You Hear You Should Eat More Plant-based Protein, But Where Do You Begin?

Eat more plants, eat the rainbow, eat your veggies.  These terms might be the new green of the nutrition world, but there is good reason.  Plants provide fibre, phytonutrients, phytosterols, decrease inflammation in the body, regulate blood sugar, increase immunity, do not clog arteries, lower cholesterol and provide a source of protein that is not a saturated fat that you would get from an animal source.

What does this mean? A plate that is filled with at least half (or more) of colourful veg means clearer skin, better gut health, less bloat, less blood sugar spikes and crashes, less illness, more energy and lowered risk of disease. Sounds like our parents weren’t just nagging us to eat up, they were on to something.

So, what are plant-based proteins and how do you get them in to your diet? You might already be incorporating plenty of plants into your meals and not even know it. The only catch with plant-based proteins is that most are not complete, meaning they do not contain all the amino acids that an animal protein would contain.  The good news is that all you have to do is combine a few different plants throughout your day and you make yourself a complete protein. They each contain different amino acids so you are sure to cover them if you eat a variety each day.

Here is a list of some easy-to-find plant-based proteins that you can add into your meals to benefit from all the wholesome goodness that they have to offer us, naturally.

Oats: (26g protein/cup) A nutrient-rich cereal grain that is demulcent and soothing to the digestive system. Enjoy them as overnight oats, turn them in to a dairy-free oat milk, breakfast cooking, or add them into smoothies.

breakfast cookies

Hemp Hearts: (9g protein/oz) This is the nutritious heart of the hemp seed that has a nutty flavour and does not need to be cooked. These add a nice crunch to salads, granola or yogurt, or blend them up with almonds for a delicious non-diary milk.

Chia Seeds: (5g protein/oz) These tiny seeds are native to Mexico and have changed many lives in the plant-based community.  They absorb 10 times their weight in water, so you will want to make sure they are either soaked first, or you eat them with a liquid. Because they grow in size, they keep you full longer and add great bulk to smoothies, granola and pudding. Our favourite way to enjoy them is with coconut milk in a chia pudding, either for breakfast or as a dessert.

Nuts: (7g protein/oz) Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are high in plant-based protein and high in fibre. Ground nuts make a wonderful pie crust, dairy-free milk, topping on salads or yogurt. It is really simple to add nuts in to your meals as they can be eaten raw. Also try nut butters and nut oils on salads. Aim for the raw or dry roasted, unsalted, varieties. Nuts should be stored in your freezer as they can go rancid easily.

Nutritional Yeast: (9g protein/2 Tblsp) aka, “nooch”, is a new fave in the plant-based world. If you are lucky, you can find a brand that is fortified with vitamin B12, which does not normally exist naturally in plant-based foods. These dry flakes give a cheesy, nutty flavour that is naturally low in sodium but still packs alot of flavour. Nutritional yeast can be turned into a dairy-free cheese sauce, a vegan “parmesan”, and crisps up nicely on roasted chick peas.

crunchy chick peas

Quinoa: (8g protein/cup) Considered a superfood, this seed that is eaten like a grain and has more nutritional value and protein than other plants. It makes a great alternative to rice, when boiled, and can also be popped like popcorn, when dry. The seeds can also be soaked and sprouted for easier digestion. Once a week, make a big pot of cooked quinoa and add it to salads, stuff it into peppers for dinners, use it in wraps and homemade granola, to sneak in extra protein throughout your days.

Flax Seeds: (6g protein/oz) Most beneficial when ground, flax seeds contain the most omega 3, which is anti-inflammatory, skin, brain and heart healthy. It is a source of phytoestrogen and lignans for women’s health,  and antioxidants for boosting the immune system. Flax naturally gels when mixed with water, so it is often used as an egg replacement in vegan baking. Add ground flax to granola, bliss balls, cereals, in baked goods, on yogurt and in smoothies.  Also try flax oil in salad dressing or on its own for it’s blood sugar-regulating properties.

Pumpkin Seeds: (9g/oz) Rich in antioxidants and magnesium, these powerhouses are beneficial for men’s health, post-menopausal health, heart health and immunity. Enjoy them raw or roast them and add them to salads for a nutty crunch.

Spirulina: (39g protein/oz) A blue-green algae that packs nutritional value, protein and flavour. It is often used in detox programs and face maks!, as it pulls heavy metals from the body and is anti-microbial. It provides energy so avoid using at night. Add it into smoothies for a blood sugar-balancing, uplifting morning pick-me-up.

Beans: (15-17g protein/cup) Soybeans are complete, the other beans can be combined with other vegetables for the 9 amino acids to make them a complete protein. If you have trouble digesting beans, try soaking and sprouting them for a day or two to release the phytic acid that causes tummy troubles in some. Otherwise, steam them lightly and add them to salads and side dishes, roast them for a crunchy snack, turn them into heart-healthy hummus, or cook them with veggies for a delicious chili.

Now that you have the tools to increase your energy, reduce your risk of illness, improve your gut health, boost your immunity and give your skin a glow, what are you waiting for? Fill that plate up with a colourful array of veggies and sprinkle it all with some nuts and seeds.  There you go, you are eating more plant-based protein.

Jen Casey is a Holistic Nutritionist with Next Bite Nutrition Coaching in Vancouver, BC. She focuses her practice on women’s wellness and building a solid foundation for the pillars of health. Learn more about Jen and her healthy meal plans on Instagram.

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15 Pantry Essentials a Holistic Nutritionist Keeps on Hand

 

Keeping your pantry stocked with some essential ingredients ensures that you will always have something nutritious to whip up in a pinch.  As a Holistic Nutritionist, my wellness plans are not just about what you eat, but include the pillars of health. Stress can play a big role in many aspects of your life, including digestion, so my number one tip for reducing stress is to meal plan.  If you keep some essentials on hand, you lower your risk of becoming hangry, having low blood sugar, and reduce cravings.  Use these pantry basics to boost up Bliss Balls, Chia Pudding, smoothies, salads and snacks with some staples that have a lengthy shelf life and pack a nutrient-dense punch. Keep these 15 ingredients well stocked for their blood sugar regulating, protein packing, healthy fats, energy-boosting and high fibre properties.

  1. Nutritional Yeast:  aka, “nooch”, is a new fave in the plant-based world. If you are lucky, you can find a brand that is fortified with vitamin B12, which does not normally exist naturally in plant-based foods. These dry flakes give a cheesy, nutty flavour that is naturally low in sodium but still packs alot of flavour. Nutritional yeast can be turned into a dairy-free cheese sauce, a vegan “parmesan”, and crisps up nicely on roasted chick peas.

nooch chick peas

2. Apple Cider Vinegar: Keep this on hand to use in salad dressings and as a way to start your day.  Take 1 Tblsp each morning before you eat or drink anything else, to set your metabolism and get your digestive juices flowing for the day. I also love ACV as a skin toner for oily areas on the face and as a hair rinse. Be sure to buy ACV with the “mother”, for it’s nutritional benefits.

3.  Canned Coconut Milk: Full fat coconut milk makes a decadent chia seed pudding, thickens up smoothies, makes a rich whipped cream,  and is a great base to cook rice in. This healthy fat is easily metabolized by your body for energy, and benefits your brain, hair, nails and skin. It is also a nice alternative to dairy and nut milks.

smoothie-bowl
Add coconut milk to smoothies for a rich, creamy texture.

4. Sea Salt: A great source of iodine that is usually not processed, and is needed for a healthy thyroid, to regulate your body’s fluid balance and to prevent dehydration. Limit your sodium intake to 2300mg/day or less. Natural sea salt, that is not processed, should be light grey, sometimes pink in colour. Just a pinch will do you.

Foot soak2
Natural sea salt should be your source of iodine for a healthy thyroid.

5. Olive Oil: A healthy monounsaturated fat with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Olive oil benefits the brain, hair, skin, and the heart. Keep Extra Virgin Olive Oil on hand to use as salad dressing or for baking.  Avoid frying with olive oil or cooking with it at high heat as it can damage the nutrient properties.

6. Oats: Rolled oat flakes are a soothing, plant-based protein that help to regulate blood sugar, are easy to digest, nutrient-dense, and a great source of B vitamins for energy. Use them in overnight oats, make a dairy-free milk alternative, use in baking or use raw in smoothies.

oat milk 6
Dairy-free Oat Milk takes just minutes to make.

7. Chia Seeds: High in fibre, chia seeds help to regulate blood glucose levels, they keep you satiated, and are a great source of plant-based protein. Use them as your base in chia seed pudding and bliss balls, or try a Chia Fresca with coconut water in the summer.

chia pudding coconut milk
Decadent Chia Seed Pudding with Coconut Milk.

8. Turmeric: This nutrient-dense root is most known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The root can be grated and used fresh, or you can get the powdered version, which is more bioavailable in the body. Phytonutrients in curcumin, the compound in turmeric, help to reduce swelling, ease digestion and IBS, boost immunity, inhibit cancer cell growth and, topically, can help improve the suppleness of skin. Add 1 Tblsp of turmeric to 1 cup of coconut milk, along with cloves, black pepper, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg for a soothing, nutrient-dense drink.

golden milk

9. Coconut Oil: I keep coconut oil on hand for frying, to use in place of butter or oils in baking, and to use topically as a skin moisturizer. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but from a plant, and it is considered one of the healthiest fats to eat.  This medium chain fatty acid, or MCFA, is easily digested by the body and used immediately for fuel, unlike some fats that are stored in the body. Coconut oil is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal, so it makes for a safe, chemical-free moisturizer on the skin and is useful for oral health.

Next Bite Granola Squares
Dates make a healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners.

10. Dates: I use dates as a natural sweetener in baking, bliss balls, homemade oat and nut milks, bitter smoothies and blended coffee. Medjool dates are the sweeter variety, and can be eaten fresh or dried. Aside from having a high natural sugar content, they do contain fibre, which helps to slow the glucose release, keeps your digestive tract healthy, and gives a natural energy boost.

11. Dried Herbs: Herbs and spices pack alot of nutrient punch and flavour that is useful to replace salt in foods. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Parsley, all dry and freeze well, so you can grow them and keep them for cooking.  If freezing, fill ice cube trays with water or olive oil, and place in finely chopped herbs. Simply pop out a cube for cooking.

almond butter cups 6
Salted Almond Butter Cups made with raw cacao powder and no added sugar.

12. Cacao Powder: Raw cacao powder comes from the edible pods of the Theobroma cacao plant and is considered a superfood, high in antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and iron.  Cocoa, or raw chocolate is made from the powder, and it is a great way to boost up baking and treats without all the added sugar. Simply mix raw cacao powder with coconut oil, maple syrup or dates, and use it as a base for Almond Butter Cups, Avocado Pudding, or Chocolate Bark.

stuffed portobellos13. Quinoa: Considered a superfood, this seed that is eaten like a grain and has more nutritional value and protein than other plants. It makes a great alternative to rice, when boiled, and can also be popped like popcorn when dry. The seeds can also be soaked and sprouted for easier digestion. Once a week, make a big pot of cooked quinoa and add it to salads, stuff it into peppers or portobello mushrooms for dinners, use it in wraps and homemade granola, to sneak in extra protein throughout your days.

14. Nuts: Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are high in plant-based protein and high in fibre. Ground nuts make a wonderful pie crust, dairy-free milk, topping on salads or yogurt. It is really simple to add nuts in to your meals as they can be eaten raw. Also try nut butters and nut oils on salads. Aim for the raw or dry roasted, unsalted, varieties. Nuts should be stored in your freezer as they can go rancid easily.

15. Ground Flax Seeds: Most beneficial when ground, flax seeds contain the most omega 3, which is anti-inflammatory, skin, brain and heart healthy. It is a source of phytoestrogen and lignans for women’s health,  and antioxidants for boosting the immune system. Flax naturally gels when mixed with water, so it is often used as an egg replacement in vegan baking. Add ground flax to granola, bliss balls, cereals, in baked goods, on yogurt and in smoothies.  Also try flax oil in salad dressing or on its own for it’s blood sugar-regulating properties.

Jen Casey is a Holistic Nutritionist with Next Bite Nutrition Coaching in Vancouver, BC. She focuses her practice on whole body wellness and building a solid foundation for the pillars of health. Learn more about Jen and her healthy recipes on Instagram.

5 Ways to Use Oats…Other Than Oatmeal

I am one of those picky eaters, where texture can make or break my meal. Oats are one ingredient that I always have stocked in my pantry, but I cannot eat them in the traditional fashion.

Oats are one plant-based protein source that pack alot of nutrient punch, plus they have demulcent properties, which soothes the digestive tract and soothes the skin topically. They are also a galactogogue, stimulating milk supply in nursing mothers. Oats are wonderfully filling, and have a naturally sweet taste. I honestly cannot live without them, so I have to stay creative in the kitchen, finding other ways to incorporate oats in to my own meal plans. (yes, even Nutritionists make their own meal plans)

One of my favorite ways to use oats is topically in skin care.  You probably have had an oatmeal bath as a kid, to soothe chicken pox or hives.  Being demulcent and soothing, simply adding 1 cup of oats to your bath with instantly relieve itchiness, dryness and redness. To prevent the oats from clogging your drain, steep the oats in boiling water for 10 minutes, like you are making tea. Then, strain the oats through a fine strainer and add the oat water to your warm bath.

Oat milk is my new dairy-free choice for smoothies and cereal. I have seen the effects of cow’s milk on my daughter’s skin, so we now avoid it completely. I add dates to naturally sweeten the milk, which is delicious in coffee, and I got creative by adding raw cacao to make a healthy chocolate milk.

oat milk 6

Bliss Balls, or Energy Bites, are a healthy snack that I suggest on all the Wellness Plans I create for clients.  They are loaded with healthy fats and plant-based protein to keep your brain nourished, blood sugar balanced, and energy up. I have several recipes that I swap between, some with matcha, some nut-free, some with espresso! But, they all have at least 1 cup of oats in them. The best part about these snacks is that the oats do not have to be cooked, so meal prep days go all that much more smoothly.

Having two children and packing lunches for several years, I wanted to come up with a homemade granola bar that is kid-approved, healthy, and reduces all that individual packaging. The Next Bite Granola Squares are the fave in our house. They make the ultimate mid-day snack, providing those healthy fats and protein again to keep energy up without sugar.

Next Bite Granola Squares 8

My version of oatmeal, without the texture, is an Oat Smoothie. I do soak the oats for a bit to soften them, and this also makes them easier to digest. I soak 1/3 C oats, 1/3 C cashews, and 2 pitted dates in 1 1/2 C water for 15 minutes. I add the whole mix to a blender, plus 1/2 banana and a scoop of pumpkin protein powder, and blend until smooth. I like my smoothies thick, but you could add more water to thin, if desired.

oat smoothie

So, there are my oatmeal alternatives.  I still get in the nutrients from this pantry essential, but found creative ways to avoid the oatmeal texture. Do you have any other oat recipes to share? Follow us and tag us on social media.  We’d love to see them!