4 Healthy, Protein-Packed Alternatives to Meat (with Recipes!)

Here's the scoop on some of the most common sources of protein for vegetarians.

Whether you’re a vegetarian, Meatless-Monday apologist, or just someone who’s ever wondered, “What the heck is seitan, anyway?,” you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ve created a handy guide to four protein-packed meat alternatives to enhance your know-how at the grocery store and point you to new recipes that are as delicious as they are meat-free.


What: This versatile soy derivative has become somewhat synonymous with vegetarianism itself. Best known for its easy absorption of flavors through spices, sauces and marinades, tofu has become extraordinarily popular in vegetarian cooking despite the ongoing soy controversy. Bonus: It’s also super easy to prepare.

Nutrition: 188 calories per cup, 12 grams of fat, 18 milligrams of sodium, 4 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein.

Make: Garlicky Crispy Fried Tofu [via Allrecipes.com]


What: Okay, I totally agree that any product made from a fermentation process doesn’t sound too appealing. (Except maybe beer. And wine.) But trust me, tempeh can be delicious. Not only has it been a staple in Indonesia for over 2,000 years (here’s to my imaginary theory of Survival of the Delicious-est!), but this high-protein, low-fat food is also very nutritious. Tempeh is actually less processed than tofu and contains more protein and fiber. While tofu is soft and smooth, tempeh is firm and chewy. Try it in your chili or saute it for an interestingly earthy and hearty consistency.

Nutrition: 320 calories per cup, 18 grams of fat, 15 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbs, 31 grams of protein.

Make: Sweet & Sour Tempeh and Vegetables [via Food.com]


What: Most similar to meat in texture, seitan (say it with me: say-tahn) is a protein alternative derived by rinsing away the starch in wheat and leaving behind a high-protein gluten. Seitan, commonly called “wheat meat,” is often used as mock meat in Chinese restaurants. Whether simmered, baked, braised or deep fried (General Tso’s, anyone?), seitan has a tender and chewy quality—just like real meat.

Nutrition: 320 calories per cup, 4 grams of fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbs, 52 grams of protein.

Make: Smothered Seitan Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy [via Vegetarian Times]

Beans & Legumes

What: Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. Recent dietary guidelines have recommended that we triple our current intake of this “magical fruit” from one to three cups per week. The growing popularity of this protein goes beyond its high fiber and water content. According to dietician Patti Bazel Weil, a diabetes-nutrition educator at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and author of Magic Beans, eating a cup of beans per day can lower your total cholesterol by up to 10 percent in six weeks.

All weight-loss and health benefits aside, beans are incredibly versatile and delicious when eaten in chilis and soups, formed into burgers, or mixed with rice. According to research performed by Michigan State University, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans and navy beans are the healthiest.

Nutrition (black beans): 227 calories per cup, 1 gram of fat, 2 milligrams of sodium, 41 milligrams of carbs, 15 grams of protein.

Make: Butter Bean Burgers with Southwestern Sauce [via Betty Crocker]

>> What are your favorite meatless recipes? Share ‘em in the comments!