Protein isn’t just for gym rats and bodybuilders: We all need it to survive. Depending on the type, source, and processing, protein can either be a climate-conscious choice or have serious long term consequences for the environment.
But let’s start with our own health:
Why does everybody keep talking about protein, and why should I care about it?
Most of us have probably heard that protein is super important when it comes to building and maintaining muscle, and though it is essential for doing exactly that, it also plays a vital role in a long list of other processes in your body:
- Your hair and nails are comprised mostly of protein
- Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue
- Protein plays an important role in hormone regulation
- Protein helps make enzymes, which help you digest and make new cells
Sounds pretty important right? It makes sense that protein is so essential to our survival, as it is one of the three dietary Macronutrients, along with Carbohydrates and Fats. But unlike the other two, the body has no protein reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply, so let's dive deeper into what different protein sources we should aim to incorporate into our diets.
So how much do I need, and where do I find that protein stuff?
There are mixed opinions on exactly how much protein we need on average, but a good general guideline is 1,25 gr and 2 gr per kg of body weight. If the math is too tiresome or you’re not into calculating macros, getting 1 good palm-, fist- or a handful of healthy protein with each meal should have you covered.
Here’s a table illustrating the 1,25-2g of Protein per kg body weight rule
It’s important to note that proteins are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids, joined together in chains. The many choices of protein-rich food will contain different amino acids that serve different functions in your body, and making sure to vary your protein sources will ensure that you are getting the full spectrum of amino acids through the foods you eat.
Some of the most nutritious protein sources:
- Lean meats
- Fish seafood and roe
- Fermented dairy
- Protein powders - whey, collagen peptides
- Legumes - black beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Soy products - edamame beans, tofu, soy yoghurt
- Meat replacements - seitan, pea protein-based meat replacements
- Plant protein powders
Eating meat, dairy and eggs is an easy route to get a complete array of the essential amino acids, but though they’re tasty, these foods have a detrimental impact on the environment. It's more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it builds up muscle mass, then eat the animal, especially as agriculture takes up huge amounts of land, leading to deforestation, and the animal themselves produce methane during their lifetime which further impacts the environment.
Luckily, there is no reason to worry about becoming malnourished if you replace some of, or all, your animal proteins with plant-based proteins. It is possible to get all the amino acids you need from plants, as long as you make sure to mix it up and eat a combination of all the different plant-based protein sources. Another advantage of replacing some of your animal protein with plant protein is that you’ll further diversify the spectrum of nutrients and minerals you consume on a regular basis.
Cutting out dairy and meat can be difficult, because many of our traditions and daily rituals are built around the food we’ve always eaten, often containing meat, dairy and eggs. It can be comforting to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t be aiming for a small handful of perfectly strict vegans. It will have a much bigger impact if the entire population makes the incremental changes we’re capable of.
Download the worksheet to reflect upon the topics we cover in this challenge and your own personal progress.
What if I told you, that you can “stirfry” in water? I am telling you that right now and it works wonders. Also, the trick with thickening the juices in the wok at the very end, make all the difference when it comes to flavour and texture. By thickening the sauce, you essentially “scoop up” all the flavour in the juices in the wok that would otherwise go to waste.
How to use
Tofu can be replaced with diced seitan or tempeh. And you can “stirfry” diced chicken and meat in the same way. This method of preparation also works for shrimps and prawns.
And the vegetables can be varied to your liking, as long as they are sliced and slivered finely. Try zucchini, slivered cabbage, fennel, brussels sprouts, parsley root or even finely diced sweet potato.
And you can add way more spices if you want. Curry, coriander seeds or leaves, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme or oregano.
Health Tip: Since no oil is added initially, then all the nutrients in the cold-pressed oils – natural vitamin E and phytosterols – are preserved. And since the oil is not added until the end, you control the amount of fat in the meal.
Leftovers keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator and taste quite excellent cold or gently reheated.
350-400 gr firm tofu, diced finely (2x2 cm/1x1 in)
Finely grated zest and freshly pressed juice of ½ organic lemon
⅛ tsp of fish sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
15 gr of fresh ginger, minced or grated very finely
½ fresh mild to moderately strong chilli, minced
1 small/medium head of cabbage, sliced into thin strips
2 spring onions, slivered
1 pitcher of water
2 tsp corn or potato starch or arrowroot flour
1 dl or ⅓ cup water
Extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed avocado oil or cold-pressed coconut oil
How to prepare
Marinate the tofu in lemon zest and juice, fish sauce, garlic, ginger and chilli. At least 5 minutes, but several hours or overnight in the refrigerator if possible.
Arrange all the prepared vegetables in a large bowl.
Preheat a wok, frying pan or sauteing pan at full heat for 5-10 minutes until practically red hot. If you are using an induction stove, this takes only a minute or so.
Check if the wok, pan or sautéing pan is hot enough, by pouring in 2 tbs of water. If the water merely evaporates, the temperature still is not high enough.
If the water separates into little droplets that literally “dance” on the surface of the wok or pay before beginning to evaporate, then the temperature is right.
Once the temperature is right, add ½ dl/¼ cup of water and then immediately the marinated tofu whilst stirring. Add small amounts of water as necessary. You want just enough water that the tofu will not burn, but not so much that the tofu is being boiled. Never add so much water, that it covers the whole surface of the wok or the pan.
“Water-fry” this way for 2-3 minutes, until the surface of the chicken is cooked and slightly golden.
Add all the vegetables and “water-fry” for another 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are tender. At some point, the process will change from “water-frying” to simmering, because of all the juices being released and the water added.
Stir the corn or potato starch into 1 dl or ⅓ cup water and pour over the finished chicken and vegetables. Cook for another minute until the starch thickens, forming a sauce the “scoops up” all the flavours and juices in the wok.
Serve drizzled with a bit of oil.
Broiled Salmon in succulent tomato sauce sprinkled with curry powder
3 ingredients, exquisite flavour, tonnes of health and it takes next to no time to make. What are you waiting for? A culinary adventure awaits you. And your body will applaud you just as much as your tastebuds.
Enough fish for 4-5 people’s main meal. Remember you need vegetables and some healthy carbohydrates (legumes, whole grains, sweet potatoes, yams or the like)
15 minutes unless you have enough time to leave the salmon to marinate overnight for even better flavour.
How to use
Use as protein in a main meal when hot. Cold leftovers make for a great lunch if mixed with greens and cooked brown rice. Or use them for making a whole grain salmon-tomato sandwich stuffed with avocado slices and slivered onions. You can also substitute the salmon with any other fresh fish. Try cod, mackerel, trout, snapper, grouper, mullet, bass or any other fish you can think of. Remember spices are a conduit for going on culinary adventures through your tastebuds. Try adding minced chilli, garlic, ginger, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, sage or lemongrass to the marinade. Ground cardamom, cloves or nutmeg are also culinary adventures worthwhile embarking on, when experimenting with this recipe.
Keeps for several days in the refrigerator.
Kitchen gear needed
A hot air oven.
400-500 gr fresh salmon fillets without skin and bones (wild or organic farmed), sliced into 5 cm/2 in wide portions
1 cup of organic tomato puree/paste
2-3 tbs organic curry powder
salt and pepper
How to prepare
Marinate the cubed salmon in the tomato puree and curry powder. Make sure to mix thoroughly.
Place the salmon pieces on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with baking paper.
Bake in a pre-heated hot air oven for 8-9 minutes at 175° C.
Serve and enjoy.