Soy – we all know this one. Soy is a great meat substitute and provides excellent protein. It should, however, be enjoyed in moderation. While its natural phytoestrogens may be beneficial to some menopausal women, it might not be as happily enjoyed by men on a regular basis. Soy is also another common food allergen, so pay attention to what your body is saying to you when you eat it. Soy is one of the most prevalent crops in North America, and the majority of soy grown here is now genetically modified. If you’re hard core about this, look for certified organic, non-GMO varieties. Soy is most often enjoyed as soy milk or tofu. Don’t try to eat plain tofu – that’s just kind of gross. Cook it with other naturally flavourful foods like vegetables, herbs and garlic because it will take on the flavour of whatever food you cook it with.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that has become more popular in our neck of the woods in recent years. Nutty and fragrant, quinoa is beige coloured, small, round and very light weight. You may also find red quinoa which is deep red-brown in colour, slightly more fragrant and nutty, but equally delicate in flavour. Quinoa is an ancient grain originating from the Andes in South America where it was once a staple food for the Incans. This gluten-free grain is the most high in amino acids of all grains and can be an adequate protein substitute for vegetarians. It is also a good source of fibre, complex carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorous, iron and vitamins B and E. Quinoa cooks faster than rice, so is a great choice when you’re pinched for time. To prepare quinoa, simply cook it like rice in your rice cooker or on your stovetop. Enjoy it as a side to meals, or with diced vegetables as a cold salad.
Buckwheat (Kasha) is a dark brown tear-drop shaped seed that, despite its name, is not related to wheat and is gluten-free. Originating in Asia, buckwheat is grown around the world today, but is still relatively unappreciated. It is a great source of protein, with a complete amino acid profile, and also contains vitamins E and B. Like millet, this grain is also alkaline forming. Buckwheat groats, or Kasha, can be cooked and enjoyed like rice. Buckwheat flour can also be used to bake, and is often used to make pancakes and Japanese soba noodles
Eggs might not be an acceptable option for some vegetarians out there, but it one of the best sources of protein available. My dietician once told me that all foods contain the enzyme required to break themselves down, but that these enzymes are destroyed by heat. According to her, as long as you don’t cook egg yolks until they are hard, you can preserve the lipase enzyme required to break down the fat and cholesterol of the egg, and won’t need to worry so much about the effects of that added fat and cholesterol in your diet. The healthiest way to cook eggs is soft boiled, sunny-side up or over-easy; all of which preserve a soft or runny yolk.
Dairy and Cheese are the final options I’ll mention here. Again, for some vegetarians, this may not be an acceptable option. Many others are also intolerant or allergic to dairy. If you are lactose intolerant, you may also be intolerant to milk’s casein protein, so my non-medical advice to you is to just avoid dairy completely. Some people who are intolerant to cow dairy can tolerate goat or sheep dairy without issue (like me). But, really, I don’t think we should be consuming dairy in the first place – it’s very unnatural and unnecessary. If you want calcium, eat lots of dark leafy greens, take high quality supplements and enjoy some natural sunlight everyday.
There you have it – some vegetarian and gluten-free options for protein. Enjoy!