Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE meat, but even the most carnivorous of us should have a break from eating meat every once in a while. Non-meat proteins or substitute proteins/alternative proteins are a great way to maintain our protein intake whilst keeping an eye on our health.
What meat should we avoid eating regularly?
Red meat in particular is very hard for the human digestive system to break down, sometimes taking days or even weeks before it fully disappears from our digestive tract – I know, not a particularly comforting vision! Also, as a result, our stomachs need to produce lots of acid to help break it all down, which can lead to other issues such as acid reflux and indigestion pain, which is all very unpleasant!
Pork should also be treated with caution as it’s not technically a red or white meat. It can be eaten pink (similar to a red meat), if you are cooking a tenderloin or steak type piece of pork such as a chop, but it can’t be eaten completely raw (similar to a white meat). It can also be very fatty depending on the cut, such as belly, ribs, sausages or bacon. But there is such versatility in the cuts and what you can do with them. Plus of course it smells and tastes GREAT! Who doesn’t like the smell of bacon being cooked on a Saturday or Sunday morning?! This is probably the reason why pork is my favourite meat, in moderation of course! 😉
Anyway, I digress. Point being we should eat meat in moderation (thanks for the advice right at the start of BBQ season!) but we don’t have to and in fact shouldn’t cut protein out when we are having a break from being carnivorous. It’s important to make sure we sustain good levels of protein in our daily diets to maintain muscle and also help keep the muscle tissue Vs. fat tissue scale tipped in the right direction – higher levels of lean protein based tissue i.e. muscle, can actually assist with metabolism and of course we need protein to support tissue growth and regeneration.
There are many benefits to moderation in the protein sector of our diets, however, this is not supposed to be a rant about what you should and shouldn’t be eating so I won’t go into a full-on health analysis of meat consumption! Just don’t eat too much of the red variety on a weekly basis and mix it up a little with white meat (chicken, turkey) and fish. In addition to that, why not try out some other alternative proteins and substitute proteins of the non-meat variety.
What are the best non-meat and alternative proteins?
So what are the best and most readily available alternative proteins and substitute proteins which don’t contain meat? Many of these non-meat protein sources can be found around the home or are certainly very easy to buy at the supermarket or health food shop:
1. Oats. Porridge oats have the highest protein content of any cereal and they are also packed full of fibre and vitamins which combined make a seriously powerful superfood! As well as slow energy release properties, keeping you fuller for longer, porridge oats have also been proven to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease and boosts serotonin levels! Have a bowl of warm porridge in the morning together with some chia seeds (see below) and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and you will have a substantial, healthy meal full of alternative proteins to keep you going until lunch time.
2. Milk/Almond Milk/Soya Milk. If you don’t want to go completely dairy free then zero fat/skimmed regular cows milk is a good, quick and easy source of protein. Just make sure it’s skimmed to get protein benefits without the fat content intake. With almond and soya milk, be careful of the calorie levels in sweetened versions so go for the unsweetened varieties to get the most out of these great regular milk substitutes and alternative proteins for drinking, cereal and baking.
3. Cheese. Don’t go eating a whole camembert to yourself as that won’t do you any favours! I’m talking about low fat cheese such as cottage cheese, feta, ricotta, mozzarella and cream cheese. Stir some cream cheese into a vegetable curry for extra thickness and flavour or create delicious salads with feta, ricotta or mozzarella.
4. Vegetables. Certain vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts and peas (technically a Legume along with peanuts and beans but let’s keep it straightforward!) are a great source of healthy protein as well as fibre. You will need to eat lots to get good benefits so integrate these into your daily diet for regular consumption.
5. Nuts. As mentioned above, peanuts are technically legumes (which means they come out of a pod) but along with other raw nuts such as cashews, almonds, walnuts etc are a great high protein snack – just make sure they are raw i.e. unsalted, unsweetened and generally untampered with to enjoy the full benefits!
6. Peanut butter and Almond butter. I’m sure we’ve all got a tub of peanut butter in the house somewhere! Try almond butter for a tasty alternative and make sure you go for the natural or organic varieties where you can and avoid ones with lots of additional ingredients such as sugar and E numbers.
7. Beans/Lentils/Pulses. Again, technically within the Legume family with huge variety including kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, broad beans, cannellini beans, mungo beans, green beans, runner beans, soy beans…the list goes on! Also included are lentils, all of which are extremely versatile in cooking. Try making a mixed bean stew with tomatoes and herbs or a lentil curry (Daal) with garlic, ginger and spices.
8. Chickpeas. These also fall within the Legume family but deserve a separate mention as they can be used in so many ways to reap the benefits of their high protein, high fibre and low calorie content. Falafels are a great way to create a substantial meal and use as a very tasty and healthy meat alternative. Humous is also a great snack made from chickpeas – make your own with cooked chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic!
9. Egg whites. The white of the egg is the important part here. Eating too many whole eggs or egg yolks will result in high cholesterol and most likely constipation! Just use the whites for delicious meals such as a healthy, high protein omelette together with some of the legume and/or vegetable based ingredients mentioned above.
10. Quinoa (and other seeds). I appreciate that this is not necessarily something that is a common feature of the regular household pantry, hence why I have left it till last! However, Quinoa, also known as the “perfect protein”, is a highly versatile seed which is similar to a grain based food such as rice or cous cous. Not only is it highly versatile in both savoury and sweet dishes but it also contains all 9 essential amino acids our bodies need for growth and repair that we can’t produce ourselves! Other common seeds that are easy to incorporate into your diet are sunflower, sesame, poppy and chia seeds. Try adding some chia seeds to porridge for a protein boost to keep you going in the morning, or sunflower seeds to a Summer salad for a bit of crunch, or toasting some sesame seeds in a dry pan and sprinkling over a stir fry…delicious!
So there we have it, 10 simple ways to get more alternative proteins into your diet if/when you need a break from eating meat!
The Food Beaver.
If you’d like to read more about protein and its complexities, you can find more in-depth information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein
There is also an interesting article about red meat in our diets here: http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/the-truth-about-red-meat
And this guy called ‘The No Meat Athlete’ has a great outlook on non-meat protein substitutes and alternative proteins as well as a cookbook available to buy: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-protein/
As an overall healthy lifestyle encyclopaedia, check out http://www.health.com as this contains useful articles about health, fitness and food.
If, like me, you are a big fan of porridge, there is a porridge club website which details the many benefits of this superfood: https://porridgeclub.wordpress.com/dr-oats/
All of the above links/websites have also been trustworthy sources of information and inspiration for this article.