9 Vegetarian & Vegan Protein Substitutes

By: Marissa Donovan M.S., R.D.  |  EatingWell.com, November 2016

Meatless Alternatives for Chicken, Beef and Fish

Meatless Alternatives for Chicken, Beef and Fish
Eating a vegetarian diet is linked with many health benefits—including lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower overall BMI. You'll want to make sure you're eating balanced meals and getting key nutrients that can sometimes be lacking for vegetarians and vegans, such as vitamin B12, iron and omega-3s. And whether you've just made the switch or want to shake up your dinner game, you may want some fresh ideas for what to eat. Beyond basic vegetables, fruits and whole grains, we've put together a list of our favorite vegetarian and vegan substitutes for animal proteins. These plant-based foods will help you skip the meat and still enjoy delicious meals.
Related: How Vegans Can Get the Key Nutrients They Need

1. Eggplant

Eggplant offers a meaty texture and an earthy, savory (umami) flavor. This versatile veggie can be prepared many ways, from grilling and baking to stir-frying and even stuffing (similar to a stuffed chicken breast). Try out these recipes for Stuffed Eggplant, Grilled Eggplant & Baba Ghanoush and Eggplant-Shallot Stew.

2. Mushrooms

It's become quite popular to use portobello mushrooms as a substitute for a burger (like our Grilled Eggplant & Portobello Sandwich), but mushrooms can do so much more. Chopped, sliced or ground mushrooms provide a meaty texture and earthy, smoky flavor that works well in the place of meat. Try your hand at subbing in mushrooms for meat in these recipes for Portobello "Philly Cheese Steak" Sandwich, Wild Mushroom & Polenta Casserole and Asparagus & Mushroom Risotto.

3. Tofu

Similar to chicken, this soy-based vegetarian protein takes on the flavors of what it is seasoned and cooked with. This makes tofu an excellent canvas for introducing all types of flavors (like our Tofu Curry, Tofu Stroganoff and Tofu Parmigiana, to name a few). Plus, a 3-ounce serving of tofu packs in 9 grams of protein.

4. Seitan

Sometimes referred to as "the vegetarian white meat," this wheat-based protein is a great option and provides a similar mouthfeel to chicken (in fact, many imitation chicken products on the market are made with seitan). You can buy seitan where you find tofu in most large grocery stores. Try our recipe for Crispy Seitan Stir-Fry or Malaysian Seitan, Broccoli & Mushroom Fried Rice to get you started.

5. Lentils

These legumes are surprisingly high in protein, with 9 grams per 1/2 cup (cooked). Their hearty texture and peppery flavor make them a good stand-in for ground beef in many recipes, such as Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie, Lentil Burgers and Squash, Chickpea & Red Lentil Stew. Lentils come in a variety of colors including red, brown, black and green and ounce for ounce cost less than meat. You can buy them dried or canned.

6. Beans

Similar to lentils, beans are a good swap for beef in many recipes. Beans deliver around 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per 1/2-cup serving, though it may vary slightly depending on the type of bean. Top your salad with beans or use them in Vegetarian Chili or in place of meat in tacos and Vegetarian Taco Salad.

7. Tempeh

This soy-based protein is similar to tofu (which is also a great substitute for fish), but usually has a firmer texture, a darker brown color and a nutty flavor. Tempeh contains all the essential amino acids so it's a great vegetarian protein source and because it's fermented, it delivers probiotics (good bacteria essential for gut health). Tempeh is great grilled, as in our Grilled Tempeh Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing, or try it pan-fried in our Smothered Tempeh Sandwich and Sesame-Honey Tempeh & Quinoa Bowl.

8. Jackfruit

It seems strange to think of a fruit as a substitute for meat, but the texture of jackfruit is actually quite similar to shredded chicken (and also works well in place of pulled pork). Though this tropical fruit looks intimidating from the outside, it's sold in supermarkets in cans and in the refrigerated section with other meat substitutes.

9. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a mild vegetable and has a reputation for being able to stealthily replace certain foods, such as potatoes and even pizza crust. Vegans can enjoy "egg" salad by mashing cauliflower in this Vegan Cauliflower "Egg" Salad recipe. Caulifower also replaces the chicken in these Sriracha-Buffalo Cauliflower Bites and makes a healthy choice for "meatballs" in these Saucy Vegetarian Meatballs.
Related:
22-Day Vegan Meal Plan
The Best 30-Day Vegetarian Meal Plan