Protein is the key ingredient for muscle-building opens a New Window. and muscle recovery. But downing eggs and fatty cuts of meat every day isn’t the healthiest way to get your fix. In fact, diets rich in animal protein and fat have been linked to chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.
But hey, we get it: Going meat-free isn’t easy, either—especially because lean meat proteins like chicken and fish can get pretty boring.
Ready to try going vegetarian (or even vegan) without sacrificing your gains? Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, gave the scoop on 10 of the most nutrient-dense meat alternatives—and the best ways to prepare them.
What it is: A tiny, gluten-free whole grain that has a mild, nutty flavor
Protein payout: 10 grams per cup, cooked
Other notable nutrients: Fiber, essential amino acids, calcium, iron and vitamin C (which isn’t normally found in grains)
How to eat it: Moskovitz suggests breakfast porridge: Combine 1/4 cup teff with 3/4 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until it thickens. Remove from heat and top with honey, berries, and unsweetened coconut flakes.
2. Hemp seed
What it is: Hemp seeds, sometimes called hemp hearts, come from the cannabis plant (but no, eating them won’t get you high).
Protein payout: 10 grams per 3 tablespoons
Other notable nutrients: Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, iron, and magnesium
How to eat it: Add the seeds to smoothies (we love this “blue, green, and blue” smoothie recipeOpens a New Window.), cereals, yogurt, salads, and trail mixes, suggests Moskovitz.
What it is: A hearty, whole grain wheat-rye hybrid
Protein payout: 13g per half-cup
Other notable nutrients: Iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and fiber
How to eat it: Moskovitz likes to use triticale berries in place of rice. She also suggests trying triticale flour in lieu of white flour.
What it is: A versatile, low-carb meat substitute made from wheat gluten and seasoned with salt and savory spices. “Its texture is similar to that of meat, and it has more protein than tofu and tempeh, making it a great alternative for men who don’t love the thought of vegetarian alternatives,” says Moskovitz.
Protein payout: 21g per half cup
Other notable nutrients: Phosphorus, selenium, and iron
How to eat it: Bake, grill, braise or boil it. Use it in any recipe that calls for poultry.
What it is: Renowned for their medicinal and healing properties, high-protein seaweedsOpens a New Window. include arame, dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, and spirulina.
Protein payout: 8-32g per cup
Other notable nutrients: Calcium, iron, iodine, potassium, and vitamin A
How to eat it: “Many sea vegetables are high in iodine, making them great salt substitutes in soup and grain dishes,” notes Moskovitz. Need more specific instructions? Fill a nori wrap with sweet potato, brown rice, avocado, and greens.
6. Chia seeds
What it is: This trendy superfood comes from the Mexican desert plant Salvia hispanica.
Protein payout: 5g per 2 Tbsp.
Other notable nutrients: Calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, and fiber (half the daily recommended amount is in 2 tablespoons)
How to eat it: “Chia seeds are basically flavorless, so they’re easy to toss into just about anything,” explains Moskovitz. “Sprinkle them into salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or mix into smoothies and homemade baked goods.”
What it is: Considered the “breakfast of champions” by the Japanese, nattō is made from fermented soybeans and has a chewy texture. Look for it in Asian specialty stores.
Protein payout: 16g per half cup
Other notable nutrients: Vitamins E, B2, and K. It’s also rich in the enzyme nattōkinase, which may help prevent blood clots.
How to eat it: “Pair nattō with rice or serve it with whole-wheat spaghetti mixed with pan-fried garlic and onion,” suggests Moskovitz.
8. Purple salsify
What it is: A lesser-known root vegetable that tastes a bit like artichoke hearts. Look for it in specialty markets during its prime season between October and January.
Protein payout: 4 grams per cup
Other notable nutrients: Calcium, vitamin C, and iron
How to eat it: Like a potato, salsify can be boiled, mashed or used in soups and stews, explains Moskovitz. “Before you start cooking, scrub it under cold running water, and peel the skin like a carrot.”
9. Pea and rice protein powders
What it is: Mild-flavored, vegan, gluten-free alternatives to whey and casein protein. Pea and rice protein are often blended together in a single tub, but the two types are also sold separately.
Protein payout: 15-24 grams per two tablespoons
Other notable nutrients: Amino acids and fiber
How to eat it: “Use pea or rice protein in any recipe that calls for protein powder. The end result will usually be the same,” notes Moskovitz.
What it is: Farro, the Italian name for emmer wheat, is known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Protein payout: 8 grams per cup
Other notable nutrients: Fiber, magnesium and B vitamins
How to eat it: “Use farro in place of rice, couscous and other grains, advises Moskovitz. “It’s also a great addition to salads and soups.”