Plant-Based Protein

March 2, 2017 at 11:13 am | Posted in Nutrition | Leave a comment
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Alexandra Regalado
Dietetic Intern

What is Protein and How Much Do You Need?
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is part of a balanced diet and is essential for life. Protein plays key roles in building and maintaining muscle, keeping the immune system working, regulating hormones, and healing wounds.  Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids. Some amino acids are made by your body, while others come from the food we eat. Amino acids that come from food are called essential amino acids. This is why it’s important to eat protein from a variety of sources, including plants!  The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.  To find out how many grams of protein you need to eat each day, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36.

Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Protein is found in a number of plant foods.  While plants provide quality protein, they typically do not contain all of the essential amino acids. But, if you eat several sources proteins throughout the week, you will have no problem getting all the amino acids and nutrients your body needs. Some plant-based protein, such as beans and legumes, contain carbohydrates, so always check the nutrition facts label for grams of carbohydrate per serving and factor them into your meal or snack.

 Some Examples of Plant-Based Protein

  • Beans and Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils
  • Nuts and Nut Butters: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts
  • Seeds:Chia, flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, quinoa
  • Soy and Soy Products: Soy milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh
  • Meat Substitutes: Veggie burgers and sausages, seitan, faux “chicken” and “burgers”

 Benefits of Plant-Based Protein
Most plant-based proteins are naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and sodium; have no cholesterol; and are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The combination of protein and fiber helps to slow digestion so you feel fuller longer, and raises blood sugar gradually after a meal or snack (avoiding blood sugar spikes).  Many plant-based proteins are more environmentally sustainable and affordable than animal sources of protein, too!

Plant proteins can be incorporated into any dietary pattern. Vegetarian and vegan diets are especially high in plant proteins and are also rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The American Diabetes Association recommends plant-based eating patterns because they can help prevent and manage diabetes. Research shows plant-based diets are good at lowering A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index.  Studies have also shown that plant-based diets are helpful for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.  Including more plant-based meals in your routine, such as by following “Meatless Monday,” is a wonderful way to fuel up on more plant-based protein!

Ideas for adding Plant-Based Protein to Your Meals
Breakfast:

  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds on oatmeal or yogurt
  • Sautee tofu and veggies for a breakfast scramble
  • Spread hummus or nut butter on toast

Lunch & Dinner:

  • Use beans or lentils to make “meat” sauce
  • Add tofu or tempeh to a stir-fry meal or sandwich
  • Top salads or grain bowls with beans or edamame
  • Vegetable or black bean burger

Snacks:

  • Hummus with raw veggie sticks
  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame
  • Handful of nuts
  • Plant-based protein bar
 Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE

Quinoa Three Ways

January 30, 2014 at 11:10 am | Posted in Nutrition | Leave a comment
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By Jessica Ismert
Dietetic Intern

Quinoa FrameQuinoa, pronounced “keen-wah,” is a nutrient rich super-food that was tragically given a difficult-to-pronounce name. Perhaps the tricky name has made it seem intimidating to home cooks. Contrary to what you may think, quinoa can be more than just a healthy grain and is really easy to prepare.  Making a batch of quinoa to start off your week gives you endless options to use it for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to come.

Quinoa is a whole grain with more protein than many other grains.  Take it from one of the MGH outpatient dietitians, Emily Gelsomin. She was recently quoted in a boston.com article saying “quinoa is one of the only plant-based sources of protein that contains all the essential amino acids your body needs.” Quinoa is also a good source of potassium, which promotes healthy blood pressure.

That all sounds lovely, but how do you incorporate quinoa into your day-to-day meals? The trick is to master one basic recipe like this one that leaves you with a simple fluffy quinoa you can change up throughout the week. Adding different flavors and toppings allows quinoa to play a different role in every meal.

Quinoa for breakfast: Treat cooked quinoa like you would any breakfast cereal. Sprinkle with some cinnamon, chopped walnuts, fresh fruit or raisins and honey. Add a splash of almond milk and you have yourself a morning delicacy.  Add this mixture to some Greek yogurt for more of a protein boost to start your day.

Quinoa for lunch: For an easy lunch to take to the office, fold your quinoa into a wrap.  For instance, this quinoa wrap with black beans, feta, and avocado. If you’re not a wrap person, try warming up your quinoa with avocado, beans, and cheese and putting it on salad greens. Toss in some diced chicken for an extra protein punch.

Quinoa for dinner: Quinoa can be a great grain to add to any dinner. Eat it as a simple and flavorful side dish by adding some olive oil, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese. Or, make quinoa part of a breakfast-for-dinner meal by adding an egg.  Start by sautéing the quinoa with some olive oil, greens (great with spinach or arugula), salt and pepper.  Add an over-easy egg on top of your quinoa-green dish and you have a well-balanced meal.

Transforming simple quinoa into different recipes is easy and gives you a chance to be creative with your favorite flavors.  Remember to be mindful of your serving size, as you would with any grain. Keep your serving size to less than ½ cup when pairing it with the rest of your meal. One ½ cup cooked quinoa is about 115 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, and 4 grams of protein.

(Post reviewed by Debra Powers, MS, RD, CDE, LDN, Senior Clinical Nutritionist)

What’s the Deal with Gluten-Free Foods?

March 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Nutrition | 1 Comment
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Question Mark Photo Credit: Steven Goodwin

Perhaps you’ve noticed many items in the grocery store now have the words “gluten-free” on their labels, or “gluten-free” menu options appearing at your favorite restaurant.  Gluten-free foods seem to be everywhere lately, and gluten-free diets have developed a reputation for being an all-around healthier way to eat (helped along by numerous celebrity endorsements).  But what is gluten, and is there really a reason to avoid it?

Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, barley and rye.  It helps give breads and other baked goods their chewy texture, and can sometimes be used to thicken sauces and soups.  Most of us can eat products containing gluten with no problems.  For some people, though, eating foods containing gluten can lead to serious health concerns.  People with celiac, an autoimmune disease affecting a small portion of the population, are gluten intolerant.  Eating even a small amount of gluten causes a reaction in the body that damages the small intestine so that it is unable to absorb nutrients in food.  According to the American Diabetes Association, about 10% of people with Type 1 Diabetes also have celiac.

There are also some people who have gluten sensitivity, meaning they experience unpleasant reactions to eating gluten (gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc.) but do not have the damage to the small intestine associated with celiac.  Only a medical professional can diagnose celiac (it requires a blood test and a biopsy of the intestine).  If you have any questions or concerns, it’s best to talk with your health care provider.

So should you start eating gluten-free?  Well if you have celiac, a gluten-free diet is mandatory and a nutritionist can help create an eating plan that works for you.  If you don’t have any type of gluten sensitivity, then there’s really no reason to spend the extra money on gluten-free foods.  Just because an item is gluten-free, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthier – in fact some products can be higher in calories and fat (and lower in some nutrients like fiber) than similar products containing gluten.   A diet emphasizing fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy while limiting packaged and processed foods will serve you well.  Just make sure you’re watching your portion size!

(Content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department. Photo credit: Steven Goodwin)

Protein

March 31, 2011 at 9:00 am | Posted in Nutrition | 6 Comments
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Salad topped with Salmon, apples and bread slicesThe balanced plate guide for healthy eating says to devote a quarter of the plate to a lean protein.  It’s also recommended to pair carbohydrate-rich foods with protein to keep the amount of carbohydrate to a moderate portion thus assisting with blood sugar control.  But what exactly is protein?  If you said “meat”…you’re on the right track. 

Protein is a nutrient that is used to build muscle and repair tissue and also helps to provide the body with energy.  Most of the protein in a typical American diet comes from animal sources such as beef, poultry and pork.  Eggs, dairy products, fish and shellfish are also good sources of protein.  

Fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are good sources of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Many other animal-based proteins, especially red meat, can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which can contribute to the development of heart disease.  Meat and fish may be the most common sources of protein, but there are a number of good plant-based protein sources as well—handy to know if you’re reducing the amount of meat in your diet or just looking for ways to add some variety to your meal plan. 

Legumes such as chickpeas (garbanzo beans); soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame); lentils and beans, and nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds; almonds; walnuts and pistachios are all good options.  In addition to providing plenty of protein, many of these food choices are good sources of other important nutrients.  Legumes, for example, are high in dietary fiber—a nutrient that promotes digestive health and increases the feeling of being “full” after a meal.  Almonds are a great source of calcium and vitamin E, and walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3s.  Nuts can be high in calories though, so be sure to watch your portion size to prevent unwanted weight gain.  

This goes for everything; be sure to read food labels and pay attention to serving size.  Remember, the portion of protein that you are striving for is about the size of the palm of your hand and the same thickness. 

(Information reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)


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