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Meatless high-protein foods

MYTH: Protein is only found in meat.

FACT: Many plant-based or vegetarian foods are packed full of protein.

“Our bodies absolutely have to have protein. Protein is a building block of our cells. Without it, our cells could not function properly,” says Nancy Waldeck, a chef at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.

Sources of meatless protein

Waldeck says there are many creative ways to get protein in your diet besides eating meat. In fact, there are numerous athletes who follow vegetarian diets and are still able to fuel their bodies for intense physical activity. She recommends these protein power-houses:

1. Quinoa is the only grain that contains all the essential amino acids that make it a complete protein. It is equivalent to eating a chicken breast, steak or salmon. “I love quinoa because it is so versatile,” says Waldeck. “It is like a sponge. It absorbs all the flavors that you blend with it, and it can be added to so many different dishes.”

2. Beans, when combined with a healthy starch, are a complete protein, and again, are extremely versatile. They can be tossed in a salad, soup, pasta, etc. There are also so many different types of beans that help bring variety to your palate.

3. Tempeh is a wheat-based product that has a meat-like texture, so it is a great substitute for meat-lovers. It can be found in specialty or health food grocery stores. 

4. Certain vegetables like broccoli and spinach are good sources of protein. Ideally, you want to add them to another high-protein food, like tossing them into a bowl of quinoa, because they are not a sufficient source of protein on their own.

5. Dairy products like low-fat cheeses and yogurts are an excellent source of protein. Nonfat Greek yogurt contains more protein than any other yogurt and it is a great substitute for sour cream.

A meaty texture 

Waldeck recognizes there are some people who crave the texture of meat. Because meat is only recommended in moderation, she recommends incorporating mushrooms into recipes as a substitute.

“Mushrooms are known for their meaty texture. Big Portobello mushrooms can be grilled in place of a burger. Sliced mushrooms can be used in a stroganoff with Greek yogurt. Chopped mushrooms are great in chili, on nachos or combined with meat in a burger patty.”

Mushrooms are easily enhanced with sauces, but Waldeck cautions that they are not protein-rich foods, so they should be paired with other high-protein foods.

“You might as well get the most out of the foods you eat, so finding high-protein foods you enjoy will help fuel your cells and keep your body healthy and strong,” Waldeck says.

For superfood recipe ideas, visit Living Better’s Recipe Index.

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