Meatless protein sources can be just as good (or sometimes even better) than their animal counterparts. If you’re going for health over it all, a good balance of both will do. But for vegetarians and vegans, a meatless source of protein and other nutrients are essential to everyday life!
I am no vegetarian: chicken breast and cod are a part of my very frequent diet. More chicken than cod, because you know, price. But I digress, meatless sources of protein are just as sufficient for the functioning of the body. A while ago, the food pyramid was the ultimate go-to source for what was good for you. The base was made up of whole grains, such as bread, rice, potatoes and other starchy stuff that people won’t really touch anymore. This old-school food pyramid, I believe, has single-handedly contributed to world obesity.
Let’s talk about vegetarian protein sources: there is a considerably large number of vegetarian Singaporeans who shun meat (even though it has been advertised everywhere) and look for alternative sources of protein to prepare delicious food for themselves and families. This post is not just for these kindred spirits, though. It is for everyone hoping to have a healthy amount of protein in their diet. A good slab of steak will give you protein, but not a rounded volume of proteins from different sources. In order to have a balanced diet and supply your body with all its various protein needs, you need to supplement your meat with the right amount of vegetables or grains.
So here are 21 meatless sources of protein that can be had on their own, or be paired with meat dishes to give your body that good-old protein lovin’ it needs.
While they do not have all 9 types of amino acids the human body requires, a cooked cup of lentils has over 15g of protein and less than 1g of fat. They also contain high doses of fibre, iron, zinc and magnesium, various types of Vitamin B and folate. People who consume lentils can better fight diseases such as cancer or even ageing.
Ahh, tofu, my favourite. I am a huge fan of tofu sambal with rice or sambal goreng from the Nasi Padang store. But here’s the best part: Tofu contains all essential amino acids needed for your body, and is a rich in fibre, iron, calcium and the mineral phosphorus. Like lentils, tofu also contains magnesium, zinc and Vitamin B1, along with zinc. Tofu also happens to be a ‘cooling food’, for those who’ve read my guide on cooling and heaty foods.
Not only do black beans contain no cholesterol, the fibre present in them helps to lower your body’s total cholesterol, too! Black beans work wonders in rebuilding cells, too! One of the primary confinement food for women is black bean soup! Also, black bean flour can be a great gluten-free substitute for chocolate cakes.
The good thing about this seemingly ordinary grain is that its twice as rich in fibre as other grains. Every 185g of quinoa contains 5.2g of dietary fibre, compared to the 3.5g in brown rice. It also has almost double the amount of protein at 9g instead of brown rice’s 5g. Of course, I’m not saying brown rice is bad for you, but there’s now so much reason to introduce quinoa into your diet.
Growing up, I was always told that soy was the perfect substitute for meat when you’re vegetarian, simply because it contains all the necessary nutrients for the body, that can otherwise only be obtained from meat. Each cup of soy has about 24% protein and 29% fats, which contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Both these acids sharpen brain functions, thus making this a wholesome food indeed. I find soy milk to be especially useful when I’m running late for a meeting and need an energy buzz.
Green peas are rich in Vitamin K, Manganese, along with special phytonutrients that contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also contain sugars (thus the sweet taste) and relevant carbohydrates. The benefits of green peas are not known enough; these tiny little green globules can contain enough nutrients to regulate blood sugar levels, protect against stomach cancer and promote a healthy heart. They have a high level of protein, with each cooked cup containing up to 8.6g. Wondering how to cook with them? I have two words for you: Mushy Peas.
Oatmeal has a whopping 10g of protein per cup, putting most of the other foods on this list to shame. There is also a high level of calcium in oatmeal, along with dietary fibre. To up your calcium intake, consume your oats with warm milk and fruits. If you’re like me – don’t really like the taste of oatmeal on its own – then how about Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies? Health.com did a daily oatmeal recipe feature as well if you’re looking for recipes.
With chia seeds, its maximum nutrients and minimum calories – making this not just the perfect vegetarian protein source, but a good diet food too. Chia seeds are like the new quinoa, where everyone is talking about it and wanting to try it. Chia seeds can be eaten in their raw state as a topping on salads, or as a pulpy mixture (once soaked in liquid). A primary feature in many morning health shakes, every ounce of chia seeds contains up to 5g of protein and 6.5g of polyunsaturated fat, which helps promote a healthy heart and reduces blood cholesterol levels.
Update: If you’re looking for more information on Chia Seeds, check out Jen Reviews! There are 15 different benefits and 8 recipes that you can use when you’re thinking what to do with this superfood!
Pumpkin seeds are my new favourite ingredient. I use them in my granola, cakes (as a substitute for nuts), curries, and pastries. I even added them to my pumpkin soup recipe – it tasted great! Pumpkin seeds contain the same amount of protein and fats, out of which 70% are unsaturated. Every 100g of pumpkin seeds contains 19g of fat and protein each, and up to 20g of dietary fibre. You can roast pumpkin seeds the way Jamie Oliver does, or use them in a whole variety of other ways, too!
This fermented wonder contains as much protein as pumpkin seeds per 100g, in addition to its probiotic benefits. The microflora that lives in the fermented soy help to fight salmonella and E.Coli, protecting your intestines. Tempeh also helps to reduce cholesterol and increase bone density, making it a perfect food for people who need calcium but are sick of milk. Tempeh can be easy to cook as its firmer than tofu – it can be roasted, fried, or even grilled and eaten in wraps, salads and burgers. The Huffington Post recently did a feature on tempeh recipes that have me itching to go out and buy some tempeh, like yesterday.
In addition to a high protein content, edamame beans contain 0.6g saturated fat and up to 3.5g unsaturated fat. Edamame beans are essentially soybeans, the difference here is that they aren’t dried. These beans are popularly eaten in many parts of Asia boiled with a little salt and dipped in soy sauce, much like how you’d enjoy sugar snaps (or at least I do but without the soy sauce). If boiling is not your thing, you can try steaming them too!
Although spinach is high in carbs (well, not really but compared to other vegetables, yes), it has a high protein content and even higher vitamin content, particularly A and C. Popeye was not kidding with his huge pipes everytime he slugged down a can of spinach (yes he was), its a great immunity builder and a great source of protein when you’re going meatless.
Nope, not the band. Actual black-eyed peas, which are a great addition to stews, soups or even made as a dip. Half a cup of cooked these peas contains up to 6.7g of protein, which makes them a great source of this body essential. Black-eyed peas/beans are also rich in potassium and fibre, making them wholesome legumes to add to your next recipe. Its best to soak them in cold water a few hours, or overnight, before cooking with them though. This will help cut down your cooking time considerably.
Some parents are blessed because their children like broccoli… others, not so much. The best way to disseminate this high-protein food into your diet (and that of the little one, if you have one) is to pulverise it in the food processor so that it resembles rice, then add it to your pasta sauce, or steam it and eat it with a side. In addition to being a high protein food, broccoli also helps combat cancer cells, cholesterol and inflammation.
Every 100g of this flowering vegetable (yes, those little buds turn into flowers) has up to 3g of protein. It is also high in Vitamin C, iron and dietary fibre. While most recipes will call for you to cook asparagus, you can always eat it raw, as a dipstick for some tahini or hummus. It is also great in raw vegetable salads. If eating it raw puts you off, try steaming it for 3 mins or blanching it hot water.
Green beans have a fairly high protein content compared to other vegetables and are also a great source of dietary fibre (3.4g per 100g of beans) and Vitamin C (30%). They (or french beans, as my mom calls them) are great in stews, soups and even as a side dish with some minced vegetables, soy sauce or vegetarian oyster sauce. Like asparagus, green beans can also be blanched before consuming – crunchy goodness.
A small handful of almonds can contain up to 6grams of protein, which is a huge whopper in non-meat protein sources. Also, almonds are a great source of dietary fibre and Vitamin E, which can protect the body from toxins. Almonds can be had whole as they are, or skinned and chopped in brownies (which is how I normally have them). You can also use almonds to make a thick, luscious base for curries by blending them with a touch of water. Vegans can consider almond milk as a substitute for fresh milk.
Tahini is incredibly rich in unsaturated fats (44 grams per 100 grams of Tahini) and therefore a food that your body needs more often than not. It contains 17 grams of protein and 0 cholesterol, great for people with cardiovascular problems. Essentially a middle-eastern paste made out of sesame seeds and olive oil, tahini can be added to almost all dips. I always use them when making hummus, regular or Thai Red Curry version. You can water-down tahini with a little olive oil and serve it as a dip or condiment on its own, too!
And speaking of hummus, how can we make it through a list of non-meat proteins without talking about chickpeas? Chickpeas are super proteins, with up to 19g protein content per 100g of peas. They are also low in fat and contain 0 cholesterol, much like tahini above. High in minerals, chickpeas help to boost the body’s immunity against common illnesses, such as the flu. Chickpeas can be used in a variety of ways, as a side on its own, ground in dips or even in soups and stews.
One of the more talked about superfoods, spirulina is now a huge multivitamin and mineral food that more people are working into their lifestyles. Although these green-blue algae from the sea have a long way to go before being incorporated in Asian recipes, Alpha Health does sell this almost medicinal ingredient. Every 100g of spirulina has up to 60g of protein, and 158% iron, making it a super food full of minerals. Spirulina’s benefits are quite far and wide – it is even considered to improve the HIV/AIDs levels of patients suffering from this disease. It also lowers blood pressure, prevents stroke and improves heart health. While there are many spirulina recipes out there, I’d suggest introducing it to your diet a little at a time, like when you’re making hummus or soups.
Although high in fat, peanut butter has been widely incorporated into recipes for its high protein content. The fat content here is primarily unsaturated as well, therefore beneficial to your body. Every 100 grams of smooth peanut butter carries 25g of protein, which is a great way to have kids get a good source of protein if you’re going vegetarian or vegan. In addition to being a great spread, peanut butter can also be incorporated into sauces, dips and yes, hummus!