Would you like to cut back on meat and still get enough protein in your diet? You’re in good company. Many people are looking for alternatives to red meat, and even poultry, as concerns about the environment, health, and animal welfare grow. In fact, some people choose to eliminate all animal-based foods from their diet by going vegan. Others purge meat from four-legged animals and poultry but continue to eat fish. No one can say what’s right for you, but if you’re eliminating meat and poultry, there’s good news. You still have healthy protein options available to you. Here are some high-protein options when you’re cutting back on meat.
Tempeh is a fermented form of soy. It contains a significant amount of protein and, being fermented, it doesn’t have the drawbacks of processed soy and tofu. Fermentation reduces the number of anti-nutrients and potential goitrogens, compounds that interfere with thyroid function, that are in non-fermented soy. Plus, the fermentation process makes tempeh a good source of probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that colonize your gut and help maintain digestive and immune health.
Protein content: (1 cup): 31 grams
Beans are inexpensive and chock full of protein and fiber. What you may not realize is they’re also a substantial source of antioxidants. In fact, research shows beans are more antioxidant-rich than some fruits and vegetables. For example, small red beans contain more antioxidant power than blueberries, the poster child for an antioxidant-rich fruit. In general, the darker the color, the more antioxidants a bean contains. You can choose from many varieties, including black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, Northern beans, and more. Buy beans in bulk and cook them in a slow cooker overnight. They’re easy to prepare and inexpensive.
One precaution: Beans contain lectins, proteins that bind to the intestinal tract and reduce the absorption of minerals. Soaking and cooking destroys some of the lectins and makes beans more digestible as well. In fact, some beans, like kidney beans, are toxic in their raw state. Always soak beans overnight and discard the water before thoroughly cooking them.
Protein content: (one cup black beans): 39 grams
Fish is high in protein and low in calories. Plus, fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, is rich in long-chain omega-3’s, a type of fat linked with reduced inflammation. Getting enough long-chain omega-3s is especially important during pregnancy as these fats contribute to brain health in the developing fetus. Omega-3 fats have been linked with improvements in mood too. Some studies show they may help with depression. Always choose wild-caught salmon, as farm-raised can be higher in toxins. Sardines are another fish high in long-chain omega-3. Being small fish, they’re also more likely to be low in toxins.
Protein content: (100 grams of salmon): 20 grams
Lentils are seeds from the legume family. They come in a variety of colors, including green, yellow, tan, and black. Like beans, you can buy them dried and pop them in a slow cooker. Like beans, they’re rich in fiber and a substantial source of minerals, including iron, zinc, and magnesium. They also an excellent source of some B-vitamins, particularly folate. Like beans, lentils contain antioxidants. They also contain lectins. So, soak them overnight before cooking them.
Protein content: (one cup boiled): 18 grams
Greek yogurt contains more protein than conventional yogurt. In fact, the protein content is almost twice the quantity you get from a cup of conventional yogurt. The downside is it’s also lower in calcium. But, if you’re trying to increase your protein intake and don’t mind consuming dairy, Greek yogurt is an excellent option. Greek yogurt is versatile too. Mix it with fruit for a yummy, high-protein dessert, make a yogurt-based smoothie, stir it into oatmeal, or make a delicious yogurt sauce for other dishes. Another downside of Greek yogurt is it sometimes contains added sugar. Look for the lowest sugar brand you can find. You can always sweeten it, if necessary, with a natural sweetener, like Stevia.
Protein content: (one 170 gram container): 17 grams
Protein is the most satiating component of a diet. It fills you up more than carbohydrates or fat and keeps you fuller longer. Protein is important for other reasons too. Studies suggest that athletes and people over the age of 60 may need more protein to prevent muscle loss due to excessive exercise and aging. But, think beyond meat and poultry and put more of these healthy protein sources on your plate. Chances are, you won’t miss the beef, chicken, or pork.