Looking to cut back on meat for a more sustainable diet? Here are two problems you will likely encounter:
- I don’t get enough protein.
- I don’t know what to eat instead.
Personally, I’ve had this struggle, too. There are nights when I don’t feel like eating one more bowl of homemade-lentil-something. Some nights I don’t want to step one toe in the kitchen. I just want to order some easy take-out food and forget about the whole vegetarianism for a while.
The next day I feel kinda guilty about it. (I shouldn’t, but I do.)
But there’s a third challenge – getting all the nutrients you need from meat replacements. Can plant-based proteins deliver? Which meat substitutes are the best?
Let me make it a little easier for all of us: The plant-based protein chart.
Use this chart as a guide when considering which meat alternatives to keep in your kitchen. You can also see the amount of protein each offers in a regular serving.
Which Plant-Based Proteins Are Best?
Ever feel really lethargic, even though you had enough sleep, drank three cups of coffee, and don’t have a good excuse for yawning?
Your food might be the culprit.
Namely, a lack of protein or vitamin/mineral combination from meat.
It can be hard to replace all the essential vitamins and minerals from meat with plant-based proteins. Red meat especially is a great source of iron and B-complex vitamins.
And, meat products are complete proteins. (That means they contain all 9 essential amino acids that our body needs to function at its best.) Not all plant-based proteins are complete proteins, so it can be a challenge for vegans and vegetarians to get these all these amino acids.
These plant-based proteins are complete proteins:
- edamame (soy beans)
Let’s dive into the twelve listed in the infographic above.
Beans are the seeds from plants of the Fabaceae plant family, an uncommon household name for a common source of protein eaten in nearly every corner of the world.
Commonly classified as a legume (which includes lentils and peas), beans are versatile sources of protein. Popular types include fava beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black turtle beans (aka black beans), mung beans, etc. The list goes on. Feel free to mention the ones I left out in the comment sections.
Technically soybeans and chickpeas are also types of beans. I’ve distinguished them here because of their elevated status as protein providers. Soybeans are the only complete source of protein in the bean family.
Beans are nutrient-dense foods that offer a rich source of vitamin B and fiber. Among their many health benefits, eating more beans is linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
1 cup cooked beans = 15 g. protein365 Everyday Value, Organic Black Beans, 16 oz
Aka garbanzo beans, bengal grams, egyptian peas, ceci beans, or kabuli chana.
Whatever you call it, these little legumes are protein powerhouses. Chickpeas give a rich, creamy, and nutty flavor and have high quantities of fiber and folate. They can also come in different colors, like black and red.
Cool fact: chickpeas are environmental heroes. These plants naturally break the disease cycle of their neighboring wheat and barley plants. This reduces fungi and insect growth in the grains, yielding a healthier harvest.
1 cup uncooked chickpeas = 39 g. protein365 Everyday Value, Organic Garbanzo Beans, 16 oz
These are the green, immature pods of soybeans plants. Mature soybeans are typically light brown or beige and.
Found as the sugar-pea-like pods or deshelled beans, edamame are complete proteins and great source of folate and vitamin K.
Typically eaten in Eastern diets, these protein-packed legumes are boiled or steamed. The shell is not meant to be eaten, by the way, although it may be served as such.
1 cup cooked edamame = 17 g. proteinEdamame, Roasted & Lighly Salted Green Soybean , 2lbs
These small, fibrous seeds have earned their spotlight as a super crop. With high concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants, flax seeds offer a nutritious addition to breads and baked goods.
I love these seeds as an egg substitute for vegan baking. Whisk 1 T. flax seeds with 2.5 T. water, and let sit for at least 5 minutes.
3 T. whole flax seeds = 6 g. proteinSpectrum Essentials Organic Ground Flaxseed, 24 Ounce (Pack of 1)
Yes, these are the seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis stavia.
No, eating these will not get you high (they contain only trace amounts of THC). But they are high in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E.
Hemp seeds have a pleasant nutty taste and are easy to cook, especially when paired with oats or another grain. Store in the fridge or freezer to extend its shelf life.
3 Tbs. raw hemp seeds = 9.5 g. proteinNutiva Organic, Raw, Shelled Hempseed from non-GMO, Sustainably Farmed Canadian Hemp, 19-Ounces
One of the most recognized plant-based proteins, these legumes are your reliable midfielders of your vegetarian soccer team. They play well with other foods, adapt to different entres and spices, and offer a hefty serving of protein in just one serving.
Like beans, however, lentils are not complete proteins. You can create a meal that provides are 9 essential amino acids by combining them with rice or quinoa (which is, itself, a complete protein).
Lentils come in a wide variety, but all are surfeit with fiber, omega 3’s, and omega 6 fatty acids.
1 cup cooked lentils = 18 g. proteinSpicy World Masoor Dal (Indian Red Lentils) 4 Pounds
Mushrooms are fungi, a rich source of minerals and vitamins.
Often used as meat-replacements, these fungi are not as high on the protein caliber as other plant-based foods on this list. However, I’ve included them in here because they are widely known and used in place of meat.
High in nutrients and low in fat, these meat-replacers look especially appetizing for those looking to lower their cholesterol or boost their immunity.
1 cup white mushrooms = 2 g. protein.The Wild Mushroom Co. Dried Gourmet Mix European Mushrooms 12 Ounces (340g)
A nutty, earthy-flavored seed high in iron and fiber, quinoa is one of two plant-based proteins that offer all 9 essential amino acids.
If you don’t like the taste of quinoa, I’ll put money on the fact that you’re not washing the seeds before you cook them. Please, please wash your quinoa.
Quinoa has come and gone in the spotlight recently, but its amazing health benefits have not. This is your MVP of the vegetarian soccer team. Try it as a replacement for rice or pasta, and you’ll start to discover how you enjoy eating it the most.
1 cup cooked quinoa = 8 g. protein365 Everyday Value, Organic White Quinoa, 16 oz
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is a manufactured soy product that resembles corn flakes when dry and ground beef when cooked.
If you’ve ever tried a brand’s vegetarian version of sausage, meat sauce, burgers, or another meat-centric food item from the grocery store, you probably ate some TVP.
Don’t be scared – TVP is a healthy and sustainable meat alternative. It just… looks and sounds like your grandmother’s nightmare.
1 cup (dry) TVP = 48 g. proteinBob’s Red Mill Textured Vegetable Protein, 10 oz, 2 pk
Tempeh is a product from fermented soybeans bound in a cake form.
Like edamame, TVP, and tofu, it contains all 9 essential amino acids to form a complete protein. Tempeh also contains high amounts of vitamin B-6.
Not to be overshadowed by tofu, this soy product works well in stir fry dinners and makes the best vegan bacon. That in of itself is a win.
1 cup cooked = 31 g. proteinFresh tempeh – 7oz (Pack of 3)
Another soy product, tofu is the most common vegan alternative to meat and making its way into more and more meatless Mondays.
Tofu is also known as bean curds. Rich in iron and calcium, this versatile plant-based protein deserves all the health credits it receives.
1 cup cooked tofu = 21 g. proteinMori-Nu Tofu, Silken Style, Extra Firm, 12.3-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 3)
Finally, we have walnuts – the only nut to make the list of sustainable foods and reliable plant-based proteins. Walnuts are a tree nut full of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals like manganese.
While not commonly used as a meat replacement in traditional meals, incorporating these nuts into your diet will help you increase your protein intake and stave off hunger. That’s partly why these (and other nuts) have gained a reputation as a work snack.
1 cup chopped walnuts = 18 g. proteinAmazon Brand – Happy Belly California Walnuts, Halves and Pieces, 40 Ounce