Ask the Dietitian: Healthy Proteins
By Masha Fox-Rabinovich, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, outpatient dietitian at Washington Adventist Hospital
Many factors influence our food choices. We make these choices based in part on health, finances, social setting, cultural background, and many other considerations. But again and again, research shows that the top factor affecting food choice is taste. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the top five drivers that impact food buying decisions are:
It’s simple: If it doesn’t taste good, we won’t eat it.
The U.S. food industry has been integral in shaping the minds (and taste buds) of many, and the message many of us believe is that good taste is only present in highly-processed, unhealthy options rich in fat, sugar, salt, and artificial flavorings. Such foods have become recognized as unhealthy, but are also associated with ideas like “tasty.” Conversely, nutrient-dense, real foods like fruits, vegetables, unflavored dairy products, and minimally processed meats are healthy, but must therefore also be “bland” or “unappealing.”
So if you’re a fan of fried chicken or fish, you might be thinking:
- What tasty alternatives do I have to frying protein?
- How can I enjoy the taste of healthy protein?
Similarly, it may seem strange to consider eating a meal with no animal product present at all. Exploring new cooking methods and ingredients can seem intimidating or uninteresting, but give it a try…you’ll be happy you did!
1) Eat meats prepared in a way that does not compromise their nutritional quality.
- Grilling, steaming, braising, broiling, baking, and poaching are healthier alternatives to frying or choosing highly processed meats (such as hotdogs, sausage, and breaded chicken), which add extra and often excessive amounts of fat and sodium.
- The flavor of animal proteins (beef, pork, poultry, fish, etc.) can be enhanced by cooking with onions, garlic, peppers, and various herbs and spices. These additions help create a flavorful meal, replacing the extra fat involved in frying that is generally used to achieve the same purpose.
- Instead of breading and frying meats, sautéing lightly and squeezing a lemon over them will help bring out the natural flavor of the food. Animal proteins are healthy when prepared appropriately and eaten in moderation. Their unmodified flavor is something that many of us have forgotten exists because our taste buds have been dulled by the additives present in so many processed prepared meat products.
2) Enjoy tuna, salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids (good for the heart, brain, skin, and other organs). Enjoy them with high-in-fiber slow carbs (meaning that they won’t turn into sugar as fast as refined grain products like white bread or non-whole grain crackers), such as those in the suggestions below:
- Mix tuna with beans, avocado, and chopped veggies like cucumbers, peppers, celery, and onions. Add a bit of olive oil instead of mayonnaise.
- Add fish to salads, sandwiches, whole grain pastas, and on top of 100% whole grain crackers.
- Add wild canned salmon (with the bones) to a salad of greens and other non-starchy veggies, chick peas, and olive oil and lemon dressing.
3) Have a vegetarian meal or a vegetarian day by getting protein from non-meat animal sources (eggs, cheese, and yogurt) or from plant-sources like beans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
Coming soon from “Ask the Dietitian”, learn how to make healthy, homemade snacks! Do you have other questions about food or dieting? Please share your questions in the comments section below.