Tofu, tempeh, seitan, oh my!
In the modern world where there's seemingly an argument revolving around nearly every health food, what's a health-conscious eater to do?
My father recently went vegetarian, and he recently picked my brain for information about meat alternatives. He's still in the "make me think it's meat" stage of this new lifestyle, craving the texture and heartiness that meat once provided. Many new vegetarians are also concerned about having enough protein in their diets. I realized I was relying mostly on grain-and-legume combining for my protein, and perhaps ought to delve into investigating Dad's query firsthand.
I was fortunate enough to learn a good deal at nutrition school about meat alternatives, so now, I present you with a simple guide to navigating the world of meat alternatives.
Tofu is made from soybeans and is rich in iron, calcium and protein. Think about when you make almond milk; you know the almond pulp that's left over? Tofu is essentially made from the pulp of the soybeans after soy milk has been made. This "pulp," if you will, is mixed with a coagulant (thickening agent). If you have soy sensitivities, tofu may not work for your body. Something else to consider is the presence of phytates, which may hinder the body's ability to absorb all of the tofu's nutrients. Fermentation releases these phytates and makes the food more bioavailable. Which leads us to …
Tempeh is a delicious addition to any diet, vegetarian or otherwise. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a hearty texture and is a complete protein. It also contains more than double the protein content of tofu. Tempeh is one of the absolute best ways to consume soy. Due to its fermentation process, both its digestibility and absorbability is increased. As with tofu, be sure to purchase organic tempeh to avoid GMOs. Consuming tempeh is not only a great way to add healthy soy to your diet, but it also is a way to boost intake of fermented foods and ensure adequate protein intake. You can even make your own tempeh at home!
Seitan is textured wheat protein, and is what makes up a lot of the "fake meats" on the market. A note to the wise, though, is to be mindful with seitan. This food is usually processed, and it's not for anyone who's gluten intolerant, wheat sensitive or bent on consuming only whole foods.
Getting adequate protein as a vegetarian is easy. Mother Nature offered us loads of different protein sources both from plants and animals. Some high protein, nutrient-rich options include hemp seeds, mung beans, organic tempeh, organic pastured eggs, organic pastured cottage cheese (higher in amino acids than many meats!), nuts and seeds, quinoa and peanut butter.
Intuitive eating is necessary here; some people thrive as omnivores, while others thrive as herbivores. We must listen to our own bodies and ensure we are getting adequate macronutrients. Ideally, to paraphrase Michael Pollan, if your grandmother wouldn't think of it as food, don't eat it.
I think that's a good lesson to leave off with today. Eat whole, plant-based foods, enjoy one mindful serving per day of your preferred organic, non-GMO meat alternative, and always fill at least half the plate with greens. Cheers to health!
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