Whether you are a runner, lifts weights or do any other kind of exercise, you need protein. Well, what if you are a Vegetarian or a Vegan? What if you just don’t enjoy meat? We all need protein for muscle repair, so how do those that do not eat meat get an adequate amount each day? Even if you aren’t a Vegetarian or a Vegan, you might be trying to gain muscle mass, and don’t want to take in so much fat from animal protein sources, some of which can be linked to heart disease and cancer. Whatever your situation might be, there are meat free protein options out there that can help you get adequate protein to help you reach your goals.
Tofu is a type of curd made from mashed soybeans that have been pressed into a block. The end result is a smooth, soft texture. Tofu goes great with any flavor foods or sauces. A half cup of tofu only has around 90 calories and five grams of fat. Tofu is filled with heart-healthy compounds called isoflavones, which are antioxidants that can keep blood vessels healthy and may boost blood flow and improve muscle function. You will typically find tofu in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, somewhere around the other special nutrition items. There are a variety of textures to choose from, such as extra-firm and silken, that can pair perfectly with any recipe. Silken tofu can be used in place of ricotta in certain recipes. Extra-form can be grilled or sautéed just like meat. One downside of tofu is that it is highly processed and loses some nutrients in that process.
Tempeh is a nutty flavored meat substitute, made from fermented, whole cooked soybeans which are then shaped into a mold. Since tempeh is less processed than tofu, it retains most of the soybean’s nutrients. In only half a cup of tempeh, there is nine grams of fat, 19 grams of protein and four grams of fiber. This is the perfect combination for keeping hunger away. You will likely find tempeh right beside tofu at the grocery store. When you cook tempeh, it will soak up the flavors of whatever you are cooking it with. Tempeh is great cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with your favorite marinade or sauce. I personally just cook mine up in a skillet with a little olive oil and some Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (soy sauce substitute). So easy!
Honestly, before researching for this post, I didn’t even know what seitan was. Sietan is made from wheat gluten and has a hearty, meaty taste and texture. Half a cup of sietan has 32 grams of protein, which is even more than a 4 ounce chicken breast. Be watchful of the sodium because some brands can have almost 20 percent of your daily sodium limit per serving. You could always have a smaller portion and still get plenty of protein. A yummy idea for using seitan is to buy the ground kind and use it in pasta sauce or on a homemade pizza.
Seeds and nuts –
Certain seeds and nuts can really pack a nutritional punch. Have you ever heard of chia seeds? These tiny little seeds recently became a new health craze, and for a good reason! Chia seeds have six grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber in only two tablespoons! Chia seeds are also packed with ALA, which is alpha linoleic acid, a plant-based omega-3 that is linked to lowered rates of heart disease. Flaxseeds are also a great source of ALAs. Nuts are also a great post-workout snack because they supply nutrients such as potassium and calcium, which are depleted when you exercise and sweat. You can incorporate seeds easily by tossing them in oatmeal or pancake mix. Keep in mind, however, that chia seeds expand and turn into a jelly-like texture when they become wet. You can stir them in water to make a tapioca-like pudding.
Nondairy milk –
If you are a Vegan or have dairy intolerances, you obviously will need to skip dairy milk. Dairy is a major source of calcium and vitamin D. There has been research that found increasing your intake of these two nutrients can speed fat burning. So what do you do if you are Vegan or allergic to dairy? There are non-dairy options available that have these nutrients as well. One popular option is soy milk, which has six grams of protein per cup. Another option is unsweetened almond milk, which is super low calorie but naturally low in protein. There are some brands that add more protein. In the grocery store, you will find nondairy milk next to the regular milk. There are also some brands in shelf-stable packages near the nutrition section of most grocery stores.
Beans and lentils –
I never realized how much protein is packed into beans and lentils until I did a 21 day nutritional reset program, the Ultimate Reset” in April of this year. I learned so much nutritionally, and one of the things I learned was that beans and lentils play a huge role for protein in a Vegetarian or Vegan diet. Different beans have different amounts of protein: pinto – six grams; edamame – nine grams; navy – 10 grams. All of these amounts are in a half-cup portion size. Lentils have similar protein, about nine grams in half of a cup, and offer 18 percent of the daily value for iron. So if you struggle with getting enough iron, make sure to include lentils in your diet. Lentils can be used in a yummy salad of various vegetables, fruits, spices and feta cheese.
I hope that this helps you see that if you choose meatless meals, you are not sacrificing anything, and will in turn improve your digestion. Our bodies have a hard time digesting animal protein and most animal protein increases chances of heart disease, so even having one meatless day per week will help you dramatically. Give it a try!