One of the most common myths about the vegetarian diet is that after ditching meat it becomes nearly impossible to meet the suggested guidelines for protein intake.

The USDA recommends that women get about 46 grams of protein a day and men get about 56. Some people, like athletes and pregnant or breastfeeding women, may need more, according to WebMD.

But, thanks in part to initiatives like Meatless Monday, this year, Americans are expected to eat 12 percent less meat and poultry than five years ago, USA Today reported.

While protein is essential to growth, building muscle, the immune system and heart and respiratory functions, MSNBC explains, meat-free protein has the benefit of generally being lower in calories and fat than the animal variety.

Consider steak. A 3-ounce serving will give you about 23 grams of protein, but that protein comes with a side of 14 grams of fat and 224 calories. And keep in mind that three ounces of steak is about the size of a deck of cards. When’s the last time you saw a restaurant stick to that portion size? The typical American diet makes it easy to eat heavy on the protein while consuming extra fat and calories your body doesn’t need.

Whether you're a vegetarian or not, there are lots of tasty meat-free sources of protein that also pack additional health benefits. Click through the options below, then tell us your favorite protein source in the comments.

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  • Lentils

    A cup of iron-rich lentils packs <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4338/2" target="_hplink">18 grams of protein</a> -- almost as much as three ounces of steak. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/4032706663/" target="_hplink">little blue hen</a></em>

  • Greek Yogurt

    Regular yogurt's thickier, tangier cousin can contain up to <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2011/09/30/greek-yogurt-vs-regular-yogurt-which-is-more-healthful" target="_hplink">twice the amount of protein</a>, all for about the same number of calories and a lot less sugar, according to U.S. News Health. <br><br> Depending on the brand and container serving size, Greek yogurt can pack anywhere from <a href="http://www.stonyfield.com/products/oikos/single-serve/53oz-fruit-bottom/strawberry" target="_hplink">about 13</a> to <a href="http://www.chobani.com/products/c/nonfat/" target="_hplink">18 grams of protein</a>. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bpende/4349870788/" target="_hplink">bpende</a></em>

  • Beans

    One cup of <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4326/2" target="_hplink">garbanzo beans</a>, or chickpeas, contains 15 grams of protein, as does a cup of <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4284/2" target="_hplink">black</a> or <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4297/2" target="_hplink">kidney beans</a>. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/doyland/4503473836/" target="_hplink">Jude Doyland</a></em>

  • Tofu

    A half-cup serving of tofu contains <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4817" target="_hplink">more than 10 grams of protein</a>, according to the USDA. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/katiecarman/161688267/" target="_hplink">katiecarman</a></em>

  • Tempeh

    A firmer, chewier cousin of tofu, a half-cup serving of this soybean-based bite has <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4381/2" target="_hplink">15 grams of protein</a>. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/6099142994/" target="_hplink">little blue hen</a></em>

  • Spinach

    Cook a cup of the leafy green for more than <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3234" target="_hplink">5 grams of protein</a>. Spinach is also a good source of calcium and iron. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/316293797/" target="_hplink">ToastyKen</a></em>

  • Quinoa

    A cooked cup of this whole grain contains more than <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6430" target="_hplink">8 grams of protein</a>, and a hearty dose of filling fiber. Other grains, like brown rice and bulgur, are good meat-free protein options too. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/telegirl/2249921894/" target="_hplink">Lucy Crabapple</a> </em>

  • Peanuts

    Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and other nuts are <a href="http://www.rodale.com/vegetarian-protein-sources?page=2" target="_hplink">all good meat-free protein sources</a>, according to Rodale, but peanuts top the list. One ounce of dry-roasted peanuts contains nearly <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4782" target="_hplink">7 grams of protein</a>. Plus, nuts are loaded with healthy fats -- just don't eat too many! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vinni/4763072143/" target="_hplink">Vinni123</a></em>

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