Protein is the building block of the human body and a crucial part of complete nutrition. Carbohydrates are easy to find or grab off the shelf, but protein-rich foods usually require a bit more preparation. If you struggle with fitting enough protein into your diet, try these on for size:
Where’s the Beef?
Not all meats are created equal, and your preferences are shaped by a plethora of variables and past experiences. Just because you didn’t like something in the past doesn’t mean you won’t like it prepared differently now—and if you still don’t, try some other options!
Beef: Beef is a great source of protein, but a diet based solely on beef could lead to high cholesterol and heart problems. Look for lean cuts of steak to pan grill or bar-b-q, pot roasts for slow oven roasting or set and forget slow cooker, and lean ground beef (ideally 90/10, which means 90% lean meat, 10% fat) for browning or making burger patties. The key to fantastic beef is a combination of seasoning and cooking time, so grab a meat thermometer the next time you’re out grocery shopping and avoid guessing when your beef is done.
Wild Game: Wild and organic game really do have distinctive flavors, so they can be an acquired taste. Venison, elk, and bison are all richly flavored, lean alternatives to beef.
Poultry: Over chicken breasts? We understand! Chicken is often touted as an “ideal” protein because it’s lean, but chicken alone gets boring fast. Try roasting turkey drumsticks or breasts, or even a whole bird, in the oven. While duck is higher in fat than either chicken or turkey, it can make a great occasional meal. Wild birds like pheasant and game hens also offer lean not-chicken protein options.
Seafood, shellfish and fish: Seafood is an excellent source of protein, and the variety in texture and flavor mean nearly everyone can find a type of seafood they love. Shellfish tend to be “sweeter,” but can become rubbery if overcooked, so proceed with caution if you decide to host a shrimp or crab boil yourself. If you normally turn up your nose because fish smells or tastes too “fishy,” try branching out to other types of fish and preparation styles. Don’t forget that freshness is the single most important factor in the flavor of any type of seafood, so if you do take a bite that is exceptionally fishy tasting, stop eating!
Protein Plant Power
Even if you aren’t a vegan or vegetarian, don’t ignore the protein offered by plants.
Tofu: Plain tofu offers the most protein bang per serving, and this boring-looking white block can be incredibly versatile. Simply sub for chicken or fish in a recipe, or look for tofu-specific recipes. Tofu can also be used to make dairy-substitute foods, but double-check any off-the-shelf dairy substitutes, as they can be full of added sugars.
Nuts: It probably isn’t news to you that nuts are a great source of plant protein, as well as healthy fat. But not all nuts are created equal: almonds provide the highest protein to fat ratio and little carbohydrates, but walnuts and pistachios are also great options. Opt for raw, or unsalted roasted nuts and stick to the serving size, or substitute nut-flour for all or part of recipes calling for wheat flour.
Legumes: Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit! If you turn up your nose at beans, consider this: legumes are high in both protein and fiber, so they’re exceptionally filling. Beans are also ridiculously versatile. Try pureeing or smashing black or kidney beans as a substitute for sour cream, make homemade hummus with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), or swap the flour in your kids’ brownies for pureed black beans (yes, really! – we promise they’ll never notice).
Good seasoning is essential for any food, and doubly so for protein. If you’re attempting to cook something new, do a quick search for recipes to get an idea what spices and herbs will pair best. Choose packaged seasoning carefully, as they’re often little more than salt, and can contain hidden sugar. Check recommended cooking times and internal temperatures for meats to ensure you never overcook it again. Subbing plant protein for animal protein is not only healthy, but also good for the earth. If you’re predominantly a meat-eater, try going meat free for one meal or one day a week and play around with plant protein options to find something you look forward to eating.