​Nutrition: processed meat part 2

Friday 04 May 2018

This week I thought that I would continue the theme of processed meat reported in the recent headlines and the research behind them. It would not surprise you that when I was looking into the subject I could not find any research giving positive feedback about eating processed meat. This week I thought that it would be interesting to look at it in a more practical way.

We concluded last week that it would be best to keep our intake of processed meat to a minimum if at all due to the chemical additives that it contains. There was also some evidence about the necessity of being careful about the quality of the fresh meat that we eat because that is not exempt from possible contaminants such as growth hormones and steroids. Meat can also be high in cholesterol.

So let’s look at this practically. We do know that meat is a very good source of protein and that protein is essential for us because it supports the immune system, helps with repair of tissues, is necessary for the manufacture of our hormones, enzymes and antibodies, it helps to maintain muscle mass and can be a good source of iron. All very essential. Despite this I do know that many people change to a vegetarian diet and avoid meat all together in a bid to avoid the negative effects that may surround it. These people rely on the alternative types of protein like peas, beans, lentils, nuts and quinoa. However this style of eating does not suit everyone and I do think personally from my work over the years that some people function better when they do include some animal protein in their diet.

So where am I going with this. Well I would like to suggest that we combine the two styles of eating and use the vegetable forms of protein as meat extenders. This would give the best of both worlds so to speak and after all the meat industry do this all of the time because they rely on soya protein to bulk out the contents of their meat products because soya is cheaper than meat.

Let me explain this in more detail. An example, if I was going to make a meat casserole I would half the quantity of meat that was required and use lentils as the replacement. This way you would be cutting down on the animal protein, it would save you money because lentils are much cheaper to buy than meat and you would not be losing out on the protein. The other advantages are that you would be reducing the amount of cholesterol which is present in meat along with any possible contaminants, and you would also be adding extra calcium and magnesium to your diet which is found in lentils but not in meat.

I find that the red split lentils are good because they break down in cooking, absorb the cooking liquid and thicken the casserole making it quite a hearty dish. Other lentils like puy, green, brown and continental keep their shape during cooking but just soften as they cook. The beauty of all types of lentils is that they do not need pre-soaking, keep almost indefinitely and are so cheap to buy. There is no nutritional difference between the different varieties but each one gives a slightly different texture and the darker the colour of the lentil the more ‘earthy’ the flavour tends to be. I add 1 tablespoon of lentils to each serving of casserole. So if the casserole fed four I would add 4 tablespoons of lentils after halving the quantity of meat.

You could swap the lentils for quinoa, a seed used like a grain that is high in protein. This would thicken the casserole and give a lighter texture. (quinoa blog)

Another example. If I was going to make a salad.  I Would add to the salad some chick peas or some kidney beans or lentils to the salad to add protein and then eat less of the fish or chicken or cheese  or whatever the salad was going to be served with. When I shop I buy small tins of a variety of beans and lentils and keep them in my store cupboard. When I use them I rinse off the liquid that they were canned in and pat them dry with some kitchen paper and throw them into the salad.

Several people have asked me about quorn as an alternative to meat. Quorn has been around since the 1980’s. It is a ‘mycoprotein’, which is made from a type of fungi (Fusarium Venenetum). It is free from cholesterol and saturated fat but has the same quality protein as meat. It contains egg white used as a binding agent. There seems to be no health issues related to its use. However I would be inclined to use the quorn mince and chunks to make my own dishes and avoid the readymade quorn products like burgers and sausages because they do have additives in  them and flavour enhancers and can be high in salt. The only controversy over quorn seems to lie between the different manufacturers accusing each other of misleading the public by wrong advertising but nothing that I think we should be concerned about.

It’s all about balance
As usual it is going back to that magic word ‘Balance’. Trying to do that best that we can for ourselves but in a balanced not fanatical way. I hope that this blog opens up some ideas for you and encourages you to experiment a bit with your cooking because it is usually the small steps that you take towards a positive change which has the most effect.

lentil bolognese

400g of cooked puy lentils (if using tinned rinse before use)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 carrot finely diced
1 leek sliced
1 stalk celery chopped
10g dried mushrooms soaked in warm water for 15mins this can be added to the stock;
100mls of  vegetable stock
400g fresh tomatoes chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp each of thyme,oregano and basil;

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion and garlic till translucent, add the carrots, leek, celery, drained mushrooms and cook for 10 min stirring.
  2. Add the lentils, herbs, stock, chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and cook for another 10 min, season to taste.
  3. Serve with wholemeal spaghetti or rice or quinoa.

Blog originally written by Caroline March 2013

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