By Tanya Silverman, Veronica Chavez, and Cody Fenwick
Photos by Ashley Rodriguez.
NOTE: Though this article contains reliable research from trusted sources, no one on the BTR staff is a nutritionist and this article is not medical advice. Readers should consult a doctor regarding any dietary changes or concerns.
The vegetarian or vegan diet often comes with one broad association: no meat.
However, while not eating meat or other animal products is inherent to the lifestyle, such diets should not be focused on lacking meat, but rather, being rich in all sorts of other vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and (very importantly) proteins.
To dispel the common association that meat-free implies protein-free, we’re offering some suggestions for vegetarian and vegan protein options to incorporate into your dishes.
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are rich in fiber and iron in addition to being sufficient sources of protein. They’re an easy option to add to a fresh salad, saute with some chopped onions and bell peppers, or pop into a grain dish like cous cous or rice. As it’s easy to buy canned chickpeas, consider stocking your pantry with this legume for an evergreen protein option.
While hummus (chickpea spread) is tasty and healthy, keep in mind that the spread is not as sufficient as whole chickpeas as a protein source.
Vegetarians and vegans have long been left out of the summer barbecue scene. While there have been a variety of mock meat options that cook well on stovetop or in the microwave, few have been produced for use on a hot outdoor grill. That is until the company Tofurky began production on a line of non-GMO, organic soy “artisan sausages.”
The gourmet sausages come in a bunch of flavors, including Spinach Pesto (great for pastas), Beer Brats (made with micro-brewed Full Sail Ale), and classic Keilbasa.
Not only do these sausages grill just as perfectly as any carnivore barbecue treat, but each one contains 29 grams of protein, meaning when the inevitable “how do you get your protein?” discussion comes along, your nutritional diligence cannot be denied.
Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is a wheat-derived food much higher in protein than typical pasta or bread. Made from a high-protein flour called vital wheat gluten, it is served in strips, cubes, loaves, or any style you desire. Its texture is reminiscent of meat, making it a common ingredient in mock chicken or beef. But this versatile staple adapts well to almost any dish, as it can be seasoned in countless ways. Though not necessarily the healthiest option (store bought brands are often high in salt), this calorie-dense creation can liven up almost any meal.
If you needed another reason to ditch white bread, here it is: whole grain breads can add a significant amount of protein to your diet per slice. Whole ground wheat, for instance, does not provide the full range of amino acids necessary for a healthy diet, so it shouldn’t serve as the centerpiece of anyone’s nutritional plan. But wheat, and similar grains like oats and rye, can feature as hearty complements to a diverse array of plant foods.
Consider trying less popular grains as well, like amaranth, millet, or buckwheat for some variety.
Throw out those potato chips and sugary snacks, and sub in some high-protein snacks like soynuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or mixed nuts. Just a handful of any of these will be more nutritious, satisfying, and filling than snacking on ordinary junk food. This tip will be especially handy on your next road trip or long distance flight when you might not know where your next meal is coming from.
Though many of the items on this list are particularly dense with protein in terms of serving sizes, the truth is that most vegetables have significant amounts of protein per calorie. Brenda Davis and Versanto Melina, in their book Becoming Vegan, point out that, surprisingly, romaine lettuce has more grams of protein per 100 calories than cooked soybeans.
Of course, it’s much easier to eat 100 calories worth of soybeans than it is to eat 100 calories worth of lettuce. It’s best to consciously include foods denser in protein (like the others on this list). But it’s good to know that, if you’re eating the right amount of calories from a variety of whole plant foods, you should be getting plenty of protein.
Tofu has gotten a bad rep over the years for being flavorless and boring. And in it’s natural, just-bought-from-the-store state, it is. But if you’re a seasoned vegan or vegetarian, you know that tofu is rarely eaten like this. In fact, there are a ton of ways to make tofu flavorful and enticing. With 20 grams of protein per cup, it’s definitely worth looking into.
You can lightly bread and fry it to make crispy tofu fingers; layer it with spinach, sauce, and Daiya cheese for a delicious lasagna; or saute tofu with bell peppers, mushrooms, and your favorite spices for a zesty breakfast scramble.
Tofu is only bland if you let it be, so get creative!
For more on living animal-product free, read Vegan Life Hacks.