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Nutritionist Advice

5 Protein-Rich Alternatives to Tofu

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Tired of looking for protein in all the same places? Try these new power-packed, flavorful sources.

Protein is the building block of life: a macronutrient vital to creating and repairing everything from bones to muscles to skin. And if you want to maintain a healthy body weight, research shows that it’s best not to skimp on protein. It provides a sense of satiety, which puts the brakes on overeating. You probably know that tofu, yogurt, and beans can all help you get your fill. But these other protein heavyweights are delicious options to explore, too. 

Black lentils

The UN has hailed 2016 as the Year of the Pulses (dried legumes), so load up your pantry with black lentils for a good dose of plant protein—up to 12 grams per quarter-cup serving. You also get a payload of iron and dietary fiber. Studies show that bumping up fiber intake can be protective against high blood pressure and diabetes. This oft-overlooked legume is less earthy tasting than more common green or brown lentils. Another advantage: Only 20 minutes in simmering water until they’re slightly tender. 

In the kitchen » Since they hold their shape when cooked and absorb flavors beautifully, beluga lentils are a superb addition to salads, stir-fries, and soups. Mix cooked lentils with chopped vegetables, herbs, and a lemony dressing for a crazy-healthy workweek lunch. 

Want more nutrition info right at your fingertips? Check out the new Vegetarian Times Recipe Collection with more than 3,700 recipes plus lots of tips and cooking tricks!


Einkorn is considered an “ancient” form of wheat, since humans were eating it long before food scientists began altering common modern-day wheat. The old-school grain is thought to be more nutrient-dense and easier to digest than hybridized wheat, plus it includes 9 grams of protein in each quarter-cup serving. It also supplies a nutritional stew of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, zinc, iron, and magnesium. Many foodies praise einkorn for its great chew and nutty taste. Einkorn brands like Jovial are available online. 

In the kitchen » Prepare whole einkorn berries like you would rice, and then use in risottos, salads, and even burritos. Einkorn flour can gussy up a stack of pancakes or batch of muffins. 


Want cheesesteak without the beef? Enter halloumi. This meaty, semihard cheese, traditionally made with a mixture of cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk, has a deep, savory flavor along with about 7 grams of high-quality protein in each 1-ounce serving. Unlike other cheese, halloumi can be grilled or pan-fried without melting all over the place—the outside becomes crispy, while the interior turns velvety. It’s sold as blocks in well-stocked cheese aisles or at Middle Eastern grocers. 

In the kitchen » Heat thick slices of halloumi in a greased skillet for about 2 minutes per side, and serve topped with chimichurri. Add cooked cubes to salads and tacos, or serve it burger-style on a bun with caramelized onions and baby greens. 

Roasted chickpeas

When a snack attack strikes, instead of chips, try a bag of oven-blasted crispy chickpeas. This up-and-coming snack delivers about 6 grams each of hunger-quelling protein and fiber per serving, along with satisfying crunch. Brands like Biena offer all sorts of exciting flavors, including cinnamon and honey roasted. 

In the kitchen » Aside from being a great standalone snack, roasted chickpeas make an excellent topping for soups or a component of your favorite trail mix. 

Sunflower-seed butter

When the seeds of the sun-worshipping plant are blended, the result is a creamy spread with roughly 7 grams of protein per 2-Tbs. serving—just shy of what you get with peanut butter. Another nutritional perk is magnesium, a benevolent mineral that Harvard researchers say can help fend off
heart disease. 

In the kitchen » Slather apple slices with sunflower butter, and blend it into smoothies, dips, and salad dressings; you can also incorporate it into your own DIY protein bars. 

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