If you are a vegetarian or you simply want to eat less meat, there are many alternatives to getting the protein and other nutrients your body needs. But you have to be smart about your planning.
Biologically, human beings are carnivores. Our bodies need the nutrients that come from a diet balanced in carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The main ingredients eliminated when we do not ingest animal products are complete protein sources. For example, a 3-ounce serving of beef contains roughly 20 grams of protein. To make up the deficit of eliminating meat, substitute other protein-rich foods. A cup of yogurt has about 10 grams of protein; peanut butter has about 4 grams per tablespoon. Find out which foods are high in protein and work them into your meal plan.
According to the Dietary Reference Intakes published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 10-25 percent of calories should come from protein. A vegetarian diet can meet all of the nutritional requirements, but careful planning is needed.
Why does your body need protein?
• Protein is needed to build and repair our muscles.
• Protein is the building block of major organs.
• Every enzyme in our body and many of our hormones are made of protein.
• The antibodies we make to fight infections are proteins.
• Proteins are important sources of iron, zinc and niacin.
• The body cannot store extra protein, so our diet must supply a fresh source of protein every day.
Try using a vegetarian food pyramid, such as the one found at www.vegsource.com. The USDA (www.mypyramid.gov) recommends following the standard food pyramid but substituting vegetarian protein sources; its recommendations can be found under “Tips & Resources” on the USDA Web site.
Remember that if you are an athlete or physically active, you need more protein than someone who is more sedentary.
There are recipe books full of great ideas for meatless, high-protein meals. Be creative
Here are a few alternative protein sources to consider:
• Soy, tofu, tempeh, seitan, gluten
• Legumes (lentils, black beans, fava beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, etc.)
• Grains, nuts, seeds, almond
• Quinoa (a grain high in iron and amino acids)
• Veggie luncheon meats
• Veggie chicken and turkey meats
• Veggie jerky
• Soy milk
Beans and rice, bean burritos, bean soups, hummus, macaroni and cheese, pasta with parmesan, veggie burgers and sausages, vegetable lasagna.
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