Across the country, people are choosing to eat less meat, whether for one meatless day per week or a lifetime. But those who work out regularly are (understandably) concerned about getting enough protein to keep those muscles well-supplied. The good news? Meat isn't the only source of quality protein.
Protein, or more specifically its amino acids, is required by your body to make a variety of structures such as muscle tissue, hair and enzymes.The standard diet in the United States features meat as a main ingredient of most meals, with the average American eating about 200 pounds of meat annually.
Meats such as beef, poultry and fish are considered complete protein sources because they contain all 22 amino acids that your body uses as building blocks. In comparison, most vegetarian sources of protein are incomplete because they are missing one or more of the eight essential amino acids your body cannot make. As a result, it’s a good idea for vegetarians to combine multiple protein sources during meals so they do not become deficient in any amino acids, which might compromise growth, repair and immunity.
Tofu. Tofu is made from processed soybeans, one of the few vegetable sources of protein that contain all the essential amino acids. Tofu is nutritious and versatile, as it’s available in three varieties: soft, regular and firm. If you are interested in a meat-like texture, chose fresh, firm varieties. If you want it to taste smoked or BBQd, then you can marinate it, as tofu readily absorbs other flavors. One cup of tofu provides almost 40 percent of your daily protein and is a very good source of calcium, B vitamins and iron.
Seitan. Seitan is derived from wheat gluten, the same substance used to prepare pasta. Gluten is a protein composite found in the seeds of wheat and other grass-based grains. Seitan probably tastes and chews more like meat than any other vegetarian meat-alternative, but a significant percentage of the population has allergic reactions or sensitivities to gluten. Seitan contains almost the same amount of protein as beef, but only one-third the calories. However, seitan is very high in sodium and it’s not a complete protein.
Dairy Sources. Dairy products are generally high in protein, contain all the essential amino acids and very affordable compared to meat. Good examples of protein-rich dairy products include eggs, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, yogurt, whey protein and milk. However, dairy allergies and lactose intolerance may be a concern for you. Further, dairy products do not have the consistency of meat.
Other Vegetable Sources. Aside from soybeans, many other beans, legumes and nuts are high in protein and excellent sources for vegetarians, although almost all are incomplete. Other vegetables that contain high amounts of incomplete plant protein include spinach, kale, wheat grass and broccoli.