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Satisfying Protein Sources…With Less Meat

The benefit of plant-based diets on prostate cancer is an active area of research. And if you’ve been reading PCF’s nutrition tips, you’ve also heard plenty about brightly-colored vegetables.

But meat is everywhere. It’s at that summer BBQ. It’s at that restaurant you love and the wedding reception this fall. Burgers are cheap, easy, and tasty. So how in the world is it possible to eat less of it?

The first trick to cutting down on meat is to stock low-cost, high-quality, easy, and tasty sources of alternative proteins. Once you do that, you may find it easier to reduce your consumption of meat products.

As a strategy for replacing some of the meat in your diet, try varying your weekly protein intake by choosing a few servings from each of the food families below.

Fish is a high-quality source of protein. Some white meat fish are relatively low in fat compared with red meat protein sources. Other oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are the crème de la crème of cancer-fighting fats. This includes fish like wild salmon, arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and albacore tuna. Unfortunately, because of contamination from mercury, PCBs and other toxins that fish absorb, consumption of some fish should be limited for certain groups, such as pregnant women, and fish sources should be known and carefully monitored. For more information on which fish are safe to eat and in what proportion, the Washington State Department of Health website maintains an excellent resource.

Legumes. Beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts are part of a class of non-meat foods that are high in protein. However, they do not contain all of the “essential” amino acids—the protein building blocks that your body cannot make on its own, and must be obtained through diet. The good news is that most grains, when combined with legumes, will deliver all of these essential amino acids (often referred to as a “complete” protein). Beans and rice are eaten in many countries around the world. You can combine different legumes with different grains to make a complete protein. Experts used to say that you had to eat beans and rice in the same meal, but research now shows that your body harbors all the amino acids from what you eat in a day to combine when needed; as long as you are eating a variety of grains, beans and nuts throughout the day, your body can make what it needs.

Soy. Soy products—such as edamame, tofu, and tempeh— have long been a staple of vegetarian and Asian diets. Research has indicated that the isoflavones in soy may help inhibit tumor growth in animal models. You may have heard that soy was given a bad rap as potentially increasing the risk of breast cancer, because isoflavones have a similar chemical composition to estrogen. However, more recent studies have said quite the opposite— moderate soy consumption can decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence and it can be included as a regular part of any cancer-fighting lifestyle plan. A word of caution: Soy is one of the most commonly genetically modified foods in the U.S., and GM soy has been found to have higher levels of the pesticide glyphosate. Buy organic (hence non-GMO) if soy is a regular part of your diet. Stick to soy that is minimally processed, such as the products listed above, and minimize fake “meats” made with soy derivatives.

Nuts are a lovely way to supplement your protein intake, but because they have a very high fat content, they are not a good exclusive source of protein for a meal. Instead, consider nuts an excellent high-protein snack that can keep your blood sugar level and help you feel satisfied. A piece of fruit plus a handful of nuts makes a great filler between meals, or even to satisfy your “dessert” craving afterwards.

Meat Substitutes. If you like the taste, feel, and vibe of meat, but want to avoid the health risks, try the occasional plant-based protein substitutes. The market is now full of a variety of engineered “burgers” made largely of plant protein and designed to have the look, taste, and texture of meat. Of note, they are also highly processed in order to mimic meat’s qualities, and can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Consider meat substitutes to be the occasional treat.

What does research suggest you should eat for prostate health? PCF-funded researcher Dr. Stacey Kenfield of UCSF discusses “Prostate 8.” View the webinar recording here.

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