Whether it’s due to nutritional goals, environmental factors or simply wanting to expand our tastes, more and more of us are trying to incorporate more plant-based proteins into our meals. Plant-based proteins can be a healthy replacement for meat in many meals; research has shown that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of heart disease and can radically increase our intake of the nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants we need to live longer and healthier. If you’ve been following vegan or vegetarian diet then you probably know that getting enough protein is essential for a sustainable diet, but you might not know all the different choices you have for including protein in your diet.
You might already have a few favorite plant-based proteins, but expanding your knowledge of what’s available can help you plan a bigger variety of meals and even find new fun ways to get the protein you need.
One of the most well-known of plant-based proteins, tofu is made from pressing soy beans into curds in a process similar to making cheese. It’s known for its soft, white, and rubbery appearance and texture and is a traditional meat substitute in many vegetarian Asian dishes. Tofu can also be used as a substitute for eggs in a breakfast scramble, a light protein supplement in smoothies or a silky vegan base for creamy desserts like pies and pastries.
In addition to being pressed into tofu, soybeans can also be turned into protein on their own, making a firmer base with a texture similar to chicken. Soy is main ingredient in many plant-based protein products available in grocery stores from companies like Gardein, Beyond, Dr. Praeger’s, and Morningstar Farms.
Tempeh is produced by cooking and fermenting mature soybeans before pressing them together. Tempeh is a bit nuttier than other soy-based proteins and tends to have more of a crumbly consistency because it’s composed of pressed beans. It can add a bit of variety to a stir fry, be prepared in potstickers, serve as a bacon substitute or even be pressed into chips.
Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is a protein made from wheat. It tends to come in strips that are a bit tougher and more textured than tofu’s soft composition. Seitan is the base of many Tofurky products as well as imitation bacon, and its savory taste pairs well with barbecue sauce, soy sauce, and Worcester sauce. Seitan can be a great meal staple cooked in its usual strip form but it also makes a great substitute for sausages, pepperoni, or anything smoked or barbecued.
Black beans have always been a great source of protein and make a healthy addition to any plant-based diet. Black beans are used as the base for many vegan burgers, especially ones that avoid using soy. Black beans can be prepared on their own with some seasoning, served on top of nachos, added to rice, or used in a Southwestern salad to add a bit more substance.
Quinoa is an ancient whole grain rich in protein, dietary fiber, and all nine amino acids. Its flavor is neutral enough to serve as a rice substitute, and it can adapt to flavors well enough to be used in a variety of recipes for soups, salads, and even muffins.
Pea protein is made from split yellow peas. Its texture is very fine, similar to yeast or flour, and it can be added to a lot of baked goods to make them more balanced and healthy. There are dozens of recipes online for smoothies, cookies, brownies and even overnight oats that use pea protein.
Rich in minerals, protein and fiber, lentils are in the legume family (along with beans) and are a dense, hearty protein. Lentils are a great supplement to many soups and are also dense enough to turn into fritters or veggie patties.