Getting enough protein in the day is so important, but if you don’t eat meat or are trying to cut back on your meat intake, it can be tricky to get that fill. Animal protein has more readily available protein for absorption, often in higher doses per serving size.
However, there are many meatless sources of protein that are delicious and can be
just as filling when paired nicely with other sources and healthy fats for satiety. And
as long as you’re spreading protein intake out throughout the day, for roughly 20-30
grams per meal and 10-12 grams per snack, you’ll get the right amount for fuel and
muscle repair. (If you’re super active, you might need a bit more and can always
chat with a dietitian for advice.)
If you’re looking to go meatless or experiment with more meatless options in the
diet, here are the best sources to pick from.
Tofu is a great meatless source of protein and other nutrients, like calcium to
fight osteoporosis and build bone density. You can use tofu in an egg scramble for
a double protein boost, cubed in a salad as a swap for chicken or steak, in a stir-fry
with vegetables, or even in a smoothie for that sneaky extra hit of protein (it won’t
ruin the taste as long as you include delicious ingredients like fresh fruit, veggies,
chocolate protein powder, or nut butter).
Another vegan option, seitan resembles meat as it’s thicker in texture and has that “meaty” sort of consistency. It’s mild in flavor but can take on several different flavors in food, so it’s super versatile. It is wheat gluten, FYI, so if you can’t eat
gluten, go with tofu or another option instead. You can use it in sandwiches, as a
topper for salad, or you can make “chicken” wings or use in a vegan curry.
Whey comes from milk, so while it's an animal protein and not vegan by any means, it's still a great vegetarian alternative to meat. Like meat, it's also chock-full of nutritional benefits. Whey is a "complete" protein, with all of the nine essential amino acids you need to get from food in one place. It's so nutritious, it's even used in baby formula. Eat a whey protein bar before or after you work out—it's especially good at helping you to build muscle and stay satiated so you don't overeat. To read more about whey protein, head here. For a protein snack that uses a premium whey blend, check these out.
Beans and Legumes
You can’t go wrong with beans and legumes, like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and white beans, when looking for meatless sources of protein. They can be used in meatless burger patties, on salads, in grain or bean bowls, in burritos or breakfast wraps, or even as a better base for dessert—think black bean brownies. Pair with quinoa and you’ve got a complete protein!
That’s right—whole ancient grains, like quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth have
quite a bit, and you can pair them with other sources for satiety, texture, and more
protein. Instead of white rice or refined grains, go for these, which have lots of fiber
too to keep you fuller longer. Use them for oatmeal, as a side, as a swap for pasta, or in a veggie burger with other meatless ingredients, like mushrooms and beans.
Another vegan meatless protein, tempeh is similar to seitan but has a tougher
texture and a nutty, earthy flavor. It’s a great choice for redesigning your favorite
“meaty” foods, and it is especially delicious with tangy Asian flavors or BBQ. You can use it as you would with seitan—sandwiches, curries, stir-fries, and more.
The favorite green fruit actually has some solid protein, but mostly excellent
healthy fats to work in tandem to keep you full and repair muscle damage. Spread it
on toast, use in eggs, top on salads, work into a dressing or sauce, grill it for the
summer, or use in healthier desserts, like chocolate mousse.
Nuts also have pretty good protein, but be wary for portion sizes, as they are calorie-dense and contain high amounts of fats, even if these fats are good for you. Combine them with other protein sources to get enough for each snack or meal rather than doubling or tripling up serving sizes. Still, enjoy a handful or add pistachios as a crust to fish, sliver almonds in a veggie dish, or add peanuts to a stir-fry.
Go for a variety of these foods and you’ll have a super protein-packed diet that’ll
energize you and keep you satiated throughout the day. Plus, they’ll all make your
meals even tastier!
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.