15 Best Protein Alternatives to Meat Besides Tofu
Do you hate tofu? Or are you just plain sick of it? Check out these 15 tasty alternatives to both meat and tofu that will make you smack your lips in delight.
1. Quinoa: This tiny seed is full of protein, easy to cook and very versatile. A cup of cooked quinoa serves up eight grams of protein and you can get more by serving it with chickpeas, beans and nuts. Plus, it is one of the only non-meat options that provide the nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own, including lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Plus, quinoa contains fiber, iron, magnesium and manganese. Buy it white, red or black, in bulk or in a box. Rinse it well (even if you buy it pre-washed), then cook it like rice: combine one part quinoa to two parts water in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for around 15 minutes. Serve hot with stir-fried vegetables or cold in a salad of leafy greens, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers or in some saucy combo you particularly like.
A cup of cooked quinoa serves up eight grams of protein and you can get more by serving it with chickpeas, beans and nuts. Photo credit: Shutterstock
2. Lentils: I spent three weeks trekking in the Himalayas and pretty much survived on lentils and the nine grams of protein per half cup they provide when cooked. I never got sick of them and today, I still enjoy a delicious protein boost from lentil soup, lentil stew and lentils in the dal I order at Indian restaurants. If you buy them dry, sort through them before you cook them to find tiny pieces of dirt or rocks that might have gotten mixed in. Then rinse them under running water before boiling three cups of water for every one cup of lentils. Once the water is boiling add the lentils, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. It will take 20-30 minutes to cook, depending on which variety of lentil you are using. When done, add cooked lentils to a mushroom, carrot and onion stew, vegetable soup or your own lentil soup you make with hearty vegetarian stock and whatever vegetables you have on hand. If you don’t want to start with dry lentils, you can find organic packaged lentils that have already been cooked.
3. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans: Garbanzo beans are among the most versatile of beans for their mild flavor and their versatility. It doesn’t hurt that one cup of garbanzos provides 12 grams of protein or 24 percent of the daily value based on a 2,000-calorie diet (so more, if you only eat 1,200-1,500 calories, like I usually do). Like lentils, you can cook up the dried bean or buy them ready to eat. Toss them on a couscous-based salad for a big protein boost, nibble on them cold with a little salt and pepper for a snack, add them to vegetable soup or puree them with some lemon juice and yogurt to make a refreshing dip for vegetables and crackers. You can also grind them up and add parsley and mint to make your own falafel.
4. Kidney Beans: I also think of these beans as chili beans, don’t you? Cooked kidney beans pack about 15 grams of protein into every cup serving; they are also a terrific source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. I prefer to eat these beans hot, as in a veggie stew, soup or chili.
6. Seitan: If you’re not gluten-free, seitan could be a good meat and tofu alternative for you. It’s made from wheat gluten, is chewier than tofu and can be grilled, braised and broiled like meat. If you like eating food with a heartier texture, seitan could be for you. Here’s how to make it at home if you can’t find it in your local food co-op or natural foods grocery store.
7. Tempeh: Tempeh is similar in texture and cooking profile to seitan, but is made from fermented soybeans rather than wheat gluten. It tastes pretty bland on its own, so marinate it in flavorful sauces and spices before you cook it.
8. Broccoli: This is a surprise, right? Broccoli contains 5 grams of protein per cup. The problem, of course, is that you probably won’t eat more than a cup of broccoli at one sitting. But combine cooked broccoli with quinoa or dip raw broccoli in hummus and you have a satisfying, protein-rich meal for lunch or dinner.
9. Green Peas: One cup of cooked peas contains about 79 grams of protein, almost the same as a cup of milk. Serve them as a side dish, stir them into soup or macaroni and cheese or blend them with olive oil, parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts to make a delicious pesto.
10. Seeds: Both hemp and chia seeds are protein dense and add good fiber to your diet, too. Toast them and sprinkle them over salad, stir them into yogurt and oatmeal or blend them into smoothies. Sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds are also protein powerhouses, which you can add to muffins, salads, stir fries or, in the case of sunflower seeds, eat on their own.
11. Nuts and Nut Butters: The upside is that nuts are very protein-dense, between five and six grams of protein per ounce. The downside is that they’re also high in calories. Your best bet is to eat nuts and nut butters plain, without hydrogenated oils or lots of added sugar. Get dry roasted or buy them raw and roast them at home. You can grind peanuts into peanut better at some food co-ops and grocery stores or look for butters that clearly say “just peanuts” or “just almonds” plus perhaps some salt, on their labels.
12. Edamame: Boiled edamame soybeans contain 8.4 grams of protein per half cup, but I bet you won’t stop there. You boil them up in their pods, then sprinkle them with a little salt and maybe a dash of soy sauce and slurp out the beans.
13. Milk: If you’re vegan, go the soy, almond, hemp, flax or rice milk route. If you consume dairy, cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk might be more to your liking. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup of nonfat milk contains 8.26 grams of protein or 16 percent of your daily value for protein. It’s also rich in calcium, riboflavin, vitamin D and other minerals.
14. Yogurt: Thick and creamy Greek yogurt may contain twice as much protein as regular yogurt, but read the label of whichever option you choose, as some companies add gelatin, an animal collagen product or carmine, a natural dye derived from the body of beetles. Look at sugar and fat content, as well. I generally prefer non-fat, no sugar added Greek yogurt or I make my own out of non-fat organic milk, a couple of tablespoons of yogurt and maybe a half cup of powdered organic milk.
15. Eggs: If you’re not vegan, eggs could be a terrific meat and tofu substitute for you. One large whole egg contains six grams of protein: three in the yolk and three in the white. Eggs also contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals, plus many of the amino acids you need for complete protein. If you’ve got room in your yard, you can humanely raise your own chickens and collect the eggs without much ado.
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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