I recommend that your protein intake comes from whole foods, not just protein supplements. If you are eating a plant-based diet and are struggling to find enough protein sources, I will discuss more options in future posts.
Animal foods should be as organic as possible and raised on species-appropriate diets. This includes grass and pasture for cows, pigs, and poultry. Animal protein recommendations include eating not just muscle meats, but also skin and organ meats, and making broths from the bones. This ensures a far broader range of nutrients than you can get from just the meat.
Meat consumption has risen dramatically in the US over the past century. Making matters worse, a large amount of this excess meat is typically poor quality, originating in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where the animals are mistreated and fed an unnatural diet of genetically engineered grains instead of fresh grass. Humans have been eating meat for as long as our species has existed. Scientists who study the Paleo trend of eating meat-heavy and low-sugar diets find that they have typically no sign of heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases. It all boils down to where you source your meat.
I recommend sourcing meats from Thousand Hills Cattle Company. In 2009, a joint research project between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Clemson University determined 10 key areas where grass fed is better than grain-fed beef.
- Higher in omega-3s and has a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 acids. (I will explain the role of omega 3 and 6 in a future blog.)
- Grass fed beef is higher in CLA, a potential cancer fighter.
- Grass-fed beef is higher in the B- vitamins, thiamin and riboflavin and higher in vitamins E and beta-carotene.
- Grass-fed beef is also higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Red meat contains various types of fat – not only saturated fat, but also omega-6 fats (omega-6 is more in the corn-fed feedlot cows) and omega-3 fats (in grass-fed meat). The link between saturated fat and heart disease has been disproven.
The fat composition of grass-fed beef is more nutritious than chicken. Chickens eat grain and have higher levels of omega-6 fats, which are generally too abundant in our diets.
Grass-ranged eggs are an easy to prepare source of protein. A comparison of nutritional data for caged versus free-range eggs found, on average, the free-range eggs had:
- Twice as much omega-3 fatty acids.
- Three times more vitamin E.
- Seven times more pro-vitamin A beta-carotene.
- Eating just two grass-ranged eggs will give you from 63-126% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D! Note that this benefit comes only from hens that are free to graze fresh greens, eat bugs, and bask in the sun. 99% of the eggs sold in the supermarket do not meet this criterion.
Well-sourced diary can have a place in your diet. Milk and other dairy contain vitamins A, B6, B12, and D (this is usually added). The food lobby erroneously tells us that milk is a perfect food. Humans are the only species that continues to drink milk after weaning. And, the milk we have on the shelves of our stores is NOT the milk that our grandparents drank. Today’s milk contains reproductive hormones, allergenic proteins, antibiotics, and growth factors, many of which promote cancer. Try switching to almond, oat, coconut or soy milk.
If you do drink or serve milk, low-fat sweetened milk makes kids hungrier and more likely to become obese. It is NOT the fat in the milk that is the problem, it is all the other junk.
Yogurt can be healthy but check the sugar content before you buy yogurt. Most of it isn’t better than junk food. Yoplait has the same amount of sugar as a can of Coke. Look for grass-fed sheep, goat, or cow yogurt, unsweetened with live cultures. Plant-based yogurts from coconuts, soy, almonds, and cashews is delicious.
Most adults cannot properly metabolize lactose. 70% of the world’s population can’t digest diary. For many others, it can cause cancer, autoimmune disease, and acne.
Another option similar to yogurt is kefir, a cultured, creamy product more liquid than yogurt. Easily digested, it cleanses the intestines, provides beneficial bacteria and yeast, vitamins and minerals, and complete proteins. Because kefir is such a balanced and nourishing food, it contributes to a healthy immune system and has been used to help patients suffering from AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, and cancer. Its tranquilizing effect on the nervous system has benefited many who suffer from sleep disorders, depression, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The regular use of kefir can help relieve intestinal disorders, promote bowel movement, reduce flatulence and create a healthier digestive system. Kefir can also help eliminate unhealthy food cravings by making the body more nourished and balanced.
Anthropologists say one reason that human settlements developed near coastlines and large bodies of water is that fish consumption helped our ancestors develop larger brains. Unfortunately, global demand has grown so rapidly that we are depleting the oceans. Half of the seafood that Americans eat comes from farms. These farms are over-crowded. The fish are forced to swim in their own feces and they are infested with parasites. Farmed fish are fed manufactured feed made up of corn, wheat, soy, and vegetable oils like canola. None of these foods are found in a fish’s natural diet.
Look for dark, fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, and anchovies to get all the benefits of seafood. Tuna is high in omega-3 fats, but it is also very high in mercury. White fish generally contains lower omega-3 fats. Remember that the bigger the fish, the more pollutants it contains.
For plant proteins, organic sources are always preferred. The preparation is important. Soaking beans before cooking them and soaking and dehydrating nuts and seeds makes the nutrients more available and makes them easier to digest. Plant foods, especially grains and legumes, often lack one or more of the essential amino acids, but become complete protein sources when they are combined. Vegetable proteins must be properly combined to be complete and usable by the body: beans and grains, beans with nuts and seeds, milk products with grains. Because the liver stores amino acids for 24-36 hours, you do NOT need to combine with every meal.
Tempeh is typically made from fermented soybeans and/or wheat. It can be prepared in a variety of different ways and is high in nutrients, making it a popular vegetarian source of protein. Much like other meatless sources of protein, such as tofu and seitan, tempeh is packed with nutrients. Because it is more compact than other soy products, tempeh provides more protein than some other vegetarian alternatives. Not only is tempeh a good source of protein, but it also has iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. It is low in carbs and sodium. 3 ounces of tempeh contains:
- 15 grams of protein
- 12% of the recommended daily intake of iron
- 9% of the RDI of calcium
- 12% of the RDI of niacin
- 18% of the RDI of magnesium
- 21% of the RDI of phosphorus
- 54% of the RDI of manganese
Tempeh has a much stronger flavor than tofu. It’s savory and nutty, and many people describe it as having an earthy, mushroom-y taste.
Tempeh is traditionally made with soybeans, but it can actually be made with any type of bean, like black beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas. Some kinds of tempeh also include grains, like brown rice, barley or millet, or seeds.
Fermentation is a process that involves the breaking down of sugars by bacteria and yeast. Through fermentation, the phytic acid found in soybeans is broken down, helping to improve digestion and absorption. Compared to other tempeh varieties, soy-based tempeh is especially rich in probiotics, which promote good digestive health.
Research shows that soy protein can be just as effective as meat-based protein when it comes to appetite control. In a 2014 study, 20 obese men were placed on a high-protein diet that included either soy-based or meat-based protein. After two weeks, they found that both diets led to weight loss, a decrease in hunger and an increase in fullness with no significant difference between the two protein sources.
Tempeh is traditionally made from soybeans, which contain natural plant compounds called isoflavones. Soy isoflavones have been associated with reduced cholesterol levels.
Studies show that soy isoflavones also possess antioxidant properties and may reduce oxidative stress. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals, atoms that are highly unstable and can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Numerous studies have shown that isoflavones could reduce markers of oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant activity in the body.
Tempeh may especially be beneficial compared to other soy products. One study compared the isoflavones in soybeans to the isoflavones in tempeh and found that tempeh had greater antioxidant activity.
Though dairy products are the most common sources of calcium, studies show that the calcium in tempeh is as well absorbed as the calcium in milk, making it an excellent option for increasing calcium intake.
People with thyroid conditions should ask their doctors about eating soy-based products. Soy contains goitrogens – substances that depress thyroid function.
How to Buy
You can buy tempeh in any health food store, as well as most grocery stores. Look for it in the refrigerated section, near where tofu and meat alternative products are sold.
How to Store
Store tempeh in the refrigerator.
How to Cook
Tempeh is a versatile food. Use it the same way you would any type of meat or tofu — as a burger, in salads, stir fries, soups and stews. Tempeh is firm, it is best to slice it into thin slices or cubes before preparing it. To add more flavor, consider marinating the tempeh before cooking. Tempeh is commonly sliced thin then pan-fried or grilled, until the edges are crispy. It can also be baked, steamed, crumbled into soups and stews, or added into stir-fries.
Sweet Potato and Tempeh Stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
6 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
3 cups vegetable stock or water
8 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup plain yogurt, divided – can use dairy-free
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish
- Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Sauté onion and garlic until onion is translucent.
- Add ginger, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté for another minute.
- Add sweet potatoes and water or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add tempeh and simmer for about 10 more minutes, until tempeh is cooked through and potatoes are tender.
- Remove from heat, season to taste, and stir in 1/2 cup yogurt. Serve garnished with the remaining yogurt and pumpkin seeds.
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