7 Protein-Rich Foods That Are Not Meat

The average American eats about 274 pounds of meat per year. That’s more than three times the global average. Plus, people in developing countries are also starting to eat more meat, especially chicken and pork.


Unfortunately, a lot of the meat we eat comes from factory farms, which can raise environmental and public health concerns. Animal waste runs off into rivers and oceans and pollutes them. The sheer number of animals in these places can spread diseases like avian flu or swine flu that then spread to humans. Factory farms also use a lot of energy and water, and produce lots of greenhouse gas emissions. No wonder there’s more interest in eating plant-based foods.


If you can reduce your meat intake, you’re active in tackling climate change and being an advocate for animal welfare. But what about protein? Plant-based foods also contain protein, and as dietitians point out, you can meet your body’s protein requirements without consuming meat. Let’s look at some of the best plant-based protein sources that aren’t meat.


1. Tempeh

Although all soy-based foods are high in protein, tempeh is the most protein rich with 15 grams of protein per half-cup. Tempeh is fermented soybeans with a firm texture and nutty taste. With its texture, it’s an excellent substitute for meat in dishes like tacos or chili. Soy-based foods are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, and some B-vitamins. Plus, because it’s fermented, tempeh may contain probiotics, gut friendly bacteria that support digestive health.


How can you enjoy the benefits of tempeh? To add flavor to this soy-based food, marinate slices overnight in tamari sauce, miso or lemon juice. Use different cooking methods to prepare tempeh. Although you can cook tempeh without any oil by steaming, baking or pan-frying, adding oil will help keep the tempeh from sticking to pans. You can even use oil to fry tempeh if you don’t mind the extra calories. Tempeh is delicious when you sear it on a grill too. Enjoy this versatile protein source!


2. Peanuts

Peanuts aren’t a tree nut, but a legume, and they’re also packed with plant-based protein. How much? A half-cup of these crunchy orbs has 19 grams of muscle-building protein. Plus, studies link a diet containing tree nuts, including peanuts, with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Peanuts are also an excellent source of resveratrol, an antioxidant linked with heart health. So, switch those chips for a bag of peanuts.They’re a heart-healthy snack. 


3. Lentils

Lentils have almost 9 grams of protein per half-cup serving. They’re also surprisingly high in antioxidants. Of all the legumes, lentils rank number two in antioxidant content, just behind black beans, another excellent source of plant-based protein.


How can you enjoy lentils?

Serve with quinoa or wild rice with chopped tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.

Add lentils to salads for extra texture, fiber, and protein.

Substitute lentils for half the ground beef in chili or taco filling. Add to soups or stews for a heartier fare.

Make lentil burgers or lentil pancakes.


4. Quinoa

Although many people think of quinoa as a grain, it’s actually a seed and one that’s high in protein. A cup of quinoa cooked contains around 8 grams of protein. What distinguishes it from many other plant-based foods, other than soy, is it’s a complete source of protein. It supplies all 9 essential amino acids your body needs but can’t make.


Quinoa is also rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants. Use it as a substitute for rice, and you’ll get more protein and fiber. Raw quinoa is coated with a layer of saponins. Although they aren’t harmful, they can make the finished product taste bitter. To remove saponins, rinse quinoa in cold water before cooking.


How can you use quinoa in your own recipes?

Use quinoa as a substitute for rice.

Add cooked quinoa to a savory casserole instead of pasta or rice.

Cook the quinoa and leave it in the fridge overnight to cool down before eating cold in a salad or with vegetables.

Replace half of the oats in your morning bowl of oatmeal with quinoa. Add nuts and berries.

Substitute half of the flour in your cookie recipes with quinoa flour for a crunchy texture that tastes delicious.


5. Seitan

Seitan is wheat gluten with a texture similar to meat. This makes it popular as a meat substitute. It lacks one essential amino acid that needs to be a complete protein, but if you cook seitan in soy sauce, it supplies the missing amino acid, lysine, and makes it a complete protein. A third cup of seitan has a whopping 21 grams of protein, enough to give you a big jumpstart on meeting the day’s protein needs.


How to enjoy seitan? Add seitan to any meal that requires meat. In a stew or chili, you can crumble in some seitan, add flavor and make part of the dish. But if you want to replicate the feel of meat in your mouth when eating a meal, consider something other than seitan unless you’re making an Asian dish.


6. Hemp Seeds

Although they come from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, the ingredient in the plant that causes a high. What hemp seeds are better known for is being a good source of plant-based protein. A single ounce has 6.3 grams of protein, along with plant-based omega-3s and fiber.


How can you use hemp seeds? You can eat hemp seeds raw or cooked, and they make a crunchy addition to salad dressings and smoothies. You can also sprinkle them into your morning cup of porridge. The taste is mild and nutty, so it works well with sweet and savory foods. You can even sprinkle them on vegetables for added texture and nutrients. 


7. Black Beans

Popular in Mexican food, black beans are no slouch when it comes to protein. With 15 grams of protein per serving, they’ll help you meet your protein needs in a delicious way. Plus, they are the bean highest in antioxidants. Beans are an underappreciated source of nutrients, supplying the body with zinc, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins B1, B6, E, and K. Plus, research links diets high in beans with better blood sugar control and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.


You probably already know ways to enjoy black beans, but here are some other suggestions:

Add to soups and stews

Mix them with garlic, onion powder, or red pepper flakes and serve as a side dish with rice or corn tortillas

Make a homemade black bean burger

Make a spicy bean dip for vegetables.

Add shredded cheese for a nachos appetizer


The Bottom Line

Hopefully, you have a have a better idea of what you can eat for plant-based protein. It’s not so hard to cut back on meat when you have these alternatives. Enjoy!

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