Protein is the key ingredient in muscle building and recovery. But downing cholesterol-laden eggs and fatty cuts of meat every day isn't the healthiest way to get your fix. In fact, diets rich in animal protein and fat have been linked to chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Not sure what meatfree proteins to pick when you're bored with chicken and fish? Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, gave us the scoop on ten of the most nutrient-dense meat alternatives—and the best ways to prepare them.
What it is: A tiny, gluten-free whole grain that has a mild, nutty flavor Protein payout: 10 grams per cup, cooked Other notable nutrients: Fiber, essential amino acids, calcium, iron and vitamin C (which isn’t normally found in grains) How to eat it: Moskovitz suggests breakfast porridge: Combine 1/4 cup teff with 3/4 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until it thickens. Remove from heat and top with honey, berries, and unsweetened coconut flakes.
What it is: Hemp seeds, sometimes called hemp hearts, come from the cannabis plant (but no, eating them won't get you high). Protein payout: 10 grams per 3 tablespoons Other notable nutrients: Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, iron, and magnesium How to eat it: Add the seeds to smoothies (we love this Blue, Green, and Blue Smoothie recipe), cereals, yogurt, salads, and trail mixes, suggests Moskovitz.
What it is: A hearty, whole grain wheat-rye hybrid Protein payout: 13 grams per half-cup Other notable nutrients: Iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and fiber How to eat it: Moskovitz likes to use triticale berries in place of rice. She also suggests trying triticale flour in lieu of white flour.
What it is: A versatile, low-carb meat substitute made from wheat gluten and seasoned with salt and savory spices. “Its texture is similar to that of meat, and it has more protein than tofu and tempeh, making it a great alternative for men who don’t love the thought of vegetarian alternatives,” says Moskovitz. Protein payout: 21 grams per half cup Other notable nutrients: Phosphorus, selenium and iron How to eat it: Bake, grill, braise, or boil it. Use it in any recipe that calls for poultry.
What it is: Renowned for their medicinal and healing properties, high-protein sea vegetables include arame, dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, and spirulina. Protein payout: 8-32 grams per cup Other notable nutrients: Calcium, iron, iodine, potassium, and vitamin A How to eat it: “Many sea vegetables are high in iodine, making them great salt substitutes in soup and grain dishes,” notes Moskovitz. Need more specific instructions? Fill a nori wrap with sweet potato, brown rice, avocado, and greens.
What it is: This trendy superfood comes from the Mexican desert plant Salvia hispanica. Protein payout: 5 grams per 2 tablespoons Other notable nutrients: Calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, and fiber (half the daily recommended amount is in 2 tablespoons) How to eat it: “Chia seeds are basically flavorless so they are easy to toss into just about anything,” explains Moskovitz. “Sprinkle them into salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or mix into smoothies and homemade baked goods.”
What it is: Considered to be the "breakfast of champions" by the Japanese, nattō is made from fermented soybeans and has a chewy texture. Look for it in Asian specialty stores. Protein payout: 16 grams per half cup Other notable nutrients: Vitamins E, B2, and K. It’s also rich in the enzyme nattōkinase, which may help prevent blood clots. How to eat it: “Pair nattō with rice or serve it with whole-wheat spaghetti mixed with pan-fried garlic and onion,” suggests Moskovitz.
What it is: A lesser-known root vegetable that tastes a bit like artichoke hearts. Look for it in specialty markets during its prime season between October and January. Protein payout: 4 grams per cup Other notable nutrients: Calcium, vitamin C, and iron How to eat it: Similar to a potato, salsify can be boiled, mashed or used in soups and stews, explains Moskovitz. “Before you start cooking, scrub it under cold running water, and peel the skin like a carrot.”
PEA AND RICE PROTEIN POWDERS
What it is: Mild-flavored, vegan, gluten-free alternatives to whey and casein protein. Pea and rice protein are often blended together in a single tub, but the two types are also sold separately. Protein payout: 15-24 grams per two tablespoons Other notable nutrients: Amino acids and fiber How to eat it: “Use pea or rice protein in any recipe that calls for protein powder. The end result will usually be the same,” notes Moskovitz.
What it is: Farro, the Italian name for emmer wheat, is known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture. Protein payout: 8 grams per cup Other notable nutrients: Fiber, magnesium and B vitamins How to eat it: “Use farro in place of rice, couscous and other grains, advises Moskovitz. “It’s also a great addition to salads and soups.”