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Giving up chicken? Some interesting alternatives

By Rohini Diniz e Cardozo
February 23, 2006 13:50 IST

If you rely on chicken for your daily dose of protein, you need not despair.

There are many food options that taste just as good and have the same benefits, if not more.

We also have high-protein some recipes and tips on how to hike up the protein content in your diet. 

Follow these, and let good health reign supreme.

Get high on protein
~ Soya products

Soya bean and products like soyamilk, tofu (soya paneer), soya chunks or granules are rich sources of plant compounds called phytoestrogens. These are reported to reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostrate cancer and raise good cholesterol levels.

They also slow down bone density loss in menopausal and post-menopausal women and lessen menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and mood swings.

How to eat: Consume soya granules or soya chunks instead of meat and chicken. Soak the granules or chunks in hot salted water for about half an hour, then discard water. Squeeze granules to remove excess water. Then wash them in clean water to remove the excess salt. Squeeze again and soak in milk to obtain a meat-like flavour. Add to any gravy dish instead of meat or chicken.


For the calorie conscious, mushrooms are superb health food. They are vegetarian and nothing but spongy, fleshy, umbrella shaped members of a group of edible fungi that have high nutritive value. They are rich in protein and have low carbohydrate and fat content and hence are low in calories.

They also have low sodium content, so they are suitable for persons needing a salt restricted diet; as they add flavour to foods cooked without salt.

Mushrooms are also a good source of thiamine, riboflavin (types of B complex vitamins) potassium and phosphorus.

Out of 38,000 varieties of mushrooms only 100 are edible. Among the edible varieties, white button, oyster and paddy straw mushrooms are popular. Button and oyster mushrooms are easily available in the local markets and supermarkets.

They are vegetarian and can be incorporated in a variety of food items.

How to eat: You could use mushrooms in cutlets, gravy items that are usually prepared with meat or chicken or in samosa and kachori stuffing, etc.

Pulses, legumes, dals

Pulses, legumes and dals (split pulses) are cheaper sources of proteins as compared to the animal sources.

These include Goa beans (alsande), Bengal gram (white chana and red chana), black gram (urad), cow pea (chawli or lobia), field bean (avare), green gram (moong), dehydrated green peas (vatana), horse gram (kuleeth), kidney beans (rajma), lentil (masur), moth bean (matki), pigeon pea or red gram (tur or arhar), soyabean and dals or split pulses like chana dal, moong dal, masur dal, moong dal, tur dal, urad dal.

How to eat: Pulses are best eaten in the form of sprouts.

Sprouts are rich in vitamins B, C and E, calcium, iron and phosphorus, which are necessary for a healthy body. They also contain enzymes that have beneficial effects on health and do not cause gas and flatulence, like unsprouted pulses do.

Unsprouted pulses contain certain sugars that are not digested by the human body, as it lacks enzymes necessary for their digestion.

The process of sprouting converts starch and proteins into the predigested form, which makes them easier to digest. Sprouts are very easy to produce and some kinds (moong and matki) are ready for eating in just one day.

Take any pulse, clean, wash well and soak overnight in water.

If you are using more than one type of pulse soak separately.

Next morning, drain the water and place the grains separately in a strainer basket and cover with a lid. Alternately, warp the pulses in wet muslin or cheesecloth and hang up. Sprinkle water over the grains twice a day. Use when sprouts are about two centimetre in length.

You could also use the sprout maker containers that are available in the market these days.

Nuts and oilseeds

Both are concentrated sources of energy and proteins and are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (nutrients and plant chemicals that protect the body cells from oxidation and offer protection against diseases like cancer).

Nuts are a health enhancing food and should form a part of our diets instead of oily and sugary snacks. They can also be served as starters along with drinks, instead of fried chicken preparations.

Unsalted almonds, groundnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts and pistas are the best bets.

How to eat: Ideally eating a small handful of a mix of nuts and dry fruits (available in the market) as snacks is much better than having just one type of nuts as it provides a variety of nutrients. Nuts can be eaten at any time of the day.

They can be sprinkled over breakfast cereals or eaten in the form of peanut butter or tahini (similar to peanut butter but prepared from sesame seeds) instead of regular butter.

Curd (dahi)

Curd has high on in protein content. It contains higher amounts of B-complex vitamins as compared to milk. It also contains easily absorbable calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Hence, it is beneficial for the elderly and for persons suffering from lactose intolerance.

These health benefits are because of the probiotics present in it. Probiotics, a term that means 'for life' and refers to any living organism in food that has benefits beyond simple nutrition. The probiotics include the desirable bacteria in the intestinal tract that helps tackle the presence of harmful bacteria in the intestines.

It discourages the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast in the gut that lead to bowel infection and thrush (fungal infection in the mouth). They also help restore the friendly intestinal bacteria that are destroyed by antibiotics and hence help relieve antibiotic-induced diarrhoea.

It also reduces bad breath associated with some digestive disorders. Curd is beneficial to persons suffering from diarrhoea on account of radiotherapy, food poisoning and irritable bowel syndrome.

Some research studies have shown that curd may help boost immunity, combat vaginal yeast infection and prevent cancer.


An important source of protein for people living in the coastal areas and islands, fish protein is more easily digestible than animal protein and does not produce uric acid as quickly meat does. Excessive uric acid in the blood can aggravate the condition of gout.

Salt-water fish or sea fish are the richest source of iodine in the diet. Fresh water or river fish is a poor source.

Sea fish is also a good source of fluoride.

How to eat: Small fish when eaten with the bones are a rich source of calcium. Large fish are good sources of iron and phosphorus, but contain moderate to low amounts of calcium. All fish contain trace amounts of copper.

Mackerel (bangda), sardine (tharle), tuna, salmon (rawas) and herring (dawak) are oily fish and contain higher amounts of heart friendly omega-3 fatty acids.


Low on calories and high on protein content, shellfish are also a storehouse for other vital nutrients. They are divided into two groups: molluscs like clams, oysters, mussels, and crustaceans like prawns (jingha), crabs, lobsters, etc.

Shellfish is also rich in minerals like calcium, iron (crabs), zinc (oysters), iodine, selenium and vitamins particularly thiamine, niacin and vitamin-B12. They are low in fat but contain the essential fatty acids and small amounts of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. 

Shellfish contains moderate amounts of cholesterol, but this is not much of a problem; studies have shown that eating shellfish tends to lower blood cholesterol levels.

One problem with shellfish is that it contains compounds called purines, which raises the levels of uric acid in the blood. Thus persons suffering from gout or those who have elevated uric acid levels should avoid eating large amounts of shellfish.


Red meats like mutton or beef should be consumed sparingly as they contain cholesterol and saturated fatty acids; they also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.

How to eat: If consumed, use as a garnish rather than as a main ingredient.

Ways to increase protein content in your diet

 ~ Add 1-1½ kilos of roasted soyabean or a combination of pulses to five kilos of wheat; then grind to obtain flour.

~ Two tablespoons of skim milk powder can be added to the flour just before kneading the dough. This improves the protein quality of the chapattis; it will also make the soft chappatis without adding too much of oil or ghee.

~ Use milk or leftover dal instead of water to knead dough for the same reason.

~ Eat more cereal-pulse or cereal milk combinations like rice and dal (dal-chawal), curd rice (dahi-chawal), khichdi-kadi, dhokla, idli, dosa, porridge, kheer, pudding etc.

~ Use paneer, soya nuggets, soya granules or mushrooms in cooking.

~ Use besan or gram flour to thicken soups instead of cornflour or maida.

~ Finish your meals with curd-based desserts.

Add a teaspoon of any fruit jam to a katori of curd or add chopped fruits and a little honey to curd for an unusual fruit salad.

Next: 4 high protein recipes 

Rohini Cardoso e Diniz is a consultant dietician with Naomi's Fitness Centre and manages a private practice in Goa. She has also authored a book on nutrition, Eat Sensibly Live Healthy.

Rohini Diniz e Cardozo