You may have noticed that plant-based eating seems to be the latest buzz in the world of nutrition and with good reason: more and more research shows the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet for both our health and the environment (1). This doesn’t mean you have to give up animal products, it just means that shooting for a diet filled mostly with plant-based foods is a sure-fire recipe for good health. Plant-based protein-rich foods include pulses (dried beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas), soy, seeds, certain grains, and a relatively new source of protein for western diets: edible insects! (Yes, you read that correctly!)
So why all the hype about protein? For starters, protein is the building block for our muscles, organs, skin, nails, and hair. Not getting enough protein can hinder your body’s ability to repair and recover from tough workouts and hamper your performance at the gym or during your favourite sport or activity. Not only is protein important for all body tissues, this key nutrient forms the basis of hormones (chemical messengers that act as catalysts to trigger body processes related to growth, reproduction, mood, appetite, and metabolism, to name a few), enzymes (needed to digest food), and antibodies (consider these friendly substances your go-to chemical crusaders for fighting off invading bacteria and viruses) (2).
If knowing the essential role protein plays in keeping you healthy and strong isn’t quite enough to convince you to swap out your next steak for a crave-worthy “Meatless Monday”, here are my top five reasons to make plant-based proteins part of your everyday meals and snacks.
1. Plant-Based Proteins Offer a Hearty Dose of Healthy Fats
Plant-based proteins are also known for being a good source of heart-healthy fats, like omega-3 fats. These fats may help lower your risk of heart disease by raising your good cholesterol and lowering your bad cholesterol (5). While the verdict is still out on the benefit omega-3 fats may offer in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, depression, and dementia (5), you can’t go wrong choosing plant-based protein-packed foods to show your heart some love. A healthy heart lends way to support your energy and endurance during cardio workouts (not to mention bolsters your stamina for everyday activities like climbing stairs and taking your dog for a walk).
2. They Fill You Up on Fibre
Fibre, found exclusively in plant-based foods, is a jack of all trades. However, despite its numerous health benefits, most Canadians only get half the amount of fibre they need each day (6). This humble dietary marvel has a widespread list of health benefits such as:
Keeps your colon healthy by helping you stay regular. A high-fibre diet is also linked to lower rates of colon cancer.
Lowers cholesterol by acting like vacuum that traps excess cholesterol into tiny packages that are excreted from your body. Lowering your cholesterol is a good way to protect your heart.
Helps you feel full longer which can help curb over eating and potentially result in weight gain.
Slows how quickly foods are digested which helps control blood sugar, an important factor for preventing and managing type 2 diabetes (7)
3. Pump up the Phytochemicals! Hoorah!
Plant-based proteins also contain phytochemicals. Sounds like a superhero name, doesn’t it?Phytochemicals literally mean “plant chemicals” and they offer benefits that you can only get from eating plant-based foods. Some of the benefits include: reducing inflammation in the body (inflammation has been linked to a variety of diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, even depression), warding off heart disease and cancer, strengthening your immune system, and lowering your risk of osteoporosis and vision loss later in life (3). Given the many health advantages of phytochemicals, it is no surprise they are a topic of ongoing research to try and discover exactly how powerful a role they play on health.
4. Plant-Based Proteins Go Easy on your Wallet
If you’re like me, you might be a sucker for a deal...and there’s nothing wrong with that! Who doesn’t love saving a couple of bucks? Generally speaking, plant-based proteins like pulses, seeds, and whole grains tend to be more affordable pantry staples that also offer the perk of a long shelf life. The same cannot be said of animal proteins which offer higher per unit price points at your local grocery store or butcher. Even when they’re on sale, it is likely that a tray of four chicken breasts, for example, will only get one meal for a family of four. On the other hand, a bag of dry beans may afford your family five or six meals. While these simple swaps may not be enough to pay for your dream vacation, it’s safe to say that eating plant-based foods more often will lower your weekly grocery bill and help you save for a rainy day.
5. The Environment will Thank You :)
As both the world population and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions grows, the Food and Agricultural Organization has recommended taking up a sustainable diet that limits animal products. The reason being that raising livestock causes a large amount of greenhouse gases.
Why is this? Because it takes a lot of energy to produce animal feed and fertilizers, heat and light animal housing, and sustain the general day-to-day running a livestock farm (8). In contrast, plant-based crops, like pulse crops, have a lower carbon foot print as they rely less on energy inputs like water. Also, pulses can produce nitrogen for their own use, meaning that less nitrogen-based fertilizer is needed for pulses to grow (9). Nitrogen fertilizer, needed for animal farming, is the main cause of farming-based greenhouse gases. So, less nitrogen fertilizer = healthier environment (9).
If you have made it this far, you may now be wondering “so how do I go about getting more plant-based proteins into my diet”? It’s much easier than you may think!
Stay tuned for Part 2 on our 5 Crave-worthy Tips to Include more Plant-Based Protein into your Diet!
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?
Should you abandon all animal-based protein for life? Not necessarily. But, consuming plant-based proteins more often is a simple strategy that offers the health benefits of fibre, healthy fats, and phytochemicals and promotes optimal health and performance. Overall, eating more plant-based proteins can help make a difference in both your own health and the health of the environment (9).
Don't forget to join our Craving Healthy Habits online community for more crave-worthy recipes. Besides being a place to share and reflect about your healthy lifestyle journey, we also host contests and challenges to keep you motivated and having fun. We’d love to have you!
About our Contributing Writer - Jenn Villalta
Jennifer Villalta has a BScFN in Nutrition and Dietetics from Western University and is currently completing her dietetic internship as part of her training to become a Registered Dietitian. She is passionate about cooking and food and the role they play in nourishing the body and the mind. She hopes to bring a message of body positivity, mindful eating, and taking joy in the act of cooking and eating to her practice.
1.Governement of Canada. (2018). Protein Industry SuperCluster. In Canada.Retrieved from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/093.nsf/eng/00012.html
2.Dietitians of Canada. (2017) Introduction to Protein and High Protein Foods. InUnlock Food. Retrieved from: http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Protein/Introduction-To-Protein-And-High-Protein-Foods.aspx
3.Hever, J. (2016). Plant-based diets: A physician's guide. The Permanente Journal, 20(3), 93. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991921/
4. Dietitians of Canada. (2018) Facts on Saturated Fat. In Unlock Food. Retrieved from: http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fat/Facts-on-Saturated-Fat.aspx
5. Dietitians of Canada. (2018). Omega-3 Fats Deliver Oh Mega Benefits. In Unlock Food. Retrieved from: http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Omega-3-fats-deliver-Oh-Mega-benefits.aspx?aliaspath=%2fen%2fArticles%2fHeart-Health%2fOmega-3-fats-deliver-Oh-Mega-benefits
6. Government of Canada (2017). Fibre. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fibre.html
7. Dietitians of Canada. (2018). Focus on Fibre. In Unlock Food. Retrieved from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fibre/Focus-on-Fibre.aspx
8.Lacour, C., Seconda, L., Allès, B., Hercberg, S., Langevin, B., Pointereau, P., Kesse-Guyot, E. (2018). Environmental impacts of plant-based diets: How does organic food consumption contribute to environmental sustainability? Frontiers in Nutrition, 5, 8. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00008
9. Pulse Canada. (2019). Environmental Sustainability. InPulse Canada. Retrieved from:http://www.pulsecanada.com/food-industry/pulse-benefits/sustainability/