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8. Learn about Alternate Sources of Protein

Meat, fish, and fowl may be the most obvious sources of protein, but there are plenty of plants that can provide more than enough of this powerful nutrient. Soybeans (used to make tofu), beans, nuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are awesome choices. Protein is a vital component of a healthy body, so be sure to include high-octane protein in your diet.

9. Become a Vegetarian

Vegetarians tend to be leaner than the rest of us because they don’t eat fattening meat products, or at least opt mostly for less fattening sources of protein. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, or fish, and a small percentage of strict vegetarians avoid animal products altogether. Others may consume eggs and/or dairy products. You don’t have to go extremist right off the bat, but you may want to consider the metabolism boost you could get by adopting some habits of vegetarians or eating like a vegetarian a few days a week. Vegetarians can be classified into several different categories:

Vegan or strict vegetarian: Consumes absolutely no animal foods, including foods with animal product as ingredients (These are the strictest types of vegetarians.)

Lacto-vegetarian: Consumes dairy foods but no other animal foods including eggs

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Consumes dairy foods plus eggs, but no other animal foods

Semi-vegetarian: Follows a mostly vegetarian diet (lacto-ovo-vegetarian), but consumes meat, poultry, and fish occasionally

Note: Vegetarian diets can cause nutritional imbalances if they are not planned correctly. A healthy, well-planned vegetarian diet contains lots of fiber and is low in fat, especially saturated fat, and cholesterol. It also tends to be low in calories and high in certain vitamins and minerals. Read up on vegetarian diets and talk to your doctor before making a huge shift in your eating habits.

10. Try Tofu

Tofu is made from crushing soybeans and turning them into a curd that serves as a marvelous source of protein. Unlike foods from animal sources, soy is cholesterol-free. It contains no saturated fat, is a great source of fiber, contains calcium, vitamin E, and B vitamins, and is rich in the two polyunsaturated fats essential to optimal health. Soy foods may also aid in diabetes control by slowing the absorption of glucose (blood sugar) into the bloodstream and keeping blood sugar levels steadier. Most soy foods are also high in iron and are an excellent source of protein compared to other plant sources. Substitute tofu in recipes and reap all the benefits—plus take delight in knowing that it will boost your metabolism.

11. Chew on Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a low-calorie option for protein that also happen to be a good source of magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorous, folate, manganese, B5, vitamin E, and phytosterols. Vitamin E is the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant that stops free radicals from damaging cell membranes and brain cells. The vitamin has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and hot flashes in menopausal women. Sunflower seeds also contain phytosterols—cholesterol-like compounds that are found only in plants and can actually reduce your own cholesterol levels, pump up your immune system, and help prevent cancer. So toss some seeds on your salads or breakfast cereals, or munch on a handful as a snack for a healthy metabolic boost.

12. Fall in Love with Beans

Beans are so jam-packed with nutrients that they qualify as both a vegetable and a protein. That’s kind of like being both king and queen! Cynthia Sass, RD, considers beans a miracle food. “If I could eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would definitely be beans . . . (they) have such an amazing nutrition track record. Bean eaters are associated with smaller waist sizes and a 22-percent lower risk of obesity. They also take in less ‘bad’ fat and one-third more fiber than those who avoid these nutritional gems.”

According to Sass, a cup of beans provides a whopping 13 grams of fiber (half of our daily requirement), about 15 grams of protein, and dozens of key nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Eating 3 cups of beans every week is recommended. Here are Sass’s suggestions:

Buy canned: Though bagged beans come unsalted, rinsing the canned beans for one minute in cold water will wash away a quarter of the sodium.

Buy low-sodium beans: If you’re watching your salt intake (and you should be), purchase canned low-sodium beans. Once you use the cold water trick, you’ve significantly decreased the amount of salt you’re ingesting.

Buy vegetarian beans: Baked and refried varieties are traditionally prepared with lard or pork, which add calories, cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat, none of which you want to add into your diet. A healthier alternative is vegetarian refried beans. They contain no saturated fat and have 2 more grams of protein than the nonvegetarian ones.

13. Catch Some Tuna

It’s not a coincidence that 90 percent of all bodybuilders and fitness competitors in the world will tell you they make a habit of feasting on tuna. They know it’s an excellent source of protein that offers very few calories and almost no fat. These people need to be lean to compete, and tuna is often their answer. Caution: Eat tuna in moderation (once or twice a week) because it can be high in mercury. Alternate it with other fish, such as salmon.

14. Combine Protein with Carbohydrates

Protein and carbohydrates are meant to go together. Protein helps your body process carbohydrates by slowing down the absorption of sugars and tamping down the production of excess insulin. Eating healthy complex carbohydrates with protein will also help you eat less, particularly if you’re eating high-calorie proteins. Try whole-grain crackers with cheese, yogurt with fruit, or a glass of milk with oatmeal.

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