Change your protein

Published 4:49 pm Friday, March 6, 2020

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Changing your protein is arguably the most impactful dietary change you can make for your health. The Med Way emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods. Replace some of the meat in your diet with plant proteins, such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds often.

This will not only save you money but, will be a better way to fuel your body. We need to increase our consumption of fish and seafood. Eating fish and seafood two to three times per week is recommended. Since healthy fats are important for our healthy include fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon. Weekly, make at least one serving a high-fat fish such as salmon. The way food is prepared matters so, avoid fried fish. Enjoy seafood steamed, broiled, baked and poached.

Eating the Med Way means you choose white-meat poultry, such as turkey and chicken often and limit red meat. We recommend consuming red meat no more than two to three times per month with serving sizes of 4 to 6 ounces. When you do consume red meat, always choose lean cuts. Choose lean meat, such as lean or extra lean pork, beef, veal or lamb. To choose lean cuts, look for “loin” or “round” in the name. Choose cuts with minimal visible fat (marbling). Opt for the lowest percentage of fat when selecting ground meat. Ask your grocer or butcher for further assistance with selecting lean and extra lean cuts. We need to limit or eliminate highly processed meat from our diets.

We do recommend eating eggs up to seven times per week. Eggs are the standard for which all proteins are measured, and they are very economical as well. Current research recommends that we eat two servings of dairy such as skim milk, low-fat Greek yogurt or reduced fat cheese each day. If you do not like fat-free cheese when cooking, simply opt to use less of the cheese you prefer.

I often hear concerns about the cost of fish and seafood. We are lucky to live near the coast, and many of us enjoy fishing, as seafood is indeed a local food but we do have alternatives. Choose canned fish and seafood, as this is a healthy and affordable option. When you purchase canned products, read the label to be sure it is packed in water or olive oil. Be sure to take advantage of store sales and coupons on fresh, frozen and canned fish and seafood. Note: By eating the Med Way you will be replacing meat with fish, seafood and other healthy proteins, so this will decrease your food budget in other ways.

Here are a few Med tips as we ease into eating more beans. More specifically, here are some ways to reduce gas from beans: soak for 48 hours (not just overnight). Change the water once while soaking. Rinse the beans very well after soaking. Cook until very soft. Keep fully covered with water while cooking. Chewing well will help your body digest the beans and reduce gas. Go slow. Add beans slowly to your diet — hummus is a great start. Add spices that aid in digestion. Ginger and cumin aid in digestion and can help reduce gas. Add salt very late in the cooking process to help get beans soft. Adding salt too early will hinder beans from softening. When you use canned beans, rinse well and cook further to soften.

The Mediterranean way of eating contains very limited amounts of red meat. One way to decrease consumption of red meat is to add vegetables so that you are consuming less. The following recipe introduces lots of mushrooms (a 1-to-1 ratio to meat) for a flavorful but lighter burger. Using a food processor will speed up your work, but a good knife will do the trick as well. You want the raw mushrooms to be a little bit larger than crumbled ground beef, then when they cook they resemble ground beef and combine well with the hamburger. This will help decrease the amount of meat you are eating while allowing you to still enjoy familiar flavors.

Mushroom Beef Burgers

Serves 8
Serving Size: 1 patty
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes


2 pounds (approximately 10 cups) mushrooms — white, shiitake, crimini or a combination; 2 pounds lean ground beef; 1/2 cup finely chopped onion; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper; 2 egg whites


Chop the mushrooms into small pieces. This can be done in a food processor. You want them small but not a paste. Cook the mushrooms in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat until no more moisture remains, approximately six minutes. Cool the mushrooms for 30 minutes off the heat. You can put them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, then add the mushrooms. Form into eight patties. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight. Cook the burgers in a skillet with vegetable oil over medium-high heat, or grill them over medium-high heat, approximately five to six minutes on each side. Cook to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.

Nutrition information per serving: serving size, 1 patty; vegetables, 1 1/4 cups; fruits, 0 cups; calories, 143 calories; carbohydrates, 4 grams; fiber, 1 gram; protein, 18 grams; fat, 6 grams; and sodium, 538 mg

These fish tacos are so light and fresh, they will even turn the heads of the fish-taco haters. Any white fish (e.g., pollock, catfish, grouper, haddock, halibut, rockfish, striped bass or swordfish) can be substituted for the mahi-mahi, so look for what is on sale. The star of this dish is definitely the Avocado-Mango Salsa!

Fish Tacos

Serves 4
Serving Size: 2 tacos
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes


1 tablespoon ground cumin; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon paprika; 1/2 teaspoon chili powder; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 pound mahi mahi fillets; 1 tablespoon olive oil; 1 cup sliced avocado; 2/3 cup finely chopped peeled ripe mango; 1/4 cup chopped green onions; 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion; 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro; 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice; 8 (6-inch) whole-wheat tortillas (can be substituted for corn tortillas)


Mix together the cumin, salt, paprika, chili powder and garlic and rub over the fish.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to a hot pan.

Add fish to pan and cook for two minutes on each side or until done. Remove from heat. Keep warm.

In a medium bowl, combine avocado, mango, green and red onions, cilantro and lime juice to make salsa.

Warm tortillas over a hot pan for 30 seconds on each side or until warm.

Separate fish into pieces and divide evenly among tortillas. Top with 2 tablespoons of salsa on each taco.

Nutrition information per serving (Based on using swordfish filets): Serving size, 2 tacos; vegetables, 1/2 cup; fruits, 1/4 cup; calories, 481 calories; carbohydrates, 43 grams; fiber, 11 grams; protein, 28 grams; fat, 23 grams; and sodium, 750 mg.

Remember: Changing your protein is arguably the most impactful dietary change you can make to improve your health. So, eat more fish, more plants and less meat.

The source for this article North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Meds Instead of Meds educational program. For more information about foods and nutrition, contact Louise L. Hinsley at the Beaufort County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension, 155 Airport Road, Washington, or call 252-946-0111. Be sure to like the Beaufort County FCS Facebook page for upcoming classes.

Louise L. Hinsley is the Family Consumer Science extension agent at Beaufort County Cooperative Extension.