When we think of protein, we often think of meat or chicken. Although quality beef and chicken can be delicious and part of a balanced diet if eaten with moderation, there are many meatless alternatives to reach our daily protein needs.
Complete protein is one of the components of balanced nutrition, it contains all essential amino acids needed by our bodies in the correct proportion to perform countless functions, from building muscle to synthesizing enzymes, antibodies or hormones. Meat also includes other important nutrients such as iron and vitamins B12, A, D and K2 (found in grass fed beef).
Below are 10 meatless protein suggestions – in my online programs I make sure to incorporate two meatless days per week. Replacing meat is not only good for our health but also for the environment, since overconsumption of meat (especially red meat) can have a negative impact, for instance, on our bones and kidneys, as well as on water usage and carbon dioxide emissions.
1.Omelettes or frittatas: a source of complete protein rich in iron, vitamin A, D and B12, eggs are the easiest way to replace meat. As a bonus, eggs are also the best source of choline. Load your omelette or frittata with lots of vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms, peppers, cherry tomatoes; season it with your favourite herb and you have a delicious, easy to prepare nutritious meal.
2.Dairy: If you have no issue digesting it, dairy is also an easy way to replace meat. It is a good source of calcium. Fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir have one additional advantage: good bacteria essential for gut health. You eat them alone or add to smoothies or sauces.
3.Plant based protein powders: Hemp, fermented soy and pumpkin are my favourite as they have also a good profile of essential fatty acids, minerals and fiber and can be found in minimally processed versions. They can be added to smoothies and baked food to increase their protein content. Hemp and soy are complete proteins, but pumpkin seed is not. For this reason, if you choose pumpkin seed, make sure to add some nut butter to your smoothie.
4.Humus: with chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed paste) as its basic ingredients, humus is a complete protein, in addition to being rich in fiber and essential fatty acids. Inexpensive and easy to prepare, it is the perfect choice for a healthy snack. Just dip some carrot, celery and pepper sticks in the humus to put cravings away and feel satisfied for hours. It can also be used as a spread in sandwiches or wraps.
5.Soy: Besides being a complete protein, it is packed with minerals and vitamins. As with all fermented foods, fermented soy (tempeh, miso) is easier to digest and has a higher nutritional content. Look for organic soy products.
6.Hemp seeds aka hemp hearts: With the same great content as the protein powder, the hearts can be generously sprinkled over a multi-coloured salad, turning it into a balanced, healthy meal, ideal for hot summer days. It can also be used as the base for pesto, instead of walnuts or pine nuts.
7.Rice and beans: the staple Brazilian dish is a complete protein, but be sure to use brown rice, whose fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Beans are a good source of iron and have a low glycemic index. Other countries have variations on this combo. For instance: dhal in India, and mujaddara in Lebanon and Syria, both made up of rice and lentils, have basically the same benefits. The trick is to pair a whole grain and a legume in order to get complete protein.
8.Amaranth: although considered a grain, in reality it is a seed native to Mexico, and one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. In addition, it has fiber and is rich in magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, besides fair amounts of zinc, iron, copper, selenium, vitamin B6 and folate. Can be used in gluten-free pancakes.
9.Quinoa: quinoa is also a seed and a complete protein. Its nutrition profile is very similar to that of amaranth. It is pretty much versatile. If you like tabbouleh but cannot have gluten, you can replace the bulgur by quinoa. Its flakes can be used in porridges or granola for a good start of the day.
10.Buckwheat: Like amaranth and quinoa, it is a gluten-free seed and has a similar profile, besides reasonable amounts of most B vitamins (except B12). Use its flour to make waffles or its flakes in granola or porridges.
Eating a complete protein everyday is important. Although it is recommended to have some good quality protein at every meal, it is does not have to be complete all the time. The key is to have a balanced diet.