Being suddenly forced to give up all mammalian meats – like beef, pork, bison, and venison – can leave people with alpha-gal syndrome scrambling to find ways to eat enough high-quality protein. From plant-based to acceptable animal options, these are the best sources of protein for alpha gals.
The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.
Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions and make any adjustments needed when using this site, directing any questions to your physician.
When I was diagnosed with alpha gal syndrome, my doctor told me to stop consuming mammalian meats and dairy. That was it. There was no handout of good plant-based protein sources, no reminder of how much calcium a middle-aged woman should be consuming, and no heads-up about symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
I spent the next year incorrectly thinking I was eating enough protein by scrambling two eggs for breakfast, making a smoothie with almond milk for lunch, and eating a big salad for dinner. But as it turns out, two eggs are only 25% of my daily protein needs, almond milk is mostly water, and, while packed with nutrients, salad greens aren’t a good source of protein.
At my next annual checkup, my doctor identified a serious protein deficiency (which explains why my hair was falling out by the handful and I was exhausted all of the time).
In This Article
How Much Protein Do I Need Daily?
The Mayo Clinic recommends a daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for the average American. Alpha gals who are above the age of 40 – when it’s common to start losing muscle mass due to age – have a daily protein requirement of 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. And if you’re an active alpha gal who exercises regularly, shoot for 1.1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day.
Sage Advice: Use the table below to get a ballpark figure for your recommended daily allowance of protein, or use this nifty protein calculator to get a more precise recommendation.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Adequate protein is essential for healthy living. After all, every cell in your body contains protein. It’s an essential nutrient for building strong bones, maintaining muscles, and caring for your skin. It is also critical for carrying oxygen throughout your body via your blood and fueling your energy.
Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that the human body needs to function properly, and they are classified as either essential or non-essential. What’s the difference? Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed through the right foods. In comparison, non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by the body.
Okay, so what about complete and incomplete proteins?
Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. They are usually found in animal sources of protein – such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. They are also found in some plant-based sources, such as quinoa, soy, and chia seeds. Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Incomplete proteins are typically plant proteins like legumes, nuts, and seeds.
When forced to suddenly remove meat (and possibly dairy) from your diet, you may not get enough of the right protein if you’re not careful. That’s why it’s important for alpha gals (and vegetarians and vegans) to carefully plan their diets to ensure they’re getting enough of the right proteins daily.
Foods That Contain Alpha-Gal
Alpha-gal, officially known as galactose-α-1,3-galactose, is a sugar molecule found in most mammals. Foods like hamburger, steak, bacon, and sausage contain high levels of alpha-gal and are immediate no-nos for alpha gals. People living with alpha-gal may also experience an allergic reaction when consuming gelatin made from beef or pork or foods cooked in animal fat, like lard or tallow.
While cow’s milk contains alpha-gal, this article by leading alpha-gal physician Dr. Scott Commins, published by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, states that most alpha gals in his practice tolerate moderate amounts of lean dairy (like skim milk and low-fat cheese). But if you are not one of these lucky alpha gals, you’ll also need to avoid dairy products.
If you’re an alpha gal that cannot consume cow’s milk and choose a vegan diet as your optimal solution, it’s important to note that there is currently no federal legal definition of “vegan” in the United States. Because the FDA hasn’t defined the term, food manufacturers are free to use it as they like. To ensure your vegan ingredients are completely free of animal and dairy ingredients, look for products that have been certified by Vegan.org, The Vegan Society, or VegeCert.
What Can You Eat with Alpha-Gal Allergy
While vegetarians typically eat eggs and dairy (but not meat) and vegans don’t consume any animal products, I summarize an alpha gal diet as vegan + eggs + poultry + fish. If you’re an alpha gal who can tolerate dairy, then you can summarize your diet as vegetarian + eggs + poultry + fish.
Best Sources of Protein for Alpha Gals
Because alpha gals can follow either a vegan diet (no dairy) or a vegetarian diet (with dairy) and add in eggs, poultry, fish, and seafood, there is a wide range of protein-rich sources in an alpha-gal friendly diet.
Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and other types of beans are an incredible source of protein for alpha gals. And in addition to the protein they provide, studies show that eating a serving of beans daily can significantly lower cholesterol levels, reduce belly fat, and manage blood sugar levels.
To incorporate beans into your alpha-gal diet, substitute black beans for ground beef in your favorite Tex-Mex dishes like nachos and tacos. Double the beans and eliminate the red meat in your favorite chili recipe, and enjoy garbanzo beans whipped into hummus. You can also use this delicious black bean burger recipe to make alpha-gal friendly, plant-based patties for your next cookout.
Related Article: The Best Beans for Protein (Includes 30+ Tasty Recipes)
Native to Central America, chia seeds are tiny black or white seeds from the salvia Hispanica plant. They add texture and flavor to any dish and are loaded with antioxidants. They are also high in calcium and other nutrients important for bone health. When you sprinkle two tablespoons of chia seeds on a bowl of oatmeal, blend them into a smoothie, or toss them in a salad, you add more than 7g of protein to your diet.
Related Article: Craving Chocolate? Try This Easy Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
A common ingredient in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, lentils are known for their versatility and flavor. And with one cup of cooked lentils providing 18g of protein, they are a fantastic plant-based source of protein. In addition to being simmered in soups and cooked in curries, lentils can be used to make protein-packed vegan burgers or lentil “meatballs.”
Nutritional yeast is a good cheese substitution for alpha gals who do not tolerate dairy. This plant-based ingredient is a deactivated strain of brewer’s and baker’s yeast. It is sold as a yellow powder or in flakes that can easily be sprinkled on just about any dish, like on popcorn in lieu of butter or on cooked pasta instead of grated cheese.
Nuts, Nut Butters, and Seeds
Nuts – like almonds, cashews, peanuts, and pistachios – and seeds – like hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower – are all great protein sources for any plant-based diet. And these same nuts and seeds can be ground into butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and even sunflower butter.
While an ounce of walnuts (about 14 walnut halves) contains less protein than the 4.3g found in almonds, walnuts are a good source of omega-3. Like essential proteins, omega-3s are essential fats that cannot be made by the body and must be consumed through food. Add walnuts to your alpha-gal diet by grinding them into pesto or baking them in chocolate chip cookies.
While just about any nut can be ground into a creamy butter, peanut butter is the most popular nut butter in the United States, and a two tablespoon serving contains 8g of protein. In its purest form, peanut butter is made by grinding roasted peanuts into a creamy spread. But some brands add extra fat, salt, sugar, and other ingredients to enhance its taste. If you are trying to avoid trans fats and added sugars, always read the ingredients carefully before selecting a store-bought nut butter.
Sage Advice: In addition to peanut butter, alpha gals might also enjoy almond butter, cashew butter, and hazelnut butter. And made from roasted sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter is a delicious option for people with nut allergies.
Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds can be enjoyed as a snack, in baked goods, or sprinkled on soups or salads. And pumpkin seeds are often used in Mexican dishes like mole sauce and a traditional Mexican snack known as “pepitorias.” Whether you eat them solo, sprinkle them on another dish, or use them to decorate obleas to make pepitorias, one ounce of pepitas (about 85 pumpkin seeds) contains 5g of protein.
Oats and Oatmeal
One cup of raw oats provides 10.7gs of protein, which is more than most other grains. Cook them in water or milk for a fast and easy breakfast of oatmeal. Bake oats into granola bars, add a handful of raw oats to a smoothie, or grind them into flour for baking. And if you’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, use oats to make a crunchy topping for fresh fruit cobbler.
Plant-Based Protein Powder
One way to quickly increase your protein intake is by adding a scoop or two of plant-based protein powder to a smoothie or protein shake. My favorite brand is Orgain’s Organic Protein. It comes in a variety of flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter, as well as seasonal flavors like strawberry and pumpkin spice. Two scoops provide you with 21g of protein. It is also packed with nutrients from ingredients like berries, greens, and other healthy ingredients.
First grown nearly 7,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains, quinoa is known as an ancient grain. That’s because this plant-based complete protein continues to be grown as it was thousands of years ago without genetic modification or hybridization. Quinoa can be enjoyed as a breakfast dish similar to oatmeal, as a protein-packed base for salads, and in many other ways. But when you simply replace your favorite white rice side dish with a quinoa alternative, you easily double your protein intake with every bite.
Often called wheat meat, seitan is one of the most protein-rich foods available from plants. It contains 20g of protein per 3-ounce serving and has a texture similar to meat when cooked, which makes it a great option for heavy meat eaters who must bid a fond farewell to mammalian meats and embrace an alpha-gal friendly diet. Seitan is versatile and can be prepared in many ways, such as pan-frying, sautéing, and grilling, so you can enjoy it in a variety of dishes without getting bored.
Soybean Products Like Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
Soybean products are popular meat and dairy replacements for vegans, vegetarians, and alpha gals. Soy-based products are very popular in East Asian cuisine, where they are hailed for their immense nutritional value.
Tempeh and Tofu
Tempeh and tofu are both plant-based protein sources that can be used as meat substitutes in a variety of dishes. Both of these soybean products readily absorb the flavors of other ingredients in the dish, making them versatile and flavorful.
Tempeh is a plant-based protein source made from fermented soybeans. It has a firm, chewy texture and a nutty flavor. One cup of tempeh contains about 30g of protein. It also contains more fiber and protein than tofu because it is made with the entire soybean. Incorporate tempeh into your alpha-gal friendly diet by adding it to stir-fries and soups.
Tofu is also known as bean curd. It has a soft, spongy texture and a neutral flavor. One cup of tofu contains about 20g of protein, and it is often used as a cheese substitute in dishes like lasagna.
Edamame are immature soybeans that need to be boiled or steamed before you eat them. Snack on them with a sprinkle of salt, add them to soups and salads for extra flavor and texture, or whip them into an alternative to hummus. You can also use them as filling in these delicious vegan edamame dumplings.
Dairy Products like Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt
As mentioned above, many alpha gals can tolerate dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt. If you can no longer enjoy these foods, please skip this section.
Packed with calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients, one cup of cow’s milk provides 8g of protein. Drink a glass at mealtime, pour it into your next smoothie, or use it to make your next bowl of oatmeal.
Sage Advice: While cow’s milk is most commonly consumed in the US, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk are popular in other countries around the world. If you travel internationally, watch for any sensitivity to these other mammalian milks – including its use in cheese and other dairy products.
Creamy cottage cheese is one of the healthiest cheeses available. And with 28g of protein per cup, it’s one of the best sources of protein for alpha gals who can enjoy dairy products. Enjoy it plain or topped with everything from a sprinkle of salt and pepper to fruit and diced vegetables. My favorite way to enjoy cottage cheese is in a bowl topped with fruit like blueberries, sliced peaches, or diced pears.
My French teacher once remarked that there are more French cheeses than there are days in the year. Impressively delish! And when you add Dutch, English, Swiss, and other varieties, there are a whole lot of tasty ways to get your protein from cheese! That said, blue cheese, Swiss cheese and cheddar cheese are some of the most powerful protein options. Enjoy sliced cheddar cheese on your favorite cracker, grate parmesan cheese over your favorite pasta dish, crumble blue cheese over salad, or grill cheese between two slices of bread for a delicious sandwich.
As cottage is the protein king of cheese, Greek-style is the protein queen of yogurt. Unlike other yogurts, Greek yogurt is strained to remove excess liquid, which makes it thicker and creamier than standard-issue Yoplait or Dannon. And at 20g grams of protein per cup, it provides about twice as much protein per serving as the regular stuff. My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt is to stir in a drizzle of honey or agave and then top with fresh fruit (blueberries work wonderfully) and homemade granola for a breakfast parfait. Another good way to add Greek yogurt to your diet is to substitute it for sour cream in all of your favorite recipes.
Fun Fact: A 100g serving of Greek yogurt contains nearly five times the protein as the same serving size of sour cream.
Sage Suggests: Greek Yogurt Bowl: A Protein-Packed Way to Start Your Day
Eggs are a filling, complete protein that offer about 7g of protein per egg. Beyond being a good source of protein, additional health benefits of eggs include helping keep your immune system healthy and promoting good vision. Because eggs are often associated with breakfast here in the United States, you likely already know how to boil, scramble, and fry them. They’re also a great topping for a slice of avocado toast and delicious as an egg white omelet. I like to boil a half dozen eggs at the beginning of the week so I have a grab-and-go breakfast option waiting for me in the fridge.
Sage Advice: If possible, select pasture-raised eggs, which contain significantly higher amounts of omega-3 fat, vitamin D, vitamin E, and beta-carotene than eggs from hens fed a traditional corn and soybean diet.
Although pork is the most consumed meat globally, chicken is the most popular meat in America. In fact, the average American eats approximately 100 pounds per year. That’s a lot of chicken nuggets!
For people who can’t eat red meat, chicken is a fantastic source of protein. But it’s important to note that the amount of protein varies by cut. For example, one cup of cooked, skinless chicken breast meat contains 43g of protein, while the same amount of chicken thigh meat (with the skin) has just 34g. When cooking with chicken, it’s best to opt for lean cuts, like the breast, which contain the most protein.
One of the most common things I hear from my fellow alpha gals is, “I’m soooooo sick of chicken!” This grilled blackened chicken recipe is a fresh take that brings a touch of New Orleans to a grill near you. Or make these pineapple chicken skewers for an alpha-gal friendly option at your next cookout.
While turkey is most commonly associated with Thanksgiving and sandwiches, there are many other ways to enjoy this beneficial bird. With one cup of cooked turkey meat delivering 41g of protein, it doesn’t take much to meet your recommended daily protein intake. Cook thin slices of turkey in stir-fry, or bake chunks of turkey into a savory pot pie. Here’s how to cook turkey in a crockpot, and you can substitute ground turkey for ground beef in all of your favorite dishes, like chili, tacos, and meatballs.
Sage Advice: Not a fan of ground turkey? (I’m not!) Substitute ground chicken instead for a better tasting (at least in my opinion) alpha-gal friendly dish!
Duck is a type of poultry commonly featured in classic French dishes like canard à l’orange (duck in orange sauce) and cassoulet (a meat and bean casserole). Although it has a richer color than chicken or turkey, duck is not considered red meat. In addition to being used in these traditional dishes, duck meat can also be used to make alpha-gal friendly bacon and prosciutto.
Emu and Ostrich
If you’re looking for an alpha-gal friendly meat option with similar flavor and texture to beef, emu and ostrich meat may be worth trying. These large, flightless birds offer meat that is high in protein and low in calories, making them a good alternative to beef or bison. Emu and ostrich meat are also low in cholesterol and high in iron, protein, and several B vitamins. To give these unique meats a try, check out Amaroo Hills, a family farm owned by an alpha gal that specializes in fresh emu and ostrich meat.
Sage Advice: Other alpha-gal friendly poultry options include quail, pheasant, and guineafowl.
Fish, Shellfish, and Seafood
In addition to eggs and poultry, alpha gals can safely consume animal protein from fish, shellfish and other seafood. Here are a few of my favorites.
Fresh tuna is one of the most high-protein fish in the ocean, packing nearly 31g of protein per cup. Enjoy a seared tuna steak as an entree or sliced atop a green salad. It’s also delicious in sushi rolls or as sashimi. While canned tuna is more convenient and affordable than fresh tuna, it can have high mercury levels. I’m a fan of Safe Catch tuna, because it has the lowest mercury levels of any brand.
Take a can of tuna from yawn to yowsa with this delicious tuna avocado salad recipe that can be served over a bed of lettuce or between two pieces of your favorite alpha-gal friendly bread.
Trout is a fish found in rivers and ponds throughout North America. It is high in protein, B vitamins, and omega-3 fats, making it a healthy choice for alpha gals. Unlike tuna, trout is low in mercury, so you can safely eat as much as you’d like each week.
While salmon isn’t as affordable as tuna or trout, it’s still my favorite fish and my first choice for a special occasion meal. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high in B vitamins, and believed to reduce the risk of heart disease, a 3.5-ounce serving of salmon contains more protein than three eggs. For an extra special treat that’s packed with alpha-gal friendly protein, try this crab stuffed salmon recipe.
Mackerel is another delicious and nutritious protein source that is alpha-gal friendly. This oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and improve heart health. When it comes to protein, one cup of cooked mackerel contains about 25 grams. Looking for a tasty way to enjoy mackerel? Try this Nigerian fish roll recipe.
Omnivores can easily stir a scoop of collagen into their morning coffee or blend it into a smoothie to add 12g of protein to their diet as they attempt to ward off aging and look as youthful as Jennifer Anniston. But, it’s not so simple for alpha gals. Because collagen is typically derived from bovine (cow) or porcine (pig) sources, it’s off limits to alpha gals. Fortunately, there is marine collagen. Derived from the skin of fish, it’s an alpha-gal safe alternative that delivers 11g of protein in two small scoops. And, according to this article, marine collagen may be better for you anyway! Who knew?!?
What are Your Favorite Alpha-Gal Friendly Sources of Protein?
What are some of your favorite sources of protein? Are they primarily vegan (100% plant-based), vegetarian (meatless), or alpha-gal friendly (vegan or vegetarian + eggs + poultry + fish)? Any additional tips or tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.