Pulses and beans are a great source of lean protein. They are widely available, cheap and a healthier alternative to some animal sources of protein such as red meat that is typically high in saturated fat that has been linked by research to heart disease, promoting inflammation and certain cancers such as colon.
Plant protein has been found by research to reduce the growth of certain cancers and reduce levels of cholesterol as compounds known as sterols bind to cholesterol and prevent it from being absorbed by the body.
The carbohydrates in beans and pulses are complex, which are released slowly and help keep out energy levels balanced. Complex carbohydrates are a fabulous source fibre that helps keep our digestive systems in check.
Beans and pulses contain soluble fibre that helps prevent constipation but also insoluble fibre that feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut which in turn aids the absorption of nutrients and help fight off pathogens trying to enter our system.
Beans and pulses get a bad reputation as they are considered gas forming foods. Soaking then in cold water for at least 8 hours and cooking them gently until soft should make them easier to digest. Alternatively, buy a good brand of canned beans and make sure they have cooked until soft.
Beans are an incredible versatile food, they can be added to salads (tuna and cannellini bean salad), mashed into dips (all sorts of different hummus), whizzed into soups (kidney bean and spicy tomato soup), added to casseroles (sausage and mixed bean casserole) or turned into a meal in their own right: minestrone, beans and rice, etc. Note that the protein in beans is not complete as that found in animal products but it can be completed by having some cereal with your beans: a slice of bread, some pasta or rice.
Beans are a source of phytoestrogens that help regulate oestrogen levels in conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovaries and during menopause.
Beef is a good source of protein but also saturated fat, which in large quantities could promote weight gain, heart disease and high cholesterol, so try to limit your beef intake to a couple of times a week and be mindful when you buy your beef joints and steaks and choose leaner options or ask your butcher to trim excess fat off.
Mince is nowadays available with different percentages of fat – 10% is a good compromise.
Organic and, if not possible, free-range are much better options when buying meat to avoid ingesting the chemicals, antibiotics and hormones that some cattle are fed.
Beef is a good source of iron, a mineral necessary for the production of haemoglobin to transport oxygen within the body and growth and development.
Animal sources of haemoglobin are more easily absorbed than vegetable sources. Beef is also one of the best sources of vitamin B12, needed for metabolism of all food sources, production of energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Beef is high in zinc, a mineral also needed for metabolism and energy production as well as growth. Zinc is also fundamental to maintain a healthy male reproductive function.
Making your own burgers and meatballs is a good option to a) choose how much fat your mince has and b) add other ingredients such as finely chopped onions or carrots and parsley to burgers and wholemeal bread crumbs, pinenuts, shallots , herbs or even grilled aubergine to meatballs.
Chicken is probably one of the most widely available protein foods and also one of the lowest fat meats out there.
We need protein to grow and to repair out bodies. Note, however, that free-range and organic chickens spend part of their lives outside and are fed a more natural diet as well as less hormones and antibiotics.
Intensive farmed chickens typically spend their entire short existence in crowded cages, aren’t allowed to exercise and are often fed a diet containing growth-promoting drugs and antibiotics since their living conditions lead to higher levels of disease. New fast-growing breeds have been introduced which are higher in fat and lower in protein, i.e., their meat is less lean.
The healthier and most natural option would be buy organically and free-range birds, although that comes at an increased cost.
My suggestion is to use chicken more smartly – don’t just buy chicken breasts or additive loaded chicken nuggets, buy the whole bird, make a delicious Sunday roast and use leftover meat in a salad for lunch or a risotto for dinner. The leftover roasted veggies may be used to make a frittata or a super-quick veggie soup.
Also, lovingly simmer the bones up with some veggies and herbs to make chicken stock to use in soups, paellas, risottos and baby purees – you’ll never pop back to the supermarket for stock cubes! If you are repairing your gut, you can make an L-glutamine rich bone broth by simmering the chicken bones for 8 hours or more.
Chicken meat contains small amounts of vitamin B12 which is only found in animal products and is important for the metabolism of all food sources, production of energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Selenium, a mineral which research indicated may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, is also found in chicken.
Kids like chicken nuggets, I know, so why don’t you try making your own or even get them involved in the process. They are miles healthier as you can use sesame seeds to add crunch to the coating, wholemeal breadcrumbs and no artificial colours or flavours at all! They are also cheaper than the shop bought ones and you can keep them in the freezer for a quick mid-week supper with peas and mashed root veggies.
Eggs are an excellent form of protein with a couple of medium eggs amounting to a quarter of your recommended daily protein intake.
Eggs are relatively high in fat but free-range and omega-3 rich eggs from hens fed a flax-seed diet contain more cardio-protective monounsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
Poultry is one of the industries where we believe organic really matters as non-organically reared chickens may be feed hormones and antibiotics that will be passed onto their eggs and onto the food chain.
Eggs are high in cholesterol but research shows that dietary cholesterol is not the blue-eyed monster we thought. Our body produces cholesterol from saturated fat and current research indicates that refined carbohydrates and sugar may play a role in raising cholesterol levels as well. Smoking and lack of exercise have also been linked to high cholesterol levels.
Dietary cholesterol from eggs, liver and shellfish has a relatively small impact on your total cholesterol levels but if you are concerned, please contact your GP or nutritional therapist to discuss.
Eggs are rich in micronutrients including retinol, a vitamin A precursor, that helps keep healthy vision and vitamin B12 that supports red blood cell production. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products so for those avoiding meat and fish, eggs are an excellent source of this vitamin.
Eggs are also a good source of selenium necessary to support our body’s antioxidant capacity to maintain free-radicals in check.
Selenium is also fundamental for good thyroid function and so it helps support growth and metabolism.
Research shows that selenium deficiency affects sperm production and therefore reduces fertility.
Eggs are an allergenic food so it is worth waiting to introduce them to babies until 6 months and if there are allergies or atopy in the family, a bit later, following your GP’s advice,
Eggs are an excellent way of boosting protein in cakes and muffins and so reducing their impact on blood sugar levels. Look for recipes that call for a generous number of eggs, such our Orange and Cocoa Cake. Also, for those not-so-keen on vegetables, frittatas are a handy dish to hide a few chunks of cooked squash and a few spinach leaves together with some Emmental and a few herbs.
Note that not all eggs are the same and people who are allergic to hen’s eggs may tolerate duck or quail’s eggs.
Lamb, like beef, is rich in highly absorbable iron which helps prevent anaemia especially in women and other nutrients such as vitamin B12, needed for metabolism of all food sources, production of energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Lamb also offers good levels of zinc, a mineral also needed for metabolism and energy production as well as growth. Zinc is also fundamental to maintain a healthy male reproductive function.
As with beef, lamb is red meat so certain cuts can be quite high in saturated fat which may lead to high cholesterol, increase the risk of heart disease and colon cancer. So, enjoy it, especially if you can get your hands on organically or free-range reared lamb but remember to do so in moderation.
Dairy is a good source of easily absorbed calcium, especially for growing children older than one year old. Cow, goats, sheep’s milk cannot be used as a main drink for children younger than one, so if breastfeeding is not an option formula milk should be used.
Yogurt is a good source of protein as well as calcium and it constitutes a healthy snack, especially if using low-fat plain yogurt sweetened with fresh fruit and seeds. It is also a higher protein option than milk to have with your breakfast muesli.
Pro-biotic or “live” yogurt is a good option to support the good bacteria in our gut. These “friendly” bacteria help us maintain the integrity of our guts, keeping unwanted pathogens out and letting essential nutrients in.
Yogurt tends to be better tolerated by people with milk intolerances.
Cheese is also a good source of calcium and protein but since it contains high levels of saturated fat, that has been linked to heart disease and high cholesterol, it would be advisable to eat in moderation.
Ice-cream, although a source of calcium, also contains large amounts of saturated fat and sugar so eat occasionally as a treat.
If milk and other dairy products are not an option, there are good alternatives in the market such as soya milk and yogurt, oat and rice drinks as well as coconut milk, cream and yogurts. Some of these products are fortified with calcium.
Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, trout, herring and anchovies is a good source of animal protein with the added benefit of low levels of saturated fat, which has been linked to high cholesterol levels, heart disease and certain cancers.
Oily fish contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, also known as EPA and DHA which research shows may help reduce inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, protect us from cardiovascular disease and help develop and maintain a healthy brain and eyes.
Note that the health authorities recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as those who may become pregnant in the future limit their oily fish intake to 2 portions a week. This is because oily fish contains pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs as well as mercury that in high doses may be harmful to the baby’s developing nervous system.
Large oily fish such as swordfish, marlin and shark should be avoided altogether by pregnant women and limited to just once serving per week by everyone as they contain higher levels of mercury that may be harmful to the nervous system. For more information visit http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216#close
Certain pork products such as bacon, sausages and cured meats are not considered healthy options as they are high in saturated fat, which can lead to increased cholesterol and higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and additives such as preservatives that in some cases have been linked to higher risk of developing cancer.
Certain cuts of pork, like loin and fillet are quite low in fat and high in protein.
Additionally, pork contains some vitamin B12 needed for metabolism of all food sources, production of energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Pork offers good levels of zinc, a mineral also needed for metabolism and energy production as well as growth. Zinc is also fundamental to maintain a healthy male reproductive function.
Seafood ,such as prawns, mussels, cockles, crab and oysters, is a very good source of lean protein, i.e, it contains low levels of saturated fats that research shows may promote inflammation, higher levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. In addition, seafood contains some health-promoting omega 3 fats, although not nearly as high as those found in oily fish.
Seafood, especially mussels and cockles, contains good levels of minerals such as iodine, which is needed to produce thyroid hormones that are responsible, among other things, for metabolism regulation.
Seafood, squid in particular, is high in selenium, a mineral which research indicates may help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Iron is found in high levels in mussels, cockles and winkles, and helps with the production of haemoglobin to transport oxygen within the body and for growth in developing children.
Oysters especially contain high levels of zinc, a mineral important for metabolism and energy production as well as growth and to maintain a healthy male reproductive function.
Seafood in general contains good levels of B vitamins that among other things help our bodies generate energy from nutrients.
As with fish, ensure your seafood is fresh, buy from a reputable fishmonger or supermarket and refrigerate as soon as possible. If you are not going to cook it and eat it within 48 hours of purchase you should consider freezing.
The heath authorities recommend that pregnant women avoid raw shellfish such as prawns, mussels, clams and crab as they may carry viruses and bacteria that may lead to food poisoning.
Thoroughly cooked seafood should be safe as cooking usually kills bacteria and viruses.
For more information visit http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-I-eat-shellfish-during-pregnancy.aspx.
Note that the heath authorities also highlight that seafood may also contain toxins which will not be eliminated by cooking so if you are concerned about this it is probably best to avoid seafood altogether.
Nutritionally, turkey is a low fat alternative to chicken which is important if you are trying to loose weight. The same differences between organic/free-range and intensively reared birds apply to turkey. Levels of zinc, a mineral needed for metabolism and energy production as well as growth, are higher in turkey than in chicken.
White fish such as cod, haddock, halibut, pollock, whitebait, sole, flounder, snapper are good sources of protein with very low fat content.
White fish also contains good levels of selenium, a mineral which research indicated may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, and iodine which is needed to produce thyroid hormones that are responsible, among other things, for metabolism regulation.
Additionally, white fish is a good source of B vitamins, including B6 which is very important for the metabolism of nutrients especially protein and is also a powerful antioxidant, as well as vitamin B12 needed for metabolism of all food sources, production of energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Please note that the heath authorities recommend that pregnant women limit their intake of certain white fish (rock salmon, turbot, sea bream, sea bass, halibut and crab) as research indicates they may contain similar levels of pollutants to oily fish. For more information visit http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216#close