peas, and other greens than there is in a steak & without the fat & cholesterol. Though overweight, all my labs are good, no medications, rarely sick and I feel great. Once in awhile, I eat meat, dessert, or something I really want to have & the rest of the time stick to lots of veggies, beans & oats and some dark chocolate; then fish once or twice a week. It is a manageable way to eat & I have lost some weight. Thanks for giving us the details of your healthy way of eating.

  16. So much great information and comments from your readers. New sources of protein not animal based is what I have been searching for. Your excellent health report demonstrates clean eating = healthy body 🙂
    Any thoughts on organic cosmetics/ lipstick/ sunscreens?

  17. Excellent post Susan! It was informative, and helpful to us to begin choosing some ways to integrate beans into our diet this new year. I think I will try eating them in soups, stews, and salads more and more as the year goes on.

    They are, of course, the best emergency storage food ever, because they are compact, last years, and if you eat them and thus rotate them, they will be fresher. I like to keep dried onions as a storage item because you could put them with the beans to cook and live for a long time if grocery stores were not available for some reason like a natural disaster.Freeze dried carrots and peas would make it a very good soup. I also keep some dried granules to make chicken, beef, and ham broth which I use for soups but also good for emergency food storage.

    I liked your post because it helps me to see how to eat beans frequently as part of your normal diet.It would be hard on your body to have to start eating large amounts of beans if you had not become used to eating them in your daily life. I recall you said to start with a half spoonful a day and build up until your body can process them well.

  18. Great post! I too gave up meat a year ago lost 18 lbs and don’t take any meds ( I’m 74) I follow you and love your posts

  19. I , too, eat a whole food plant based diet ( without any oils). ” Where do you get your protein” is always a question meat eaters raise. The thing is, if a person is getting sufficient calories in a day on this eating plan, she will get enough protein . I also like take no medications or vitamins except for Vitamin B12. I am 64.
    Here is some info for you in B12.
    Thanks for your clothing tips!

  20. This is the most succinct, informative, and easy to understand information I’ve read about protein options! Thank you! I think I can do something like this!!

  21. Thank you so much for this post! I am following Dr. Furhman’s Eat for Health books and it really helps to see how you approach the nutritarian lifestyle. I am collecting recipes, cooking, and experimenting to find things that I like. I need to lose a lot of weight and I’d like to get off of high blood pressure and cholesterol medications. I am having a hard time letting go of salt, though. I didn’t realize how addicted I am to it! And, water sauteing is hard for me at this moment.

    Thanks once again for being such a positive role model for women! You look fabulous! Congratulations on reaching a healthy 60th birthday.

    Best regards,


  22. This is so incredibly Helpful! Thanks again for sharing. I’ve just read Eat To Live and I’m motivated to continue my journey towards better health. I lost about 80 lbs 6 years ago, but the weight was starting to slowly creep back up. Not a lot, but after all that hard work it took to lose it, even a little is a lot to me. My clothes were not as comfortable, and I refuse to buy more clothes until I lose 10 lbs.
    I loved the pictures of your pantry, so professional looking. What kind of camera are you using? And, if I can be so nosy, where did you find those clear canisters? They’re super! Funny, I have those same clips. Oh, one more question, do you drink coffee, or have you ever? How do you break that addiction? I can go a few days without it, but then I fall back into it again. I think I love coffee creamer more than coffee. That has to stop! Thanks for being open and inspiring others. TTFN!

    1. Hi Danee. I do have a cup of coffee or two each morning. I am trying to drink it without creamer most of the time. I use a Nikon Coolpix S7000 Compact Digital Camera from Walmart. Those clear plastic canisters are from Bed, Bath & Beyond.

  23. HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you! Susan, your last posts of 2016 were very useful . I love your style and try to test some ideas on me.(f.e. scarfs ).
    Thank you for opening your kitchen for the readers, very useful too.

  24. I created my own cereal I eat every morning that takes less than 2 minutes to cook and keeps me satisfied for hours. I use Oat Fit maple and brown sugar oatmeal, add the recommended water, crack an egg into it, stir, and microwave one minutes. Remove, stir, and microwave about 30 more seconds. I may toss a handful of berries into it. I also eat a banana every morning. Lunch is Greek yogart, an apple, and an orange. Dinner is often a salad, a sweet potato and maybe salmon or chicken on the salad. I don’t eat beans or onions because of their effect on my digestive system. I am not a big vegetable eater either. This may not be for everyone, but hope it helps someone! BT W, I am 5’7″ and weigh 128. My cholesterol is less than 150. A peaceful, healthy and happy New Year to you all!

  25. Been vegetarian (pescatarian) for more than half of my 68 years. Enjoyed your well written, informative blog.

  26. Hi Susan, Could you please consider posting photos of a typical weeks meals. I live in Australia and I have noticed that we have quite different meal preferences to Americans.

  27. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13 (I’m 43 now). I occasionally eat seafood and have recently been focusing on more plant-based eating. I too love beans and find they provide the protein I need. Love your blog! 🙂

  28. Wish I had started eating more healthy years ago. Always have heard it is never too late, so you have influenced me to start now. Thank you. I am enjoying your blog very much. I do not know if you can give out personal information, but I need a good haircut badly. Would you tell me which salon you go to and your hairdresser. I live in a small town and have tried them all. If you can, I would appreciate it very much. Thanks

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.