First-hand sanitizer, then toilet paper and now meat? Empty supermarket shelving, closed-off refrigerated sections, and per-person limitations for high-demand items are becoming eerily customary. The COVID-19 outbreak has led shoppers to frantically purchase products to stockpile survival supplies, so it’s no shock that grocery store items like chicken, bacon, and ground beef have become scarcities. As the United States faces interrupted food supply chains due to narrowed packing and processing operations, lessened meat variety and availability, and higher consumer demand, prices are expected to escalate. This has left many wondering how they can get enough protein into their family’s diet.
Protein is vital in the human diet for powering our bodies. It helps generate cells, build and support bones and muscles, digest food, supply nutrients and regulate hormones. Among other health benefits, protein helps us to achieve and maintain healthy weights, speed up injury recovery, curb the appetite, increase muscle mass and strength, and stay fit as we age.
Though animal sources provide sufficient protein in the diet, they can contain high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, which are known to play a role in poor heart health. Red meats such as beef, pork and lamb, and processed meats like deli meats, hot dogs or bacon, have shown positive linkages to increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and premature death. On the other hand, research conducted by the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that plant-based protein diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and a number of other health benefits, including:
Lowered cholesterol and blood pressure levels
Improved blood sugar management
Improved bone health
Lowered risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes
Healthy body weights
Higher nutrient intakes of magnesium, potassium, iron, folate and fiber
Sharper minds and reduced long-term memory problems
As meat shortage issues are expected to last for weeks and possibly longer, it’s important to explore ways to fuel our bodies using alternative protein sources to maintain our health and minimize costly spending. Not to mention, plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than animal-based diets due to fewer demands for natural resources like water and land, and lower greenhouse gas emissions during production.
So, as COVID-19 continues to turn our lives upside down, let’s not allow the meat shortage to impose more inconvenience. Instead, take this time to reflect on your eating behaviors and how you can reshape them to improve long-term health and purchasing patterns. There are plenty of meatless food sources that can meet your protein needs while still tasting delicious! Search for the following plant-based foods the next time you’re on the hunt for protein:
Beans - Try dried or canned. These shelf-stable items require minimal preparation and are inexpensive. One serving of beans (1⁄2 cup cooked) like soybeans, lentils or black beans can provide 7 to 15 grams of protein compared to the 8 grams found in one cup of 1% milk. Use beans as the base for vegetarian burgers, add them to sandwiches, salads and tacos, or blend them into soups and hummus.
Nuts and Seeds - These are nutrient-dense and easy to incorporate into the diet. Foods like pumpkin seeds, almonds and sunflower seeds can provide 5 to 9 grams of protein per ounce, compared to the 6 grams provided by one whole egg. Eat these as a nutrient-dense snack, or add them to oatmeal, yogurt or salads. Nut and seed butter work well too.
Whole Grains - Not only are these packed with fiber to help keep us feeling full and energized, but they also provide a dose of healthy fats and protein. Just one serving of whole wheat bread, quinoa or wild rice provides 6 to 9 grams of protein. Add whole grains to casseroles and soups, or use them as a side dish for meals.
Tofu - This item is among the richest sources of plant-based protein and is extremely versatile. It can be blended into smoothies, dips or dressings for a creamy texture, crumbled into a stir-fry and even grilled. Just one serving of tofu (3⁄4 cup) can provide 15 grams of protein.
Written by Stephanie Carlile, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern