UNITED STATES—We’ve talked about the various elements when it comes to the Food Pyramid in previous weeks, except perhaps the one that salivates the taste buds for most Americas: meat or what many consider protein. I will admit the thought of being a vegetarian is something that I find quite tantalizing, however, the sacrifice  to be a true vegan I’m not certain I can fully commit to at this point in my life. Eating solely fruits and veggies and no actual meat, I’m not certain my body can fully adjust to that without me feeling fatigued.

However, for many Americans when it comes to eating meat, many turn to red meat or beef. Now, I will admit, I like red meat, but it’s not something I eat on a daily basis. I don’t have to have it. If I want a good burger, I’m making lasagna or spaghetti with meat sauce, while ground turkey is great, there is nothing like the flavor of Ground Round, Ground Chuck or Ground Sirloin. That is the one interesting facet about red meat: the fat delivers flavor that you do not have to amplify for things like ground turkey or ground chicken, which don’t have high fat contents. Recent studies have shown too much red meat is problematic for the body as it leads to heart disease and elevated rates of cancer. Red meat is high in saturated fat and as a result it raises one’s cholesterol, particularly LDL which is not good. While not definitive facts have been revealed about a linkage between red meat and cancer, some researchers suspect it raises the risk for colorectal cancer.

Red meat is fine to eat, but in small batches, not every single day of the week, I’d actually make that argument for anything. So let’s turn our attention to chicken. I love chicken and to be honest, I’ve actually eaten it probably every day for the past 5-6 days making a multitude of dishes. I love chicken rather its fried, grilled sautéed, baked, the opportunities are endless.

The one caveat with chicken is unlike red meat, it has to be fully cooked. This is not a protein that you can eat raw people, and not everyone cooks chicken to ensure its fully done. In my personal opinion, chicken is the most versatile out of all the proteins you can consume, it is much healthier and if you get leaner cuts of meat, you’re always in a good condition in terms of your health. Like most people chicken daily for every single day is not good for one’s health or taste buds.

So what other options do you have? Pork! Let me put this out there: I’m not a fan of pork. I know it sounds crazy, but I have to be completely honest. I rarely eat pork and if I do it tends to be a pork chop that is grilled. Yes, I know this sounds crazy, but I’m not a fan of bacon, if I do eat it, its turkey bacon I indulge in. I hate the smell of baked pork; I instantly get nauseous and it’s something I just prefer not to entertain.

Chicken, which many people consider a white meat (there are versions of dark meat as well), is just like pork; it needs to be cooked fully in my opinion. I know there are chefs and those out there who pinpoint you can get away with leaving it slightly undercooked, but I would not risk it. Cook that meat fully, same way you would cook chicken to be on the safe side of things. Pork, similar to chicken is quite versatile as well, and pairs great with a variety of veggies, fruits, spices and other flavors.

No if you’re not a meat eater, the alternative becomes fish. Fish is great for many people, I know some people who LOVE fish and would eat it every single day if they had the opportunity to do so. However, seafood has mercury in it and you’re only recommended to eat it 2-3 times a week at most, anything more than that, you’re putting yourself at risk for mercury poisoning. Shellfish like shrimp, lobster or crab is the catch of the day for many people, while others indulge in oysters, clams or mussels. However, the cost of seafood and the fact that fresh seafood doesn’t have the longest shelf life deters many Americans.

At while many would like to consider seafood a delicacy or something of high taste, I don’t see it that way, but it doesn’t always play well with others. I’d be the first to admit seafood and cheese DO NOT BELONG together. I know there are many chefs who would agree with that claim as well. The thought of even putting a slice of cheese of a piece of fried fish makes my stomach churn. Cheese and seafood can pair well together, but only in unique situations, specifically one where pasta is involved.

For those who don’t eat meat of any kind and are actual vegetarians might indulge in utilizing nuts (peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews and a trend of others as a protein fix). In addition, you can also implement a variety of beans into the diet rather it be red, black, pinto, kidney, fava or Navy beans. Of course the big concern with beans is the flatulence that comes with it, but here’s a major tip. Rinse off those canned beans with water before cooking to cut down on that possibility. Peanut butter is also another great source of protein, as is Tofu.

Look Tofu can be scary, but don’t let it be. What so many people fail to realize about Tofu is it TAKES ON THE FLAVOR of whatever you cook with it. So while it’s a bean curd, the spices, the sauce and the flavors you implement with it, ultimately determines the outcome. If you pair flavors well, you won’t even know you’re eating Tofu to begin with. No matter where you get your protein from as part of your daily consumption be aware it’s important for the body, and there are a variety of foods out there to help one get his or her protein fix.

Written By Kelsey Thomas