Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” For centuries, this held true; then, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Fast-food, processed food, and food with vast amounts of added sugar and salt dominated. For many, diet became a source of illness instead of a bearer of health, and we saw the rise in obesity, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic diseases.
Some remain skeptical of food’s role in all of this, but it’s hard to overlook decades of evidence that tell us those who follow a more wholesome, low-processed diet suffer less burden of physical and mental illness, are leaner, and live longer. Enter the anti-inflammatory diet, of which the Mediterranean diet is the most well-known example. It’s packed full of plants and their powerful phytonutrients with animal products playing a lesser role. Plus, this pyramid even recognizes the importance of socialization (over a glass of red wine, of course) and living a more active lifestyle.
Where’s the Protein?
I often lay out the benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet to my patients, but a common question is: where’s the beef? It’s easy to get plenty of veggie-based protein, you just have to know where to look. Tip: protein needs vary greatly, but here’s a calculator to give you a basic starting place.
Tofu and tempeh are great sources of protein — skip the fake meat products, which tend to weigh heavy on additives. Cook with plenty of olive oil, and spices. Practice makes perfect, and don’t be afraid to get inventive. There are some great veggie cookbooks and blogs with fun recipes. I like “Oh She Glows” by fellow Canuck, Angela Liddon. An inspiring, yet totally unfussy place to start, if eating a more veganesque diet is new to you.
Tofu: 10 grams of protein per ½ cup
Tempeh: 15.5 grams of protein per ½ cup
Hummus: 4 grams of protein per 3 Tbsp
Edamame: 8.5 grams of protein per ½ cup
Nuts and seeds are great protein sources and easy to incorporate into most meals. Walnuts and other tree nuts especially, have added benefits of improving heart health. Store nuts and seeds in the freezer where they won’t oxidize; byproducts of oxidation may predispose to inflammation, including cancer and heart disease. Plus, waste is less when you’re not having to pitch rancid nuts.
Cashews: 9 grams of protein per ⅓ cup
Walnuts: 5 grams of protein per ⅓ cup
Pecans: 3 grams of protein per ⅓ cup
My favourite. Chickpeas and lentils are some classics, and can sub-in where you would have traditionally thought of having meat, such as in a lasagna, chili or bolognese sauce.
Lentils: 9 grams of protein per ½ cup
Black beans: 20 grams of protein per ½ cup
Chickpeas: 20 grams of protein per ½ cup
Some of my favourites include hemp hearts and chia seeds — a couple of tablespoons can top your morning cereal or oatmeal, and make a great addition to salads, vegetable side dishes, or smoothies.
Hemp hearts: 10 grams of protein in 3 Tbsp
Chia seeds: 4 grams of protein in 2 Tbsp
Here’s the Beef. (Well, the Chicken)
Animal products play a lesser role, but you can still turn to fish (also a great source of omega fatty acids), organic poultry and eggs for more traditional protein sources. Dairy can be a trigger for inflammation in some people, so monitor how you feel before deciding how much dairy to incorporate into your diet — high quality greek yogurt, for example, is another source of protein, and often, probiotics.
So, get creative! Combine these proteins with your whole grains to ensure you’re getting the amino acids your body needs. Enjoy!