The power of plant-based protein sources
Written by Alex Ballard, UK Registered Dietitian (as seen on the Fit For Fertility blog)
The popularity of plant-based eating continues to rise rapidly year upon year. Many individuals are now switching over to flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan dietary approaches with a mission of positively impacting their health and carbon footprint. This trend is apparent from Veganuary recruiting a record breaking 560,000 people in 2021. But how can this impact fertility?
Reducing consumption of animal products is thought to be one of the most effective changes that humans can make to lessen their impact on our ecosystems, water stores, land availability and greenhouse gas production. If every UK family dished up just one meat-free meal each week it would have the equivalent environmental impact as removing 16 million cars off the road!
Plant-based dietary approaches can often be associated with fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and tofu. If this is what plant-based means to you then you will be helping both the planet and improving your chances of conception (naturally or via fertility treatment). These particular types of foods can be rich in fibre, iron, co-enzyme Q10, selenium, choline, folate, vitamin E and zinc- all important nutritional puzzle pieces in the fertility jig-saw.
Research has also shown that increasing our consumption of plant-based protein sources, and reducing our intake of meat (especially processed options), can positively impact fertility outcomes. But the world of nuts, seeds, beans and pulses can seem a little daunting if we are not used to reaching for them in our supermarket runs.
Here are some top tips for easily introducing plant-based sources of protein into your daily routine:
· Buy tinned beans and pulses instead of dried. They are still cheap and accessible, require less preparation and can be used last minute in lots of dishes
· Always have a selection of tinned beans and pulses, and unsalted nuts and seeds in the cupboard
· At each meal try to think if there are any beans, pulses, nuts or seeds that can be added in. More often than not there will be a winning combination
· For breakfast sprinkle chopped nuts and seeds into cereals, porridge, overnight oats and yogurts
· When you have a bit of extra time, make your own D.I.Y muesli or granola so that you can sneak in lots of extra varieties of nuts and seeds throughout the week
· Try out chia pudding with added nuts, seeds and fruit on top (it works brilliantly for either a brekkie or pudding option!)
· Next time you are topping toast try out a thin layer of nut butter, banana slices and a pinch of chia seeds
· Add baked beans into your cooked breakfast (or even make your own using a mixture of beans (such as butter beans, borlotti beans or cannellini beans)
· Have a box made up of mixed seeds (such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, linseed or hempseeds) ready to top salads, soups and breakfasts dishes
· Spread hummus into sandwiches, wraps, pittas and bagels before adding your other toppings
· If you find tofu too spongy (you won’t be alone!) try pre-pressed tofu and marinade it before using (coat in olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, reduced salt soy sauce, herbs or spices). Lightly dust the tofu slices in cornflour before cooking if you are seeking an extra crispy texture
· Add toasted cashew nuts, sesame seeds, tofu or edamame beans into stir fry dishes
· Complete pasta dishes with toasted pine nuts, lentils or cannellini beans
· Bulk out curries with chickpeas, lentils, cashew nuts or nigella seeds
· Add a mixture of beans into Mexican dishes, such as kidney beans, black beans and adzuki beans
· Butter beans and pearl barley are great for enhancing hearty stews and soups
· Make the most of snack time! Go for nutritious options likes chopped apple and nut butter, wholemeal pitta strips and veggie sticks with hummus, yogurt with fruit and chopped nuts, yogurt smoothies with ground almonds or linseeds, homemade milkshakes with fruit and nut butter, nuts and dried fruit or homemade nutty flapjacks
Beans, pulses, nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, however it’s rare that individual sources contain a full range of amino acids. Therefore, if you are vegetarian or vegan, it is important to combine plant-based proteins in singular meals to make a complete set. For example, sprinkle both walnuts and linseed on to porridge, edamame beans and cashew nuts into stir fry dishes and combine kidney beans and black beans in fajitas.
But where does that leave us with meat-alternatives?
Meat-free alternatives (such as meat-free mince, sausages and burgers) can be very processed and high in added salt. They are also, misleadingly, not always a source of protein. Therefore, take a peek at the label before purchasing and compare similar products to find the healthiest option.
Aim to avoid using solely processed meat-alternatives when cutting back on animal products and instead bulk up your diet with more natural sources, such as beans, pulses, unsalted nuts and seeds.
Better for the planet and better for fertility!