It’s all about high protein foods when it comes to fitness now, but are you getting enough? Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet and vital for growing and repairing cells. Many get the recommended daily intake (46g for women, 56g for men) from red meat, which is also rich in iron and vitamin B12. But what are the alternative sources of protein, if you’re trying to cut down on meat or eat a more plant-based diet?
The good news is that there are a lot of protein-rich alternatives out there to experiment with and we’ve got 10 of them for you to try.
Grains are a fantastic source of protein and relatively economical; a handful goes a long way! Trendy grain quinoa contains all 8 essential amino acids, making it more nutritious than rice and couscous but just as filling. When cooked, it has a fluffy texture and nutty taste – the perfect accompaniment to curries and salads. Regarded by the Incas as the sacred “mother grain”, gluten-free quinoa is a fully-fledged foodie favorite.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soya bean milk. It is an extremely low-fat and nutritious alternative to meat, containing high amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin E. It’s extremely versatile and flavoursome when you cook it well.
The mighty mushroom has twice the amount of protein than most vegetables, making it a great addition to pasta, pies and all sorts. The chewy texture gives you something to really sink your teeth into, making larger Portobello mushrooms a satisfying replacement for burgers! Combine with other protein-rich foods such as eggs, tofu, and pulses for a super healthy meat-free meal.
While all types of cheese contain good levels of protein, cottage cheese provides the most protein per calorie and the least amount of fat. Made from pasteurized skimmed milk and containing healthy fatty acids, cottage cheese has long been a favorite of dieters. Replacing hard cheese for cottage cheese in rich dishes such as macaroni and lasagne will boost your protein intake and reduce fat – without sacrificing that lovely, creamy taste.
Seafood such as lobster, prawns, octopus, tuna, salmon and halibut are all high in protein and lower in fat than most meat – even the fattiest fish have a similar or lower fat content to lean meat. Fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce heart disease, lower blood pressure and have beneficial effects on the brain. Shellfish such as mussels also have high levels of iron – enough to rival red meat!
Lentils have one of the highest levels of protein by weight of all the pulses and only 1% fat, making them an excellent ingredient to bulk up meat-free curries and soups.
As a leading brand of imitation meat, Quorn has a very similar taste and consistency, especially when mixed with your usual Bolognese sauce, curries, and chili con carne. It has all the essential amino acids found in beef or chicken but has 75% less fat than even lean beef mince.
Edamame beans are actually baby soya beans and are one of the only vegetables to contain virtually all the health benefits of meat. These nutty beans can be used to bulk up dishes such as stir-fries and salads, eaten alone as a super snack, or whizzed in a food processor to make a guilt-free tortilla dip!
Nuts are a fantastic everyday source of protein, which are ideal for health-conscious snacking or for boosting lackluster salads. One cup of almonds provides more protein than an egg, while cashew nuts are high in antioxidants and promote good cardiovascular health.
A staple of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, chickpeas are a nutritious source of protein with a slightly heavier consistency than lentils. They are commonly used in veggie curries and are of course, the main ingredient in hummus. They can also be used to make burgers!