Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, seems synonymous with the vegan diet. The main ingredient in many meat substitutes, it's generally seen as a healthier meat alternative -- but that's not necessarily the case. Made from soy flour or soy protein isolate and possibly wheat and cotton seeds, TVP is heat-processed a number of times during manufacturing. The result may be low in fat and provide some protein, but it's high in salt, usually contains MSG and, according to vegan nutritionist Mike Tubbs, has had most of its nutritional value processed right out of it. Fortunately, you can easily be a vegan without TVP: A wide variety of veggies, nuts, legumes and grains can provide adequate protein to your diet.
Try seitan. Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends this wheat gluten-based product over TVP because of the protein content. A 3 oz. serving of seitan provides 31 g of protein, while a similar-sized serving of TVP only provides 8 g.
Eat more tofu. Tofu is basically the unprocessed version of TVP and is just as versatile -- it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. As a soy product, it also contains all the essential amino acids. Try firm tofu in a stir fry, or silken tofu in a smoothie.
Explore grains. Whole grains contain protein, and New York University School of Medicine Nutrition Researcher Michelle Davenport especially recommends quinoa, since it contains all the essential amino acids. Experiment with alternative grains like millet and amaranth for variety.
Add nuts and seeds to your diet. Eco Chef and award-winning cookbook author Bryan Au recommends flax seeds and hemp seeds, and Davenport prefers almonds to other nuts. Use nuts and seeds as a garnish rather than a primary protein source, because although they're loaded with healthy fats, this also makes them calorically dense.
Include legumes as a meat substitute. A variety of legumes are available, and most can be successfully substituted for meat in many recipes. Black beans and lentils are favorites of all the experts, providing both fiber and protein.
Eat your fruits and veggies. People forget that vegetables also contain protein. Chef Au recommends leafy greens like kale, along with avocados and olives. Davenport seconds the leafy greens, especially spinach, and notes that broccoli has 4 to 5 grams of protein per cup.
Mix it up -- variety is key, according to Sheth. Most plant proteins don't contain all the essential amino acids, so it's important to eat as many different protein sources as you can -- but they don't all have to be at the same meal. Tubbs notes, "[T]he idea of food combining is a little outdated. We don't need to get every amino acid in one sitting. Proteins are broken up into their individual parts and used; it's not as if an incomplete protein is 'tossed out.' A variety of foods throughout the day would meet the protein needs of the vast majority of people. Even active people."
- Mike Tubbs; Vegan Nutritionist
- Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE; Registered Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Chef Bryan Au; Chef and Author of Raw Star Recipes
- Michelle Duong Davenport, M.A.; Nutrition Researcher, Brain, Obesity and Diabetes Laboratory, New York University School of Medicine
- Davenport recommends making your own seitan at home. Because it's not a heavily-processed food, you can easily turn vital wheat gluten into a custom-flavored seitan to use in your favorite recipes.
- Because seitan contains gluten, it isn't suitable for vegans with celiac disease or gluten or wheat allergies.
Angela Brady has been writing since 1997. Currently transitioning to a research career in oncolytic virology, she has won awards for her work related to genomics, proteomics, and biotechnology. She is also an authority on sustainable design, having studied, practiced and written extensively on the subject.