How do you get protein if you are gluten and dairy-free?

Going gluten and dairy-free can seem very limiting, especially when it comes to getting enough protein. Protein is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body including building and repairing tissues, making enzymes and hormones, and strengthening the immune system. When you cut out major protein sources like wheat, barley, rye and milk, you may be concerned about meeting your daily protein needs.

The good news is that there are many nutritious gluten and dairy-free options for getting the 25-30 grams of protein most people need per day. With some planning and creativity, following a gluten and dairy-free diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on protein or other key nutrients.

Meat, Poultry and Fish

Animal proteins like meat, poultry and fish are naturally gluten and dairy-free. Focus on getting a few 3-4 ounce servings per day from a variety of sources:

  • Beef: Steak, roasts, ground beef
  • Pork: Chops, roast, tenderloin
  • Chicken: Roasted, grilled or baked
  • Turkey: Roasted, ground
  • Fish: Salmon, tuna, cod, tilapia
  • Shellfish: Shrimp, crab, lobster

When purchasing processed meats like sausage and cold cuts, read labels carefully to make sure they don’t contain gluten, dairy or other questionable ingredients. Opt for nitrate-free and uncured varieties when possible.


Eggs are naturally gluten and dairy-free, versatile and packed with 6 grams of protein each. Enjoy eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner in different ways:

  • Scrambled
  • Fried
  • Poached
  • Hard boiled
  • As an omelet or frittata

If you’re watching your cholesterol, opt for egg whites which provide about 4 grams of protein without the added yolks.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, lentils and peas are excellent plant-based protein sources on a gluten and dairy-free diet. They provide about 15 grams protein per cooked cup. Enjoy them in recipes like:

  • Chili
  • Soups and stews
  • Salads
  • Casseroles
  • Curries
  • Hummus

Some people avoid beans and legumes due to digestive issues. If this is the case for you, stick to smaller portions and be sure to prepare them properly by soaking and rinsing before cooking.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds make great portable snacks and additions to meals and provide 4-8 grams protein per ounce. Those highest in protein include:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds

Nut and seed butters like almond butter and tahini (sesame seed butter) are also excellent sources of plant-based protein.

Soy Products

Soybeans are considered a complete protein source, meaning they provide all essential amino acids. Try incorporating soy products like:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Soy milk
  • Soy yogurt

Look for non-GMO, organic varieties whenever possible. Those sensitive to soy should moderate their intake. Soy provides about 15-20 grams protein per serving.

Protein Powders

Protein powders can help supplement your diet and make it easy to add protein to foods and beverages. Look for powder options made from:

  • Pea protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Pumpkin seed protein
  • Brown rice protein

Avoid whey and casein protein powder, which are dairy-based. Protein powders provide around 20 grams protein per serving.


Quinoa is a gluten-free whole grain that contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete plant-based protein. Cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams protein per cup. Use it in place of rice or oats in recipes like:

  • Salads
  • Casseroles
  • Porridge

Look for quinoa flakes as an oatmeal alternative as well.

Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Incorporate more gluten-free whole grains like amaranth, buckwheat, teff and wild rice. Though lower in protein than quinoa, they provide additional sources in the diet with around 3-5 grams per cooked cup.

Greek Yogurt Alternatives

Traditional Greek yogurt is very high in protein but contains dairy. Try dairy-free yogurts instead made from:

  • Coconut milk
  • Almond milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Soy milk

They typically provide 2-3 grams protein per serving. Read labels as ingredients vary between brands.

Fortified Milk Alternatives

Many non-dairy milks like almond, coconut, oat and flax are fortified with extra protein, calcium and vitamins. Opt for unsweetened varieties whenever possible. Some brands provide up to 10 grams protein per cup.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast made from beet molasses and sugar cane. It has a nutty, cheesy flavor and can be used in recipes like dairy-free Alfredo sauce, tangy cheese sauces, savory pancakes and popcorn seasoning. 2 tablespoons provides about 5 grams protein.


Seitan is a wheat gluten-based meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten and seasonings. It has a chewy texture similar to meat when cooked and provides about 20 grams protein per 3 ounces. Use it in stir-fries, skewers, stews and sandwiches for a gluten-free protein boost.


Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that provides good quality protein with nearly 9 grams per cooked cup, as well as minerals like magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Use it as a substitute for rice, oats or quinoa in your favorite recipes.

Oats and Oatmeal

While traditional oats contain gluten, certified gluten-free oat varieties are available made from grains that were grown and processed in facilities free from gluten contamination. Swap regular oats for gluten-free oats and oatmeal which provide about 4 grams protein per 1/2 cup cooked.

Chia Pudding

Chia pudding makes for a protein-packed breakfast or snack when you need to avoid gluten and dairy. Simply combine chia seeds with your choice of coconut, almond or other dairy-free milk. Let sit overnight in the fridge to thicken. Top with fruit, nuts and cinnamon. You can add protein powder too. Each serving provides about 5 grams protein.


Blending up a protein smoothie is an easy way to increase your daily protein intake. Use a base of dairy-free milk or yogurt with your choice of additional protein sources like fruit, spinach, nut butter, chia seeds, hemp seeds or protein powder. Aim for at least 10 grams protein per smoothie.

Protein Bars

When you’re on-the-go, protein bars can be a convenient snack that provide protein, fiber and nutrients. Look for options that contain almond butter, puffed rice, chia seeds and dried fruit for 10+ grams of protein and less than 10 grams added sugar per bar.

Cottage Cheese Alternatives

Traditional cottage cheese is very high in protein but contains dairy. Good dairy-free alternatives include:

  • Tofu ricotta – Blend firm tofu, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper for a ricotta substitute.
  • Cashew cheese – Blend soaked cashews with water, lemon juice and seasonings until smooth and creamy.
  • Hemp seed cheese – Hemp seeds blended with water, lemon and nutritional yeast makes a tangy cheese.

Use these cheese alternatives in lasagna, on pizza, stuffed into shells or anywhere else you’d enjoy cottage cheese. They provide about 5 grams protein per 1/2 cup serving.

Lentil Pasta

Lentil pasta is a gluten-free alternative to traditional wheat pasta that also provides a hefty dose of plant-based protein and fiber. Most brands offer at least 13-15 grams protein per serving. Use it in pasta salads, casseroles, soups or with your favorite pasta sauce.

Tempeh Bacon

For a vegetarian and dairy-free take on a classic BLT sandwich, use tempeh bacon in place of regular bacon. Tempeh bacon provides about 13 grams protein per 3 slices. Make it into a sandwich or enjoy alongside eggs and avocado for a satisfying breakfast.

Tofu Scramble

Give tofu scramble a try for a quick, protein-filled breakfast without the eggs. Simply crumble firm or extra firm tofu in a pan with spices like turmeric, paprika, salt and pepper and your favorite veggies. Top it off with some dairy-free cheese for extra protein. A 1 cup serving made with 14 ounces of tofu provides about 28 grams protein.


Edamame are immature soybeans that are harvested before they harden. They make a satisfying gluten and dairy-free snack right out of the pod. You can also buy shelled edamame to use in salads, rice dishes, stir-fries and soups. A one cup serving of edamame provides 17 grams protein.


Incorporate more lentils like brown, red, yellow and green varieties into your routine for an added protein boost without gluten or dairy. Enjoy them warm in soups and stews or chilled in salads. A 1 cup cooked serving provides about 18 grams protein.


Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is incredibly high in nutrients including protein, antioxidants, B vitamins and minerals. Just 1 tablespoon of dried spirulina powder contains about 4 grams complete, plant-based protein. Add it into smoothies, energy bites, yogurt and more.

Nutritional Targets

When following a gluten and dairy-free diet, aim to meet these daily nutritional targets to make sure you’re getting adequate protein and nutrients:

Nutrient Daily Target
Protein 50-60g
Iron 18mg
Calcium 1000-1300mg
Vitamin D 600 IU
Zinc 8-11mg
Magnesium 320-420mg
B12 2.4mcg

Sample High Protein Meal Plan

Here is a sample one day gluten and dairy-free meal plan with several high protein options:

Meal Foods Protein
Breakfast Tofu scramble with vegetables
1 cup edamame
1 cup dairy-free yogurt with berries and almonds
Lunch Chicken breast salad with chickpeas, pumpkin seeds
1 apple with peanut butter
Dinner Lentil Bolognese with spiralized zucchini noodles
Side salad
Snacks 1 hard boiled egg
Protein bar
Hemp seed energy bites
Total 110g

Tips for Success on a Gluten and Dairy-Free Diet

Follow these tips to meet your protein needs and thrive on a diet free of gluten and dairy:

  • Meal prep batches of foods like quinoa, lentils, hard boiled eggs and roasted veggies on your day off to have ready-to-eat options on hand.
  • Always have snacks packed like trail mix, protein bars, roasted chickpeas and fresh fruit.
  • Read labels carefully and look for gluten and dairy-free labels on packaged foods.
  • Cook large batches of chili, soups and casseroles using beans, lentils, tempeh etc. and freeze individual portions.
  • Look for new gluten and dairy-free products like pastas, breads, bagels and cereals at your grocery store.
  • Ask about gluten and dairy-free menu options when eating out at restaurants.
  • Buy a variety of spices and have fun experimenting with flavors in your cooking.
  • Substitute milk and cheese in recipes with dairy-free alternatives like cashew cream.
  • Include a protein source with every meal and snack.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian if you need individualized help meeting your nutrition needs.


Eating gluten and dairy-free doesn’t have to mean missing out on important nutrients like protein. With some advanced meal planning and creative substitutions, you can easily meet your daily protein needs following a restricted diet. Focus on getting a variety of plant and animal-based protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, poultry, fish and lean meat.

Read labels carefully, experiment with new ingredients and recipes and enjoy the wide range of delicious gluten and dairy-free protein options now available. Pairing each meal and snack with a quality protein source along with plenty of produce, healthy fats and gluten-free whole grains will ensure you feel satisfied and get all the nutrients you need while avoiding allergenic foods.

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