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Tempeh: an easily digestible, cholesterol-free source of protein

By Wendell Fowler

In meat-centric Indiana, it’s a burr under the saddle of vegetarians continually harangued, “If you don’t eat meat, where do you get your protein?” Protein is a building block of all life.

Reality is, protein exists in numerous common plant foods: cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, edamame, peas, spirulina, quinoa, chickpeas (hummus), potato with skin, chia, hemp, pumpkin and flax seeds, almonds, peanuts, Ezekiel Bread, tofu and tempeh. Tempeh?

Tempeh (TEM-pay) is a fermented soy-based food created by soaking, de-hulling and partially cooking whole soybeans. Then slightly fermented and formed into a firm block you see at most grocers. Depending on the brand, one serving of tempeh (100 grams) provides around 200 calories, 20 grams of protein, calcium and iron. It’s an excellent source of B2, B3, B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Never tried it? The texture and flavor of tempeh is nothing like tofu. It’s savory and nutty and many describe it as having an earthy, mushroom flavor.

Easily digestible, cholesterol-free tempeh can be used the same way you would any dead barnyard animal. For Sandi and me, it was love at first bite as we began using it to make burgers, sloppy joes, taco and burrito filling, “meat” in our red spaghetti sauce, salads, stir-fries, soups and stews. Most often, I cube and sauté them in olive or avocado oil, and near the end, add Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, three drops of liquid smoke and toss to coat. My books are loaded with tempeh tips and recipes.

Time magazine reports: “A standard 3-ounce serving of tempeh has about 16 grams of protein, while an equal serving of steak has about 26 grams. Plus, tempeh comes with about 8 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium and iron. It’s great for the nutrients it adds to your diet, says the director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and for the meat it subtracts from the diet. By buying organic, you avoid GMO modified ingredients, if that’s a concern for you. (Ninety-four percent of soy in the U.S. is GMO.)

“If you’re looking to cut meat from your diet but are fearful protein will be cut along with it, tempeh is a no-brainer substitution,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, the manager at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

Now is the time to consider protein alternatives, considering worldwide 14.5 percent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions are from animal production, of which the beef and dairy industries are the biggest climate polluters. #thisisnotlove

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