The “fake” meats market is huge, but not everyone wants to eat processed vegan food which is perfectly fine! WFPB vegans steer clear of these fake meats, but a lot of regular vegans prefer natural alternatives to meat too. Personally, I find Quorn convinient, but I don’t like to rely on these kind of meat alternatives (which are actually called meat analogues!), very often because some of the ingredients are funny. While a lot of these are made with the intention of tasting and feeling like meat, the most important thing to keep in mind when going vegan or vegetarian is that you need to replace the protein from meat with something else. Many imitation meats are very carb-heavy whereas meat is basically a slap of pure protein with a little fat; you need to replace that protein loss. Here are my favourite natural protein-packed alternatives to meat.
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Tofu & soy products
Soy is still a debated topic. Some people can’t have soy because it’s an allergen, but most of the disagreement surrounding soya is to do with urban myths that it will effect your hormones and gives men books; it doesn’t.
Soy is actually one of the only plant-based sources of protein that contains all essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids which are best understood as the building blocks of protein, and therefore muscle. Our body can synthesise 8 itself but needs the other 9 from food. Something to keep in mind is that animal sources of protein contain all the essential amino acids, and are known as complete proteins or high-biological value (HBV) proteins, whereas most plant-based proteins are missing some. Soy is a complete protein, which means that soya based foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, soya milk, and soya yogurts are complete proteins.
This doesn’t mean that you should despair if you’re allergic to soy or would just rather not eat it. You can combine other plant-based proteins to get all your amino acids. You don’t even need to combine them in the same meal or within the same sitting, so long as you’re consuming a wide range of natural alternatives to meat throughout the day. Combinations of incomplete/low-biological value proteins that together make up all 9 essential amino acids include; toast & beans, and rice & chickpeas.
Quinoa is also a complete protein, which may come as a surprise considering that it’s a grain. 100 grams of quinoa has 4.4 grams of protein, so although it is a complete protein, you might want to pair it with another to get a sufficient amount of protein from your meal. Between 10 to 25 grams of protein per meal is a solid rule of thumb, but everyone’s exact protein requirements depends on their age, physical activity level, sex, and weight.
Bucketwheat and couscous have just under 4 grams each per 100 grams so you can mix these into a bhudda bowel with quinoa to bulk up the protein content; some crunchy chickpeas wouldn’t go amiss either.
Chickpeas & Peas
Chickpeas are one of the most popular natural alternatives to meat. They’re so versatile which is one of the appeals. They can be enjoyed as a snack if you like spicy crunchy chickpeas, in hummus, mashed up in a vegan sandwich and made into a tuna alternative, made into pasta, and simply enjoyed as a meat alternative in a meal like curry by themselves. 100 grams of chickpeas contains 8.9 grams of protein.
Peas are also becoming a popular natural vegan and vegetarian source of protein. Although 100 grams of cooked peas ranks fairly low in protein content with 3.4 grams of protein, for a vegetable this is a decent amount of protein. As a protein source, peas are popular in the form of pea protein powders and crunchy pea snacks.
In my opinion, falafal is the best thing to come from chickpeas. Falafel is a deep-fried patty or ball made from chickpeas, spices, and sometimes beans. This Middle Eastern food is traditionally served in pita or in a wrap, which I can attest to being the best way to enjoy it. Falafal goes well with tahini and hummus.
100 grams of falafel has 13 grams of protein, although it’s unlikely you’d eat this much falafel in one sitting, hummus is also a decent source of protein.
The best falafel is the kind you make yourself or eat in a restaurant. Pre-made falafal balls are often dry and bland, but they are a very continent option for vegan lunch on the go.
Beans & lentils
Personally, I’m such a picky eater that I won’t sit down and eat beans or lentils by themselves, yet I’m a sucker for a good veggie burger. Often I don’t crave a fake meat burger, but a natural veggie burger with beans and vegetables.
Beans are so versatile; you can have baked beans by themselves or on toast which will provide 4.8 grams of protein per 100g, or add some black beans to Mexican food. No matter how you incorporate them, it’s difficult to avoid beans entirely on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Lentils are another legume that is almost unavoidable for vegans and vegetarians. Lentils can be enjoyed with other natural plant-based proteins in veggie burgers, burrito bowls, bhudda bowls, soups, curries and more. 100 grams of lentils contains 9 grams of protein.
One of my tips is to just add seeds to many of your meals for more natural plant-based sources of protein. Not only are seeds a good source of omega-3 but also a small protein boost. It’s actually better to have your protien intake evenly spaced out trhoguhot the day rather than big doses in spread out meals. This is to maintain protein synthesis; if you’re not maintaining protein synthesis (especially if you’re very active). If your bodies not creating and maintaining muscle, it’s breaking it down which is why protein is so important!
Whenever I have avocado toast I sprinkle on sunflower seeds: a teaspoon of sunflower seeds contains 0.5 grams of protein. I like to add sunflower seeds to my chickpea pasta too.
I always put chia seeds into my morning porridge; a teaspoon of chia seeds contains 0.7 grams of protein.
I put flax seeds into cereal; a teaspoon of flax seeds contains 0.5 grams of protein.
Jackfruit is one of the most popular natural alternatives to meat for vegans and vegetarians. However, jackfruit is last on this list for a reason. It has the texture of pulled pork and has a mild flavour that can be seasoned to taste like almost anything. It makes a mean vegan tuna sandwich, but is very low in protein. One serving of jackfruit only has 2.84 grams of protein, so if you are going to make a vegan jackfruit sandwich or add it to a meal you’ll need to add something else for additional protein.
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of natural vegan alternatives to meat you can enjoy without needing to rely on heavily processed fake meats, but bear in mind that many of these need to be consumed in large amounts and with other plant-based proteins in other to meet your nutritional needs.
If you’re considering going vegan but don’t know where to start then Nutritiously’s Complete Vegan Starter Kit might be the thing for you. There’s also no shame in taking supplements which is why Prickly Pineapples readers can get 10% off Future Kind supplements with the code BEKIND10.
Do you have a favourite plant-based source of protein?