If there’s one thing environmentalists and your general practictioner will agree on, it’s that we should be eating less meat. High meat consumption has been linked to a variety of cancers, cardiovascular problems, and obesity, while its negative impact on the environment has raised alarm bells among scientists. An important source of greenhouse gases like carbon, methane and nitrous oxide, human-reared livestock now consumse an astounding 60% of all the food we grow, with 1 pound of beef taking up to 20 pounds of feed to produce.
It’s time for some healthier, and greener, sources of protein in our diets. Here’s a look at 5 of them, each delicious and nutritious in their own way.
Excellent in soups or Indian-style dahls and curries, lentils are popular in many regions of the world. They are high in both iron and fibre and derive over 30% of their calories from protein. They’re also one of the most drought-resistant crops around, making them an excellent choice in these days of climate calamity.
How to prepare? Soak them overnight in warm water and then slow cook over low heat, adding olive oil, fresh and dried onions, ripe tomatoes, parsley, cumin and a bit of sea salt for a simple, vegetarian chilli. Serve with fresh whole wheat bread.
The only food that is able to claim, with the US FDA’s approval, that it can reduce the risk of heart disease, tofu (made with soy bean curd) is relatively high in protein (10% for firm tofu or 5% for “silken” tofu), high in iron, low in fat, and helps keep cholesterol in check. Eaten in China for several centuries, tofu has no flavour of its own but can easily absorb the flavours of other ingredients, so it’s perfect for marinating and as a meat substitute and can be added to a variety of dishes including soups, stir-fries and even desserts.
High in protein (28 grams per 100) and low in saturated fat make wheat germ an excellent way to add plant-based protein to your diet. Sprinkle onto cereal in the morning or make a delicious smoothie by stirring it into soy milk and mixing in some honey and your favourite fruit juice.
Low in saturated fat and high in protein (more than 30%), hemp seeds can be eaten raw and contain every known amino acid in addition to being packed full of omega fatty acids, thought to support good cardiovascular health and keep levels of bad cholesterol low.
A perfect “climate change crop”, the hardy hemp plant is fast growing, needs little water and is so toxic to other plants and insects that they require no nasty chemical pesticides or herbicides to grow.
This superfood derived from plant algae packs up to 50% of its calories in protein, and was seen by scientists in the 1940s as the food of the future. While production never really took off as expected, it’s still being hailed as a reliable source of protein, fat and vitamins. Taken in supplement form or as a powder added to drinks, Chlorella has been demonstrated to help detoxify the body of heavy metals like mercury and lead (unlike Spirulina, found to be often contaminated itself). It has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and even accelerate the healing of wounds.