High-protein alternatives to meat

Tasty protein with fewer carbon emissions.

pantry items on a shelf
You don't need beef to build or maintain muscle.Denise Johnson via Unsplash

Cutting out meat and replacing it with plants could have a huge carbon-cutting effect. In fact, according to a report recently covered by Popular Science, "the most effective regimens [for cutting climate changing-causing emissions] were veganism, which swaps meats out for plants, and a low-food-chain plan, which swaps them for insects, foraging fish, and bivalves." In general, foods "that are low on the food chain don't require feed-based agriculture, so their net emissions are generally low."

Luckily, there are a variety of plant-based, high-protein foods for our gustatory pleasure. Here are just a few:

Organic Quinoa from Better Body Foods

Organic Quinoa from Better Body Foods
A hearty base-layer grain.Amazon

Technically, quinoa is a seed, and a cup of it cooked boasts 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, plus potassium and iron. It’s cheap, filling, vegan, and the perfect base layer to top with vegetables, nutritional yeast, tofu, sriracha, or whatever else floats your boat. It’s easily cooked in a pot and there’s a whole trove of Instapot recipes out there, too.

Quinoa gets a reputation for being a high-protein grain, and that's largely because it contains the full suite of essential amino acids. That's great and all, but unless you're planning to only eat quinoa for many days in a row, you don't need to worry about protein combining. If you eat peanut butter or peas or lentils some other time throughout the day, you should be good. That all being said, there are plenty of other grains that offer protein. Spelt and amaranth, for example, pack in more protein than quinoa, though they may be harder to find.

Dried black beans

Iberia
Cheap, filling, and more planet-friendly than a burger.Amazon

Not only are beans high in protein and delicious, they'll help you reach your budgeting and fiber intake goals as well. Soak a few cups of dried beans in a bowl over night, then cook them low and slow with onions, bay leaves, and Adobo the next day. Eat a couple servings and put the rest in the freezer for later. A cup of cooked black beans has around 14 grams of protein.

Organic Green Lentils

Organic Green Lentils
Make room for the legume.Amazon

A cup of cooked lentils holds around 18 grams of protein, or about what's in three large eggs. It also boasts 16 grams of dietary fiber. Cook them with coconut milk, tomato paste, onion, and spices like curry powder, cumin, and coriander.

LightLife Tempeh

LightLife Tempeh
A soy bean cake, of sorts.Amazon

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that makes for excellent fake bacon, teriyaki stir frys, and sandwich "meats." To get the taste that many people prefer, you'll want to cook the brick in broth or have it soak in marinade. For that reason, it's probably a good idea to consult recipes the first few times you cook with tempeh.

Wildwood Tofu Super Firm Pack Organic

Wildwood Tofu Super Firm Pack Organic
The old stand-by.Amazon

Tofu is one of the most versatile foods there is. Soak thin sheets in a bit of soy sauce and then bake them. Coat cubes in hoisin sauce and some minced garlic and ginger, and then sear them in a hot pan and top with a bit of sesame oil. Blend it up with spices and nutritional yeast for a decent fake ricotta. Crumble it up in a pan with tumeric and veggies for a vegan scramble. A quick search for "tofu recipes" will help you understand the endless uses for the fermented soy product.

Bob's Red Mill TVP

Bob's Red Mill TVP
A meat replacement for soups and stews.Amazon

Although texturized vegetable protein doesn’t sound so appealing, it’s an excellent meat substitute to incorporate into pasta sauces, stews, chilis, taco fillings and more. It’s economical and easy to prepare: reconstitute the particles in boiling water and then use it in recipes as you would any browned ground beef. It offers 12 grams of protein per serving (a quarter-cup dry).

The Beyond Burger

The Beyond Burger
A burger that looks and tastes like the real thing.Amazon

This popular plant-based burger is arguably the closest we've come to a beef burger yet. It packs a 20-gram punch of protein in each burger, and is soy and gluten-free, too.

Enlightened Bada Bean Bada Boom Plant-based Protein

Enlightened Bada Bean Bada Boom Plant-based Protein
A crunchy snack made of protein-rich fava beans.Amazon

If you're looking to really reduce your carbon footprint, you should also stay away from highly processed snacks that are shipped across the country. But if you're looking for a treat and don't want to give your money the beef industry, you can reach for these high-protein, crunchy snacks. These packages of roasted fava beans pack seven grams of protein per 100-calorie serving. They’re gluten-free and suitable for vegans too, and come in a variety of nice flavors, including sriracha, BBQ, and garlic and onion. Eat them straight out of the bag or sprinkle them on soups or salads for added texture and protein.

Crunchmaster Protein Snack Crackers

Crunchmaster Protein Snack Crackers
Great crunch.Amazon

While the entire line of Crunchmaster products is delicious, they've got two protein-packed options: sea salt and roasted garlic. The multi-seed rice crackers are vegan, gluten-free, and include five grams of protein per serving. Each serving is 32 crackers and 130 calories. They get an A for flavor and an A+ for crunch.