Plant-Based Protein: 5 Meat-Free Ways to Add Protein to Your Diet

Plant-Based Protein: 5 Meat-Free Ways to Add Protein to Your DietAre you trying to cut back on the amount of meat in your diet? Smart idea. A recent study showed a link between high levels of animal protein and an increased risk for cancer, type 2 diabetes and higher overall mortality in people under the age of 65. You need protein in your diet but you don’t have to eat meat at every meal to get it. Here are five plant-based meat-free sources of protein to enjoy.

Meat-Free Quinoa

Substitute quinoa where you would normally serve brown rice and you’ll get more protein. Quinoa is a grain-like food that’s actually a seed. It has a texture similar to rice, making it an ideal rice substitute. Unlike rice, quinoa is a complete source of protein. Although it lacks two of twenty amino acids your body needs, your body can make the missing two. What’s its profile? A cup of cooked quinoa has about 8.5 grams of protein compared to brown rice’s 5 grams. It’s also a better source of fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

You’ll love the versatility of quinoa. It makes a filling and satisfying breakfast cereal and still has enough versatility to double as a meat substitute for dinner. Use it to make “meat” balls, stuffed peppers, meatless burgers and as a side dish mixed with veggies or your favorite sauce or spices. Use quinoa flour to replace a portion of regular flour when you’re baking for more protein. Add it to soups and salads too. Enjoy its rice-like texture and slightly nutty flavor!

Meat-Free Tempeh

Skip the beef or chicken and make your next stir-fry with tempeh. Tempeh is a fermented form of soy that has a meat-like texture. Because it’s fermented it contains natural probiotic bacteria. Plus, it’s easier to digest than unfermented soy like tofu.

How to enjoy it? Marinate and grill tempeh to make delicious meat-free “steaks.” For an ethnic take on tempeh, use it in to make tempeh curry or tempeh marsala. Promise you won’t miss the meat! Experiment with a variety of marinades. Tempeh takes on the flavor of the sauce or marinade you use with it. When you’re short on time, marinade and season tempeh and bake it in the oven.

Here’s another reason to love tempeh. A single cup of tempeh has 30 grams of meat-free protein and only 16 grams of carbs and 320 calories. Plus, it’s a complete source of plant-based protein. It’s a good source of some B vitamins too, especially folate.

Meat-Free Tofu

Tofu is non-fermented soy. This makes it more difficult than tempeh to digest for some people. Still, it’s remarkably versatile. You can buy it at most supermarkets in soft, firm or extra-firm varieties. Want to increase the firmness even more? Place tofu on a cutting board. Put a fresh towel on top of the tofu. Place a book or other flat weighted object on top and leave it for about 20 minutes. When you remove the book and towel, the tofu will be firmer. Once it’s firm, coat it in sesame seeds and pan-sear it or marinade it in your favorite marinade. Other options: bake it in the oven or roast, grill or sauté it.

How does tofu rate in the protein department? Gram for gram it contains more protein than beef. One hundred calories of beef have about 9 grams of protein to tofu’s 11 grams. Plus, tofu is a complete source of protein. Tofu does contain phytates that reduce the absorption of minerals. The fermentation process used to make tempeh cuts phytates almost in half. That’s why tempeh is a better choice from a health perspective.

Here’s a tip: buy only organic tofu and tempeh. Most non-organic soy is genetically-modified.

Meat-Free Lentils

Lentils are an under-appreciated source of plant-based protein. A cup of cooked lentils has an impressive 18 grams of muscle-building protein, more than their close relative, beans. Plus, they’re a good source of fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. Gotta love their versatility too. They’re inexpensive, easy to prepare and work well with a variety of sauces and seasoning including tomato paste, garlic, and hot pepper or curry sauce to turn up the heat. They’re also a good substitute for meat in chili, soups, stews, and casseroles.

You’ve got options when it comes to lentils. They come in red, green and brown varieties. Each differs slightly in flavor. Brown lentils are the most common and have an “earthy” flavor. Red lentils are a bit sweeter while green ones have a peppery taste and take a little longer to cook. The least expensive way to buy them is from bulk bins at natural food markets. The simplest way to prepare them? In a slow cooker or rice cooker.

Enjoy the versatility of this plant-based meat substitute but keep in mind lentils aren’t a complete source of protein. They lack some amino acids your body needs but can’t make. You can make up for this by eating whole grains or quinoa. Whole grains have the “missing” amino acids.

Meat-Free Seitan

Seitan is a wheat-based meat substitute and a common ingredient in packaged meat substitutes. This plant-protein often referred to as “wheat meat,” has about 20 grams of protein per three-ounce serving, very similar to the protein content of ground beef. Unlike beef, seitan isn’t a complete protein source. It also won’t work if you’re following a gluten-free diet. Seitan IS wheat gluten, what people with celiac disease have to avoid. Still, there are lots of ways to use seitan as a meat substitute. It’s an ideal substitute because it has a chewy texture much like beef.

How to use seitan? Chop it up and use it as a meat substitute in soups, stews, chili, and Mexican dishes or slice it thinly and use it as meat-free sandwich “meat.” You can also braise it, boil it, bake it or grill it using a variety of spices and marinades. Barbeque seitan can help you satisfy a craving for barbeque without the meat.

The Bottom Line?

Enjoy these plant-based meat-free protein sources if you’re trying to reduce the amount of meat in your diet. They’re versatile, easy to prepare and good sources of protein your muscles need to grow and repair. Perfect for meatless Mondays too!



Self Nutrition Data.

Science Daily. “Meat and Cheese May Be as Bad for You as Smoking”


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Plant-Based Protein: Why You Need More of It

What’s the Best Type of Protein for Boosting Muscle Protein Synthesis?

5 Tips for Building Muscle When You Eat a Plant-Based Diet


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