Canada’s new food guide recommends we “choose protein foods that come from plants more often.” If you’ve been wondering why, or how to go about eating more plant-based protein, this post is for you. Let’s get started!
What are protein foods that come from plants?
All plants contain protein. But legumes (i.e. beans and lentils), nuts and seeds are high in protein. Whole grains are also a good source of protein. Vegetables have less, and fruit generally has the least.
Why choose plant protein more often?
On the day the Food Guide was released, Health Canada also released Dietary Guidelines for health professionals and policy makers. This document includes the rationale (with references) for the Food Guide’s recommendations. Here’s an excerpt:
The regular intake of plant-based foods—vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based proteins— can have positive effects on health. This is because patterns of eating that emphasize plant-based foods typically result in higher intakes of:
- dietary fibre, associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including well-established risk factors such as LDL-cholesterol), colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes
- vegetables and fruit, associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- nuts, associated with decreased LDL-cholesterol, and
- soy protein, associated with decreased LDL-cholesterol.
Shifting intakes towards more plant-based foods could also encourage lower intakes of:
- processed meat (such as hot dogs, sausages, ham, corned beef, and beef jerky), which have been linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer and
- foods that contain mostly saturated fat. Lowering the intake of foods that contain mostly saturated fat by replacing with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat decreases total and LDL-cholesterol.
As the guidelines note, dietary risks are one of the three leading risk factors for death and disability combined in Canada. Truly, what we eat matters to our health.
Now’s the time to give this a try!
Do you know that Canadians, on average, are only getting half the recommended amount of fibre? Do you know that one in two Canadians consume saturated fats above the recommended limit? Choosing protein foods that come from plants more often would help Canadians overcome both of these issues, among others, and pave the way toward improved health.
Alright…what to eat?
Despite many fears, the fact is that most people greatly exceed their protein requirements, whether they eat animal products or not (see here). On average, we need about 42 grams per day. Seniors tend to eat fewer calories and utilise protein less efficiently, and therefore they need to be a little more careful to ensure they are getting enough.
I hope you find these inspiration photos…well…inspiring! I try to incorporate a higher protein ingredient into most of my meals. So a bean of some sort, or a lentil, or a whole grain, or a sprinkling of seeds, nuts or some nut butter. There are lots of beans to choose from…some of my favourites are black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans and adzuki beans. When I plan meals for the week, I choose a variety. For convenience, I usually used canned beans and lentils, but I know people who are happy to purchase them dried and pressure cook them.
Tofu and tempeh are minimally processed forms of soybeans and are very high in protein. In just a 1/2 cup, we can meet about 1/3 of our protein requirements for the day! If you are concerned about eating soy products, you can check out some evidence-based information about it here. And if you want to give tofu a try, I love Registered Dietician Pamela Fergusson’s recipe (see here). Once prepared, just toss the cubes into anything you want, like burritos, salads or grain bowls. I also love that tofu is inexpensive and readily available in grocery stores. Tofu is usually set with calcium, which makes it a good source of this important mineral.
If you’re looking for delicious and easy-to-make recipes featuring lots of plant-based protein, try my all time online favourite: Oh She Glows.
Let the experimenting begin
As a wellness coach I always advise clients to adopt a spirit of curious experimentation when they are trying something new. Especially something a little out of their comfort zone. If focussing on plant-based protein is new for you, it may take a little time to find your way. Most of us prefer some foods over others and you will likely find the same holds true in the plant-eating world. If for example you find that lentils aren’t your thing, that’s ok because there are plenty of other options to try! We know that making this shift can be a game changer for our health. And just like everything else we value in our lives, it’s totally worth the time and effort it will take to get there.