I can hear my Jewish grandmother now…”What do you mean you don’t eat meat? But you need protein, honey! You’re already too skinny!” (ETC ETC). I laugh and try to change the subject. But she’s not the only one. In the past 8 months AV (After Vegan), anytime a friend or coworker noticed I was passing up a delicious helping of meat, the protein question came up.
It's a valid question, because protein is important. It's one of the macronutrients, serving to energize us, and act as a key ingredient in cell function and immunity.
However, in my studies, I learned that Americans tend to overestimate how much protein we actually need. Most of us need 10-35% of our calories from protein, and we certainly don't need protein at every meal. The protein we need also doesn’t necessarily have to come from meat. Some of the highest protein sources actually come from non-meat sources and they don’t have the drawbacks of high cholesterol, calories and inflammation-causing agents.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about non-meat alternatives, read on to get more exposure to this way of life. My not-so-secret hope is that this will at least put my grandma’s incessant worrying at ease.
7 Amazing Non-Meat Protein Alternatives
- Quinoa: a modern day superhero of a food, quinoa (pronounced: Keen-wa) is a seed that has a rice like taste and texture to it (without being a grain!) A cup of quinoa boasts a whopping 8 grams of protein which is the equivalent of 1.5 eggs! Add to soups, eat with sautéed veggies or as a base for oatmeal in the morning with some fresh fruit and non-dairy milk.
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils): Ah, the bean life. I’m going to have to write a separate blog post for my precious legumes. Think: hummus, veggie burgers, chickpea “tuna” salad. So much to play with and SUPER filling.
- Seeds (hemp, chia, flax): Hemp’s not just good for relaxation (if you catch my drift). Hemp seeds actually crush the protein game. 1 TBS of Hemp Seeds = 5 Grams of Protein. Toss some on a salad or include in your morning smoothie!
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews): Nuts always remind me of my dad…he always had a mixed nut box or can somewhere nearby. They are great for snacking, or to serve as a base for making a non-dairy dressing or pesto. Nowadays, if you do your own groceries, you see that a bag of cashes at Trader Joe’s runs you about $8! I hear you, nuts are expensive. Pro Tip: buy your nuts from the bulk section of your grocery store - they are MUCH cheaper there.
- Nutritional yeast: I won’t spend a ton of time here but just know that this is a vegan’s wet dream. Makes sauces taste “cheesy” in a world devoid of my one true lost love. One serving provides 9g of protein and is considered “complete,” meaning it has all nine amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own.
- Organic soy products (edamame, tofu, tempeh): Whatever your stance is on soy, you cannot deny its protein properties. This is where the majority of my non-meat protein comes from. I eat tofu at least 1x per week. It may seem boring to the outside observer but much like fish, it takes on the flavor of whatever it is marinated or spiced with. Check out a couple tofu-focused recipes I’ve included here!