As an essential part of our diet, there’s a reason that proteins are conceptualised as the building blocks of life. Protein helps our body to grow and repair, as well as helping our immune system to create antibodies. Proteins are made up of amino acids, 9 of which the body cannot produce by itself, so we must get them from our food. These are known as essential amino acids. Some plant protein sources may not contain all essential amino acids, so it is important to combine different sources in your diet – including grains and vegetables. For instance, incorporating tofu, broccoli and mushrooms into a stir fry. Or serving a side of rice with your chilli. Easier than it sounds, right? You’re probably doing it already. In fact, new dietary guidelines in 2016 recommend the inclusion of more non-meat protein sources into our meals.
Extra tips for getting protein in:
- Some plant-based foods do contain all 9 essential amino acids and are typically referred to as ‘complete proteins’: quinoa, mycoprotein (Quorn), chia seeds, buckwheat, and whole soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame beans).
- ‘Incomplete proteins’ are still valuable and often have other nutritional benefits. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and grains are great sources of protein and are very easy to incorporate into our everyday recipes with very little prior planning. Why not chuck some chickpeas into a curry, or blend some peanut butter into a banana smoothie?
- There is a fantastic range of meat alternatives on the shelves now. Incorporating meat analogues into a varied diet is helpful if you need more protein, and some taste absolutely fantastic. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can make your own! If you can locate vital wheat gluten, you can make your own seitan. Seitan is extremely high in protein and works well as a chicken alternative in vegan fajitas or gyros.
- Supermarket products advertised as ‘high-protein’ such as cereal bars often contain the same or less protein than traditional sources. Though convenient, they are often a more expensive option as brands have identified the ‘source of protein’ label as a lucrative marketing technique. There is nothing wrong with buying a quick and easy snack, but bear in mind that throwing some extra beans, lentils, or quinoa into a dish is a much cheaper way of adding some protein to your meals! If I’m spending the extra money on a protein boost, I will seek out a 15g protein bar rather than a 6g cereal bar.
Whether you’re a long-term vegan, trying Veganuary, or just want to incorporate some more plants into your diet, you’re bound to find some culinary inspiration below.
Spicy Garlic Tofu
This simple recipe is one of my favourite ways to cook tofu and has converted many tofu sceptics! The combination of saltiness, sweetness and heat makes it an instant crowd-pleaser, and it comes together in under thirty minutes. Serve with stir-fried vegetables and noodles, or rice and steamed broccoli.
Tofu is often cited as a plant-based protein source. I would highly recommend trying smoked tofu for its delicious base flavour. The Tofoo Co’s smoked variety doesn’t need to be pressed beforehand and has over 15 grams of protein per 100g of tofu. Other brands, such as Taifun’s smoked tofu with almonds and sesame has 19g of protein per 100g but is of a higher price point and harder to come by.
Tempeh Massaman Curry
For this recipe, you’ll need a blender or food processor to make the curry paste, but the steps are fairly simple. Tempeh is made from whole soybeans and has a denser, chewier texture compared to tofu, which is made from soy milk. Tempeh typically has a higher protein content and is rich in beneficial prebiotics. You may also come across tempeh made from other legumes such as chickpeas or black beans in specialist or health food shops.
Packed with lentils and beans, this chilli has 24.8g of protein per serving, before the addition of any rice or sides. Though the recipe is named as a vegetarian chilli, the ingredients list is completely plant-based. In fact, many people may regularly eat vegan recipes without realising it. Legumes such as lentils and black beans are a staple for many plant-based eaters. They are not only high in protein but nutrient-dense and affordable.
Scotch Bonnet, Coconut & Crispy Tofu Noodles
This recipe combines a silky soup with noodles, bok choy and crispy fried tofu. The tofu is unique in that it has been breaded in desiccated coconut instead of breadcrumbs, releasing an incredible aroma once pan-fried.
Black Eyed Pea Soup
More commonly known as black eye beans in the UK, they are the star of this nutrient-packed, smokey soup. This quick recipe has an impressive 24g of protein per serving and is perfect for when you need a healthy lunch or dinner.
I was not a fan of casserole until I tried this dish! The mango chutney makes this an incredibly moreish meal, though I do tend to double up on the seasonings. The combination of haricot beans and meat-free sausages makes this a perfect protein-filled comfort food. Thankfully there is a wide range of vegan meat alternatives readily available compared to ten years ago.
If you appreciate a savoury breakfast and have some time on the weekend, these burritos are versatile and delicious. They can also be frozen ahead of time! A tofu scramble and black beans make up the protein component of this dish and can be packed with as many veggies as you’d like.
Megan is an editor and content creator with a love for beauty, fitness, reading and cooking.