What to eat instead of meat

I was contracted to write this article for an online fitness and wellness journal.

What to eat instead of meat

Some stop eating it out of concern about cruelty to animals. Others cut back on consuming it for health reasons. Still more don’t want it because of the rumoured environmental cost of producing it.

We’re talking about meat, and the unease many people today have with eating it. While how this foodstuff is produced may be controversial to many, there is no controversy about the fact that meat remains the most easily accessible form of protein in the modern diet. And there’s no doubt that we need protein. According to the Dietitians of Canada website, protein is part of every cell in our bodies. Our muscles, skin, hair and connective tissues are all made up of protein. Without enough of this essential building block, our bodies could not maintain or repair themselves. On top of providing protein, that T-bone steak gracing your plate also contains iron to give you energy and B vitamins to help your body make red blood cells, all in one easily-cooked little package.

But what if you choose not to eat meat because of your convictions about factory farms? Or you’d like to introduce a few meatless meals during the week because your doctor has ordered you to reduce your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol? You’ll be happy to know it’s never been easier to fulfill your body’s protein requirements without eating animal flesh.

Years ago, those who wanted to go vegetarian had a tough time. Not only were they tagged with the “crazy hippie,” label, there was a dearth of tasty recipes to follow and a lack of ingredients available to make the recipe if you actually happened to find one. Early efforts at vegetarian cooking in North America had the reputation of being time-consuming and difficult with a final product that was unappetizing, heavy on the carrots and carbohydrates, and low in protein.

Providing tasty and healthy meals is a simpler task if you choose to go vegetarian today. Library shelves groan under the weight of “meatless menu” cookbooks; and the Internet abounds with recipes and advice for the fledgling vegetarian. Since many medical professionals now endorse eating less meat, it’s also easy to find clear advice on how to ensure your body’s needs for protein are met when you drop chicken and pork off the menu. For example, Dr. Joey Shulman, author of The Natural Makeover Diet, offers a simple calculation to determine your protein requirements. “The recommended daily allowance for protein is to consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight…[for example, a] female who weighs 110 pounds should consume approximately 40 grams of protein per day,” she writes on the Canadian Living Magazine site http://www.canadianliving.com. Shulman follows up by providing the protein content of several meat alternatives to help plan your diet. For example, a large egg contains six grams of protein, a ½ cup of cottage cheese gives 15 grams. A powerhouse for protein is, perhaps surprisingly, pumpkin seeds, which pack a whopping 19 grams in a 1/4 cup, according to Shulman.

However, while cheeses, nuts and eggs are good protein sources, you can’t eat a lot of them without adding a significant amount of fat and cholesterol to your diet, the very thing you may be trying to avoid. Fortunately, there are other alternatives. Canada’s Food Guide says a 3/4 cup serving of cooked beans, peas or lentils fulfills one of the two daily protein servings required by women for a healthy diet (three servings are suggested for men). They are all low in cholesterol and fat, with the added advantage of a high fiber content.

However, a bean that has been a staple of Asian cuisine for centuries has recently stepped into the starring role in today’s vegetarian diet, and for good reason. Soybeans are the only source of plant protein that is considered a “complete protein.” Like meat, soybeans contain all nine essential amino acids. Other beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and grain are considered “incomplete” proteins, which must be combined with another food to form a complete protein. Some examples are rice and beans, milk and wheat cereal, and corn and beans.

We are primarily familiar with soybeans as “tofu,” the curd that results from pressing coagulated soy milk. The easy availability of tofu in suburban supermarkets is one of the biggest advantages for people wanting to eat a primarily vegetarian diet today. Its texture, which ranges from firm to “silken,” means it can be stir-fried, baked, barbecued, crumbled and blended. As it absorbs flavour from the sauces and spices it is combined with, tofu is simple to prepare and tasty to eat. One-half cup of it provides 20 grams of protein, half the daily requirement of that 110-pound woman mentioned earlier in this article.

While the reasons for eating less meat can be numerous and complicated, it’s not hard to devise a healthy menu without it. Just keep in mind you should have some protein at each meal and eat the high-fat replacements, such as nuts, in moderation.

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