One of the most common questions vegans get asked is, "But how do you get your protein?" It baffles me because of everything someone could possibly be deficient in (not just vegans—everyone is susceptible to deficiencies!), protein should be the least of your worries—it’s everywhere. Protein is in every food that is edible because proteins are a necessary structural component in all cells and it’s produced by DNA, present in all plants and animals. If you're eating meat and dairy, there's actually a good chance you're getting too much protein, which can contribute to diseases like osteoporosis, kidney disease and cancer.
Contrary to common belief, eating a plant-based diet is usually a lot cheaper than buying meats like chicken and fish, and can still give you the same amount of protein, without the cholesterol and saturated fat. Plus, you’re likely getting tons of other nutrients with it that meat and dairy don’t offer.
Aside from the benefits to your health, cutting down on meat also helps the planet. Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to human-exacerbated global warming, creating more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire automobile industry, and wasting trillions of gallons of water per day. Not to mention the horrible treatment of 99.99% of those animals (yes, even the fish and egg-laying chickens).
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, transitioning to a more healthy and cruelty-free lifestyle or just looking to cut down on meat, here are 13 delicious and versatile high-protein foods to go crazy with!
Avocados will rule the world one day. They are nature’s butter! Mash them with cocoa powder, maple syrup and almond butter for a high-protein mousse, and top it with hazelnuts. Spread avocados on toast and top with some smoked paprika and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bake avocado fries. Make some guacamole with pita chips.
2. Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts are one of the biggest protein sources out there—peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews and more. Spread nut butters and jam on bread for a sandwich. Mix them into your oatmeal. Add a scoop of almond butter to your smoothie. Make a Thai peanut sauce to go over pasta. Buy or make your own creamy cashew cheese.
3. Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are the kings of protein, even more so than nuts. Put them in stews, soups, chilies and dips. Make root beer baked beans or mix them with rice. Make tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Bake black beans into brownies. Form them into a burger patty. The possibilities are endless!
Sloppy lentil Joes from One Green Planet. Their website has thousands of amazing vegan recipes, and you can search by ingredient!
Green peas and black-eyed peas can be thrown into anything—soup, stew, pasta dishes and dips. Try them in risotto.
Oats are a great dietary staple. Make expert-level oatmeal by mixing in a tablespoon of flavored nut butter (like vanilla almond butter or chocolate-espresso peanut butter) and dried fruit. Skip the milk and just make breakfast granola, combining oats, maple syrup, dark chocolate, dried cranberries, pecans, pepitas, almond butter or any combination of them. Use them to thicken smoothies or add substance to baked goods.
Oatmeal topped with bananas and pecans from Natural Comfort Kitchen.
6. Hemp and Other Seeds
Seeds are on par with nuts in the protein category, and can be used in many of the same ways. Hemp seeds in particular pack a punch—and no, they’re not that kind of hemp; these can be found in Whole Foods! Sprinkle them on salads and cereal. Chia seeds are small and expand when wet—mix them into your food and get full faster. Sesame seeds can be great in breads and pasta dishes, and make a nice seed butter (tahini).
7. Spinach and Other Leafy Greens
They’re a nutrient powerhouse! Make salads and pastas, put them on your avocado toast or your veggie burgers, blend them in a smoothie, mix them into a tofu scramble or stuff them into a taco.
8. Plant Milk and Yogurt
Particularly soymilk (another misconception: soy is not going to harm you). Use in place of dairy milk for a delicious burst of nutrients that doesn’t leave you feeling bloated or over-full. Flavored varieties like vanilla and chocolate go great in cereals, desserts or just to drink on their own.
9. Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan
Healthy meat substitutes that have actually been around for centuries! Tofu has a smooth texture and takes of the flavor of whatever you soak it in or coat it with; try southern fried tofu, grilled tofu with pineapple and Hawaiian spices, and tofu pieces in vegetable lo mein. Tempeh and seitan have more of a flavor, but texture-wise are more like meat.
Technically a legume, chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus — spread it on sandwiches or dip veggies and pita chips in it. Use chickpeas in soups and patties or bake them in oil and spices for a crispy chip alternative. Blend them with apples and walnut and spread this “salad” on bread.
Delicious chickpea cutlets my mom made for my sister and I. I ate mine with rosemary broccoli, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and crispy potatoes!
11. Broccoli, Asparagus, Dried Tomatoes and Green Beans
Veggies everywhere! Roast them, grill them, saute them, mix them into pasta and other grains, blend them with lentils for a great veggie burger patty, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary or other spices and bake.
12. Nutritional Yeast
Not nearly as gross as it sounds, nutritional yeast is a vegan substitute for Parmesan cheese — it comes in a container of small flakes. Blend it with smoked paprika and squash for a healthy root vegetable mac and cheese. Combine it with spices for an amazing tofu rub.
13. Quinoa, Whole Wheat Pasta and Other Grains
Very versatile, you can do pretty much anything you can think of with grains and pasta!
Getting hungry? Go grab that peanut butter! And if you need an extra bit of motivation to start those Meatless Mondays, meet Germany's strongest man, Patrick Baboumian, who can lift 1,200 pounds and is totally vegan! He hosts a web show entitled "Where Do You Get Your Protein?" where he talks about leading a healthy and ethical lifestyle. You go, Patrick Baboumian!