Top 8 Healthy Alternatives to Meat

Amy Hendel | June 22, 2016

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Despite the growing popularity of meat-based diets (Paleo and Atkin’s) research suggests going meat-free for a spell or as a lifestyle change can pay off with improvements to your cholesterol profile, better heart health and  quality of life.  Swapping out meat for quality protein also means you can largely avoid artery-clogging saturated fats typically found in red meat and poultry skin. So don’t hesitate to try these healthy meat alternatives on for size.

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Go fishing

It’s no secret that adding fish to your diet will give you a protein-rich food that’s also abundant in omega-3 fatty acids.  Oily fishes like wild salmon and sardines are great, but consider trying other healthy fish such as herring, bluefin tuna, arctic char (iwana), Atlantic mackerel, black cod, rainbow trout, anchovies and pacific halibut. A fish habit is heart-healthy too.

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Go Greek

Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in carbs compared to other varieties of yogurt. It’s also low in sodium, high in potassium, full of probiotics, and offers a good dose of vitamin B12, and iodine which supports thyroid health. Additionally, Greek yogurt has calcium to support bone health and help with weight loss. Use in a fruit parfait, smoothie or as a topping.

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Go nuts

Nuts are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Full of “good fats,” they are also very satiating. Try buying raw nuts and soaking them in water for 24 hours to start the germination process as this boosts the amount of accessible nutrients. To avoid added sugars and oils, buy unprocessed nuts and nut butters. Include seeds in this group too, which can be added to salads, cereal or yogurt.

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Become a Bean Freak

Beans are low in fat, high in soluble fiber and chock full of nutrients such as iron, potassium, and folate. On average, a cup of beans has about 5-7 grams of protein. Canned beans should be rinsed to remove salt while dried beans should be rinsed and soaked. Use them in chili, soups, stews and salads. Chickpeas are also great for making hummus. One cup of lentils has 230 calories and 18 grams of protein.

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Go fowl

Skinless chicken and turkey have significantly less saturated fat than many cuts of red meat.  A three ounce portion of either has about 26 grams of protein and, on average, 125-130 calories. Avoid frying or using heavy marinades, which will bump up calories, fat and sugar content.  Turkey and chicken contain all nine essential amino acids and a dose of sleep-inducing tryptophan.

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Protein-rich grains

Carbs can be good for you. Heart-healthy whole grains and ancient grains offer nutrients as well as some protein. The B vitamins and antioxidants in whole grains may also reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. One cup of amaranth has 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein. Quinoa has 222 calories per cup and 8 grams of protein and cous cous has 176 calories per cup and 6 grams of protein.

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Eggs

One egg daily can be part of a heart-healthy diet. A large egg has 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and 250 milligrams of choline, a nutrient that helps transport other nutrients in the body. A half cup of egg whites offers 60 calories and 13 grams of protein. You can avoid the 213 mg of cholesterol by ditching the yolk. Try making a vegetable omelet with one egg and 2 egg whites for a protein-packed breakfast or dinner.

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Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan

Tofu, a soybean-based protein, has 8 grams of protein in a 3 ounce serving. The “firm” kind lends itself to stir fry dishes, while silken tofu is great in smoothies or to cream up soups. Tempeh is a nutty-flavored soybean product made from cooked, fermented soybeans and provides 19 grams of protein per cup plus fiber, calcium and vitamins. Seitan or processed wheat gluten is chewy has 18 grams of protein.