Whether you’re dropping meat for Meatless Monday or going full-on vegetarian, making sure you get enough protein in your diet will be a priority. Lucky for us, there are plenty of protein alternatives that are tasty enough to keep you from asking, “where’s the beef?”
Taking a break from meat can be a good idea for many different reasons, not least of all to improve your health. Boosting your veggie intake can significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. “Eat the rainbow” or try for a broad selection of colorful produce at each meal so that you can really maximize those health benefits.
You might be asking yourself, what about protein?
One of the most common misconceptions about vegetarian diets is that your body will not get enough protein because you’re no longer eating meat. The truth is that mother nature has us covered.
Protein is in every part of our bodies, from our organs to our muscles to our cells and DNA. The protein in our diets is an essential nutrient and plays a crucial role in building new cells by helping replenish the protein our bodies break down throughout the day. Dietary protein can be found in a number of different foods including meat-free foods out there that meet our needs.
Before you completely go cold turkey on…turkey, it’s a good idea to learn how much protein you should eat on daily basis just to be sure you’re getting your fair share:
There are two different types of proteins:
- Complete: contains all of the essential amino acids
- Incomplete: low in one or more essential amino acids
You want to aim for complete proteins as much as possible since the body doesn’t produce these essential amino acids. You can, however, combine two foods with incomplete proteins to be sure you’re getting a whole protein.
Got it? Good!
These are some of go-to choices for meatless proteins that double as fantastic nutritional powerhouses while being super delicious (and versatile) in a number of recipes.
I’m Latina so beans were pretty much its own food group in my household growing up. My family still won’t go a day without having some kind of rice and bean combo. Luckily, beans offer a tremendous amount of nutritional value. They’re super high in fiber (about 12 grams a cup which is half your suggested daily intake) and antioxidents which helps reduces your risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Plus they’re so versatile and affordable, making a few bags or cans of these guys a great investment in your pantry and your health.
1 cup of cooked beans has about 15g of protein.
Suggested recipe: Black Bean Chilli & Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Broccoli is a personal favorite of mine. Not only are they delicious, but they are little health powerhouses. Broccoli is part of the cruciferous family; a group of vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and the very hip kale that are all rich in phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. These super veggies have cancer-fighting properties and are excellent for maintaining healthy and strong bones since they’re extraordinarily high in vitamin K.
1 cup of cooked broccoli has 3.7g of protein.
Suggested recipe: Roasted Garlic Lemon Broccoli
3. Greek Yogurt
Once I discovered greek yogurt, I never looked back at the sugar-laden confections posing as yogurt that I used to eat for breakfast when I was trying to be “healthy.” Rich and creamy, greek yogurt is amazing on its own with a sprinkle of almonds and honey, or can be used as a healthy substitute for heavy cream or milk in both sweet and savory dishes. I love experimenting with greek yogurt in pastries where it’s an easy way to get extra protein while keeping your baked goods moist and tasty.
1 cup of Plain Greek Yogurt 0% Fat has 23g of protein
Suggested Recipe: Pasta with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Creamy Lemon-Yogurt Sauce
Like beans, lentils are an excellent way to add extra protein and fiber into your diet without breaking the bank. Featured in some of my favorite Indian, French, Spanish, and Ethiopian dishes, lentils can be prepared a number of different ways that keeps me from getting bored in the kitchen. Also, the high level of magnesium and folate in lentils keeps you heart healthy which is an exceptional added benefit.
1 cup of cooked lentils has about 18g of protein.
Suggested recipe: Simple Lentil Soup
Funny name aside, this meat alternative is a popular choice among vegetarians and vegans for its great texture and how close it resembles when cooked. Seitan can be prepared by hand using either vital wheat gluten or whole wheat flour.
1 ounce of seitan has 21g of protein.
Suggested recipe: Ground Seitan and Veggie Tacos
Spinach is the perfect ‘gateway’ leafy green for those who are looking to make some healthy changes to their diet. Spinach is easier on the palette than kale or chard which has a flavor that can be hard for some to get used to. I add spinach to almost everything: pastas, salads, casseroles, eggs, smoothies. One thing that stands spinach apart is that cooking can bring out some of its nutritional benefits.
1 cup of cooked spinach has a little over 5g of protein.
Suggested Recipe: Chickpea, Spinach, and Squash Gnocchi
7. Split Peas
Split pea soup is one of my all-time favorite winter dishes. They’re a great source of dietary fiber, manganese, copper, protein, folate, vitamin B1, phosphorus, vitamin B5, and potassium.
1 cup of cooked split peas has 16g of protein.
Suggested Recipe: Easy Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup (Vegan)
Quinoa has become a major staple in my kitchen due to its incredible health benefits and the fact that it can go with pretty much anything. Make one batch of quinoa on a prep day, have a number of different mix-ins ready on the side, and you’ll have a weeks-worth of yummy, healthy meals with minimal fuss.
1 cup of cooked quinoa has 8g of protein
Suggested Recipe: Southwestern Quinoa Salad with Greek Yogurt-Avocado Dressing
Are you a vegetarian? Do you follow Meatless Monday? What are your favorite meat-free protein sources?