Plant-Based Proteins and the New Canadian Food Guide (What you need to know)

The new 2019 Canadian food guide recommends that Canadians prioritize plant-based proteins. Which leaves many of us wondering how we are going to get those plant-based proteins. And which plant-based proteins are best. Or how they compare to animal proteins. And what the environmental impacts of using plant-based proteins verses animal proteins. There are many questions that a conscious consumer might ask themselves, and we’d like to try our hand at answering some of them for you here.

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The New 2019 Canadian Food Guide and Protein

The new  2019 Canadian food guide says to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often“. The guide also endorses low-fat animal proteins as a healthy option. While all animal proteins are complete proteins; not all protein is the same. Fish, like the tilapia that we raise, is a great choice for animal protein. When eating plants for their protein content, it is important to note that they are generally incomplete, and if they are complete proteins, they may not be high in protein. This means that a healthy plant-based diet needs to draw on a variety of plant sources. Eating beans with rice is a good example of combining plant foods that together make a complete protein. But what is protein?

About Protein

Protein Powder
Pea protein powder

The human body produces 11 amino acids (proteins) but needs to source nine more from foods. It’s true that many animal products are a good source of the remaining nine amino acids that a human body needs; however, these amino acids can be found by eating a balanced diet of plant-based whole-foods. Protein is one of three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs), that work together to provide calories to your body. A gram of protein contains four calories. The Institute of Medicine recommends that protein provides 10 to 35 per cent of your calories each day. Are you getting enough protein? Apparently, two and a half egg whites contain enough protein for a meal.

Plant-Based Protein

But why does the new 2019 Canadian food guide recommend a focus on plant-based protein? The short answer is: the Canadian government cares about a lot of different things, so no one reason is the reason. The Canadian government cares about lots of different things because its people care about lots of different things. One reason may have to do with the environmental impacts of a meat-based culture; another may be because of the growing body of research that links life-threatening disease such as cancer, stroke, and heart disease to meat-based diets; it’s partly because of the shaky ethics around taking a life in order to sustain another; but ultimately, it’s because times are changing: globalization has forced all nations to consider the well being of the entire planet on top of the well being of those living within their borders.

The Best Plant-Based Protein

The best plant-based proteins are the complete ones, but they also need to be high in protein. Chia seeds are a complete protein, but only contain three grams of protein for every tablespoon. Soy is a good plant-based protein but it has a complicated past of controversy around whether it is healthy. There are plenty of alternatives to soy that are complete or nearly complete proteins.

Water Lentils

Water Lentil Powder
Water lentil powder

Water lentils (Lemna) are a lesser known plant-based protein that have no relation to pulses like actual lentils, and can be found where ever the sun shines warm enough. Different cultures have different names for them. In France, they are called them Lentilles d’eau, while Spain calls them Lentaja de agua. Whatever the name, cultures have always known them as food. Water lentils are high in protein and dietary fiber, and have a range of vitamins, minerals, and fats. Lemna are a free-floating water plant from the Araceae family and Lemnoideae sub-family. They grow mainly by vegetative reproduction (two daughter plants grow off of an adult plant), which allows rapid colonization of calm waters.

Why Water Lentils are a Great Plant-Based Protein

Water lentils and Aquaponics
Water lentils floating in a calm raft bed.

1. A better source of complete plant protein than any other: more essential amino acids and BCAA’s(branch chain amino acids) than pea & soy.

2. Does not contain common food allergens: soy free, lactose-free, gluten-free.

3. Protein is easily digestible: PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) of 0.93.

4. Non-GMO and no solvents used.

5. Good source of dietary fiber: the ratio of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber is 20:80.

6. Contains omega 3

7. High in antioxidants: contains B-carotene, polyphenols, chlorophyll, lutein, tocopherols, and more.

8. A variety of applications: easy cold water dispersion, good water and fat absorption, pleasant texture, vibrant colour and flavor.

9. Low in starch and sugar: Less than 3%.

10. Vegan.

11. High in minerals and vitamins: iron, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin A, riboflavin, folate, and more.

12. Low in oxalic acid.

14. Low carbon footprint.

An aquaponic system can be ideal for growing water lentils: it can grow them more efficiently, in a bio-secure environment, and in 365 days a year in any environment.

water lentils in a strainer
Water lentils being scooped out of a raft bed.

The Aquaponic Solution for Plant-Based Proteins

Aquaponics and other smart-agricultural methods are instrumental in a global shift away from a dependence on meat-based diets. By growing plant-based proteins like water lentils in highly efficient and sustainable aquaponic systems, aquaponics could provide large populations with healthy and accessible plant-based proteins. Aquaponics can do this all while using 95 per cent less water than other agricultural practices, maximum nutrient density, and a small carbon footprint.

Closing Thoughts

Protein is a big topic because it is such an essential part of all life. The new 2019 Canadian food guide says that Canadians should prioritize plant-based proteins. It’s not hard to come up with some sound reasoning to support a plant-based diet. Environmental, health, ethical, and global factors point towards a future where meat-based diets are uncommon. Ensuring that all Canadians have access to sufficient complete proteins is a priority for Canada. Aquaponics and other smart agricultural methods are finding innovative ways to grow more with less, and water lentils are a great plant-based protein that can be used in a number of applications. The Canadian government is investing heavily in advancing Canada’s ability to sustainably provide healthy food options for Canadians for generations to come.

Garden City Aquaponics Inc. is proud to be a Canadian company that is innovating for the sake of the well-being of future generations.

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