Whether you are looking to become a vegetarian or vegan, or simply increase your plant-based meals in the New Year, increasing intake of plant-based proteins can improve health. Plant-based protein sources have been proven to decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. This is due to plant-based proteins containing other beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants. They also do not contain cholesterol and some of them help to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body. Most are also low in saturated fat with the exception of coconut oil and palm fruit oil.

Two of the most frequently asked questions regarding plant-based protein are:
What are common sources of plant-based protein?

  • Nuts & Nut butters: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia, chestnut, coconut,
  • Legumes: Chick peas, beans, lentils, soybeans/soy products, tofu, tempeh, peanuts, peas
  • Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, chia, hemp, pine nuts, flaxseed, sesame seed
  • Grains: rice, wild rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, bulgur, couscous, corn, kamut, farro, teff, freekeh, orzo, semolina, graham, spelt, hominy, wheat berries, corn
  • Pseudo-grains: amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet
  • Spirulina: a blue-green algae that contains around 8g protein for 2 tablespoons
  • Vegetables: spinach, potatoes, artichoke, corn, broccoli
  • Pre-packaged meat alternatives such as faux bacon, meatless “hot dog,” etc. These are often made from seitan (wheat gluten protein), soy or pea protein and make meal planning easier, but limit the  intake of them as they generally contain added salt & additives.

It is no longer thought necessary to combine complementary plant proteins in the same meal in order to create “complete” proteins which contain all of the essential amino acids. Protein needs can be met by eating a variety of vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts & seeds throughout the day.

How do you go about incorporating more plant-based proteins?

  • Nuts and seeds are great sprinkled in a salad, on top of a pureed soup, or in a cereal for added crunch, nutrition, and protein!
  • Beans, legumes and quinoa are also great in salads. For example, add chick peas or black beans to your salad at lunch or dinner.
  • Rice and beans is a popular combination and great source of plant-based protein.
  • Switch up and/or combine your cereals. Cooked millet or buckwheat are great cereal options. Adding a nut butter or nuts in your cereal for added protein & nutrition.
  • Make your own veggie burgers such as this one: Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers
  • Make your own trail-mix for snacking using your favorite nuts, seeds and dried fruit
  • Try making your own meatless meatballs using walnuts: Walnut, Quinoa, Mushroom Meatless Meatballs
  • Add nut butters to fruits such as apples and bananas for a snack.
  • Add a plant protein powder (such as soy, pea protein, hemp) to a smoothie that incorporates your favorite fruits & veggies as well.

Start with small changes and gradually incorporate more meatless meals into your lifestyle to improve your overall health and decrease risk of disease.

For more information regarding plant-based nutrition checkout the following resources:
https://vegetariannutrition.net/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446
https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/14_9/special-reports/The-Power-of-Plant-Based-Proteins_2455-1.html

By: Lauren Halliwell, RDN