Many vegetarians are concerned about getting all their required nutrients when adopting a vegetarian diet—in particular, protein. But luckily, it's really quite simple to get more than enough protein on a meatless diet, so there's no need for worry. And if you are thinking this means you need to eat lots of tofu, and you don't like tofu, there is good news: there are plenty of meat alternatives out there besides tofu, including tempeh, seitan, as well as other meat substitutes. There are also several foods you can incorporate into your vegetarian diet that provide enough of this essential nutrient.
Vegetarian Meat Substitutes
There are some vegetarians who choose not to eat meats for reasons other than the texture and flavor and actually would like to replicate ground beef or chicken in their recipes. That is when meat substitutions come in handy. Products such as tempeh and seitan are both high in protein and have similar textures to meat when cooked. Tempeh is a soy product and can be crumbled to simulate ground beef, or sliced thinly to replace chicken pieces. It is recommended that you simmer the tempeh in a liquid before adding to recipes to soften it up.
Even closer to the texture of the meat is seitan, which is made of wheat. It has a savory taste but takes on other flavors well. Unlike tofu, seitan needs to be cooked before adding to a dish and can be pan-fried, simmered, or grilled. If you are looking for pre-made meat substitutions, there are several on the market, including stuffed turkey, vegetarian chicken legs, and veggie burgers.
Grains, Beans, and Nuts
If it's just protein that you're worried about, you may be surprised to learn that there are several foods out there chock full of protein that are part of a vegetarian diet. One, in particular, is quinoa, along with other whole grains such as barley. Both grains can be substituted in recipes calling for rice and are delicious in salads, baked dishes, and even breakfast cereal.
Beans are always a good choice when looking for a protein-rich ingredient, as many contain nearly 20 percent of the daily requirement of protein. Lentils, cannellini, red kidney, and pinto are just a few of the types of beans that will give you a good dose of protein in your diet. Of course, nuts are always a good bet and can be incorporated into dishes and baked goods, sprinkled over a dish for added crunch, or pureed into a pesto or sauce. Leafy greens such as spinach, mustard greens, and Chinese cabbage also contribute a decent amount of protein, and vegetarians can get their protein from eggs as well as certain dairy products.
Expand Your Palate
In addition to trying new ways to replace meat, becoming a vegetarian is also a wonderful opportunity to expand your diet. Just because you are eliminating certain foods doesn't mean your dietary choices should shrink; there are most likely lots of exciting ingredients and delicious recipes out there that you have never tried!
If you're a new vegetarian, or just thinking about it, and aren't sure there will be enough variety, go to your local vegetarian restaurant and try a few things on the menu—other than tofu, of course. No vegetarian restaurants where you live? Head to a Thai food restaurant and try a variety of vegetable curries and noodle dishes or sample meatless soups and stir-fries at a Chinese food restaurant. You can also taste savory Indian curries and dumplings at an Indian restaurant. And don't forget about platters filled with heaven-scented grain salads and falafel at Middle Eastern restaurants.
Give Tofu a Second Chance
If you have tried tofu in several different ways and don't care for it, then it is clearly not for you. But if you have only had it cut into cubes and floating in a soup, or straight from the package drizzled with a sauce, then it is worth revisiting this soybean curd. It's such a versatile food that it really deserves a second and even a third chance.
Tofu is wonderful marinated in a teriyaki sauce and then pan-fried until crispy. It can be coated in breadcrumbs and turned into "fish sticks" or "chicken nuggets." Tofu also adds a wonderful creaminess to desserts (ideal for vegans).
There are a few different types of tofu, from silken to extra firm, and each one can be used in different ways, from baking to lasagna to enchiladas. Needless to say, the possibilities of tofu are endless.
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Mullins AP, Arjmandi BH. Health benefits of plant-based nutrition: focus on beans in cardiometabolic diseases. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):519. doi:10.3390/nu13020519