Health Canada wants us to eat more plant-based proteins and I agree wholeheartedly. But many Canadians are confused about what counts as a plant-based protein and how to eat more of these foods.
What is a plant-based protein source?
Plant-based sources of protein include meat alternatives such as lentils, beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds. A variety of protein sources, along with vegetables, fruit and whole grains, helps you get the nutrients your body needs throughout the day.
What isn’t a plant-based protein source?
As a Registered Dietitian and a mom of two young children, I have noticed in my professional and social circles a growing interest in plant-based beverages such as almond, coconut, and rice beverage replacing milk. However, other than soy beverage, plant-based options have negligible protein content—and the most popular ones (original and flavoured) are also high in sugar. For example, 1 cup of vanilla almond beverage contains only 3 whole almonds plus 12 grams of added sugar.
Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society have recently shared mutual concerns around plant-based beverage intake and child health. Plant-based beverages typically have anywhere from 11-14 ingredients, including evaporated cane sugar and lecithin. As a result, these drinks tend to be quite highly processed, which means it’s hard to know how well their added nutrients are absorbed. In fact, Canadian researchers found that children who consumed milk alternatives were not as tall2 and had lower vitamin D levels.3
According to Health Canada, the only acceptable alternative to milk is fortified soy beverage. If you or your child are unable to meet the recommendations, you’re not out of luck. It just means you need extra support and guidance. Reach out to a BC dietitian by calling HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 or by finding a dietitian in your area. Now that we know what plant-based proteins are, let’s figure out ways we can enjoy eating more of them!
What are my top 5 easy ways to eat more plant-based protein?
As a busy parent and practicing dietitian, I don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen but I know how important it is to include plant-based protein sources in our meals and snacks. Here are my top 5 ideas to make it happen in 30 minutes or less:
- Trail mix: Mix together dried cranberries, dried apple pieces, cereal (e.g. toasted whole grain oat cereal) plus toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
- Wrap it up: Hummus spread on a whole grain wrap and rolled up.
- Top your pasta: Add split red lentils to your tomato sauce. Serve with whole grain pasta.
- Stir-fry: Add chopped firm tofu and a splash of your favourite sauce when sautéeing vegetables and serve over bulgur wheat.
- Yogurt sundae: top yogurt with nuts/seeds, oat/barley flakes, and chopped apple/pear or thawed frozen fruit.
What is your favourite way to add plant-based protein to your plate?
To read more about Health Canada’s healthy eating guidance, check out this article.