Did you ever wonder how vegetarians and vegans get their protein? In fact, non-meat eaters say that’s the most common question they hear from people who learn they are vegan or vegetarian, “But, what do you eat to get protein?” It’s a fair line of inquiry since most of us who aren’t among the meatless crowd tend to consume beef, chicken, eggs and other well-known sources.
So, what are non-meat sources of this essential nutrient? The short answer is, “Plenty.” In fact, store shelves are brimming these days with non-meat protein products, many of which are undeniably delicious, natural and nutritious. Gardein chicken strips and other high-quality meatless meats sell very well. Many of the newer substitutes, as they’re called in the business, are quite affordable and widely available. Here’s a look at some of the top-ranked non-meat-based protein products, based on consumer preferences.
Tofu was accidentally invented more than 2,000 years ago by a Chinese chef who curdled some soy milk by adding seaweed to it. The result turned out to be a pretty tasty snack and the rest is tofu history. Tofu is high in calcium, iron and protein. It’s lower in fat than most meats and it tastes great, once you get used to it. Some people, truth be told, love the stuff right from the first bite. Others need to taste it as an add-in with other foods. Either way, tofu is one of the oldest and most popular non-meat proteins in existence. Vegans and vegetarians eat it regularly, and Asians have always consumed large quantities of this curdled soybean delicacy.
Not in any way related to eggs, eggplant is a berry in the nightshade family and is popular all over the world. Its protein content is not so high but its texture and flavor remind many people of meat-based foods. The beauty of eggplant is that it can be cooked in hundreds of ways and tastes good no matter how it’s prepared. An old staple of the vegetarian and meat-shunning Buddhist sects, eggplant has been a part of the American diet for more than 100 years. But, in honesty, eggplant is not a good source of protein but made this list because so many people use it as a de facto meat substitute. (And it does contain some protein).
Beans are inexpensive, easy to prepare, delicious and nutritious. The kicker: they contain a lot of protein and they’re not animals. Those brief qualifications are enough to place beans high atop the vegan/vegetarian hero list and convince everyone else to love them even more. It’s important to remember that not all beans are protein kings. So, if you want to boost your protein intake without eating meat, try chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, soy beans, pinto beans and navy beans. You’ll be off to a good, meatless start.
Nuts are one of the best and most loved protein sources. Not only are they a tasty meat alternative, many vegans and vegetarians use them as their primary source of the vital nutrient. If you want to ramp up protein intake, be aware that most nuts also have a high dose of fat. Read labels carefully and eat them unsalted and unsweetened if possible.