Protein Foods: A Closer Look at Plant-Based Proteins
Protein is an essential macronutrient that our bodies need to build and repair muscle, tissue, skin, nails and hair. It is also needed to produce enzymes and hormones in our bodies. We must get protein from our diet as our bodies cannot store protein. Protein comes from different sources. Canada’s Food Guide recommends incorporating plant-based proteins more often into our diets. Let's take a closer look and find out why!
How Much Protein Do We Need?
Protein is an essential nutrient in our bodies. For adults the recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. This amounts to an average of 46 to 56 grams of protein per day.
Children have higher protein needs as they are rapidly growing. More protein is required to support the building and repairing of their growing muscles and tissues. It is recommended that children aged 1 to 3 years consume approximately 13 grams of protein per day (1.05 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight) and children aged 4 to 8 years consume approximately 19 grams of protein per day (0.95 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight).
Meat and Plant-Based Proteins
Dietary sources of protein include both animal and plant-based foods. Animal based protein foods include meat such as chicken, beef, pork and fish as well as eggs, yogurt, milk, and cheese. Meat is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce. Meat also contains important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, which comes only from animal sources, and iron. When choosing meat, leaner cuts are recommended as they are lower in saturated fat. Look for lower fat yogurts, milk, and cheese as well.
Many people get the majority of their protein from animal based foods, however, plant-based proteins provide many health benefits. Plant-based protein foods contain fibre and are lower in saturated fat than animal based protein foods, which can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. They also contain plant sterols which can help to lower cholesterol.
Plant-based protein foods include legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), tofu, nuts and seeds. Plant-based proteins contain many important vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, and vitamin B6. They are also often more cost effective than animal based protein foods. The following are examples of plant-based protein foods:
Legumes come in all shapes, sizes, and colours: Kidney beans, black eyed peas, navy beans, lima beans, chickpeas, red lentils, black beans, green peas, mung beans…... and the list goes on!
Legumes are typically purchased canned or dried. Canned legumes are already cooked and ready to use. They do however, have sodium added so it is important to drain and rinse them prior to wash off some of the sodium. Dried legumes, on the other hand, do not contain sodium. They must be cooked prior to eating and can be soaked for several hours or overnight to reduce the cooking time.
Tofu is made from soybeans and is sometimes referred to as soybean curd. Tofu is a complete protein making it an excellent alternative to meat. Tofu is low in saturated fat and sodium, and it contains calcium.
Fresh tofu is labelled by texture including soft or silken, medium, firm and extra firm tofu. The firmness of the tofu is determined by the amount of moisture removed. Extra firm tofu has the most moisture removed and best retains its shape. This makes firm tofu a good choice for grilling or use in a stir fry. Soft, or silken tofu, has the most moisture and is best used in smoothies or sauces.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein, fibre, and unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats are good for your heart and can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Nuts and seeds make a great nutrient dense snack. Try adding nuts and seeds to your salads, on top of yogurt, as a coating for meat (such as fish), or add nut butter to a smoothie.
Why are Plant-Based Proteins Good for Me?
Protein - this macronutrient helps to build and repair tissues in your body as well as acting as an energy source.
Fibre - legumes, nuts and seeds contain fibre which helps keep you fuller for longer, keeps bowels regular, can help lower cholesterol, and control blood sugar levels.
Folate - this B vitamin helps to prevent anemia and maintain a healthy heart. It also helps to reduce the risk of some birth defects.
Iron - this mineral is needed to make blood. It is best absorbed when eaten with foods rich in vitamin C.
Vitamin B6 - this water soluble vitamin is important for metabolism and brain development.
How Do We Get Enough Protein In Our Diet?
A balanced diet that includes protein foods typically meets our protein needs without the need for additional protein, such as supplements.
A 1.5 oz serving of chicken breast, a half cup of tofu, a half cup of black beans, and two tablespoons of peanut butter all contain approximately 10 g of protein.
A diet meeting the protein requirements using plant-based protein foods for adults might include:
Breakfast - overnight oats with one tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack - 1 oz of almonds
Lunch - vegetarian chili containing a half cup of beans
Snack - boiled egg and cut vegetables
Supper - tofu and vegetable stir fry with rice including a half cup of tofu
And for children might include:
Breakfast - toast with one tablespoon of peanut butter and fruit
Snack - whole grain crackers and cut vegetables
Lunch - vegetarian chili with a quarter cup of beans
Snack - homemade bran muffin
Supper - tofu and vegetable stir fry including a quarter cup of tofu
Ways to Incorporate Plant-Based Proteins
From beans and lentils to nuts and tofu there are endless ways to incorporate plant-based proteins into your diet. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started:
Zesty Bean Dip: A simple and spicy snack idea that you can adjust to your own taste!
Sweet Potato Falafels: Try this recipe that combines a plant-based protein (chickpeas) with our vegetable of the month (sweet potato)!
This Banana Nut Smoothie contains silken tofu and nut butter!
Spice things up with this Sweet Chili Tofu Stir-fry recipe! You can make it to your taste by using whichever vegetables you prefer.
These Crispy Chickpeas are a great protein packed snack idea.
Minestrone soup with white kidney beans makes for a warm and comforting meal.
This Three Bean Curry can be made with any beans that you have at home.
What is your favourite plant-based protein recipe? Comment below or show us your recipes by tagging us on Instagram (@FLIPprogram).