I just returned from the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It was held in Atlanta this year, and I had a great time meeting up with colleagues and soaking in some of the latest food and nutrition facts. I’m planning on posting a few summaries over the next few weeks.

One of the popular sessions covered plant protein. While there have been some clinical trials that have shown a high protein diet can promote weight loss in the short term, it’s important to consider your protein source and other risk factors. stethoscope-heart

Some epidemiological studies have linked a high protein intake to lower risk of high blood pressure, but the type of protein is important. Studies have also linked high intakes of animal protein with increased diabetes risk.

The DASH Diet is a plant-protein based diet. DASH recommends only 5-6 ounces or less of animal protein daily (plus 2-3 servings of low fat dairy), but encourage larger portions of plant proteins (vegetables and whole grains). Research supports the role of plant-based proteins as a partial replacement for animal protein to prevent disease. The DASH diet research did show that including low fat dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than just increasing vegetables and fruits alone. For more blood-pressure-lowering power, include some low fat dairy as your total daily protein.

So if you have a some friends who are “Paleo-obessed”, or are consuming large amounts of meat, you may consider sharing some other research news with them about the benefits of plant proteins. There is a vast amount of research about plant-based diets and heart health, so there’s no question that these principles are wise to follow:

  • Add more plant protein to your diet: snack on small amounts of nuts, add nuts or seeds to green salads, include some whole grains in your diet, try some tofu or soy foods.
  • Eat more vegetables. Veggies contribute protein, and also loads of important vitamins.
  • Replace some of the red meat you eat with plant protein. Try a meatless meal once or twice a week. If you enjoy a steak (as I do occasionally), just eat a smaller portion, and eat it less frequently. It doesn’t have to be all or none, just less.
  • If you don’t want to include dairy, you can still follow the DASH Diet without it. Just include all of the other important food groups, healthy fats, and limit sodium, sweets, saturated fat (keep portions of meats small).
  • Rather than load up on protein at one meal, spread your protein throughout the day. Smaller portions of lean protein at each meal, including plant-based proteins, may help with satiety and weight control, as well as maintenance of lean body mass.

Easy Protein Power at Breakfast and Lunch

Often breakfast and lunch time may be where you are low on protein. It’s okay to include animal protein (including “red” meats – lean cuts of beef or pork), what’s key, is the portion.

  • Choose small portions (<5 ounces daily) of lean meats (skinless chicken, loin cuts of fresh beef or pork), and sub in plant protein on occasion.
  • Add in a variety – Try an egg, 1/2 cup of low fat cottage or ricotta cheese, or a tablespoon of nut butter for breakfast. An 8-ounce glass of low fat or non fat milk adds 8 grams of protein to any meal.
  • Choose a tofu wrap at lunch – add chunks of seasoned tofu and chopped lettuce and tomato with salsa to a wrap.
  • Grill a large portobello mushroom, or use chopped mushrooms to make “burgers”. At the conference, I enjoyed a tasty “blended mushroom burger” – cutting back on meat by adding plant protein.
  • Add 2-3 ounces of tuna to your green salad for lunch, along with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts.
  • Or, try something new – sardines. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats). I sampled some canned sardines from Wild Planet foods, and have to say they were delicious! (their tuna is great too).