The Truth About Protein

There are many food sources of protein, both plant and animal based, but they are not all equal. To choose healthy protein-rich foods, we must pay attention to the other nutrients that travel along with the protein we consume.  When we expand our view of health to encompass our environment and planet, it becomes even more clear that plant-based proteins are the most mindful choice.

It's true that some forms of animal protein are healthier than others because they contain healthful fats. Fish, for instance, is rich in omega-3s. Chicken is a better choice than red meat because it’s low in in unhealthful fats. Plant based proteins—beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and foods derived from them -- are especially good for us because they contain fiber, and often healthy fats too.

“A 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak is a great source of protein—about 40 grams worth. But it also delivers about 38 grams of fat, 14 of them saturated. That's more than 60 percent of the recommended daily intake for saturated fat. The same amount of salmon gives you 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated. A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but under 1 gram of fat,” The Nutrition Source.

As the example illustrates, red meat is  high in saturated fat, a type of fat that is bad for our hearts. Consuming too much red meat, and even small amounts of processed meat, may increase your risk of colon cancer and heart disease. Dairy products, such as cheese and whole milk, are also high in saturated fat, so eating a lot of these foods could increase your risk of ovarian and prostate cancers. Red meat and dairy products also take a terrible toll on the environment.

I recommend you choose the healthiest sources of protein, both for your own welfare and for that of the planet. It is absolutely possible to get the protein we need to thrive from a plant-based diet. We must simply be intentional in our choices and choose a variety of plant foods. A diverse diet is essential for vegetarians and vegans because plant foods contain incomplete proteins, which alone are not enough, but in tandem compliment each other to create the complete proteins our bodies need.

More detailed information about healthy vegetarian and vegan diets is available in Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.

A Delicious plant-based, high protein recipe:  Easy Vegan Red Veggie Burgers 
One of my summertime favorites - from The Savvy Vegetarian.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup uncooked bulgar wheat and 1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked bulgar wheat and 1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup dry brown lentils and    1 1/2 cups water
1 unsalted vegetable bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, stemmed and minced
1 cup grated raw beet (1 medium beet)
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (2 oz any kind)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaf
2 Tbsp besan (chickpea) flour
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp high heat oil for frying the burgers
Ground black pepper to taste
Burger buns and fixings of your choice

Directions:

1. Add bulgar and 1 1/4 cup water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil, cover and turn off heat. Let stand 1 hour
2. Add lentils and 1 1/2 cup water, 1 vegetable bouillon cube, 1 bay leaf and 1/2 tsp salt to a small         saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off heat. Let stand 1 hour
3. Mince garlic, grate beet, chop mushrooms. Set aside
4. Dry roast besan flour, cumin and paprika in a small frying pan on medium heat for 5 minutes
5. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium low
6. Stir fry garlic & in oil 2 minutes
7. Increase heat to medium, add the beets and stir fry 5 minutes, adding 1 Tbsp water as needed if they begin to stick
8. Add dried thyme leaf and chopped mushrooms and stir fry with the garlic and beets 5 minutes
9. Drain well to remove any excess water from the bulgar and lentils, remove bay leaf from the lentils
10. Combine lentils and bulgar in a food processor with the veggies, besan and spices, liquid smoke and soy sauce or Braggs.
11. Process until well mixed but not mushy
12. Turn out into a bowl and stir in the nutritional yeast. The mixture should be quite stiff
13. Form 6 flat patties and cook on medium-low until brown, approx. 10 min per side

Nut & Seed Photo by Satoru Kikuchi from the Creative Commons.

 

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