Four High-Protein Vegan Alternatives to Soy
The blog Zen to Fitness caught my eye with a post called Four Healthy Alternatives to Chicken.
My first thought:
“Yes! The idea that factory-farm chicken is pretty gross and completely unhealthy (fecal soup, anyone?) is spreading to the non-vegetarian community!”
Not quite. The four alternatives — rabbit, venison, bison, and quail — are suggested as ways to expand your menu, under the tacit assumption that chicken is pretty healthy, but these are just as good for you and offer some variety in your diet. To the credit of Chris, the author, I do think that if you’re going to eat meat, these alternatives are better than chicken, if only because they’re more likely to be wild, or at least not mass-produced the way most chicken is. And the better an animal lives and eats, the healthier it is for you to eat. Michael Pollan will tell you this.
Four Plant-Based Protein Foods Not Named Tofu or Tempeh
Since the healthy alternatives on Chris’s list weren’t vegetarian, I decided to use the post as inspiration for my own “Four Alternatives” list: four vegan protein sources that aren’t soy. I have nothing against soy as long as it’s minimally processed, but a lot of people seem to think that’s the only decent source of plant-based protein, when it’s not. (For example, it’s not even included in our plant-based protein powder.)
For a long time, I thought seitan was another soy product. Turns out, it’s made mostly from wheat. And it has a texture very similar to meat, earning it the nickname “wheat-meat.” A four-ounce portion of seitan has between 20 and 30 grams of protein, making it the most densely-packed vegetarian protein source I know of. That it could pass for meat in a vegetarian dish is pure bonus, even if it’s not quite a whole food.
Nothing new here; beans are a staple of almost every vegetarian athlete’s diet. My favorites are lentils, chickpeas and black beans, but almost every starchy bean contains 12 to 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. Soybeans, interestingly, contain the most of all (29 g per cup); perhaps that’s why soy plays such a big role in many vegetarian diets. Lentils, at 18 grams per cup, come in a distant second.
Some call it a super-grain; technically it’s a pseudo-grain. Quinoa is actually a seed, and it comes in at 11 grams of protein per cooked cup. It has the benefit of being gluten-free, too. Quinoa contains a bitter coating that helps it to avoid being eaten by birds, so rinse your quinoa well before you cook it. (Cooking only takes 12-15 minutes in hot water.) Quinoa makes a good substitute for rice as part of a high-protein vegetarian meal.
Chances are, you’ve never thought of broccoli (or any green vegetable) as a high-protein food. But per calorie, vegetables like broccoli and spinach are very high in protein. The “problem” is that they take up a lot of room in your stomach, so it’s hard to eat enough of them to make them a significant source of protein. Still, at 5 grams of protein per cup, I think broccoli deserves a place on list, if only because it’s interesting.
High-Protein Vegan “Beef” and Broccoli over Quinoa
This recipe that Christine came up with includes all four of the high-protein vegetarian foods from this post. (My contribution was coming up with the moniker “wheef and broccoli,” which I recommend you avoid calling it if you don’t want to gross out your friends.)
Okay, so the bean contribution isn’t much—a little bit of black bean sauce only. But hey, we tried. This is a tasty meal, the closest thing I’ve ever had to beef or chicken with broccoli since going vegetarian.
Ingredients for the quinoa and stir-fry:
- 1 1/4 cups dry quinoa, rinsed well
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 lb package of seitan
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 large head of broccoli, chopped into pieces
- 4 teaspoons canola oil
Ingredients for the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon agave nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon black bean paste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
Bring the water to a boil, add quinoa and reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 12-15 minutes until tender, let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork when ready to serve.
Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and mix well to dissolve corn starch. Set aside.
Heat the two teaspoons canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the seitan, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes to brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook for two minutes and add broccoli. Cover and let cook for 5-10 minutes, checking the broccoli until it is crisp-tender. When it is, add sauce and browned seitan and cook until the sauce thickens slightly.
Serve with additional soy sauce and Sriracha sauce if desired.
Also check out:
- Protein — A Primer for Vegetarians
- High Protein Vegetarian Foods (focusing on amino acid content)
- The almond, chia seed, pumpkin seed, watermelon seed, & yellow pea protein powder I use
I shy away from wheat these days so seitan isn’t part of my diet but I live for beans and quinoa! I od’d on broccoli and need to fall back in love with it; meanwhile collard greens are my go to green that packs decent protein and is great hot or cold. Recipe looks great!
I didn’t know that about broccoli. Brussels spouts are high in protein for a green veggie, too.
Yeah, but brussels sprouts (not spouts) taste dis. gus. ting. EOS
Not when marinated in a nice vinegarette and roasted. Try it?
Shannon you forgot to mentioned the roasted Almonds! Tis yumm0!
I have some incredible recipes for Brussels sprouts that are delicious – and believe me, I used to absolutely despise those little veggies! My vegan caregiver introduced me to them after he saw my pantry (we’ve since cleaned it out completely!); ultimately I ended up going vegan when I saw how easy his vegan meals were to prepare, as well were as being tasty and healthy, too.
Great list! And I love the idea to use all four components in one dish.
Love this post Matt! Thanks for sharing!!
Great post! I wish I could incorporate seitan into my diet more, but it’s almost entirely dietary gluten.
Look out for that sriracha! Some brands include fish paste in their ingredients.
Great post. I avoid tofu bc it is so processed. I had never heard of seitan. Thanks for bringing it to my attention 🙂
I’m constantly looking for more protein sources that are vegetarian. I’m not 100% vegetarian, but probably about 90%. And my husband doesn’t want to be vegetarian and he doesn’t like soy products (he’s heard stories about how bad they are for men? Anything to weigh in on that topic? Future blog post?) so mainly I use beans and quinoa thus far.
the´re not, theres a study on it – google it
they actually reduce the risk of prostate cancer
Soy cannot be tolerated by a lot of people of European ancestry.
We did not evolve with soy as a regular part of our diet and our bodies do not know how to process the toxic properties in soy.
Asians have had soy as a regular part of their diet for centuries and they have evolved with the ability to digest soy properly.
People of European ancestry should avoid unfermented soy, only fermented soy products are safe.
Soy destroyed my thyroid gland when I tried going vegan and consumed soy nearly everyday.
And if you already have thyroid problems, avoid unfermented soy because it prevents the absorption of thyroid hormone supplements.
It’s not only due to ancestry–even Asian people did not traditionally eat so much *un-fermented* soy. It was mostly fermented, from what I understand.
Fermentation is the key to lessening the toxic effects of many foods, from soy to wheat. For example, traditionally-fermented sour-dough bread has less gluten than modern, un-fermented breads.
Also, differing gut-bacteria cultures may have more to do with a specific ethnic group’s ability to digest certain foods than genetics alone.
Some European and North African people’s ability to eat un-fermented dairy is a better example of genetics adapted to diet, since it is a gene which continues the production of lactase beyond adolescence, rather than gut bacteria creating the lactase. Of course, again, fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, some kinds of cheese) is easier for most people to tolerate than un-fermented dairy.
I just wanted to point out that food tolerance is a multi-factor issue, beyond genetics alone. It may be possible to develop specific gut-bacteria cultures for specific foods as is already done with supplements for lactose-intolerance.
The rise in “gluten-intolerance” in recent decades may be from a combination of factors: 1.) less fermented foods being eaten AND 2.) from destroying our natural gut bacteria colonies by the over-use of antibiotics.
like the article! getting protien from many different sources is important being a vegetartian. We don’t do soy in our house my daughter is allergic to it, but it is also has the highest amount of pesticide associated with it than any other fruit/veggie/bean. Part is the way they process, grow, and are regulated. I also would use coconut oil in the cooking as canola oil is man made……
These day all the soy in America in GMO. Corn too. So sad…hemp is an alternative protein source that is good. The rice now has more arsnic than ever so…I do the other’s along with the hemp. Soy can be bad for women; it’s an estrogen thing and is all GMO mostly now.
thanks for sharing this. i am not vegetarian either, but i rarely eat meat… unfortunately i am allergic to soy and beans and have a gluten intolerance, which rules out big sources of alternate-protein for me. so, it’s great to hear about quinoa and broccoli!
I recently learned that green peas are the only fresh vegetable source of complete protein! Which is awesome for those who eat primarily raw diets, and just as great for the rest of us. Usually, vegetable sources of protein aren’t considered “complete”… but this debate/distinction continues to confuse me no matter what.
I’ve never had a good experience with Seitan. It is so weird to cook with, but I want to give it another try. Thanks for the recipe!
Although I am a meat eater I sometimes go for a while without meat and like to cook vegetarian meals. One of my favourite is a big bowl of Quinoa with Black Beans and Veggies. I cook it all up, mix them together and top with a bit of pesto or warm tomato passata with chillies. Really nice and filling, a great winter warmer meal…. Plus superb post workout.
Love this post! Other than occasional tofu dishes, I am soy-free. I’m tired of people telling me they can’t cut animal products because they don’t want to eat soy.
I avoid soy at all costs because of how it affects hormones and also because in order to eat it it has to be pretty highly processed and I’m not really into that.
I had no idea quinoa had so much protein! I’m totally going to get hooked in there more often. Being pregnant and not eating meat makes me worry a bit more about protein than I used to.
seitan always seems weird to me — but I will give it another try. maybe I just never prepared it correctly.
refresh my mind re: black bean paste. Is that in the oriental food section? or where do I get it? or do I make it and need a recipe? thanks
I’ve always loved seitan and found it incredibly satisfying. That said, the more I read about wheat gluten and what it can do to our digestive tracts, the more I’m inclined to avoid it. Which sucks, because it really does work so well as a protein. 🙁
1 Avocado has 4 delicious grams of protein. I’ve read it can lower cholesterol, dilates the blood vessels & contains the antioxidant glutathione which I’ve read blocks 30 different carcinogens. In the test tube avocado also prevents agents in the AIDS virus from forming. Very satisfying & yummy!
Thank you so much for the info!!! I’ve been a vegetarian since I was in grade school, but about a year ago I found out I was allergic to almost everything in the world, seriously no joke. Finding out I am allergic to soy makes it hard to get protein (i’m also allergic to wheat, nuts & corn). I’m going to head to the store tomorrow and try out quinoa. xxx
For those with allergies to soy/beans/grains and nuts, perhaps you can eat seeds? Many seeds are great sources of protein and other nutrients.
Amaranth is another nutritious, high-protein, gluten-free grain.
ever tried quorn products? amazing!
quorn has egg white in it !
Please be careful with Quorn – some people are highly intolerant to it (including me!) I got very ill from it after eating it for a couple months with no problems and then suddenly I got extremely sick after eating it. Google “Quorn allergy or food intolerance” and you’ll see tons of accounts of this.
Great post. Variety in your diet is always a good thing even if your not vegetarian. Also, soy is suposed to be bad for those with thyroid issues.
Thanks for this post! I have recently been trying to cut down on the soy in my diet, I felt like as a vegetarian I was starting to lean too heavily on soy products. I’ll have to start integrating other protein sources into my diet too.
BTW, the best way to consume broccoli is slightly steaming it. If eaten raw, it may create some bloating and give you the full filling, which sometimes is good if you’re trying to lose that appetite. I bought this super cheap yet totally awesome light-weight steaming equipment from BB&B. It consists of a perforated tray that sits atop the base that should be filled with some water. Toss the veggies (carrots, broccoli, etc..) on the tray, cover with lid and toss it in the microwave for a few minutes.
You’ve got the right idea with lightly steaming your vegetables… but please, not in the microwave oven. Microwave power totally destroys the nutrients in your food. I chucked mine out a long time ago and I don’t miss it at all. I steam my veges the old fashioned way …on the stove top.
It’s simply not the case.
Hope your steamer is aluminum free?
Also microwave nukes the prana in the food.
Better steam, it’s worth a short wait 🙂
Looks phenomenal! Thanks for sharing. Have you ever tried this sriracha sauce? It is preservative free and really good! Better than the rooster sauce.
I’m a virgin vegetarian but where do you get Seitan at.Is it in the refridge section of store?
When are you health nuts going to learn that CANOLA OIL is NOT a health food. I comes from the rape seed plant and originated in Canada hence the name canola. Rape seed was and is a highly refined oil and was used for commercial use to begin with. It was then marketed for eating. Thanks again to a bought and paid for FDA.
see Dr Mercola.com for more info on this bad bad oil and get informed
other then that the recipe looks great !
I totally agree with you on Canola Oil and Dr Mercola has a great website that I subscribe to and buy his products
If you can find it organic, ie non- GMO it’s not so bad.
I ate too much soy n I have hyperthyroidism!
From what I understand, it’s the way we process soy now that is harmful. Soy has been used in Asia for thousands of years, but it was processed differently to be digested. Plus they ate much less than we do. I understand the benefits of soy and don’t have a problem eating it, but I’m picky about how it’s processed. Here’s a good article: http://www.foodrenegade.com/dangers-of-soy/ . Thank you for posting these alternatves!
Thank you so much for the great info!
How could you leave out hemp? It also has a bunch of other great qualities like fatty acids. I get most of my protein from hemp products and broccoli.
Thanks for this list! I am allergic to soy and it is hard to find vegan recipes with no soy products.
Why use soy sauce when your post is about alternatives to soy? Black bean paste typically has soy in it, too. If you can access an Asian market, find fermented black beans, rinse a tablespoon in warm water and drain, mash with raw grated garlic and sesame oil. That should be salty enough and fragrant enough for this recipe.
Thanks for all the great info, very interested to learn more about food and alternitives to meat.
This is a wonderful article. I started a vegetarian diet more than a year ago. It’s been challenging…I wont lie but it has also helped change my metabolism and the way I approach food. The hardest thing has been finding protein sources so that I am not surviving solely on vegetables and carbs. But, I must admit, I had never heard of seitan. I am not sure how I feel about it. I like the fact that it is high in protein but I don’t like the fact that it is made of wheat. And I’ve never seen it at my grocery store. I will look for it Online and give it a try. Thank you for this informative article
Chickpeas, beans and Quinoa are higher in carbohydrates than in protein. How does this make them high protein sources?
I agree about spinach and need to research the broccoli.
I am the proud parent of a vegetarian and in researching the alternatives to animal protein I learned that everyone needs to have Vitamin B12 in their diet and if you don’t eat meat you’ll need to use mushrooms and criminis to your veggie bowls as these are the only non animal sources.
If you cook spinach the way Indians do it wont take much space in stomach. Check out http://www.rakskitchen.net/2012/06/aloo-palak-aloo-palak-gravy-recipe.html I don’t add any milk/sugar.
Whole bunch of spinach will be cooked and ground, it will fit in a coffee mug. Can have it with rice / bread.
I get the feeling that most people commenting here aren’t athletes, otherwise they would be complaining about this article. I’m lifting now so I need to consume larger amounts of protein than I would normally. (I don’t plan on doing this long term. Just until I reach my goals.) I need to shoot for about 45 grams each meal. I’m sorry but there is no freaking way that I’m going to be able to eat 4 freaking cups of quinoa each meal!! I have tried Seitan, but it is not gluten free so it’s not something I want to make into a staple.
I do consume dairy products too so I also eat cottage cheese, which is high in whey protein. Great for bodybuilders.
So what does use as a protein source if they can not have gluten, wheat,dairy,eggs,soy, corn and is a vegetarian. Also so you know quinoa is only gluten free in raw form it has gluten once it’s cooked
Thank you so much for all the information for proteins
I have been a vegetarian since birth and after 2 children I have put on weight. I got in contact with Cohen’s life style clinic to help loose weight after filling in their forms etc. they called me back saying sorry because you are vegetarian we can’t help you. On our diet plan you have to eat fish or chicken. I said no. And the lady said you can just tick fish and we make a diet for you but you migh not have enough protein. I said can you not make me a plan for me. She said no. Just because I’m vegetarian they can’t help.
Hi, I have a hypothyroid. I shouldn’t eat goitrogenic foods unless cooked. Soy is terrible unless fermented. Seitan is also bad. I guess because of the gluten. I’m not supposed to have calcium for four hours after I take the hypothyroid medicine. Eggs have calcium and so do a lot of foods other than dairy. I am also lactose intolerant but can take lactaid pills. And I don’t eat meat. Seems like there isn’t that much to eat for protein especially in the morning.
As Roxy says, please don’t use soy sauce and black bean sauce in soy-free recipes. The black bean sauce found in Asian cooking is fermented soy bean and not suitable for people avoiding soy in their diet. Black (turtle) beans are not generally found in Asian cookery. Please be aware of the difference and enjoy your seitan and broccoli.
Very concise summary!! Proteins are the most fundamental building blocks of your body.
It’s really great to learn of more vegan foods that have protein
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