Meat consumption has primarily been linked to Western diet and recently, it’s been a trend in people who want to build muscles. No doubt, Meat is an excellent source of high-quality protein, various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, niacin, and vitamin B6.
However, a large number of studies have linked meat consumption to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, also known as “Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)”. That is because, Meat is high in saturated fat, which can lead to above-mentioned lifestyle diseases. Thus, health awareness and other factors such as animal disease, natural resources depletion, green-house gas emission and other environmental concerns has led to the shift to low fat and low calorie plant foods and has increased importance of meat substitutes in the current scenario.
Plant based foods are associated with lowered risks for several kinds of cancers, lowered incidence of hypercholesterolemia, cardiovascular diseases and are known to enhance the immune system as well. Only limiting factor here can be the low quality proteins, but that too can be easily overcome by including diverse plant protein sources to get all the essential amino acids.
Plant-based Meat Substitutes
Here are some of the best meat substitutes that can be a part of a healthy and wholesome diet.
It is also called Bean Curd, is a Soy food product made from soybean or soya bean. It is one of the best meat substitutes because
- It offers a complete protein profile
- It has heat-stable storage protein. Hence, it is good for high temperature cooking
- Bioavailability of soy protein is equivalent to meat and eggs
- They are low in fat in comparison to animal based food especially saturated fat, and have zero cholesterol
- Rich in many bioactive compounds such as isoflavones, peptides, flavonoids and vitamins, which have a protective effect against free radicals in the body
Using firm tofu and Crumbling, stir-fry it until brown and crispy. This makes it taste extremely similar to ground chicken or pork. It can be stir-fried with veggies like broccoli, bell pepper, Zucchini to make salads or its sautéed cubes can be added in soups, or used in sandwiches with lettuce and tomato slices or made into Tikka masala or Tofu-Chilli, etc.
2. Beans and Legumes
They are an ideal choice for a filling and fiber-rich meal. They have protein content which is at par with some animal foods, as per the Nutritive Value of Indian Foods. Raw beans/legumes can provide a whopping 18-37 gm of protein per 100 grams with additional advantage of fiber, low fat, no cholesterol and plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Few options include:
- Chickpeas have beneficial nutrient composition with high fibre which makes it more filling. They not only provide protein but also provide a substantial portion of iron, folate, potassium, and have a calcium content equivalent to milk. Using it as coarsely ground gives it a texture of minced beef. It can be used to make Hummus which is used as a dip for vegetable sticks, baked falafel, which can serve as a meat-free patty in tacos or burgers or pancakes from chickpea flour with veggies to make a complete meal.
- Boiled and minced Black beans can replace beans for ground beef in tacos and other similar dishes. The dark colour of the bean makes it a fantastic source of antioxidants and anthocyanins. It can be made into vegetables or fillings for sandwiches.
- Lentils have one of the highest levels of protein by weight of all the pulses and less than 1% fat, providing them a nutritional edge to thicken meat-free curries and soups.
- Cooked green peas are another protein-rich option, almost the same as a cup of milk. It can be served as a side dish, made into patties, cooked with veggies, stirred into soup or macaroni and cheese or blended with olive oil, parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts to make a delicious pesto sauce.
3. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are another good substitute for meats, fish and eggs as they are protein-dense, especially Hemp seeds which have complete proteins, good fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B2, niacin, folate, and essential minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and selenium and healthy essential fats
Only downside here is the relatively higher calories which calls for controlled portions. Here’s how you can use them:
- Hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds can be toasted and sprinkled over salad to give a crunch.
- Stir them into buttermilk/yogurt and oatmeal or blend them into smoothies.
- Sunflower, sesame and melon seeds can be added to muffins, salads, stir fries or in the case of sunflower seeds, can be eaten on their own.
- Toasted nuts can be made into energy bars.
- Plain nuts and nut butters can be eaten without hydrogenated oils or lots of added sugar, example, Almond butter and peanut butter.
- Almond milk or hemp milk are also good options for consumption.
A study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has revealed that replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of nuts reduces mortality risk by 19%. Believe it or not, tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams follow a healthy, balanced raw vegan diet during the tennis season. That’s right, both raw and vegan.
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