By: Gabrielle Lambie- Nutritionist
When fasting from meat, whether it be for ‘Meatless Mondays’, religious seasons like Lent, or a lifestyle change to veganism, the most important nutritional consideration is ensuring that you are still getting all the nutrients you would regularly get from meat from other sources. The main nutrient that comes to mind is, of course, Protein. By cutting meat and poultry out of your diet you are now eliminating your main dietary source of protein. Protein, present in every single cell and tissue in the body, is an extremely important macronutrient that has several key roles. These include maintaining lean muscle mass, building and repairing tissues, helping the body fight infection, repairing and maintaining skin cells, facilitating metabolism, and creating protein messenger cells like hormones that transport various compounds throughout the body.
So, by going meatless how can you still ensure you meet our RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of protein? (The RDA for protein for men is 56g and for women it is 46g). The first option most of us turn to is fish, which can provide more than an adequate supply of protein. However, there are downsides to relying primarily on fish or seafood for protein. Price is a major factor. At this time of year fish prices tend to skyrocket. It simply isn’t affordable for most of us to eat a variety of high quality fish and seafood on a daily basis. Also, depending on your reasons for going meatless, fish and seafood may not be included in the list of foods you can eat. Personal taste and the presence of food allergies often also place limitations where this option is concerned.
We must then turn to plant based sources of protein. These sources are not only able to provide all the protein the body needs, they come with the added nutritional benefits of a greater dietary fibre intake, potassium, antioxidants and phytonutrients, and less saturated fat and cholesterol than animal-based protein sources.
What exactly are plant-based options for protein?
Beans, Peas and Lentils – Several of the most popular beans and peas used in our local diets offer approximately 15g of protein per cup! They are also more cost-effective than animal-based protein and are a cholesterol-free, low-fat source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Soy- based products like Edamame, tofu and tempeh also fall into this category. You may be raising an eyebrow here wondering if you can ever become a Meatless Protein lover but have you ever tried spicy bean burgers? They are really yummy and a lot healthier than those store bought ‘mystery ingredient’ veggie patties!
Vegetables- Doesn’t it seem like there is a never-ending list of reasons to include more vegetables in your diet? Meeting your protein requirements is definitely on that list! Vegetables may not immediately come to mind when thinking about protein, but most vegetables contain an impressive about of protein per gram. For example, spinach and broccoli both contain about 5g of protein per serving. Other vegetables with relatively high protein contents are mushrooms, brussel sprouts, corn, and potatoes eaten with the skin.
Nuts, Seeds and Grains – In addition to providing fibre, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats, these sources also contain protein. Including options like chia and hemp seeds, quinoa, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, oats, brown rice and whole wheat will definitely help you reach your protein goals each day.
It is important to mention that not all protein in food is the same. The protein from different sources is made up of different combinations of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). There are 20 different amino acids and of these the human body is able to produce 11 of them on its own. The other 9 must be obtained from food and are called essential amino acids. Animal sources of protein like meat and poultry are considered ‘complete’ proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Most plant based proteins are incomplete because they are lacking one or more of the essential amino acids. However, providing your body with all 9 amino acids is simple – you need to vary your plant-based protein sources and mix and match them in every meal. A basic rule of thumb is have beans with whole-grains since the essential amino acids missing from beans are present in grains. Therefore once you are eating a varied and balanced diet with several different plant-based protein sources you can be sure your body is getting all the essential amino acids.
Aside from all the plant-based sources of protein, eggs and dairy products are also high-quality protein sources. Stick to low-fat options like low fat yogurt and skimmed milk.
So, if during this Lenten season you are trying to see if you can become a Meatless Pro it does not have to translate into a more expensive, boring, protein-deficient diet. On the contrary, with a little extra thought and planning your diet will not only have enough protein, but will also be more nutrient-rich and contain more dietary fibre which will benefit your overall health and well-being over time. Don’t forget to use the opportunity to expand your palate and see how delicious you can make these choices!