Vegan protein: alternatives to meat for a balanced plant-based diet Recipe

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These tasty meat-free alternatives will keep you feeling full.

vegan food selection vegan protein
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We look at vegan protein sources if you're trying to cut down on meat or eat a more plant-based diet.

Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet and vital for growing and repairing cells. Many get the recommended daily intake or RDA (46g for women, 56g for men) from red meat, which is also rich in iron and vitamin B12. But what are the protein-rich alternatives to meat, if you're trying to cut down on meat or eat a more plant-based diet?

The good news is that there are lot of protein-rich alternatives to meat out there to experiment with and we've got 13 of them for you to try...

Vegan Protein: Protein-Rich Alternatives To Meat

1. Quinoa

protein-rich alternatives to meat: quinoa salad

Grains are a fantastic source of protein and relatively economical; a handful goes a long way! Trendy grain quinoa contains all 8 essential amino acids, making it more nutritious than rice and couscous but just as filling. When cooked, it has a fluffy texture and nutty taste - the perfect accompaniment to curries and salads. Regarded by the Incas as the sacred "mother grain", gluten-free quinoa is a fully fledged foodie favourite.

Try it: Curried quinoa with apple and spinach

2. Tofu

protein-rich alternatives to meat: tofu salad

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soya bean milk. It is an extremely low-fat and nutritious alternative to meat, containing high amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin E. It's extremely versatile and flavoursome when you cook it well.

Try it: Tofu and peanut stir-fry with ramen noodles

3. Mushrooms

protein-rich alternatives to meat: mushrooms

The mighty mushroom has twice the amount of protein than most vegetables, making it a great addition to pastas, pies and all sorts. The chewy texture gives you something to really sink your teeth into, making larger Portobello mushrooms a satisfying replacement for burgers! Combine with other protein-rich foods such as eggs, tofu and pulses for a super healthy meat-free meal.

Try it: Spinach and mushroom filo tart

4. Vegan cheese

vegan cheese vegan protein

(Image credit: Kinda Co.)

While all types of cheese made from dairy contain good levels of protein, dairy-free vegan cheese can also provide a protein hit, depending on the brand/ingredients. Look for vegan cheeses made from protein-rich cashews, such as Kinda Co's garlic & herb (pictured above), or soya, such as Tofutti cheddar-style slices. But don't automatically assume that these plant-based cheeses are lower in fat, as ingredients such as coconut oil can drive up the saturated fat content. 

5. Tempeh

tempeh vegan protein

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Tempeh, which actually has a higher protein content than tofu, is a soy product made from fermented soy beans that has a distinctive umami taste. Rich in B-vitamins - which play an important role in brain function, cell metabolism and more - add it to stir fry's, curries and more for extra bite, plus a nutritional boost.

6. Lentils

Lentils have one of the highest levels of protein by weight of all the pulses and only 1% fat, making them an excellent ingredient to bulk up meat-free curries and soups.

Try it: Lentil and red pepper soup

7. Quorn

As a leading brand of imitation meat, Quorn has a very similar taste and consistency, especially when mixed with your usual Bolognese sauce, curries and chilli con carne. It has all the essential amino acids found in beef or chicken, but has 75% less fat than even lean beef mince. Look for the vegan symbol on Quorn products, as the original Quorn isn't vegan.

Try it: Quorn and almond curry with spinach

8. Edamame beans

Edamame beans are a must-have snack for celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow. Edamame beans are actually baby soya beans and are one of the only vegetables to contain virtually all the health benefits of meat. These nutty beans can be used to bulk up dishes such as stir fries and salads, eaten alone as a super snack, or whizzed in a food processor to make a guilt-free tortilla dip!

9. Nuts

Nuts are a fantastic everyday source of protein, which are ideal for health-conscious snacking or for boosting lacklustre salads. One cup of almonds provides more protein than an egg, while cashew nuts are high in antioxidants and promote good cardiovascular health.

Try it: Nut roast

10. Chickpeas

A staple of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, chickpeas are a nutritious source of protein with a slightly heavier consistency than lentils. They are commonly used in veggie curries and are of course, the main ingredient in hummus. They can also be used to make burgers!

Try it: Chickpea burgers

Happy eating!

11. Vegan yoghurt

yoghurt vegan protein

(Image credit: Getty)

Just like vegan cheese, vegan yoghurt can also be a great source of plant-based protein. Stick to no added sugar varieties, to keep things healthy. Alpro plain no sugars, as an example, has 4g of protein per 100g, as well as being naturally low in fat. Not a fan of soya? Other yoghurt alternatives include oat yoghurt and coconut yoghurt. Why not try using them in one of our dairy-free recipes

12. Seitan

seitan vegan protein

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Made from wheat gluten, so not one for those on a gluten-free diet, seitan has a surprisingly meaty texture, and is a great option for those who are transitioning into a vegan diet. There's a whopping 75g of protein per 100g of seitan, which pushes way past the RDA for protein. Use is to make mock burgers, steaks and more.   

13.Peas

peas vegan protein

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The humble pea has an impressive 5g of protein per 100g as well as being a good source of vitamins C and E and minerals including zinc. Blitz it into a pea soup (a few tweaks will make it vegan) or add to a vegan shepherds pie. Fresh or frozen works equally as well.