Written by Marika Day, a nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian who knows what the body needs to function at its best

Plant-based diets are booming in popularity. But when it comes to plant-based sources of protein, some are better than others. Marika Day shares her advice about finding the right nutritional balance.

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Eating less meat is great for our health and our environment. Whether you’re thinking of adding one or two plant-based meals to each day or cutting out animal-based products altogether, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting the protein you need to keep your diet in balance. Here, Marika Day gives us her guide to choosing the right plant-based proteins for you.

Vegan or plant-based?

First, let’s talk about how a plant-based diet is different from a vegan diet. Basically, if the majority of your diet features food from plants, but not exclusively (as in, you still eat some animal-based products), your diet is plant-based. A vegan diet, on the other hand, is exclusively plant-based. So while a person on a plant-based diet might have a small serve of animal protein each day or even each week, the primary foundation of their diet is from plants.

Not all plant-based proteins are created equal

Of course, we don’t have to cut out animal-based proteins altogether. But we can get all the energy and protein we need from a variety of plant-based sources like legumes, soy products, grains, nuts, and seeds. When it comes to the amount of protein in each of these sources, though, it’s important to know they can vary widely. The better plant-based foods are tofus and tempehs because, like many other soy-based products, they are generally high in protein.

When you’re tracking how much protein to include in your diet, it’s important to remember to eat in a balanced, enjoyable way. For example, tofu has 13 grams of protein per 100 grams, and almonds have around 30 grams of protein per 100 grams. But even though almonds have more protein per serve than tofu, eating 100 grams of tofu in a meal is quite easy, while it’s unlikely we’d enjoy a meal of 100 grams of almonds. So it’s wise to think about protein in the context of what you’d actually eat in a typical serving.

Mock meats versus tofus and tempehs

The nutritional values of mock meats vary enormously – it really depends on the product. I find that while some mock meats can be low in protein, others can be really high. Compare your options side by side by reading the information panel on the label. You might be surprised to find that for each mock meat that’s an excellent source of protein, there’ll be another one that isn’t – and this is particularly true when you compare mock meats with tempeh and tofu.

There are other nutritional figures to factor in, too. A lot of mock meats are quite high in sodium or salt, so that’s certainly something to look out for, especially if you have high blood pressure or are watching your sodium levels. And if you consume mock meat often, remember that it all adds up.

A surprising source

Nutritional yeast is fantastically high in protein. And the good news is that it’s a complete protein, which means it features all nine essential amino acids.

You might be wondering what nutritional yeast is, and how you might incorporate it into your recipes. Commonly it’s sold as flakes, granules, or powder and can often be found in the spice aisle of your supermarket or health food stores. It’s super versatile. And because of its cheesy, nutty, savoury flavour you can use it as a cheese substitute in pasta and risottos. It can also add depth of flavour to other dishes.

Ready to go plant-based?

Depending on your current diet, moving to a plant-based diet may be a challenge or a breeze. Whether you’re planning to go vegan or simply looking to reduce your weekly meat consumption, I recommend introducing plant-based proteins gradually. Say, for example, you eat animal products three times a day, every single day, seven days a week. Try going plant-based one or two days per week. Simply take what feels like a reasonable first step for you – rather than going all-in and feeling overwhelmed by the change.

Another way to incorporate more plant-based ingredients into your diet is to get creative with the ingredients of the dishes you make regularly. Say you’re making your favourite spaghetti bolognese. Instead of using 100 per cent mincemeat, make it 50 per cent meat and 50 per cent lentils. Incremental changes like this can feel more manageable.

If you do decide to go exclusively plant-based and are also new to thinking about nutrition, it’s always worthwhile seeking professional advice to make sure you’re getting all your dietary requirements.

Make your #OneChange
Thinking about a plant-based diet but not sure you want to go exclusive? Try reducing your animal-based proteins to one meal per day.

 

Three plant-based recipes to try

I chose the following plant-based meals because you can prepare them ahead of time to eat later. After all, it’s sometimes hard to find plant-based options when you’re eating out or grabbing lunch on a workday.

Bircher muesli

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup soy, almond, or oat milk
1 green apple finely chopped or grated
1 punnet blueberries
1 tbsp maple syrup
½ cup coconut yoghurt
¼ cup toasted almond slivers
½ tsp cinnamon

Method:

Soak the rolled oats and chia seeds in the milk overnight.
Add all the other ingredients except the berries, and mix well.
Layer berries and bircher muesli into serving glasses, jars, or bowls.
Garnish with almond slivers.

Three-bean chilli

Serves 8

Ingredients:

1 diced onion
1 crushed clove garlic
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 diced medium yellow capsicum
1 jar roasted red peppers/capsicum
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chilli flakes (to taste)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 x 400g tin black beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 x 400g can refried beans

Method:

Place olive oil in a large pan on medium heat.
Add onion and capsicum and cook until softened. Add garlic and cook for a further minute.
Meanwhile, place red peppers into a food processor and blend until a smooth paste.
Add red peppers, spices, and cocoa to the saucepan and cook for 2–3 minutes or until fragrant.
Add kidney and black beans to the pan with crushed tomatoes and cook for 2–3 minutes or until heated through.
Spoon the refried beans into pan and stir to mix through. This may take a few minutes for the beans to heat and incorporate. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with steamed basmati rice and coriander.

Leftovers are great on top of nachos or in a jacket potato!

Lemon bliss balls

Ingredients:

1 cup cashews
1 cup coconut flakes
8 pitted medjool dates
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
Desiccated coconut, for rolling

Method:

Add all ingredients into a high-powered food processor.
Process until mixture resembles small crumbs.
Roll into balls and coat in desiccated coconut.
Place in refrigerator to firm for 30 minutes before serving.


Marika Day is a nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian who knows what the body needs to function at its best. With more than five years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, Marika’s holistic approach to diet and exercise is tried and true. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

Disclaimer:
The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.