There are plenty of reasons to cut down on the amount of meat in our diets: it reduces calorie intake, makes meals cheaper, is better for the environment, and most importantly, is better for your health. One of the biggest misconceptions surround meat is that it is an essential source of protein, but in reality, there are many healthier, protein rich options.
There are plenty of reasons to cut down on the amount of meat in our diets: it reduces calorie intake, makes meals cheaper, is better for the environment, and most importantly, is better for your health. One of the biggest misconceptions surround meat is that it is an essential source of protein, but in reality, there are many healthier, protein rich options. As society has grown wealthier over time, meat begun to take a much more front seat role in our diets. Our forefathers, even going back one generation, generally didn’t eat as much meat as us, and it was seen as a luxury item to be savored. It has now reached the point where many health specialists are saying we are eating too much, putting our health at risk. One of the biggest obstacles faced by those who advocate cutting down on meat, is the common misconception that meat is one of the only sources of ‘complete’ protein, and thus eating it in large amounts is the best way to supply the body.
There are 20 amino acids that can form proteins, 9 of which cannot be produced by the body. A complete protein source is one that encompasses all 9 of these unproducible proteins, thus giving the body all the building blocks it needs. The thing is, you don’t need to eat meat to get these.
Eating too much meat, especially red meat, has many health risks associated with it. It increases the risk of cancer, is a contributing factor to cardiovascular problems, is linked to early death, and is hard to digest. This is not to say that meat cannot be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. The point is that generally speaking, we eat too much, and need to bring it back down to healthier levels. The following are all alternative sources of complete protein, giving you the tools you need to cut down on meat whilst still getting all the protein you need.
Complete protein: 10 grams per 2 tbsp Probably one of our favorite alternatives around, hemp seed is an extremely rich source of complete protein; and along with its other compounds (such as omega-3, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium), it is perfectly balanced for human consumption. Although related to cannabis, hemp does not produce any psychoactive compounds like its more radical cousin – so don’t worry, you won’t get stoned eating its seeds. It is completely safe, legal and can be picked up from most health food stores.
Complete protein: 8 grams per 1 cup, cooked. Quinoa is a favorite of NASA, and it is hoped that it will be a viable healthy food source for interplanetary flight. It is not wonder really, Quinoa is not only a rich source of protein, but also fiber, iron, manganese and magnesium.
Complete protein: 10-15 grams per ½ cup. Soy is probably one of the best known alternative sources of protein across the world. It is the main ingredient of tofu, and a base for many ‘fake meat’ vegetarian alternative meals.
Complete protein: 13 grams per ½ cup. Another ‘fake meat’ alternative seen in the vegetarian section of many supermarkets, mycoprotein was originally developed to combat world hunger. The best way to look at it is as a type of mushroom that can be turned into a protein laden meat substitute. It may not sound very appealing, but it is easily flavored and makes a very convincing alternative to processed meats, such as chicken nuggets – try giving it to your kids without telling them, they probably won’t know the difference!
Complete protein: 6 grams per 1 cup, cooked. Although the name suggests otherwise, buckwheat is not actually a type of wheat at all. It is probably most famously used by the Japanese to make soba noodles, but the seeds are also used as a tasty treat throughout many cultures. In addition to being a great source of protein, buckwheat is also thought to help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol and improve circulation – supporting the cardiovascular system as a whole.
Complete protein: 4 grams per 2 tbsp. Chia is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to healthy nutrition. Not only is it full of protein, it is also one of the richest plant based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, contains more fiber than flax seed, and is full of antioxidants, iron, calcium and zinc. The above six are all great examples of complete protein sources, but other healthy food sources can be combined to ensure you are getting all of the protein you need. A few good examples are hummus and pita bread, various nuts, Ezekiel bread, and even a peanut butter sandwich. Each of the ingredients involved in these complement each other to cover the entire spectrum of proteins required by the body – making cutting a bit of that excess meat from your life a breeze!