Eggs should be free-range, and ideally organic. If you know of (or can look for) a local farm producing eggs from pasture-raised hens that eat their natural diet, then this is ideal. See the section at the end of this sheet for more information on pasture-raised animal foods.
Unprocessed vs. processed: Fresh, unprocessed meat should be chosen over any processed meats. Avoid completely the most highly processed meats such as hot dogs. Cured meats, good-quality outdoor-bred pork sausages, good-quality bacon and other cooked prepared meats can be eaten occasionally.
Organic/grass-fed: Choose organic or grass-fed/pasture-raised meats if you can. If you can’t afford to do this all the time, then choose the best quality you can afford. See the paragraph at the end of this sheet for more information on the benefits of grass-fed/pasture-raised animal foods.
Red meat: The Department of Health (in the UK) states that red meat consumption should be limited to an average of 70g per day, which is equivalent to around 500g per week. However, red meat is not all bad: it can be a fantastic source of iron and zinc.
Where else can you get your protein from?
We want you to eat real food from great sustainable sources that’s why I’ve put together a source of protein for you. Have a look around your local area for a fishmongers, butchers a greengrocers, a farmers market, organic store and seasonal foods that support the plant and local farmers.
Selenium, and B vitamins including B12. Beef and lamb are good choices. Again, choose grass-fed/pastured meat where possible to get the highest levels of nutrients. If you don’t use grass-fed/pastured meat, then choose lean cuts of meat rather than fattier cuts.
Game meat: Game meats such as venison and rabbit are great choices. As these animals are wild, they only eat their natural diet so have the same benefits as other grass-fed/pastured animal foods. (See below.)
Chicken/turkey: Again, always choose free-range, and organic where possible. The dark meat of the legs is more nutrient-dense than the breast.
Oily fish: Aim to eat a serving of oily fish 2–3 times a week. The healthiest choices include salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, anchovies and herring.
Whitefish/shellfish: Although they don’t contain as much of the beneficial omega-3 fats, white fish and shellfish are still a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Good choices include haddock, sole, cod, sea bass, halibut, prawns, scallops and oysters.
Wild vs. farmed: Fish should be wild rather than farmed where possible. ‘Wild-caught’ is next best – this can mean that the fish can be farmed for part of its life and then released. However, if you can’t find or afford wild or wild-caught, it’s still better to regularly eat fish – even farmed – than not at all.
Canned fish: Canned oily fish such as sardines/pilchards, mackerel and salmon can be a nutritious and convenient way to eat more fish. Always buy those canned in spring water or olive oil, not in brine or sunflower oil. If you don’t like the bones (in tinned sardines, for example) then look for the boneless ones. Canned tuna can be best limited to one can a week as a maximum: it is not as high in omega-3s and may contain higher levels of mercury.
Good choices: The best sources of dairy protein include hard cheeses, cottage cheese and natural, unsweetened yoghurt.
Organic: Choose organic dairy products where possible.
Full-fat vs. low-fat: In general, avoid ‘low-fat’ dairy products. One reason is that they’re often higher in carbohydrates (sugars), even in unsweetened dairy foods. Fat is helpful because it makes us feel full; it also helps us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, E and K.
Unprocessed vs. processed: Avoid any processed cheeses, e.g. string cheese, cheese spread or ‘cheese slices’ – i.e. the ones that look like plastic!
Raw (unpasteurised) dairy foods: Raw dairy foods can be richer in nutrients – especially fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and K – than pasteurised dairy. Raw milk can be found in some farmer’s markets; cheese made from raw milk is available in most supermarkets. Raw milk or cheese are not advised during pregnancy.
Beans and pulses
Quality protein? Beans and pulses (lentils and chickpeas) contain good amounts of protein and carbohydrates, making them a filling alternative to brown rice, quinoa, and other grains. However, they have a lower protein quality than animal foods (meaning that they are low in one or more essential amino acids) and usually contain less protein per average serving than animal foods. Therefore, if you rely primarily on plant foods for your protein source, it is important to also eat good amounts of nuts, seeds and grains/pseudo-grains to get a complete source of protein.
Preparing dry beans and pulses: To make them more digestible, dry beans and pulses should be soaked for 12–24 hours before cooking (discard the soaking water and use fresh water to cook them). Another way to make smaller beans and pulses more digestible is to sprout them. See our separate info sheet on Beans and Pulses for more information and full instructions for soaking and sprouting.
Canned versus dry: Dry beans and legumes that are properly prepared at home (as above) are better than canned or pre-prepared. However, canned can be used on occasion or if you are pushed for time.
Nuts and seeds
Raw: Nuts and seeds should be raw and unsalted.
Good choices: Go for pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashews and pecans.
Preparing nuts and seeds: To improve their digestibility, soak nuts or seeds overnight in water. You can then dehydrate them in a dehydrator or an oven set at the lowest temperature (e.g. 60°C) for 12 hours.
Pseudo-grains: quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat
Whereas standard grains such as wheat, oats and rice are from grasses, these ‘pseudo-grains’ are from broad-leaf plants. They can be higher in protein than other grains (about 13–14g per 100g vs. 8–10g per 100g), making them a good replacement for other grains if you’re trying to increase your protein intake. However, they are still high in carbohydrates and should not be the sole or primary protein source in a meal, even for vegans.
Non-fermented soya such as tofu, soya milk, soya yoghurt and other soya-based dairy or meat alternatives should be used only occasionally or in small amounts, e.g. soya milk in one cup of tea per day. Traditional fermented soya products – tempeh and miso – are a much better choice.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, your practitioner may individually set an amount of soya and types of soya products you can/should consume if you feel you can’t exclude it from your diet.
100% grass-fed or pasture-raised animals are free to roam outside in their natural environment. They eat their natural diet – e.g. grass in the case of cows, grubs and plants in the case of hens. In contrast, animals on commercial farms are often fed primarily grains such as wheat and corn – not their natural diet!
Grass-fed/pasture-raised animal meats / eggs / dairy foods can be higher in*:
- Beneficial omega-3 fats (grass-fed beef can contain 2–4 times more!)
- Minerals including iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and selenium
- B vitamins, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K2
- CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) – a protective type of fat
In addition, raising animals in their natural environment creates happier, healthier animals!
Would you like to discover more about your gut health from The Gut Clinic? Why not book in a free 15 minute consultation with me.
Jacob, A. (2013). Digestive Health with Real Food. Bend, Or.: Paleo Media Group.
Kresser, C. (2013). Your Personal Paleo Diet. London: Piatkus.