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  • Writer's pictureAllison van Tilborgh

[Sanford Herald] Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Five common plant-based substitutes to add to your next meal.

As a vegan of nearly three years, I am often asked how I get my protein. Protein is important for bodily repair, digestion, regulation, and of course, muscle growth. Since I don’t eat meat, like beef or pork, I find my protein in other areas, namely plants.

Ancient people throughout history have turned to plants for protein in regions where meat was scarce or expensive. Many of these people invented the protein-rich substitutes listed below (such as seitan or tempeh), or simply enlisted the nutrient powerhouses of organic plants (lentils or hemp seeds).

I’ve compiled a short cheat sheet of five common plant-based substitutes below to help readers like you become more familiar with the wonderful world of plant-based proteins! Read below to learn more.


Seitan (pronounced say-ih-tan), also known as wheat gluten, is a gluten-based, soy-free meat substitute derived from the main protein contained in the wheat plant. This high-protein meat-substitute is typically made by washing wheat flour dough to remove the starch, leaving behind the gluten protein. It can be flavored and shaped before being cooked. The earliest evidence of seitan appear in 6th-century China, as an ingredient in noodle dishes. Today, Seitan is usually sold in the “vegan section” of specialty grocery stores like Publix or Whole Foods (in refrigeration).

My favorite way to cook with seitan: sauteed and included in meat-free gyros with dairy-free tzatziki


Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a traditional Chinese food made from soybeans. It is thought to have originated in China over 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty. Tofu is high in protein and low in calories. It is also a staple food in many East Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, and Indonesia. Tofu is versatile and can be used in a wide variety of dishes, from savory to sweet. It can be eaten raw, fried, or cooked in soups and stews. Tofu can be found in refrigeration with other vegan or vegetarian items. Tofu is a common product that can be found at Target, Publix, Walmart, Fancy Fruit Produce, and Winn Dixie (amongst others).

My favorite way to cook with tofu: air-fried and crispy in a noodle salad with peanut sauce


Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans, often pale-colored with streaks of black. It has a nutty, savory flavor and a firm, chewy texture. It is a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. In Indonesian cuisine, where it has been made for centuries, tempeh is traditionally made by fermenting cooked soybeans in banana leaves. Today it is often made in a controlled environment using the inoculated spores of a fungus (rhizopus oligosporus), similar to how a cheese matures.

My favorite way to cook with tempeh: blackened on both sides and used in a TLT (tempeh, lettuce, tomato sandwich)


Lentils are a type of legume that have been cultivated for thousands of years, with evidence of their use dating back to ancient civilizations in the Near East and the Mediterranean. They are a staple food in many parts of the world, particularly in India and the Middle East, where they are often eaten with rice or used in soups and stews. Lentils are a good source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients, and are relatively easy to grow, making them an important crop for small-scale farmers and in developing countries. They come in different varieties and colors, such as brown, green, and red lentils.

My favorite way to cook with lentils: boiled in red lentil curry, served with sourdough naan


Quinoa is an ancient grain-like crop that originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. It was a staple food for the Incas, who considered it sacred. Quinoa is a highly nutritious food containing high levels of protein, fiber, and minerals such as magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free and soy-free and can be used as a substitute for grains such as rice or wheat. Quinoa has seen a rise in popularity in recent years as a healthy alternative to traditional grains. It's been used in many different dishes and can be consumed as a side dish, breakfast, and even in desserts.

My favorite way to cook with quinoa: herbed salad bowls with loads of fresh veggies

This was originally posted in The Sanford Herald on 2/1/23.

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