For my purposes here, I am basically basing this from a pescatarian perspective. For those of you unfamiliar with it, people in this category are generally ovo-lacto-vegeratians with the addition of fish and seafood. The reasoning behind this is that fish are unlikely to feel pain in the sense that other animals do*, though this is contested by some, and are therefore allowed in the diet. If I were to become full-on vegetarian, this is the type I would choose, personally.
My favourite types of proteins tend to be animal based in some way or another, whether as part of the animal or a by-product of them. This is likely due to the fact that I was raised by the sea in a small town and fish were everywhere. Not only that, but also we would get fresh eggs from hens at a family farm down the road too. If you are in the situation where you can locally sours from a family farm or farmer’s market, definitely do it, because the taste from the stuff in the grocery stores just does not compare to local fresh products!
Proteins for Vegetarians:
- Fish – Let’s just start with the obvious choices, shall we? I LOVE fish. I basically teethed on it. After having tried many different types, I can tell you that cod is still very close to my heart (definitely for the rare fish and chips I eat). Fish are amazingly healthy with omega-3 fatty acids essential for our bodies (especially those brains). There are some other omega-3 fats in plants as well (which are all very healthy), but the ones from cold water fish are especially healthy, since they are more unsaturated. Pairing many fish with lemon or dill really makes a great main course!
- Eggs – If you are what you eat, I am probably 87% egg. There is nothing better to me than breakfast on a weekend! By eating eggs, you add a complete source of protein to the meals. Eggs are a great source of Vitamins A & D, B-12, and a very good source of selenium (which is important in thyroid hormone function). Make quiches for lunch, or have them poached on a vegetable has for an amazing breakfast.
- Dairy – This group is definitely a very good source of calcium, no doubt, but did you know it is a great source of potassium and riboflavin? Riboflavin is crucial in iron absorption in the body, and deficiencies (while rare) can lead to anaemia? It really does do a body good!
- Fermented Dairy – I am putting this in its own category because the process of adding bacteria to dairy products is a small miracle in itself! By adding bacteria or yeast to milk it actually increases the body’s ability to digest it, since the organisms eat much of the offending lactose for you before you get to it! The benefits of them are pretty much the same as with other dairy products otherwise with one notable exception – PROBIOTICS!! These little microorganisms are so important to us in our digestive tract that they have been called our second brain! I love kefir for this – it’s like Yop, but healthier!
- Pulses (AKA Legumes) – These are your beans, lentils, peas, soybeans and their ilk. These are such a great source of protein and are totally vegan, so we can all enjoy them! Beyond that, we all know that they are a source of fibre every since we were in grade school – that “musical fruit.”
- Nuts – While a great source of protein, they are also rich in unsaturated fats. This is great because fats will help you stay fuller for longer. They are also a good source of magnesium and selenium – essential minerals we couldn’t do without! Add them to your snacks and salads for a quick energy boost!
- Seeds – They have many of the same benefits as nuts, with unsaturated fats and essential vitamins and minerals, and technically include pulses as a subgroup. They include phytosterols (essentially plant cholesterol) which can help lower blood cholesterol. They are great in salads, granolas, and so many other great dishes that they really can be incorporated into a healthy diet easily.
- Nutritional Yeast – This one I love. It’s like cheese for vegans! It adds that flavour that can’t really be found in a lot of vegan foods while being a great source of B1 and B2. Add it to dressings, sauces, veggie burgers and you’re set!
- Quinoa – Used like a grain, but is actually a seed, I use it anywhere I could also use rice. Make sure you rinse it first or buy a pre-rinsed variety, because it has a coating of saponin that tastes just like soap. It’s rich in phosphorus and manganese, which is essential in teeth and bone health, and metabolism, respectively. Add quinoa to your soups or in a “pilaf” instead of rice.
- Soy products – Such as tofu, tempeh, and soybean oil. They have phytochemicals that provide antioxidant properties, which help reduce inflammation. While being controversial in that soy contains phytoestrogens, which some claim will alter hormonal balance, there are many health benefits to soy. Just make sure you do some research on soy if you are at risk of certain cancers and determine if it is right for you.
There you have it! There are so many ways to incorporate complete protein on a plant-based (or mostly plant-based) diet. Save the beef for the weekend, because it can be just as delicious and definitely nutritious. I found “16 Delicious Vegan Dinner Recipes” over at Cookie + Kate that are amazing. With a little creativity after trying some existing recipes, the sky is the limit for Meatless Meals! #meatlessmondayanyone?
Like Thai?? Check out this amazing chickpea curry from Pinch of Yum. And it only has 5 INGREDIENTS! Easy peasy! You could even serve it over quinoa instead for an even bigger protein boost!
*Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB). “Do fish feel pain? Not as humans do, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130808123719.htm>.