For many years I have heard that the best approach to have a balanced diet is to eat less carbs and more protein. I believe I am not the only one who heard this. In fact, there is a lot of information online that swear by it. I have never followed a specific diet but I am mindful about including complex carbs and protein in my diet, mostly animal protein. (Until a few months ago that I started making some changes) As I am digging deeper into the best ways to keep myself energized, healthy and fit, I keep finding information that leads to the same conclusion: a plant-based diet is the most recommended diet for long-lasting health. It is also rich in proteins so there is no reason why we should believe the best way to nourish our bodies is by only eating animal protein (red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy).
Another point we need to consider is that we all have different nutritional needs. (Different protein needs for women, men, children, babies) Lifestyle choices also play an important part: if you work out or intend to lose weight or you are a couch potato will also determine how much protein you need. At the end of the day, optimal nutrition is about keeping balance.
Ok, so all this information is clear. However, when I kept searching trustworthy sources to determine if we are actually eating too much protein or not, it got quite confusing. In some articles and studies, it says we need to eat more protein and on the other hand, there are others that say we eat more than enough protein. So whom do you believe?
I guess the simple answer is that it depends on who pays for the studies and publishes information. Unfortunately, there is a lot of advertising (hidden in the form of research studies published in fancy health magazines and the sort) that lead us to believe we need a lot of animal protein. Don’t get me wrong, of course we need protein, they are the basic blocks of life. We need it to repair cells and make new ones apart from growth and development functions. But animal protein is not the only and best source available. In fact, animal protein has been linked to increasing cholesterol levels (due to saturated fats), inflammation at a cellular level, proliferation of cancer cells, diabetes and kidney issues apart from the fact that it doesn’t add any fiber to our diet.
A healthier alternative? Plant-based protein. Not only will you get protein but fiber that is so much-needed for proper body functioning. In the western diet, it is more common to get less fiber and more protein, so if you are concerned about not getting enough protein, maybe you should be more concerned about fiber + protein instead.
I would like to recommend some options (some of you might already know) to include in your weekly meals so that you give your body a break from animal protein. Doing so will also help you knock out some of the saturated fat.
Being Colombian, this is my first choice. (I am already experimenting cooking a healthy version of Bandeja Paisa without chicharron and chorizo of course). There are so many varieties of beans (kidney, green beans, chickpeas, lentils, and more). They are high in fiber so they keep you full for longer, and each of them has their own benefits for our health:
Lentils – Great to fight cancer cells. They are packed with folate and magnesium. Excellent to prevent heart disease.
Kidney beans – Packed with antioxidants and omega 3’s polyunsaturated fatty acids. It helps to protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Black beans – Full of anthocyanin that help protect brain function.
Chickpeas – High in fiber which helps to improve blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels.
There are so many more, so dare to try different kinds.
One of my favorites. I used to eat white rice and since I discovered quinoa it was pretty much love at first sight. It’s a gluten-free grain (technically is a seed) high in protein that is also used as a carbohydrate, it’s full of fiber and its one of the few foods that contain the nine essential amino acids. I eat it at least twice a week, it’s cooked pretty much like white rice and you can flavor it any way you wish. It goes great in salads, soups as a side dish or you can eat as cereal. There are different types; I prefer the white and red quinoa. It has become trendy in the last few years but it has been around for many, many years.
3. Nutritional Yeast
This one is a newcomer for me. Apart from its protein content, it’s also packed with B vitamins. It is an inactive form of yeast and comes as flakes. Normally it’s mixed with water or almond milk and mashed nuts and it has a nutty cheese flavor. This is the vegan version of a cheese sauce. I recently made a batch of this and I am getting used to the flavor. Some people like to sprinkle it on salads pasta and rice dishes.
Who doesn’t like nuts? Not only they are full of protein, they are also rich in minerals, vitamin E and healthy fats. You can eat them in granola bars, spread them in a toast (almond or peanut butter), and sprinkle over granola, rice dishes or salads.
Also a new one for me. This is a fermented soy-based product originally from Indonesia (similar to tofu) that is full of calcium as well as manganese, copper, phosphorus and vitamin B2. There is controversy around soy-based products because in the US many of these products are highly processed and the soybeans have been genetically modified. Tempeh is produced with significantly less processing so it’s a safe and healthy option. It helps to reduce cholesterol and fight cancer cells. It can be stir-fried, baked, pan-fried or eaten raw. For more information on this topic, I recommend you read Dr. Mark Hyman’s blog. I have already mentioned Dr. Hyman in a previous blog. His comments on the numerous studies on soy (organic and processed) are eye-opening for those who have doubts.
I am currently experimenting with all these ingredients and of course, it is a bit intimidating to cook with new ingredients but so far is going well. Even my meat-eater husband is eating them, (in small bits of course).
Personally, I find these options fill me up with good energy to work out and function through the day. I am not ready to become a vegetarian or vegan (yet) but I must admit that I am feeling amazing. My digestion has improved significantly, my energy levels are up and I feel I am even losing weight.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet and how it relates to better health, I totally recommend MD. Neil Barnard. He is also the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and has done lots of studies about health and nutrition.
My take? Aim for 3 days of animal protein + 4 days of plant-based protein for a week and see how you feel and when you choose animal protein, make sure is of good quality (grass-fed, organic and responsibly raised).
We are all different and what works for one person might not necessarily work for another, so it’s important to keep this in mind as we dare to diversify our food sources.
This is all for now, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see some of the meals I am cooking and if you are trying new recipes please share I would love to hear from you.