Let’s talk protein! While doing the Pure 21 Wellness Challenge, we are proponents that any way and style of eating can be matched to fit this framework. We want to hit one of the most asked questions: how can vegetarians do the challenge?

So, let’s go! Here’s how to pick protein substitutes, decide which ones are worth your while, and, most importantly, how to use them!

**I, by no means, promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle over any others, but follow a blended diet and use a lot of these food items in place of meat regularly.

Let’s dive in to some protein alternatives that you may or may not know about:

  • Soybeans and soy products, including but not limited to edamame, tofu, tempeh, have more than 15 grams per serving and are also a good source of magnesium (mineral critical for muscle development).
  • Seitan earned the name “wheat-meat,” as it’s composed of mostly wheat. It packs 20-30 grams per serving and works well as a sausage replacement on pizzas or pastas.
  • Nuts/nuts butters are super versatile and span many flavor profiles. There’s bound to be one you’ll enjoy. In fact, walnuts contain some of the highest amounts of omega-3s for that much-needed brain boost.
  • Seeds like hemp, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sacha inchi make a great salad topper or overnight oat mixer. Did you know 18% of the calories from pumpkin seeds come from protein!
  • Amaranth/Quinoa may be hard to pronounce but once you figure it out incorporating them into meals, sweet and savory, is a breeze!
  • Other grains to consider are brown rice, barley, farro, and wheat berries. But really, the possibilities are endless! Pair these with beans to deliver all the amino acid your body needs!
  • Beans are a magical fruit and fiber provider in a one-stop-shop. Beans are known for their iron and versatility. You’ll find them more and more snuck into sweet dishes as a texture-enhancer, that is also nutrient dense!
  • Dairy has many options, like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, various milk and milk alternatives. Usually these pack 15-20 grams of protein per half cup or six ounce serving!
  • Veggies have an often surprising but hefty amount of protein, specifically peas and broccoli! Peas boast an average of eight grams per serving which is why they’re now popping up in milk and protein powder.

Here’s a few ways to add them in your rotation for family-friendly meals any type of eater would enjoy:

  • Crumbled on salad or in a stir fry – check out Pinch of Yum for her Crispy Tofu + Sesame Zoodles for prep inspo
  • As a protein-topper in a bowl – try it at a fast-casual spot, like Currito, before you experiment at home
  • Add in a taco! Of course, any of these options are #tacotuesdayapproved. Chipotle’s sofritas are to die for IMO
  • Mixed into a casserole or lasagna – blogger Hummusapien has a killer recipe for vegan lasagna
  • As a sweet side, try tofu and cacao combined in a pudding form! Don’t hate it till you try it…
  • Blended into a smoothie – use silken tofu, which is easily blended. I promise, there’s virtually no taste!
  • Crumbled and seasoned for a vegan scrambled egg dish. Try to make your own tofu scramble
  • Mixed in as the protein source in soup! Try your next bowl of ramen or pho with tofu or tempeh
  • Last but certainly not least, did you know tempeh can be seasoned and cooked to match the profile of bacon?? 😋🥓

Here are two more things to think about when procuring protein, animal or plant-based:

Check the product’s ingredients list. Typically, the fewer ingredients the better! If you were buying meat, you don’t want your turkey/beef/chicken coated or mixed with a bunch of fillers. You shouldn’t be doing the same here either! Keep in mind that a lot of protein alternatives have gluten, soy, and dairy listed under another name. Check twice before you buy, especially if you have certain restrictions!

Read the nutrition facts label. For a meal, aim for about 30-40 grams of protein. For a snack, 6-15 grams of protein will do the trick. A lot of veggie burgers or milk alternatives will have scant amounts of protein in them. Be sure to turn the box over and check out what you’re really getting! You may need to be creative to get that protein number to the sweet spot.

With that all that in mind, keep in sight what week you’re in and how you can creatively weave in some of these items! By no means is this list fully comprehensive! just a round-up of my favorites that I’ve found easy to procure and produce without fuss! You never know you don’t like something until you try it! Experiment and find your favorite protein alternative today.

Kayla Hansmann

Kayla Hansmann

B.S., M.S., Dietetic Internship
Kayla Hansmann is a Cincinnati-area dietitian and fitness instructor working with individuals one-on-one, in corporate work-site wellness, as well as various community settings. With experience from Cincinnati Children's Hospital to adult chronic disease management, she is focused on providing comprehensive and personalized nutrition to all individuals in various stages of life to achieve their personal goals and best state of health.