Aug 12, 2022 by Tania Gustafson


The past several years has seen an uptick in the number of people choosing to incorporate more plant-based options into their meals.

Meatless Monday for those who cook at home, plant-based burgers and such for those who choose to eat out. And while it's always a good idea to shop the produce aisle over the cereal aisle, and to incorporate more fruit and veg into your daily meals, the question that comes up is always, “What should I eat for protein?”

Protein is an essential macro nutrient and important not only for supporting and building muscle – especially important as we age - but stabilizing blood sugar as well. Every food on the plant falls into the macro nutrient category and will be one of, or a combination of, a protein, fat, or carbohydrate. All of which our bodies need – yep even those carbs. And that's an entire other column. Anyway... our bodies need all these macro nutrients in the right portion frequently throughout the day in order to stabilize blood sugar, balance hormones, support a healthy inflammatory response, optimize digestion and keep your metabolism turned on and working for you, even as you age.

Any food that comes from an animal is a protein. These animal proteins often contain a fat component, also essential for our body to function well. FYI, you need fat to burn fat so not a bad thing. Protein can also come from a plant source as well. Hemp, hemp hearts, chia, quinoa, spirulina, mushrooms, beans, chick peas, lentils and tofu contain protein as well. Nine out of the ten on that list are whole, unprocessed protein/carbohydrate combinations, soy is just the opposite. Granted soy is a lean, complete plant-based protein. Which sounds great until you find out it's made from highly processed soybeans.

As with any processed food, the quality is quite a bit lower than any whole food. Even more so here in North America. In the past North Americans have looked to Asian cultures as much healthier, and more wholesome in the foods they were eating, soy being a big part of that. The problem is that as farmers started growing soybeans to bring this “healthy” protein source to people in Canada and the USA, GMO farming took over and the traditional practice of cultural processing was left by the wayside.

Dr. Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., PhD, a 40 year career physician, medical anthropologist and epidemiologist, wrote in an article, “...long before big agribusiness began artificially manipulating foods, human cultures learned how to harvest, prepare and cook plants so that they would be safe and nutritious to eat. Anthropologists and food scientists have long called this “cultural processing.” He goes on to say, “, soybeans are everywhere. In fact, they’re now the leading cash crop in the U.S. Food manufacturers grind up the soybeans–genetically modified soybeans, of course–and add them to their processed foods.” Soybeans also contain a powerful anti-trypsin component. And as trypsin is a critical digestive enzyme that helps break down nutrients from saliva to the small intestines, this anti-trypsin in soy interferes with this normal digestive enzyme making it hard for the body to digest often causing gas, bloating and stomach upset. Dr. Micozzi states we should “avoid this “franken food at all costs.”

These highly processed, GMO soybeans with less nutritional value and digestive disruptors are marketed as a “healthier” option, when really the facts, as Dr. Micozzi stated, show otherwise. The fact is, unless your soy is sourced organic, non-GMO and culturally processed, you're simply padding the pockets of the companies peddling this poor quality protein. Just take a look at most restaurant menus today and you'll find at the very least some type of plant-based burger option. The supplement and weight loss industry also jumped on board, offering soy-based protein shake, smoothies and treats. I see this all the time as clients send pictures of labels asking for advice when choosing a product. Another fact, you get what you pay for. Soy is cheap, labeling is poorly regulated and regular Joe consumer doesn't typically do his due diligence, and simply follows the trend. Which means companies producing these products are profiting hand over fist, encouraging production of more inferior, unhealthy protein products.

My advice? Take the whole food protein source. Have a burger, steak or chicken breast. Still leaning towards plant-based? Make your own burgers using fava, black, or kidney beans as a base. Or when eating out, opt for a portabello mushroom burger. And the next time you decide to pick up a protein shake, read the label. If it's soy-based, put it back. I've got my favs, and yes I do pay a little more, but when it comes to health it's worth it.

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