Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Canada’s food guide and plant-based proteins

A cauliflower and bean taco is shown.

The new Canada’s food guide suggests eating more plant-based proteins (like this cauliflower-bean taco), and less meat.

There’s been a lot of buzz about plant-based proteins lately! The new Canada’s food guide encourages Canadians to enjoy a variety of foods, and to choose proteins that come from plants more often. This includes foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Products made from these foods, like hummus, tofu, nut butters, and fortified soy beverages

In a previous blog post, Amelia Gallant shared some great tips and recipes, and discussed the benefits of eating more plant-based proteins. She also pointed out that plant-based eating means different things to different people, and that it doesn’t mean having to forgo all meat or dairy products. For most people, taking small steps to include more of these foods will be a more enjoyable and sustainable approach.

What might this might look like in real life? I asked a few Northern Health colleagues to share what eating plant-based proteins means for them. Here’s what they had to say:

Partial or full substitutes for meat

“For our family, it means adding lentils with our rice in the rice cooker (only split lentils, otherwise it won’t cook in time!), using tofu in saucy dishes, and adding beans and lentils in soups, stews, or pasta to partially or fully substitute for meat. We’ve found that by using plant-based proteins, you can have meat more for flavouring rather than bulk, which helps expenses and the environment.” – Scott Christie, Environmental Health Officer

Not what I grew up with

“I’ve started to use more beans – black bean brownies, mashed black beans with ground meats to add volume, black eyed peas in stews. Most of these were not served when I was growing up in southern Ontario. I remember … meat and potatoes kind of meals.” – Valerie Preston, Regional Administration Support

Not just for vegetarians

“I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy plant-based proteins and serve them for my daughters as well. I started doing this originally for economic reasons, but found that I enjoy the taste and texture differences. I particularly enjoy hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, chickpea and lentil soups, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.” – Nathan Hoffart, Speech Language Pathologist

An opportunity to try new things

“For me, it means tasty opportunities to be creative and try new things, as well as enjoy some old favourites. One of our current favourites is roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos. We also like modifying family favourites (e.g., lentil shepherd’s pie), making small modifications (e.g., red lentils to spaghetti sauce, beans or nuts on top of salad), and enjoying old favourites (e.g., peanut butter smeared on apple slices, baked beans, pea soup, etc.)” – Flo Sheppard, Registered Dietitian

Learning as a family

“For my family, it involves meal planning and finding inspiration in cookbooks and websites, and asking others for recipe ideas. I like to involve my two children in different ways … as I find this increases the chance that they will try and enjoy a variety of plant-based foods.” – Dana Vigneault, Regional Nursing Lead, Injury Prevention

What strikes me most about these quotes is that people value plant-based proteins for much more than just their nutritional benefits. We heard:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Environmental impact
  • Budget
  • The opportunity to try new things and teach new skills

Now, it’s your turn! Tell us what eating plant-based proteins means to you?

For more blog posts that explore the new Canada’s Food guide, see:

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

Share

Northern Table: About those “meaty” veggie burgers…

A hand holds a meaty-looking plant-based burger.

“Meaty” veggie burgers are offered at many popular restaurants and are made by a variety of food companies.

I’ve never really liked veggie burgers. You know the ones I’m talking about? They typically consist of a mixture of mashed vegetables and beans. They can be soggy, lacking in flavour, and leave you wanting more. That’s why I was excited and intrigued to see the recent rise in popularity of the “meaty” veggie burger. These patties are manufactured by a variety of food companies and offered at many popular restaurants. They’re meant to look and taste like meat and appeal to the masses, not just to vegans.

As a plant-based eater, I was very excited to see this trend gaining popularity. I was glad to have more appealing options to choose from when on a road trip or invited to a friend’s house for a BBQ. However, as a dietitian, I’m frequently asked what I think about these new burger options and if a processed veggie patty is really healthier than a less processed meat patty.

The answer can be complicated.

We know a whole food, plant-based diet is healthier for our bodies than a diet rich in animal products. No, this doesn’t mean you have to be vegan. Instead, the new Canada’s Food Guide emphasizes the importance of choosing plant-based protein sources more often.

So, does that mean these new veggie burgers are healthier than their beef counterparts? Not necessarily.

Most patties are heavily processed and contain added salt, oil, and other preservatives to keep them fresh and give them that meaty look and taste. They may contain peas, lentils, or soy, but they’re not considered “whole foods,” which is what Canada’s Food Guide recommends.

From an environmental standpoint, veggie burgers are likely a better choice. Recent studies show that veggie burgers use less land and water, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions during their production.

It’s always difficult to say if a particular food item is healthy or not. If you ask a dietitian, they’ll often answer: “it depends.” Keep these points in mind when choosing the right option for you:

  • Are you looking to make changes in your diet to reduce your environmental impact or are you making changes in other areas of your life?
  • What tastes best to you? What will you enjoy most?
  • What options are available to you in your area?
  • How frequently are you choosing processed foods, prepared outside of the home?

Remember, cooking at home with whole foods is always a healthy choice! So, I’ll wrap up by challenging you to learn how to cook and prepare a plant-based protein for you and your family this week. And feel free to tell me how it went in the comments!

Whichever patty you choose, enjoy it!

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

Share

Foodie Friday: To-fu or not To-fu – Smart ways to adopt plant-based eating

Plant-based eating has become one of the largest food and health trends of the past few years, which, as a dietitian, I’m delighted to see. Aside from being delicious, plant-based protein choices are typically lower in saturated fats, higher in fibre, and can be more sustainable for the environment. You can’t deny the health benefits of vegetarian or vegan eating when it’s done properly, because there are many benefits!

However, that doesn’t mean that we need to adopt a strict new lifestyle to reap the rewards. It’s up to you what kind of commitment you want to make. Many of us probably wouldn’t fare well on a strictly vegan diet (me included!), but we could make small steps to better our health, and the planet’s. Most of us eat 21 meals each week – is there opportunity for you to make one or two more of those meals meatless?

Plate of tofu and veggies.

Looking to include more meatless ingredients in your meal rotation? Tofu could be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

If meatless eating is a new ballgame for you, it doesn’t need to be a complicated affair; try simple items like vegetarian chili, tofu stir fry, lentil soup, homemade black bean burgers, or falafel. You could also be more adventurous and include things like TVP (textured vegetable protein), seitan (made from the protein gluten), or tempeh (a fermented soy product). I don’t usually recommend the “fake meat” products which are highly processed, usually pack a dose of sodium (and are expensive). As always, fill your plates with delicious vegetables and whole grains to make these meals as satisfying as possible.

Tofu, in particular, is one of those foods that people decidedly dislike before they’ve had a chance to try it. I get it, it’s bland, spongy, and there are so many types – it can be intimidating to make for the first time. With the right techniques, like pressing out the excess moisture, and using a delicious marinade, it just might be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

Amelia’s Tofu “Un-Recipe”

Ingredients:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu (454 g)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch

Marinade (or use another favorite marinade recipe):

  • 1 tsp oil of choice (sesame, canola, olive)
  • 2 Tbsp cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock (or use water if none on hand)
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce (or use extra stock for lower sodium)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, molasses, maple syrup)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or a hefty pinch of garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp grated ginger (or a pinch of ground ginger)
  • Optional: Hot sauce, to taste. (Or use black or cayenne pepper for lower sodium)

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or with lightly oiling. Tofu can also be cooked by pan frying over medium heat or even bbq-ing, 5-8 minutes per side, if that suits you better. Tofu can also be eaten raw; uncooked marinated tofu is a yummy addition to a green or pasta salad.
  2. Open tofu package and drain excess water, dry the surface of the tofu with a clean towel. Slice the tofu widthwise in 1cm (3/4 inch) slices. Slice each slice into 2 triangles.
  3. Lay the triangles between two clean, dry kitchen towels and press firmly to remove any excess moisture, removing moisture allows the tofu to soak up delicious flavour!
  4. Mix marinade ingredients in a dish and add tofu, ensuring all pieces are covered, and let sit at least 20 minutes, turning halfway through to coat. During this time you can chop veggies and start to prepare your side dishes.
  5. After 15 minutes, drain excess liquid (if any) and add cornstarch, tossing to coat evenly.
  6. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake 40 minutes, flipping tofu after 20 minutes.

My favorite way to enjoy baked tofu is dipped in a spicy peanut sauce and served alongside some colorful veggies and roasted potato chunks.

Have you tried incorporating vegetarian mealtimes in your household? Let us know in the comments what it’s like for you to eat off the “meaten” path!

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

Share