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April 22nd, 2010
01:15 PM ET

What are good non-meat sources of protein?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

FROM CNN.COM BLOGGER, DAWN:

"What is the most effective way to get extra protein without meat, chicken or fish in my diet?”

Answer:

Dawn,  I can tell you, it is a myth that you need to get all your protein from a meat source. And that rule of thought is something that a lot of people have, so I appreciate you reaching out to me to ask this question. There are many alternatives and ways you can incorporate extra protein in your diet.

First let me explain why it's so important for your health. A diet rich in lean protein is going help build muscle and bone mass that adults start to lose as we age. It is going to help prevent arthritis, and overall it is going to help you maintain healthy skin and organs.

Some of my favorite foods that are high in protein are nuts, soy products and even tofu. Yes, I know many people like to scrunch up their nose when they hear tofu but give it a try! Add it to some stir-fry; add a little sesame oil for some good flavoring. Also, check out the nutrition labels on some of your favorite low-fat dairy products. A cup of cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein; yogurt has 11 grams.

Another question that comes up quite a bit is whether protein shakes are also a good choice. I think they are potentially a good option when it comes to trying to improve your protein stores. However, you want to make sure to examine the ingredient label carefully. Let me give you a couple of quick tidbits when it comes to protein shakes. Look first at the type of protein in the shake. If the source of protein is an animal source (egg whites, whey, milk protein) or a soy protein, it can be considered "high quality" protein. And make sure the type of protein is the first ingredient listed and that it doesn't contain a laundry list of ingredients. The more ingredients, the less real protein it contains. A little rule of thumb to remember is that protein typically has about 4 calories per gram so if you're seeing a lot more than that in a particular shake, you're probably getting a lot of added stuff.

How much per day? Women over age 18 should consume about 46 grams of protein a day; 56 grams per day for men.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.